The Path to being a Career Pilot

The Path to being a Career Pilot

A flight student who is interested in becoming a career pilot can often feel overwhelmed by the time it will take to build the experience necessary for a job with a regional or national airline.  

There’s no sugar-coating that the process is intensive and challenging, but the reward of landing in an exciting and high-paying career is worth the investment. The FAA mandates between 1,000 and 1,500 hours of logged flight, depending on levels of education, to be an airline transport pilot (ATP).

Here is how to turn your passion into your life’s work: 

Earn your private pilot’s license: This is the foundation of your training and the first rating you’ll earn. Flight training at Crosswinds will prepare you with a minimum of 40 hours of in the air, eight of which are cross-country to an airport more than 50 miles away. You’ll also have three hours of instrument or simulated instrument flight time and three hours of night flying. 

Add instrument and multi-engine ratings: An instrument rating allows a pilot to fly under in all weather conditions.  A multi-engine rating permits pilots to operate larger and faster aircraft that typically have more than one engine.

250 hours = Commercial certificate: After logging 250 hours, pilots become eligible for their commercial certificate, allowing them to be paid for flying activities such as banner towing, agricultural applications, aerial surveys, and a number of other jobs. 

Become a Certified Flight Instructor: One of the best ways to build your hours is to become a flight instructor to teach students earning their pilot’s license and additional ratings. Matt Dahline, who owns and operates Crosswinds, said many career-oriented pilots return to teach – and make money in the process – for him as they work toward their ATP Certificate. Experts say teaching also helps you learn at a rapid rate. 

Register for collegiate aviation programs: Earning an associate’s or bachelor degree reduces the number of hours necessary for ATP qualification and can help with financing your education through student loans, grants and scholarships. An associate’s degree from Northwest Michigan College, a Crosswinds partner, drops flying hours to 1,250. Meanwhile, graduates with a bachelor’s degree from flying programs at Western Michigan University or Eastern Michigan University need only 1,000 hours. 

Become a first officer: Regional airlines are hurting for first officers and captains and there are entry points in the aviation industry across the United States.  

Continue up the ranks: Once you have proven your abilities as a co-pilot and first officer, take the next step and serve as a regional airline captain. This experience will be crucial as your career progresses and you become eligible to fly at a major airline or transport company.  Your office is now 35,000 feet in the sky with amazing views, travel opportunities, while making a good living.

Crosswinds is excited to help you pursue and achieve your flying dream. Give us a call today at 517-552-1101 or visit to learn more. 


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