What Degree Do You Need To Be A Pilot

By Kenneth Tester Kenneth is a Data Analyst expert that has worked on a variety of finance and insurance related publications throughout his career. He has collected and compiled data that propelled the pieces he has collaborated on onto the pages of major media outlets and education sites. 15 minute read

A career as a commercial aircraft pilot may sound like a pipe dream. Who wouldn’t want to soar through the sky, swoop through puffs of clouds, and have a birds-ey perspective of the globe as you traveled?

In order to become an airline pilot, aspiring pilots must be ready to work their way up through the various levels of certification. You need to be aware that piloting isn’t a job you can just leap into.

The majority of commercial pilots, airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher. In order to obtain a pilot’s license and work as an airline pilot, you must also finish flight training with the assistance of a qualified flight instructor.

What Aspiring Pilots Must Know Regarding a Career in the Aviation Industry

First and foremost, if you aspire to be a pilot, you should be familiar with what constitutes a commercial pilot as opposed to an airliner pilot.

Airlines and commercial airlines employ various types of pilots with distinct job descriptions and duties, despite their names appearing to be equivalent. 

What sort of pilot you want to be will have an impact on your job prospects and the training criteria you’ll have to meet. For those desiring to become airline pilots, the educational and certification requirements are more stringent than for those pursuing other sorts of pilot careers.

Airline Pilots

Flying an airplane is a complex job that involves several facets. Airline pilots are the most well-known and prominent members of the aviation industry in the majority of locales.

Airline pilots, as defined by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, are those that fly planes carrying people rather than goods and do so in predictable patterns (BLS).

Civilians are most familiar with airline pilots, namely those who fly for minor carriers. Airline pilots are the type of pilots in the cockpit if you’ve ever taken a scheduled flight with one of the big airlines and it left on time. 

The majority of the time, when someone says they want to be a pilot professionally, they mean that they want to fly commercial airplanes. Pilots are members of the flight crew and are responsible for leading the group during the flight.

In the world of aviation, the big leagues are considered to be pilot positions in large airlines. Professional piloting experience and an airline transport pilot certificate are required for aspiring airline pilots.

Non-airline commercial pilot positions often have less strict minimum criteria than airline pilot employment.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor’s degree is often required to become a pilot for an airline.

To operate as a regional airline pilot, you’ll need a pilot’s license of course. In order to fly an airplane for the FAA, a pilot must hold the most advanced license possible.

Why are airline pilots need to have so many more certificates than other pilots in order to fly? Working for big airlines may be a grueling and demanding career.

During each flight, airline pilots are responsible for the safety of dozens, if not hundreds, of passengers, thus they need to be well-versed in emergency procedures. 

According to the Federal Aviation  Administration (FAA), airline pilots fly an average of 2,900,000 people a day between airports around the United States.

In order to maintain the tens of thousands of daily planned flights, airlines need pilots who are well-educated, experienced, and well-trained.

Aviation pilots typically earn six-figure salaries, making them the most well-compensated in the industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers will make an average yearly salary of $160,970 by 2020.

Commercial Pilots

The great majority of airline pilots don’t begin their professional flying career as airline pilots. For this reason, many would-be airline pilots must begin their careers as commercial pilots before attempting the more difficult ascent to the position.

In order to become a commercial pilot, one must finish a flight training program. What the Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to as unscheduled flight activities instead of guiding big groups of people on scheduled flights. 

It’s possible that these activities may include anything from private charter flights for a small group to aerial tours of a region to the planting of seeds and the application of fertilizer and pesticides to crops by plane. 

Non-flight responsibilities such as carrying luggage aboard the plane and scheduling charter flight requests can also be performed by commercial pilots, according to the BLS.

To become a commercial pilot, you need just get the FAA’s commercial pilot license, which is more easily obtained than an airline pilot license. A commercial pilot license is required to become a commercial airline pilot, as well.

In 2020, the BLS estimated that the median yearly wage for commercial pilots would be $93,300 (US). In spite of the fact that commercial pilots’ salaries are significantly less than those of airline pilots, they nevertheless make more than the $41,950 median pay for all occupations published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013.

What Does It Mean to Be a Pilot for a Commercial Airline?

To further complicate matters, the term commercial airline pilot is often misused to refer to someone who is not a licensed airline captain.

Commercial Pilot and Airline Transport Pilot are the official designations for the pilot jobs listed above as commercial pilots.

