Commercial Pilot

In this career guide, you’ll learn everything you need to know about commercial aviation as a career, from roles and responsibilities to the work environment and roadmap to becoming a Commercial Pilot.

Who's a Commercial Pilot?

There is no denying that the job of a commercial pilot is filled with thrill and adventure. This path gives you opportunities to experience a rush of adrenaline combined with the latest technology when you fly those powerful aircraft. As a commercial pilot, you won’t just soar the skies for fun – you’ll be responsible for safely delivering your passengers, crew and cargo to its destination. You’d fly different kinds of aircraft for different reasons – transporting people, delivering cargo, emergency rescues, evacuation operations, etc.

Joining the aviation industry can seem risky at first,  but it could open up a life of enthusiasm and energy. Sounds ideal for you? Read on to know more about this career!

What exactly does a Commercial Pilot do?

Giving instructions to passengers and crew members

As a commercial pilot, you will be responsible for instructing your plan, progress and more to crew members and passengers before take-off or during the journey. In case of emergencies, you will take a call on the action plan and inform the crew about the same. For example, during turbulences, pilots instruct the passengers and crew members to follow certain rules to ensure their safety.

Communicating with the Air Traffic Control

As a commercial pilot, you will coordinate with Air Traffic Control towers for takeoff and landing clearances. In case of emergency, you will also be coordinating with them for changes in flight plans. Throughout the flight, you will be communicating with other air vehicles to ensure smooth takeoffs and landings, and avoid any collisions. For example, while flying through bad weather conditions pilots stay in constant communication with the ATF for landing instructions or changes in the route.

Carrying out system checks and fuel checks

Carrying out pre-flight system checks to ensure the proper functioning of engines, radars, navigation systems and safety systems will be a crucial part of your roles as a commercial pilot. Checking and calculating the fuel required during a flight depending on the weight carried by aircraft and the distance to be covered will also be a part of your responsibilities.

Carrying out system checks and fuel checks

Carrying out pre-flight system checks to ensure the proper functioning of engines, radars, navigation systems and safety systems will be a crucial part of your roles as a commercial pilot. Checking and calculating the fuel required during a flight depending on the weight carried by aircraft and the distance to be covered will also be a part of your responsibilities.

Ensuring smooth landing and takeoff

The most important parts of a flight journey are the takeoff and landing. As a commercial pilot, you will work with the captain or co-pilot to plan every little detail to make sure that both the landing and takeoff are successful. This will also include checking the weather conditions and charting out an entire flight plan.

Administering the aircraft’s controls and steering it along a preplanned route

As a commercial pilot, you will have to monitor multiple aircraft systems at the same time. Even a small change in the controls can affect the motion and performance of the plane, so you will have to pay close attention and monitor the dials and gauges to ensure that everything is working fine.

Adjusting the flight path in case of weather emergencies

As a pilot, you will practice worst-case scenarios in simulators, so that you can change the flight’s original course and make emergency landings. In different conditions, for example, when operating in ice and snow, or a very hot and dusty area, pilots use “supplementary” normal procedures to ensure appropriate actions are taken.


Where does a Commercial Pilot work?


The cockpit will be your workplace if you are working as the captain or co-pilot. Aircraft cockpits are designed to facilitate pilots to function optimally not only under normal but also under critical conditions such as peak workloads and emergencies. Pilots usually take turns to fly the plane to avoid fatigue, with one operating the controls, while the other speaks to air traffic control and completes the paperwork.

How do you become a Commercial Pilot?

Step 1: Class XI/XII

This stream won’t be suitable for this field as it is necessary to opt for subjects of Maths and Physics. In case you are an Arts student then you can study these subjects by enrolling in a course conducted by NIOS (National Institute of Open Sciences).

Step 1: Class XI/XII

This stream won’t be suitable for this field as it is necessary to have the knowledge in both the subjects of Maths and Physics. If you are a commerce student or want to opt for the same then you can study the subjects by enrolling in a course conducted by NIOS (National Institute of Open Sciences).

Step 1: Class XI/XII

To pursue a career in flying and aviation, you need to be medically fit and should have passed Standard XII with at least a 55% aggregate score in the Science stream with Mathematics and Physics as your subjects.

