L3Harris Flight Academy

How to become a commercial pilot in the USA

Becoming a pilot with L3Harris Flight Academy is an investment in your future. We have the facilities and training expertise at our central Florida Flight Academy to prepare our cadets for an exciting and rewarding career as a commercial airline pilot.

How to become a pilot in the USA with L3Harris Flight Academy at a glance:

  • You will need a Commercial Pilot License & 1,500 flying hours to earn your Airline Transport Pilot Certificate to fly for an airline
  • It takes an average of 10-22.5 months to complete your flight school training - depending on the program you choose - before going on to obtain your 1,500 flying hours
  • You will undertake FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approved pilot training courses, and programs Nationally Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • Our Professional Pilot Program (PPP) is our pilot training program that guarantees graduates an interview with us to become an L3Harris Flight Instructor & build the necessary flying hours to apply for a role as First Officer
  • Our Accelerated Airline Pilot Track (AAPT) can be the most direct route to becoming a pilot. The Flight Instructor Certificate with Instrument Rating (CFI-I) means on graduation you will be guaranteed an interview to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) with L3Harris in Sanford
  • Our Commercial Pilot Track (CPT) helps cadets who want to pursue a career as a commercial pilot but are not interested in becoming a Flight Instructor
  • You will need passion, self-discipline, technical aptitude, problem-solving skills, teamwork, spatial awareness, and the ability to make decisions under pressure to become a successful pilot

The steps below outline a cadet pilot’s typical progression through our Professional Pilot Program which prepares students whose goal is to work for an airline.

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1: Research pilot schools and training programs

As part of a world-leading, global aviation business, our cadets have access to the latest training technologies and systems.

Our Florida Flight School is well equipped with over 60 aircraft and five Flight Training Devices, but aside from our facilities, we have a reputation in the industry for having friendly, approachable staff who provide outstanding training.

We hold regular events across the country and online which we recommend you attend to meet the team and get a feel for life at L3Harris Flight Academy.

Book a Discovery Flight

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2: Check if you meet the entry criteria & have the common skills required to become a pilot

To start your journey to become a pilot in the USA, prospective cadets need to meet entry criteria relating to age, medical and selection. Please visit each of our pilot training programs and courses for full entry criteria.

To apply for a pilot training program, you will need to meet the following requirements:

  • Age - Applicants must be at least 17 years and 6 months old at the start of the program
  • Medical - All applicants must provide a photocopy of an FAA Medical Certificate
  • Selection - Cadets must complete a Wonderlic assessment and meet or exceed the minimum score requirement of 17
  • Certification - Obtain a Student Pilot Certificate

To apply for a role as a commercial airline pilot, you will need the following requirements:

  • Degree - Varies by airline but generally not required. Degrees can be in any field of study, not just aviation.
  • Certification - Commercial Pilot License certificate with multi-engine rating and instrument rating
  • Experience - 1,500 flight hours
  • Medical - First-Class FAA Medical Certificate
  • Age - 21 years old
  • Tests & Exams - ATP CTP, Knowledge Test & Practical Exam

Qualifications needed

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3: Earn your Private Pilot Certificate

You will study for your Private Pilot Certificate at ground school within the Academic Building of our Florida Flight Academy as well as learn to fly a single-engine airplane.

During your Private Pilot License training, you will learn basic flight methods, aircraft maneuvers, navigation, flight planning, and emergency training.

Once this phase is completed you will receive your Private Pilot License (PPL) and legally be able to fly a single-engine aircraft for non-commercial purposes.

Private Pilot License

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4: Earn an Instrument Rating Certificate

Achieving your Instrument Rating (IR) extends the privileges of your PPL and allows you to fly according to Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). Obtaining your IR will build your confidence in flying under different conditions as you will learn to reference instruments in the flight deck and navigate via electronic signals.

Instrument Rating training

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5: Earn a Commercial Pilot Single-Engine Certificate

This module will provide you with commercial pilot privileges in single-engine aircraft. Ground school will include pre-flight preparation and procedures and your flight training will cover FAA regulations such as radio communications, air traffic control, and commercial operations.