The term commercial airline pilot refers to a pilot employed for a commercial airline or a regional airline. In general, airline pilots fall under this type of categorization.

A pilot who is referred to be a commercial pilot in this context suggests that they are making money by flying commercial planes instead of doing it for the love of it. Airliners require an Airline Transport Pilot license; a Commercial Pilot license is not acceptable.

Pilots in the Agricultural Fields

Commercial pilots that specialize in agricultural operations like crop dusting are known as agricultural pilots. Spraying systems and pumps are commonly employed to transform non-agricultural planes into agricultural ones for the purposes of dropping seeds or spraying chemicals to aid plant growth.

Company pilots

Another type of commercial pilot is a corporate pilot. These pilots transport passengers in small numbers – most commonly, high-level executives – for work purposes on private flights rather than scheduled flights on a regional airline where there are other passengers on board.

Air Force Pilots

Military aircraft play a critical role. A military pilot’s duties might range from carrying out aggressive operations to monitoring regions to keep an eye on circumstances, transporting soldiers and supplies, and even executing search and rescue missions.

When a military pilot leaves active duty, he or she may pursue a commercial aviation profession after gaining civilian pilot certification.

Pilots of a helicopter

There are many more types of aircraft that pilots are capable of operating in addition to those found in airliners. Other forms of aircraft, such as helicopters, are also covered by the phrase.

Helicopter piloting is regarded as more challenging than flying an airplane. A helicopter pilot can use their craft for a number of purposes, including transporting critically ill or injured people to a distant hospital.

Pilot Career Levels of Authority

Were you surprised to learn that even commercial airline pilots are subject to a chain of command? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the captain or pilot in charge of an airline flight is typically the principal airline pilot.

In an aircraft’s second-in-command sometimes referred to as the first officer, the copilot performs flight tasks alongside the pilot.

The flight engineer is another title for a person in this position. The third pilot’s position is most frequently found on older aircraft since newer technology eliminates the need for one.

What Qualifications Are Required for Pilot Certification?

As a pilot in the aviation industry, you’ll face a variety of difficulties. You must have a high level of proficiency in using control equipment and systems, continuous operations monitoring, corrective actions when necessary, and an ability to think critically about safe and feasible solutions to potential problems that could put large numbers of people at risk in order to meet these challenges.

To become a pilot, you must meet the following criteria:

  • acquired by participation in an authorized flying training program or school
  • A pilot’s license that is suited to the type of pilot position you are aiming for.
  • A grasp of how airplanes function and how to properly fly them
  • Situational awareness relates to your capacity to pay attention to and be aware of your immediate surroundings, such as the weather and flight conditions.
  • Post-secondary education

In order to be a pilot, one must adhere to strict rules and regulations. Thus, the minimum levels of flying experience and pilot certification required for a given function are specified by legislation.

If you’re hoping to land a job as a pilot, you’ll need to have a wide range of skills and experience in order to land a job with a certain company. Even though the FAA does not technically require airline pilots to hold a degree, bachelor’s degrees are widespread among airline pilots.

Aspiring aviation administrators and managers frequently seek further degrees related to aviation science or safety as part of their post-flight education.

What Degree Is Required to Become a Pilot?

Pilots, in general, don’t require a college degree to get their jobs. High school graduates can become pilots provided they complete flight training and the FAA certification process.

Even if you don’t have a college degree, you may not be able to land a job as an airline pilot. Air traffic controllers and aeronautical engineers typically require a college degree as well.

Both commercial and airline pilots are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree, according to O*NET. By 2022, more than 60% of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers will have earned a bachelor’s degree. 28 percent of commercial pilots had a bachelor’s degree, and 25 percent had a postsecondary certificate or degree.

An aviation or aviation-related bachelor’s degree is a wonderful educational route since it is flexible. The aviation sector is vast and includes a wide range of occupations, from piloting a plane to manufacturing and repairing aircraft to managing airports and small airlines as an administrator.

In order to obtain your pilot’s license, you will need to complete a program that includes both classroom teaching and hands-on flying training with an FAA-certified instructor.

Pilot Aspirants with Bachelor’s Degrees

A bachelor’s degree is a degree that can be earned at the undergraduate level, typically at a four-year institution. Before transferring to a four-year university, some students first receive an associate’s degree from a community college or junior college.

