Commercial Pilot Requirements: Everything You Need to Know

John Peltier

It’s easy to get discouraged from pursuing your dreams when you take a quick glance at the requirements to be a commercial pilot. I went through the same thing. But you know what? It’s really not as hard as it seems. Here we’ll break down the commercial pilot requirements, both from a regulatory perspective and also a practical perspective.

FAA Commercial Pilot Requirements

Here it is, interpreted straight from Federal Aviation Regulations Part 61, Subpart F.

General Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible to be a commercial pilot, a candidate must be 18 years of age. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be 18 to start your training – you just have to be 18 years old by the time you go take your practical test. It is possible to get your commercial pilot license the day you turn 18 if you work hard at meeting all of your flight experience for the commercial pilot requirements before you turn 18.

You must also be able to read, write, and speak the English language. There is a provision for those with certain disabilities. For example, if a learning disability prevents proper writing, the FAA may still grant the commercial pilot license with certain restrictions.

A female flight instructor in an airplane cockpit - Commercial Pilot Requirements

Photo by: H Michael Miley

You’ll also need to be endorsed by an authorized flight instructor. The instructor is giving you their blessing that you are prepared to take the required exams. It is possible to learn all of your ground knowledge through self-study, but this doesn’t mean you won’t be spending time in ground school with an instructor. They’ll still need to evaluate all of your knowledge (and they will find holes!) before sending you off for your tests. The endorsements are required before taking your written “knowledge” test and also before taking your practical test – the “final exam”.

While you may be able to do most of your ground training on your own, the flight standards are high and the flight training will need to be done with an authorized instructor. Meaning you can’t take your buddy who is a licensed helicopter pilot, go out flying every day in an airplane, and log training towards your commercial pilot requirements for an airplane.

You will also need to meet aeronautical experience requirements. Put simply, the FAA will not grant a commercial license to a pilot who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the air. It takes a lot of flight time in different flight conditions to obtain skills necessary to be a competent commercial pilot. These are the aeronautical experience requirements – flight time in different conditions, and they’ll be discussed shortly.

As previously mentioned, you’ll need to pass a practical test. This involves an oral exam with an FAA flight examiner and then a flight where you will show him that you are ready to be a pilot at the commercial level.

It should also go without saying that to get a commercial pilot license, you need to hold at least a private pilot license first.

The final paragraph of Part 61.123, Eligibility Requirements, states that you must comply with the sections of these regulations that apply to the aircraft category and class rating. Things like don’t fly while intoxicated, maintain an appropriate medical clearance, wear oxygen masks when required, etc.

Specific Commercial Pilot Requirements

You’ll need to have a good understanding of many different aeronautical subjects. FAR Part 61.125 lists areas of aeronautical knowledge required for a commercial pilot applicant. These are the knowledge areas you’ll be tested on for both your written knowledge test and the oral practical test. I won’t list them all here; the entire list is available in FAR Part 61.125. They include all Federal Aviation Regulations that pertain to commercial pilot operations in your aircraft category and class, accident reporting requirements, aerodynamics, weather, aeronautical decision-making, and night operations.

An R22 Instrument panel - Commercial Pilot Requirements

Photo by: Marg

Now on to the flight proficiency part of commercial pilot requirements. Part 61.127 is about flight proficiency – these are the areas of flight training that you’ll need to do with an authorized instructor. The FAA examiner will test you on these procedures during your practical test. Again, the list is extensive so we’ll just list a few things here. They include: preflight procedures, performance maneuvers, navigation, ground reference maneuvers, and emergency operations. There are different commercial pilot requirements based on if you are pursuing a license in single-engine airplanes, multi-engine airplanes, rotorcraft, powered-lift, gliders, airships, or balloons. Some people pick up these skills right away while others may take a little extra training – be prepared for this and don’t get discouraged!

You will also need to have logged a certain amount of flight time under various conditions. FAR Part 61.29 lists these requirements, and again, they vary between different aircraft categories and classes. Except for gliders, airships, and balloons, they do all require that you log at least 100 hours of pilot-in-command time. This is probably the biggest requirement to get past due to the investment in time and money required. You’ll also need a number of cross-country hours – 50 for airplanes, 10 for helicopters. The FAA also requires a minimum of 20 hours of training with an instructor in the areas of flight proficiency mentioned in the previous paragraph. The good thing is that these will all count towards your 100 hours!

Other Commercial Pilot Requirements

Now that we got all the dry requirements out of the way, let’s quickly discuss other responsibilities of becoming a commercial pilot.

The hard work, dedication, and studying will never end. It’s especially intense while you’re going through your training, but that won’t be the end of it. You’ll constantly have to stay abreast of new technologies and regulations, and study up on the things you may have forgotten. I make it a point to go back and study a subject once a week. It could be airspace weather minimums, emergency procedures, or physiology. The FAA grants you the privilege of flying other people around in compensation for money. Isn’t that amazing? Don’t abuse this privilege and don’t take it lightly.

Along with this is maintaining a clean life outside of your flying as well. Stay out of trouble with the law and don’t do anything to jeopardize your medical clearance. Your job will depend on this!

In Conclusion

Becoming a commercial pilot requires a significant investment in both time and money. Be sure that you’re capable of meeting these requirements before starting your training.

This just about sums up the commercial pilot requirements! There’s just something special about flying – once you get the taste of it, it’ll stick with you forever. And to be paid to do this?! Only in dreams, right? Well, now that you’re starting the journey to become a commercial pilot, that’s one dream that can come true.

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