Commercial Aviation

Job snapshot

SALARY average:

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USD $72,000 GBP £58,000 cad $60,000 AUD $72,000

fixed or variable remuneration: Fixed and variable (Commission)

number of open jobs: 74,643+ jobs on ziprecruiter


The Role

What a Commercial Airline Pilot Does

For many, becoming a commercial airline pilot is a dream career. In terms of jobs one can take as a pilot, working for a commercial airline and transporting passengers is an ideal role, offering free travel, a chance to see the world, and excellent pay.

Who would enjoy a career in Commercial Aviation?

The career is best-suited for healthy people who enjoy flying and have a well-rounded education, as a great deal of knowledge regarding physics, weather patterns, mechanics, geography, and cultural awareness is needed.

Who mightn't like the career?

Commercial airline pilots spend a great deal of time away from home, so the career is not a good choice for those who aren’t comfortable living out of a suitcase most of the time.




Commercial airline pilots are needed all over the globe, but these positions are highly-coveted and competition is fierce. There are many ways to become a commercial airline pilot, but all require that the candidate be in good health. Pilots must obtain a private license first and then work towards a commercial license.

The process is extensive and requires demonstration of practical knowledge through ground school as well as flight time- 1,500 hours of logged flight time in the UK or US, 150-200 in Australia, and 200 in Canada.

The least expensive way to begin is to join the military and train free, but this obviously comes with other implications and time commitments. Some airlines offer an apprenticeship program and will train well-qualified candidates, typically those with four-year degrees in aeronautics, aviation, physics, or a similar area. Universities refer to these programs by different names even though coursework may be the same or similar (for example, Bachelor of Aeronautical Engineering).

The final alternative is to pay for private specialized schooling. The quality of schooling and cost varies greatly, but one can expect to pay a minimum of USD$15,000,with some schools exceeding $75,000.


Before interviewing with an airline, it’s important to take time to review common interview questions and to be aware that airlines may try to step up candidates by putting them in a situation where they must go against captain by reporting alcohol, refusing to fly on low fuel, or by questioning calculations.

Moving into Commercial Aviation from another career

Those hoping to enter the field should be prepared to work as a pilot in a related field until a position with an airline becomes available, be it for agricultural, cargo transport, corporate, emergency medical, or other needs.

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Relief Pilot (Second Officer or Third Officer)

Role: New pilots are generally given the title of Second Officer (SO), though a select few airlines still use the incoming rank of Third Officer (TO), and some will offer up a junior First Officer (FO) rank. Relief pilots are on board to cover rest breaks for the captain and first officer, but they are generally only permitted to assume the controls mid-flight. They do not handle takeoff or landing. Some airlines also give them other duties, such as supporting the crew.

Co-Pilot (First Officer)

Role: It generally takes an SO about five years to move up the ranks to a First officer (FO), but the timing will vary. The first officer is considered the co-pilot and continues work under the captain’s direction. Depending on the airline and the length of the flight, the FO may relieve the captain, operate the radios, man the navigational computers, and assist with completing checklists.


Role: It generally takes a pilot 10-12 years to work his way up from an SO to a captain. The captain is responsible for everything on the plane, from overseeing the crew, to flying, monitoring, and completing checklists.

Travel Opportunities

Although pilots can travel the world freely, pilot licenses do not work like driver’s licenses, in that they do not readily transfer from one country to the next. Therefore, the country that a person receives a license in should be the one he intends to work from. Most countries permit pilots to fly aircraft registered in their licensing country, and many countries offer a streamlined process for those hoping to obtain a private license, but commercial licenses often require study and testing within the country.



Relief Pilot: There are drastic differences in pay depending on which airline a pilot works for. Larger airlines pay considerably more, but overall, indicates that new pilots in America have a median salary of USD$51,000, while Canadians receive CAD$50,000, Australians have a median of AU$56,000, and those in the UK are listed at £40,000.

Co-Pilot: USD$69,000, CAD$53,000, AU$61,000, £58,000.

Captain: Captains with 20 or more years’ experience have median salaries of USD$127,000, CAD$80,000, AU$79,000, and £89,000, though some may earn twice this amount.


Some airlines offer pilots bonuses based on the company’s profits that year and most will offer extra allowances based on air time (time in the jump seat), as well as per diem pay to cover expenses while traveling for work. This generally amounts to 4-6 weeks of extra pay per year.



Why a Commercial Airline Pilot moves on

Regular medical tests are required in most jurisdictions. Sometimes they are performed as frequently as every six months. A new medical condition can ground a pilot, as can reaching a certain age, such as 60-65. Others leave the field because they need to be home more.


Companies that hire this role