In most cases, a bachelor’s degree program requires at least 120 college credits to be completed. In aviation programs, students often take general education classes in a wide range of disciplines and courses in the student’s selected major, ranging from beginner to advanced.

Without prior college credits or other competencies that can count toward your degree, you can expect to spend four years or more getting your bachelor’s degree to become a pilot.

Other Education Opportunities for a Pilot Profession

Shorter and more targeted education at the undergraduate level can be obtained through postsecondary certificate programs. Students who wish to get a postsecondary credential in aviation may do it in as little as one to two years by studying only a few courses at a time.

There are also programs of study in aviation and other pertinent fields at all levels of education, including associate’s, master’s, and graduate certifications.

The top Bachelor’s degree for airline or commercial pilots.

When looking for a job as a pilot in the commercial aviation business, many airlines prefer to recruit pilots who have at least a bachelor’s degree.

A major relating to flying is obviously preferred by many would-be airline pilots, while other pilots may pick a major unrelated to the aviation industry.

Undergraduate alternatives for aspiring pilots include aviation, aeronautical science, aerospace engineering, and air traffic management. Pilots may also have degrees in computer science, business, or the sciences, as well as other academic backgrounds.


Today, several colleges and universities offer aviation education programs. In reality, individuals who want to learn how to fly an airplane can select from a wide range of undergraduate degree programs. Learn how to manage aircraft systems via the courses that make up an aviation degree program,

To become a pilot, you’ll need to learn ground training, flight planning, and other practical flight abilities in an undergraduate aviation course. Working in the aviation business or as part of a flight crew can both benefit from this degree.

Aircraft Technology

If you are interested in working in the aviation industry, this program may be right for you because of its emphasis on technology rather than just preparing you for becoming an airline pilot. Maintaining and repairing airplanes is a major focus of an aviation technology degree program.

Management of Aircraft

Business and leadership in the airline sector are the primary concerns of the field known as aviation management. Furthermore, pilots of commercial airlines are required to possess a wide range of technical abilities, as well as the ability to manage a crew and give passengers a positive experience.

In aviation law, airport design, aviation planning, air transportation management, airport management, and aviation operations, for example, students may study.

Meteorological Aviation

When it comes to aviation meteorology, the two fields meet. Aviation meteorology majors could concentrate on topics like atmospheric physics, atmospheric dynamics, synoptic meteorology, and remote sensing for meteorology and aeronautics, amongst other things.

Aeronautical Science

Aeronautical science is a broad field that prepares students for a variety of careers in aviation. A degree in aeronautical engineering will teach you how to build whole airplanes. 

Among the topics, you’ll learn as an aspiring aviator majoring in aeronautical science are such topics as aircraft performance and flight dynamics, as well as courses on jet transport systems, jet engines, and electric flight control systems.

Engineering Aerospace

Choosing aeronautical engineering as a major may be a good option if you’re as interested in learning about airplane flight mechanics as you are in actually flying one.

The focus of an aerospace engineering degree is not on flying, but rather on the engineering design abilities, based on scientific and mathematical concepts, that are used in the creation of aircraft and spacecraft.

Aerodynamics, flight dynamics, aerospace structures, aerospace systems, aerospace propulsion, orbital mechanics, and aerospace design are all covered in a comprehensive aerospace engineering degree.

Management of Air Traffic

Aspiring airline pilots can seek degrees in air traffic management. Rather than preparing students to become pilots, these programs train them to become air traffic controllers.

Air traffic controllers aren’t actually pilots, but they are responsible for coordinating the movement of planes from the ground. 

With an air traffic management major, you may gain valuable knowledge about the aviation business and how major airlines function while also completing your official flight training to qualify to be a pilot upon graduation. A college education is often required to become an air traffic controller.

FAA Certificates and Flight Training Programs

Having a bachelor’s degree is significant, but your ability to become a pilot is mostly determined by how well you do in your flight training.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires all pilots in the United States to undertake flight school and obtain a series of pilot licenses or certificates in order to serve as a professional pilots.

Generally, pilots must complete flight training in certain aviation topics and meet the required flying hours, as well as passing both a written test that measures your knowledge of what pilots should do and a practical test in which you put that knowledge to use in the cockpit for each level of pilot license they pursue. In order to get a pilot’s license, candidates need to work their way through the following credentials.