6: Earn a Commercial Multi-Engine Add-on Rating (PPP/CPT only)

The Multi-Engine Rating is the next necessary step for any professional pilot who wishes to fly for an airline. The module will focus on aircraft control, performance, and multi-engine operations.

7. Obtain your Certified Flight Instructor Certificate

Pilots must have a minimum of 1500 hours of flight time before they can apply to passenger airlines in the United States.

For this reason, we include the Certified Flight Instructor Certificate in our Professional Pilot Program and offer all our graduates an interview to become a Flight Instructor. Teaching others is a great way to embed your own learning as well as build up valuable flight hours.

In our AAPT program, the Flight Instructor Certificate with Instrument Rating (CFI-I) means on graduation you will be guaranteed an interview to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) with L3Harris in Sanford.

Alternatively, you can complete the following Flight Instructor courses at L3Harris:

  • Flight Instructor Single-Engine Certificate - enables you to teach cadets on a single-engine aircraft
  • Flight Instructor Instrument Rating - enables you to teach cadets under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR)
  • Flight Instructor Multi-Engine Certificate - enables you to teach cadets on a multi-engine aircraft

Programs and courses

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8. Gain flight experience and earn an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate

Once you have successfully obtained your Certified Flight Instructor Certificate, you can build up the required 1500 flight hours to obtain your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.

An Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate is the highest licensing the FAA issues and is typically the final milestone before beginning your career as an airline pilot.

With an ATP certificate, you unlock your potential to go on to fly for regional and major airlines as a First Officer and Captain.

To obtain your Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate, you will need to complete an ATP CTP program which includes 30 hours of ground school learning and 10 hours of SIM training in Fixed Training Devices (FTD) and Full Flight Simulators (FFS).

After you have successfully completed the program, you’re eligible to complete your ATP Knowledge Test.

ATP CTP

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9. Become a commercial airline pilot!

Upon successful completion of your Airline Transport Pilot certificate, you are eligible to fly for an airline as a commercial pilot!

By obtaining all of the relevant qualifications outlined above, you will qualify for most regional and international commercial pilot positions.

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I wanted to make flying the career for me, which led me to make this 10,000-mile journey halfway across the world to pursue the Professional Pilot Program at L3Harris Flight Academy.

Academy Testimonial Sharonjeet Dhillon Sharonjeet Dhillon L3Harris graduate
See all our pilot success stories

What pilot jobs are available when I graduate?

Most applicants who wish to become a pilot in the USA aspire to fly for a commercial airline. Our pilot training programs and courses are all designed to prepare you for a role as a First Officer on a passenger aircraft. It is important to note the FAA states that all graduate pilots must build at least 1,500 flying hours before applying to work for an airline.

At L3Harris Flight Academy, we help you achieve your ultimate career goal by offering all our graduates an interview to become a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) – one of the best ways of building flight hours.

We also invite representatives from airlines to visit the campus and interview our cadets and Flight Instructors, providing valuable opportunities to secure your future pilot career.

Request info    |    Career prospects

How much does it cost to become a pilot in the USA?

When deciding to become a commercial airline pilot, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘how much does it cost to become a pilot?’. And it’s no surprise as to why. Your pilot license cost is a significant investment and financial commitment.

The exact cost to become a pilot will differ depending on the route you take and the organization you opt for.

How to become a pilot FAQs

What are the different pilot license types?

Deciding what type of pilot you want to be will help you get on track to obtain the right certification for your future career. There are four main types of pilot licenses:

  1. Student Pilot Certificate - You need a Student Pilot Certificate to fly alone in any aircraft which is essential to begin your training as a pilot.
  2. Private Pilot License - A Private Pilot License will teach you the basic flight maneuvers enabling you to fly a small aircraft for non-commercial purposes. This certification is suitable for cadets looking to become a private pilot.
  3. Commercial Pilot License - A CPL provides you with advanced knowledge and skills of flying including pre-flight prep, procedures, FAA regulations, aircraft control, performance and multi-engine operations. This certification is suitable for cadets looking to become a commercial pilot as it does not enable you to fly for an airline.
  4. Airline Transport Pilot License - a ATP License is the highest level of pilot certificate and is required if you want to become a pilot for an airline in the US. This certification is suitable for cadets looking to become an airline pilot.

