What Do Commercial Pilots Do?
Commercial Pilots operate either fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft (helicopters) on nonscheduled air carrier routes, which means they do not fly for commercial scheduled airlines but rather smaller companies who operate on a contract basis. Commercial pilots must hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate from the FAA but do not need the Air Transport Certificate required of airline pilots. This career field is expected to grow by 9% with an additional 1,440 openings annually. Commercial pilots typically fly as tour pilots or air ambulance pilots and in charter operations. Other opportunities exist in agriculture, at flight schools, or at aerospace companies that conduct testing and research.
Commercial Pilots Skills and Abilities
To be a Commercial pilot requires more than the ability to operate aircraft. You must have proficient knowledge of policies and procedures for the safety and security of people and property. You should have a thorough understanding of geography and map reading including symbols and features on maps, as well as aircraft systems and meteorology as it relates to aviation. A commercial pilot also must understand how to provide customer service when needed, and possess strong communication skills in English. Some top skills required for this occupation are:
- Operation and control of various aircraft systems and equipment
- Operation monitoring of gauges, dials, and indicators
- Critical thinking to quickly assess the source of problems and determine appropriate actions
Commercial Pilots Duties
A commercial pilot must properly control the aircraft at all times, which includes a preflight check of all instruments and flight surfaces, following directions of Air Traffic Control, following a flight plan, and post flight procedures. Commercial pilots are familiar with reading charts and graphs and calculating fuel loads, payloads, weight and balance distribution in the aircraft, maintenance procedures, and weather interpretation using text and graphic weather reports, forecasts, and charts. Some typical duties during a work day are:
- Plan flight operations
- Inspect aircraft or aircraft components
- Inspect cargo to ensure it is properly loaded or secured
- Record operational details of travel
- Resolve issues affecting transportation operations
The commercial pilot communicates regularly with other crewmembers, mechanics, ramp personnel, and gate staff to coordinate flights. When flying, a commercial pilot is constantly monitoring gauges and indicators and is able to problem solve quickly under stress if something goes wrong.
Commercial Pilots Tools and Technology
Computers and tablets are more important in aviation than ever before, and the commercial pilot uses software and applications to facilitate load and fuel planning, crew scheduling, flight log documentation, and reports. Pilots also use flight simulators as part of initial and recurrent training. A commercial pilot will need to be familiar with the technology behind all flight navigation and communication systems, electrical and hydraulic systems.
Education and Training for Commercial Pilots
Commercial pilots are not expected to have more education than a high school diploma, although flight training is extensive. Once you have a Commercial Pilot Certificate, you can apply for pilot jobs but career progression is related to seniority.
Commercial Pilots Salary
The median salary for a Commercial pilot is $75,600, with the top ten percent making over $140,000. Your salary is largely dependent on how many hours you have logged, what type of aircraft you fly, and who you work for.
Commercial Pilots Jobs by Geography
As you might expect, salary is higher in states with a higher cost of living, although pilots don’t always live where they work. New Jersey and Connecticut have a median salary of over $100,000, while Ohio and Maine have the lowest median salary of under $50,000. The Western states have shown the highest growth rate for commercial pilots in recent years.