Step 2: Graduation

If you decide to become a commercial pilot, then you need to attend a flying school to earn your Commercial Pilot License(CPL). You will need to clear the pilot aptitude test, physical and medical exam. After these exams the final candidates are hand-picked. At the training school, you will get in-flight training as well as theoretical lectures. By the time you leave the flying school, you’d have earned sufficient flying hours, so you can apply for the Commercial Pilot License and work towards gaining more professional practical experience. The course duration is of 15-20 months.

You can opt from some of the famous flying institutes in the country, GRUA (Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Uran Akademi), Fursatganj, National Flying Institute, Maharashtra, Gujarat Flying Club, Vadodara, Delhi Flying Club, Delhi, Madras Flying Club (Chennai).

Step 3: Earning a Commercial Pilot License

The next step is for you to appear for the Commercial Pilot License exam conducted by the Director-General of Civil Aviation(DGCA), New Delhi. To acquire a license, you will need to have a minimum flying training of 200 hours, on single-engine and/or on multi-engine aircrafts. You will also have to clear 4 ground papers: Air Regulations, Technical, Air Meteorology, and Air Navigation. The passing mark is 70%, and all exams are MCQ types.

To appear for DGCA exams, you first have to apply for a computer number for which the eligibility is a valid class 12th mark sheet with physics and maths as compulsory subjects or diploma mark sheet. You need to do signup on Once issued with a computer number, you can apply for the exams on the same website. Generally, the exam portal remains open for 7-10 days.

On successful completion of the above, all documents are submitted to the office of the Director-General Civil Aviation (DGCA) for the issue of CPL. Simultaneously, it is advisable to also clear the Radio Telephony (RTR) exam conducted by the Government of India (MINISTRY OF Telecommunications) six times a year. This exam as the name suggests makes a pilot proficient in the field of radio telecommunications as all the work that is done up in the air is dependent upon radio communication.

Step 4: Gaining the Type Rating and Landing a Job

After earning the commercial pilot license, you then need to go for the Type Rating. Type Rating is the training or mentoring you get beyond the rudimentary flying school training. This training certifies that you are eligible to fly a particular aircraft. It is a certification issued by the country’s regulatory body (such as DGCA in India) that certifies that a pilot is fit to fly certain types of aircrafts. This may involve about 75 hours of training on simulators. Type ratings must comply with the requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Also, very important is that you need independently get your medical tests done, they are known as Class 1 and Class 2, before anything else. If you pass all this, you will be rostered as an airline pilot and you can begin flying as First Officer or Junior First Officer within India.

Step 5: Post Employment Training

After being selected by the airline for employment, you will first have to be enrolled in the airline’s training program to cater to the growing need for skilled and professional pilots. After undergoing the training sessions, gaining the theoretical knowledge and getting the various licenses under this programme, you will be eligible to join the airlines as Junior Flight Officer.

During the training period, you will sign a Letter of Intent with the airline and join as the pilot. After the Type Rating (TR), you will obtain a license as a co-pilot on an aircraft such as the Airbus A320. The license is valid for a year and some around two years. You will have to renew the license as often as required.

Functional Skills

Critical thinking

Critical thinking

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Attention to Detail

Attention to Detail

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Communication Skills

Communication Skills

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Problem-solving Skills

Problem-solving Skills

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How do you make it to the top ranks?

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Second Officer

A second officer isn’t found on every flight, but when they are it is usually on international or long haul flights, As a second officer you will ensure that the captain, senior first officer, and first officer can get adequate rest. A second officer wears 2 stripes on their uniform. In some airlines, the second officer acts as a first officer. During this time a Junior First officer is paid an average monthly salary of 1,20,000 to 1,60,000 INR.

First Officer(FO)

As a first officer, you can also act as a co-pilot. FOs usually have less experience than a senior first officer, though this is not true in every case, as some airlines issue all new pilots the rank of FO regardless of how experienced they are. The average monthly pilot salary for First Officer ranges between 2,60,000 – 3,30,000 INR.

Senior First Officer(SFO)

A senior first officer (SFO) acts as a “co-pilot”. After the captain, they are second in command of the aircraft. An SFO is highly experienced and can sit in the left-hand seat when the captain takes a break. As an SFO you will act as second in command of the aircraft. While it can vary between airlines, they are expected to have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flying experience. The monthly average salary for a Senior First Officer is around 4,80,000 – 5,60,000 INR.


