Pilot Job Description

Pilots operate and land aircraft to transport people and cargo across distances. Commercial airlines, shipping companies, private airstrips, and corporations that own private aircraft hire pilots to work full-time hours during all shifts, including night, weekend, and holiday hours. Pilots risk their lives to operate aircraft and are ultimately responsible for the lives of all crew, cargo, and passengers onboard the craft. Pilots travel to perform their jobs, sometimes spending one or more days away from home to complete their assigned flights.


Pilot Duties and Responsibilities

Day-to-day duties for pilots vary greatly depending on the aircraft they operate, the flight paths they take, and their employer. However, there are several core tasks associated with this job:

Check Aircraft

Pilots inspect aircraft and aircraft controls prior to flight. They do a complete walkaround of aircraft prior to takeoff in order to make this inspection.

Make Calculations

Pilots account for wind speed, temperature, plane weight, and flight path to determine how much speed is needed to take off.

Monitor Weather

Pilots monitor weather conditions to determine if the environment and atmosphere along the flight path is safe enough for travel.

Follow All Federal Regulations

Pilots must follow all federal aviation regulations at all times. This includes communicating with control towers, logging flight plans, and maintaining accurate crew, cargo, and passenger manifests. Pilots also observe aviation laws and regulations for all countries into whose airspace they travel.

Plan Flight Path

Pilots plan flight paths prior to takeoff to find the optimal route and speed for the aircraft to efficiently and safely complete the intended journey.

Record Information in Logs

Pilots fill out flight logs for every single trip.

Monitor Aircraft

In addition to monitoring all instruments and controls to ensure the aircraft is functioning normally, pilots also monitor fuel levels at all times.

Collaborate with Flew Crew

Pilots collaborate and communicate with other members of the flight crew to maintain safe operation of the aircraft and ensure the safety of all people and items onboard.


Pilot Skills and Qualifications

Pilots are detail-oriented professionals with outstanding communication skills and strong knowledge of how to safely operate aircraft. They make calculations to complete safe flight plans while following federal and international aviation laws. In addition, employers also look for pilots who display the following skills:

  • Attention to detail – pilots maintain strong attention to detail to monitor all dials and gauges in the cockpit, the weather and atmosphere surrounding the craft, and conditions onboard the craft
  • Communication skills – pilots frequently use verbal communication skills to speak with control towers, ground control, and other members of the flight crew. They use written communication skills to fill out flight logs
  • Mathematics – because pilots make calculations regarding wind speed, temperature, fuel usage, aircraft speed, and many other factors, excellent math skills are essential for this career
  • Motor skills – pilots need excellent manual dexterity, hand-eye coordination, and motor skills to operate numerous switches and controls in the cockpit
  • Mechanical skills – pilots operate highly technical aircraft and aircraft instruments and inspect aircraft engines and equipment, all tasks that require excellent mechanical skills
  • Multitasking – pilots maintain awareness of all environmental and onboard factors while operating aircraft, which requires good multitasking


Tools of the Trade

Pilots work regularly with the following tools and equipment:

  • Aircraft tools (gauges, meters, ignitions, dials, switches)
  • Communication tools (radios, headsets)


Pilot Education and Training

Employers have varying education and training requirements for pilots depending on the aircraft that is need of operation and the nature of the hiring company. Commercial pilots who transport passengers for paid flights, for example, must have a commercial pilot’s license. This license is not necessary for cargo pilots or for pilots who fly private planes. However, a majority of employers require pilots to have successfully completed flight school and logged multiple types of flight hours. This may include flight hours logged with retractable gear aircraft, airplanes, and turboprop aircraft, as well as hours of instrument time and unaided nighttime flight. All pilots must pass an extensive background and drug screening process, and all pilots must have good vision and the ability to distinguish colors.

Training is not typically provided to pilots, as these professionals have already completed extensive education and training prior to becoming licensed pilots. However, some employers may require pilots to log specific hours of time performing as a copilot before they are given the opportunity to become the main pilot on a flight. This waiting period varies by employer and may not be required by some employers at all.


Pilot Salary and Outlook

Airline and commercial pilots earn $111,930 in annual median income, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) information. Like pilots, airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate aircraft of all types, including airplanes and helicopters. Data from the BLS shows that airline and commercial pilots occupy more than 100,000 jobs. It predicts that this number will grow 4 percent by 2026, a rate that is slower than the national average.

Most employers provide extensive benefits packages to pilots that include complete healthcare coverage with dental and vision insurance. Several weeks of vacation pay and personal leave time are also typically offered to pilots, along with life insurance coverage and retirement benefits. Many employers additionally offer tuition and training reimbursement incentives to pilots who are still logging specific types of required flight hours.


Helpful Resources

Use these resources to find news updates, tips, strategies, and education information for pilots:

Air Line Pilots Association – this website dedicated to pilots all over the world provides resources, news updates, event dates, and information

Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge – this official FAA handbook provides basic knowledge pilots of all skill levels need to know. The text includes information about obtaining certification, finding flight schools, and other essential topics

The American Pilots Association – search this website for news items, tips regarding best practices, publications, and other resources

Everything Explained for the Professional Pilot – this book provides information that pilots need to know, including checklists, study materials, and a discussion of piloting different aircraft types


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