How to Become a Commercial Pilot

Apr 15, 2022

The idea of flying and getting paid to do what you love is an exciting one for many aviators.

It takes time and commitment to earn a commercial pilot license to fly as a professional helicopter or airplane pilot. But it can be a rewarding journey. The seven steps to becoming a commercial pilot include:

1.     Earn a private pilot license (PPL)

2.     Get an instrument rating

3.     Earn a commercial pilot license (CPL)

4.     Become a certified flight instructor (CFI)

5.     Gain flight experience and build flight time

6.     Acquire additional training or ratings as needed

7.     Fly in your chosen job as a commercial pilot

What is a Commercial Pilot?

A commercial pilot is licensed to legally receive compensation for flying an aircraft. With a commercial pilot license (CPL) you may fly for hire, though not for a scheduled airliner. You can be paid to fly as a corporate, charter or private pilot. With additional training, you can be an emergency search and rescue pilot, aerial photography and government air service pilot, an air tour pilot, banner tow pilot, or agricultural pilot.

Commercially licensed pilots can fly single-engine aircraft (e.g., Piper M350, Cessna 172, Cirrus SR22T) or multi-engine aircraft (e.g., Piper Seminole PA-44, Beech G58 Baron). Both are used in training.

Earning a CPL is another exciting step along the aviation career path, whether your passion is flying airplanes or helicopters. Once you have logged 1500 in-flight hours as a commercial pilot and met Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate requirements, you can be certified to fly as a commercial airline pilot.

What are Commercial Pilot Requirements?

To become a commercial helicopter pilot or airplane pilot, you are required to: 

  • Be at least 18 years old
  • Hold a Private Pilot License
  • Hold a Medical Certificate  
  • Have 250 minimum hours flight time for airplane and 150 minimum hours flight time for helicopter
  • Pass FAA written, oral and practical tests 

An Instrument Rating is not required to earn a CPL, but it’s recommended. Without it, you will be limited to flying only in daylight, under visual flight rules (VFR), and within 50 miles of the originating airport. Earning an Instrument Rating takes 40 hours (35 hours Part 141).

Good commercial pilots have exceptional communication and time management skills, are detail-aware and work well as a team. Excellent eyesight is also essential. Each attribute is necessary to your ability as a professional pilot to safely fly an aircraft in any weather or flight situation.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Commercial Pilot?

You’ve earned your private pilot license. You’ve acquired your instrument rating. You are ready for next steps. How many flight hours does it take to become a commercial pilot?

A commercial airplane pilot license requires 250 flight hours in a high-standard aircraft and must include:

  • 100 hours of pilot-in-command time
  • 50 hours of cross-country time
  • 20 hours of training (including 10 hours instrument training, 10 hours in a complex aircraft)
  • 10 hours of solo training (including cross-country and night)

You must fly 150 hours to get a commercial helicopter pilot license. FAA flight time requirements are precise and include:

  • 10 hours of instrument training in an aircraft
  • 100 hours of pilot-in-command time (35 hours or more in a helicopter)
  • 20 hours of dual instruction in required areas of operation
  • 10 hours of cross-country helicopter time
  • 3 hours of night dual instruction
  • One day VFR 2-hour minimum dual instruction flight with one 50 nautical-mile leg
  • One night VFR 2-hour minimum dual instruction flight with one 50 nautical-mile leg
  • 5 hours of night solo flight experience with a minimum of 10 take-offs and landings
  • One cross-country solo flight with 3 landings and a minimum of one 50 nautical-mile leg
  • 3 hours of dual instruction preparation within 60 days preceding the flight test

Depending on how often you fly and time already logged getting your PPL or Instrument Training, it can take from a few weeks to a year or more to earn a commercial pilot license. It’s smart to think ahead and look at CPL requirements as soon as you start flying; you can save significant time and money by building flight time strategically.

The cost to obtain a commercial pilot license can be $60,000 for fixed wing and as much as $100,000 for helicopter certification. Some commercial pilot jobs (jump pilots, air ambulance pilots, skydive pilots, flight instructors) may require additional training, flight time, and financial outlay beyond a CPL.

What aircraft can you fly as a commercial pilot? Depending on your individual training scenario and goals, you may be initially certified to fly a single-engine or multi-engine airplane, helicopter, glider, or other aircraft. You can add ratings for other aircraft later.

How to Become a Commercial Airline Pilot

Earning your commercial pilot certificate is an exciting achievement. If you are interested in becoming a professional airline pilot, a CPL marks a significant milestone on your career path.

You must log a minimum of 1500 flight hours as a commercial pilot to get your Airline Transport Pilot license and work for a scheduled airliner. Many new commercial pilots obtain a Flight Instructor Certificate to build flight hours, practice their flying skills – and get paid. You can also quickly accumulate flight time towards your ATP as a skydive pilot or banner tow pilot, an air tour pilot, or by joining a flying club.

It takes hard work, time, financial commitment, and dedication to earn a commercial pilot certification. Flying can be challenging. But the rewards and opportunities that come with being a licensed commercial pilot are great.

Earn Your Commercial Pilot License at Pureflight Aviation Training

At Pureflight Aviation Training, we have helped pilots achieve their goals for almost 40 years. Our pilot training program fits the bill if you are interested in flying fixed wing or helicopters, for pleasure or as a career path. We’re based in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but draw aviation enthusiasts from around the world, and we strive to make the Precision flight training experience fulfilling, informative, and inspiring for each of our students.

As a respected Part 141 Flight School, our helicopter and airplane pilot training programs are focused and customizable. Our experienced, dedicated staff and flight instructors offer personalized, hands-on flight training to students with all levels of experience. And we make student housing and other student resources and financing information available to assist you. Contact our team to learn more or to schedule a discovery flight today.