What it Takes to Start a Career in Aviation

If you want to work in aviation, you need more than just flight experience.

The process may seem intimidating, but the steps for becoming a pilot are in place to ensure a qualified individual is behind the yoke of an aircraft. So, grab your books, and let’s take a look at the requirements for starting a career in aviation in the United States.


Start a Career in Aviation

Do You Need a Degree to Become a Pilot?

While a Bachelor’s Degree is not required to become a pilot, air traffic controller, or aviation mechanic, it can help give you a leg up in your studies. There are specific aviation degrees you can pursue, or you could study a related field that will complement your flight instruction.


  • Bachelor of Science in Aviation Technology

  • Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering

  • Bachelor of Aeronautical Science

  • Bachelor of Science in Air Traffic Management 

  • Bachelor of Science in Aviation Management

  • Bachelor of Science in Aviation Maintenance

  • Bachelor of Computer Science

  • Bachelor of Science in Physics

  • Bachelor of Science in Chemistry


Some major airlines will accept military flying experience when evaluating potential pilot candidates. Air Force members receive a year of pilot training, meet medical standards, and continued on-the-job training that can be valuable as a civilian pilot.

FAA Medical Certificate

Depending on the type of flying you wish to do as a pilot, different medical certificates may be required. No matter the craft, you want to be in tip-top shape when you man the controls.

First Class Medical

Required for major airlines, this is the highest class of medical certificate and permits a pilot to act as pilot-in-command. It’s also required to any pilot 60 years of age and older, or who is operating as second-in-command for an aircraft requiring multiple pilots.

Second Class Medical

This certificate is required for second-in-command pilots or those flying commercial aircraft.

Third Class Medical

A pilot flying private aircraft must have at least their third class medical certificate. This certificate is also required for recreation and student pilots, as well as a pilot examiner or flight instructor. The third class medical is required before a pilot can test for second or first class. 

Student Pilot Certificate

With medical clearance, it’s time to apply for a student pilot certificate. With this, an aspiring pilot can prepare to advance to solo flight time after initial flight lessons are completed. Here are the eligibility requirements for obtaining a student pilot certificate:


  • 14 years of age or older to operate a glider or balloon (lighter-than-air aircraft).

  • 16 years of age or older to operate a glider, balloon, or heavier-than-air aircraft.


Those seeking a student pilot certificate must apply with the Federal Aviation Administration, a process that can be done through a flight instructor. As a student pilot, you are permitted to fly by yourself, following visual flight rules.

Flight Training 

Once you become a student pilot, it’s time to continue your training. There are exciting opportunities waiting for pilots of all types, including private, commercial, and flight instructors. Take a look at what’s covered during flight training, both on the ground and in a certified flight training device.

Federal Aviation Regulations

Flying is governed by the Federal Aviation Administration and all pilots-in-training need to familiarize themselves with current aviation regulations during flight school. There are general operating and flight rules to follow, as well as a number of certifications to earn in order to fly different types of aircraft.

Aircraft Systems and Performance

No matter what you want to fly, part of your schooling should include instruction on both lighter-than-air and heavier-than-air aircraft. Learn how things work, and how they should perform in any given circumstance, preparing you for any type of flying in the future.

Weather Study

Studying meteorology helps pilots plan their flights. Inclement weather can’t always be predicted or avoided, so pilots need to train in a variety of conditions to build their skillset. Pilots need to understand how temperature, wind, and humidity affect their aircraft and navigation. Different weather elements can change visibility, flight time, fuel efficiency, and how much turbulence an aircraft experiences.

Flight Planning and Navigation

Whether you’re going across town or across the country, a pilot needs to know how to navigate. Flight planning involves charting a course, following airspace regulations, calculating speed, and monitoring the weather. Thankfully, we now have the use of GPS to simplify some of these processes, but it’s still a crucial part of flight training. A pilot should always be prepared, especially in the event of GPS or other navigational failures.

Takeoffs and Landings

Flight school should prepare pilots to take off in myriad conditions, giving them practice with the following:


  • Crosswind Takeoff

  • Ground Effect Takeoff

  • Short-Field Takeoff

  • Maximum Performance Climb

  • Soft- or Rough-Field Takeoff

  • Rejected Takeoff

Ground Maneuvers

As the different types of takeoffs indicate, there are certain ground maneuvers with which a pilot must be familiar in order to have a successful flying career. Pilots need to be able to navigate a runway, including performing turns and banking.

Performance Maneuvers in the Sky

Perspective pilots need to get a handle on the capabilities of their aircraft so they’re prepared for whatever maneuvers they need to perform in the sky. Not every pilot will have to successfully land a plane safely on the Hudson River, but it’s good to have the skills to do so if needed. Performance maneuvers should also include practice handling stalling engines or wing stalls. Pilots need to have the ability to think clearly in the event of an emergency, making radio calls, instructing crew members, and navigating emergency landings.


FLT Academy in Utah has a great list of what qualities a pilot should possess in order to have a career in aviation. 

Private Pilot Testing and Practical

After successfully completing student flight training, it’s time to take private pilot exams, with include practical application of all you’ve learned. Once you pass a private pilot’s exam, you can finally fly solo.

Commercial Pilot Training

If you want to fly for hire, you’ll need to train and test to become a commercial pilot. For a career in commercial aviation, you need to log at least 250 flight hours and be current on a second or first class medical certificate. 

Airline Transport Pilot Training

For a job with an airline, you are required to get an airline transport pilot certificate. This training consists of 1,500 flight hours while acting as pilot-in-command for 250 of them. Even with all your hours of training up to this point, when you’re hired with an airline, you should expect additional training. Airlines have standardized procedures so every flight operates the same, regardless of who’s at the controls or who’s servicing the passengers.


No matter which type of license you’re testing for, a score of at least 70% is required to pass the written test. For the practical test, be prepared for an oral evaluation as well as a flight evaluation. You’ll need to demonstrate hands-on knowledge of preflight inspections, postflight inspections, and everything in between. Flying may look like a lot of fun, but it should be taken seriously. FAA regulations for pilot training attempt to keep the aviation industry safe, both for passengers and crew.


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