As a captain, you will be the highest-ranking member of a flight crew and the commander of the aircraft. The captain usually has at least 3,000 hours of flying experience, sits in the left-hand seat, and is responsible for the aircraft, its crew, and all other occupants. A captain wears 4 stripes on their uniform. Major airlines pay captains upwards of INR 50,00,000 a year.

Pursuing the career: Locally vs Overseas

Pursuing your career as a commercial pilot in India is a good career choice as India has achieved the third position in the aviation sector after USA and China. However, in today’s scenario, young aspirants who had earlier aimed for a career in the aviation industry in pre-Covid times might have apprehensions about their career choice. Though there might be some long term impacts on standard operating policies and systems in the aviation industry as a result of the pandemic the present situation is expected to get better and normalize in few years. If you’re an Indian you should do your full course from India itself. As the pilot training course, itself is very expensive, it will be more cost-effective if you pursue your flight training course from India.

Clearing the DGCA papers will be easier and without as many hassles.  It costs around 45-60 lakhs to become a pilot in India and this cost can go as high as 75 lakhs if a candidate decides on a cadet program. The payment is 30-40 lakhs to get the commercial pilot license and 15-20 lakhs for the Type Rating. The problem with pursuing a pilot training course abroad is that you will have to apply for the conversion of your license which can be very challenging and will cost you another INR 4-5 lakhs.

To be a commercial pilot in India, one should have a flying experience of 250 hours while in the case of developed countries, the situation is not so. In countries like Europe, to have a basic license experience, one has a flying experience of 750 hours. In foreign countries, the salary is almost double to what is offered in India. Sometimes, the pay is thrice or 4 times that in India. On the other hand, these countries are also lucrative avenues for pilots to start their careers. There is more job certainty and satisfaction for pilots who are working abroad.

In the US, the cost of flight training is about INR 25 lakh to around INR 65 lakhs. In the US or developed countries, training for CPL is less than in India because of high-cost fuel and imposed duties as explained by the Indian system.  Every time a pilot wants to upgrade to a bigger aircraft, he has to pay an additional amount of INR 25 to 30 lakh. The cost of living in Europe and North America can make the expenses incurred for pilot training higher abroad as compared to India. The major benefit of enrolling in an international pilot training school is the savings in time. While the same course can stretch for 2 years in India, doing the course from abroad can take just about 6-8 months making it a much quicker option.

What are Commercial Pilot's career options?

Major Airlines

With a commercial pilot license, you can fly all over the world for major airlines. There are more than 5,000 airlines worldwide, and with pilots retiring in record numbers, this remains the number one career for pilots.

Regional Airlines

You can also work as a domestic commercial airline pilot for a regional airline carrier. Many pilots prefer this because it requires fewer overnight trips and keeps them closer to home.

Corporate and Business Aviation

This type of commercial pilot usually gets to fly smaller, high-end, corporate jets and turboprops for corporations, businesses, and even for the rich and famous.

Cargo Pilot

A cargo pilot delivers parcels and packages for small and large cargo companies such as FedEx and UPS.

Charter Pilot

A charter pilot is a pilot that flies people to specific destinations, hence the name, “Air Taxi.” You can operate your own private charter company or work for a large number of other charter airlines.

Ferry Pilot and Aircraft Salesman Pilot

This type of pilot delivers newly purchased aircraft to the new owner’s destination. With plane manufacturing at an all-time high, this is a growing area.

Flight Instructor

Also known as a CFI, or certified flight instructor. This type of pilot career allows you to teach aspiring pilots, new pilots, and veteran pilots the intricacies of flying. CFIs can teach at flight schools, operate as private instructors, teach at aviation colleges, teach at airlines, and much more.

Medical and Air Ambulance Pilot

Also known as EMR pilots, these types of pilots fly for various medical situations. They fly for extreme emergencies, life flights, organ deliveries, non-emergency patient transport, etc.

Government Service Pilot

Government pilot careers allow a pilot to fly for the many different agencies for the federal government. Some examples of agencies that hire pilots – are Federal Aviation Administration, DEA, FBI, Homeland Security, Border Patrol, National Guard, Coast Guard, Transport, and more.

You’ve only scratched the surface.

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