Career Details

Airline or Commercial Pilot

Pilots typically do the following:
  • Check the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
  • Ensure that the aircraft is balanced and below its weight limit
  • Ensure fuel supply is adequate, weather conditions are acceptable, and submit flight plans to air traffic control
  • Communicate with air traffic control over the aircraft’s radio system
  • Operate and control aircraft along planned routes, and during takeoffs, and landings
  • Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight and respond to any changes in weather or other events, such as engine failure
  • Navigate the aircraft by using cockpit instruments and visual references

Most aircrafts use two pilots. The most experienced pilot, the captain or pilot in command, supervises all other crew members and has primary responsibility for the flight. The copilot, often called the first officer or second in command, shares flight duties with the captain. Some older planes require a third pilot known as a flight engineer, who monitors instruments and operates controls. New technology has automated many of these tasks, and new aircraft do not require flight engineers.

Pilots must have good teamwork skills because they must work closely with other pilots on the flight deck, as well as with air traffic controllers and flight dispatchers. They need to be able to coordinate actions and provide clear and honest feedback.

Pilots plan their flights carefully by making sure the aircraft is operable and safe, that the cargo has been loaded correctly, and that the weather conditions are acceptable. They file flight plans with air traffic control that they may modify in flight because of weather conditions or other factors.

Takeoffs and landings can be the most difficult parts of the flight and require close coordination between the pilot, copilot, and flight engineer, if present. Once in the air, the captain and first officer usually alternate flying activities so each can rest. After landing, pilots must fill out records that document their flight and the status of the aircraft.

Many pilots will have some contact with passengers and customers. Charter and corporate pilots will often need to greet their passengers before embarking. Some airline pilots may have to help handle customer complaints.

Commercial pilots employed by charter companies usually have many more nonflight duties than airline pilots have. Commercial pilots may have to schedule flights, arrange for maintenance of the plane, and load luggage themselves.

Pilots who routinely fly at low levels must constantly look for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other dangerous obstacles. This is a common danger to agricultural pilots and air ambulance helicopter pilots, who frequently land on or near highways and accident sites that do not have improved landing sites.

The following are examples of types of pilots:

Airline pilots are commercial pilots who primarily work for airlines that transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule.

Commercial pilots are involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, aerial photography, and aerial tours.

Flight instructors are commercial pilots who use simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.
Personality & Interest

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Airline pilots typically have an interest in the Doer, Thinker and Organiser interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Doer interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinker  interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organiser interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems. 

If you are not sure whether you have a Doer or Thinker  or Organiser interest which might fit with a career as an airline pilot, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Airline pilots should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Pilots must speak clearly when conveying information to air traffic controllers. They must also listen carefully for instructions.

Observational skills. Pilots must regularly watch over screens, gauges, and dials to make sure that all systems are in working order. They also need to maintain situational awareness by looking for other aircraft or obstacles. Pilots must be able to see clearly and judge the distance between objects, and possess good color vision.

Problem-solving skills. Pilots must be able to identify complex problems and figure out appropriate solutions. When a plane encounters turbulence, for example, pilots may assess the weather conditions and request a route or altitude change from air traffic control.

Quick reaction time. Pilots must be able to respond quickly and with good judgment to any impending danger, because warning signals can appear with no notice.
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