There are approximately 122,350 civilian aircraft pilots and flight engineers in the United States. The majority (84,520) work as airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers. The rest are commercial pilots. The commercial airlines, including both passenger and cargo transport companies, are the primary employers of pilots. Some pilots work for air-taxi companies, and others work for businesses that provide services such as crop dusting, pipeline inspections, or sightseeing trip. Pilots also work in general aviation, and many are trained and employed by the military.
A large percentage of commercial pilots have received their training in the armed forces. A military pilot who wants to apply for a commercial airplane pilot's license is required to pass only the Federal Aviation Regulations examination if application is made within a year after leaving the service.
Pilots possessing the necessary qualifications and license may apply directly to a commercial airline for a job. If accepted, they will go through a company orientation course, usually including both classroom instruction and practical training in company planes.
Those who are interested in becoming business pilots will do well to start their careers in mechanics. They may also have military flying experience, but the strongest recommendation for a business pilot's job is an airframe and power plant (A and P) rating. They should also have at least 500 hours of flying time and have both commercial and instrument ratings on their license. They apply directly to the firm for which they would like to work.
Many beginning pilots start out as copilots. Seniority is the pilot's most important asset. If pilots leave one employer and go to another, they must start from the bottom again, no matter how much experience was gained with the first employer. The position of captain on a large airline is a high-seniority, high-prestige, and high-paying job. Pilots may also advance to the position of check pilot, testing other pilots for advanced ratings; chief pilot, supervising the work of other pilots; or to administrative or executive positions with a commercial airline (ground operations). They may also become self-employed, opening a flying business, such as a flight instruction, agricultural aviation, air-taxi, or charter service.
Tips for Entry
Get a student membership to the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association, https://www.aopa.org/membership, which will help familiarize you with the profession.
Read a blog from a pilot, such as Jethead, https://jethead.wordpress.com/about, which provides an interesting look at being a pilot as well as other career information.
Reach out to other pilots through associations and ask them about their profession.
Subscribe to the flight training podcast, The Student Pilot Cast, http://studentpilotcast.com/subscribing.
Visit FAA flight schools at https://www.faaflightschools.com to see a list of flight schools by state.