How long does it take to become a pilot?

How long it takes to become a commercial pilot is dependent on the pilot training program you choose to complete.

How much can I expect to earn as a pilot?

As a commercial airline pilot, you can expect to receive a salary above the average. However, your actual salary will differ depending on whether you fly for a major or regional airline.

Newly qualified pilots typically start out at a regional airline. Regional airline pilots are typically paid less than those at major airlines.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2020 Report, the percentile wage estimates for airline pilots, First Officers, and Flight Engineers are as follows:

Percentile

10%

25%

50% (median)

Annual wage

$80,920

$106,530

$160,970

What characteristics do I need to become a pilot?

  • Excellent communication skills
  • Ability to work well in a team
  • Demonstrate leadership skills
  • Excellent spatial awareness and coordination skills
  • Ability to remain calm under pressure (emotional stability)
  • Self-confidence
  • Desire to learn
  • Decisiveness & quick-thinking skills

Do I need to have perfect vision to become a commercial airline pilot?

No, you do not need to have perfect vision to become an airline pilot. As long as your vision is not impaired with 20/20 glasses or contact lenses and successfully obtains an FAA-approved first-class medical certificate, you are eligible to fly as a commercial airline pilot.

You can be colorblind and still become a pilot depending on the severity and what colors you can and cannot recognize. Your color vision will be assessed as part of your first-class medical exam which will determine whether you have the requirements to operate a commercial aircraft.

Do I need a degree to become a commercial pilot?

No, you do not need a degree to become a commercial airline pilot. However, it can give you an advantage when securing a job with a regional or major airline.

Regional airlines typically prefer an associate’s degree, whilst major airlines typically prefer a bachelor’s degree (in any field, not just aviation).

So whilst it is not compulsory to have a university degree before training to become a pilot it will open up more opportunities to work in the aviation industry.

At L3Harris Florida Flight School, we have partnered with Seminole State College of Florida (SSC) and Jacksonville University (JU) to provide airline pilot degrees which enable you to graduate with a degree and a pilot license.

What would my day look like as a pilot?

As a commercial airline pilot working from a regional or major airline you can expect to work weekdays, evenings, weekends, and holidays. Commercial pilots are responsible for navigating and flying passengers and cargo planes from A to B safely and efficiently.

You will be responsible for:

  • Performing pre-and-post-flight aircraft inspections
  • Planning and selecting safe flight routes with First Officers
  • Identifying and problem-solving risks that may occur
  • Keeping accurate records for compliance reasons
  • Communicating with air traffic control regarding the flight plan, air traffic, weather and other external factors which may impact the flight
  • Monitoring aircraft engines, fuel levels, and aircraft systems
  • Flying the aircraft using visual flight rules and instruments

How to apply to flight school?

Once you are ready to apply you can either submit the short application form on the website to register your interest in a program, or complete the full application form online. 

Once your application has been screened by our admissions team you will be invited to complete a Wonderlic assessment. You must meet or exceed the minimum score requirement.

Once through selection, it will be time to move into your accommodation and begin your course or program. Our Student Services Team can assist with orientation, housing, transportation, and student affairs. We also coordinate extra-curricular activities to help you and your fellow student cadets have fun and get to know one another.

Have L3Harris Flight Academy secured any employment opportunities for graduates in 2021?

Yes. In fact, our Placement teams found 40 graduates in the USA employment opportunities in 2021, joining a selection of our 10 regional airline pilot pathways.

These employment opportunities, alongside increasing demand for international travel, are both really strong signs that the aviation industry is recovering and also allow us to look to the future with renewed energy.

  • 100% funding available to 
    those who qualify
  • 10 airline 
    partners
  • 96% graduates who stay as CFI
    placed with airlines
  • 60+ single and multi-engine 
    aircraft

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