The Student Pilot’s License

An important first step in becoming a pilot is earning a certificate as a student pilot. Students can begin taking flying lessons, but they don’t have to meet a certain amount of flying hours before applying for the student pilot license.

To obtain their student pilot license, students must, however, be able to read and speak English. At least 16 years old is normally required for a student pilot license.

You must submit a paper FAA form 8710-1 or an application on the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) website to an Airmen Certification Branch approved individual in order to receive a student pilot certificate.

FAA-designated pilot examiners, Flying Standards District Offices (FSDOs), and airmen certification representatives from Part 141 flight schools are all allowed personnel for this purpose.

Private Pilot’s License

According to federal aviation laws, a private pilot license requires at least 40 hours of flight time. For a private pilot’s license, at least 20 hours of instruction must be provided by a qualified flying instructor. Ten solo flying hours are required for private pilot certification.

A commercial pilot’s license does not have the restrictions that come with a private pilot’s license. It is not permitted to transport passengers or property for remuneration like a commercial airline pilot is with a private pilot certificate.

However, if the trip is deemed just incidental to the business, you may be able to utilize your private pilot license to be employed as the pilot in charge.

Certificate of Commercial Pilot Licensure

250 hours of flight time are required for commercial pilot certification. For commercial pilot certification, you must have completed at least 100 hours of flying training in powered aircraft, at least half of which must have been in an airplane.

All of the 250 hours needed for a commercial pilot’s license must be completed by the individual applying for one.

You can only become a commercial pilot after completing these flying hours and receiving your commercial pilot license.

Earning a commercial pilot certificate may be difficult, but the rewards are worth it since most avenues of revenue for a professional pilot necessitate one.

Certificate as an Airline Transport Pilot

In order to become an airline pilot, one must possess the Airline Transport Pilot certificate. A minimum of 1,500 hours of flying time is required to become an airline pilot in the United States.

A minimum of 500 hours of cross-country flight travel and 100 hours of nighttime flying must be included in these hours. 

A minimum of 50 hours must have been logged in the kind of aircraft for which the pilot wishes to obtain a rating. At least 250 of those hours must have been spent as pilot-in-command, and at least 75 of those hours must have been spent flying on instruments.

This is not all that the FAA does; they also give ratings, such as the instrument rating and multi-engine rating. To be considered for a position as a flight engineer, copilot, or pilot, you must meet the qualifications specified above.

Beginning Your Search for Flight Schools

Where can someone who wants to become an airline pilot get the aviation training they need?

  • Service in the armed forces is a common launching pad for a career in air transportation. However, in addition to the U.S. Air Force’s apparent requirement for professional pilots, other military branches also require pilots, including the United States Army; United States Navy; United States Coast Guard; the United States Marine Corps; and United States Coast Guard.
  • School of civil aviation. If you don’t want to join the military, the best alternative is to find a civilian flying school accredited by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

While not all flight schools give degrees, some programs provided by colleges and universities can permit both academic education and flying instruction at the same time. In order to land a job with one of the big airlines, you’ll need a recognized degree.

How Can I Locate an FAA-Approved Flight School?

The good news is that there are hundreds of FAA-approved schools for students interested in becoming pilots. In most cases, students will have no problem finding an appropriate flying training facility.

Check out the FAA Flight School Search tool to see if a school’s flight program is approved or to search approved schools by state.

It’s a solid beginning step to narrowing down your flight school options to those recognized by the FAA, but you still need to make some judgments.

Because not all FAA-approved flight schools grant formal college degrees, it may make the most sense to combine your flight training with a degree program that lasts two or four years.

Considerations Regarding the Selection of a Flight School

During your flight school research, keep in mind that the prerequisites and outcomes of these various aviation degree programs might vary greatly.

Some aviation programs give a college degree but may not satisfy all flight training requirements for an FAA-issued pilot license, whilst other college flight school programs require students to have already completed flying instruction prior to enrollment.

Location is an additional aspect to consider while choosing a pilot training program. Location plays a significant influence in transportation-focused careers such as pilots, particularly for commercial pilots who may not fly as much as airline pilots.

The FAA encourages applicants to select a broad location in which to search for a flight school that meets their needs.

The flight training required to become an airline pilot can be undertaken full-time or part-time, similar to college. As you plan your pilot career path, you should also evaluate the amount of time you are willing and able to dedicate to flight school.

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