Pilot Career Profile

Updated February 21, 2017 | Factmonster Staff

What is this job like?

Pilots fly airplanes and helicopters to do many jobs. Most pilots fly people and cargo from place to place. Some pilots test new planes, fight fires, do police work, or rescue people who are hurt or in danger.

Before they take off, pilots plan their flight carefully. They check their plane to make sure that it is working properly. They also make sure that baggage or cargo has been loaded correctly. They check the weather forecast to see if they will run into any bad weather on their trip. They then decide what route they should take, and how high and fast they should fly.

Takeoff and landing are the hardest parts. Pilots must be especially careful during those times. The rest of the flight is fairly easy, if the weather is good. Planes have computers and other machines to tell pilots if their trip is going according to plan. These machines show whether there is enough fuel, whether the weather is changing, and whether the plane is on course. Pilots must check these machines often during the trip to be sure that all is going well. If problems come up, the pilots take steps to solve them.

The law says that pilots who work for an airline cannot fly more than 100 hours a month or more than 1,000 hours a year. Most airline pilots fly about 75 hours a month, and work another 75 hours a month at other parts of the job. When they are flying, airline pilots must very often stay away from home overnight. Airlines have flights at all hours of the day and night. This means that airline pilots often are asked to work odd hours.

Pilots who do not work for the airlines can have unusual work schedules, too. For example, they may fly 30 hours one month and 90 hours the next. Most of them do not have to stay away from home overnight, but they may have to work odd hours.

Pilots who fly very long distances may have "jet lag." This is fatigue caused by moving through different time zones. The work of pilots who test new planes may be dangerous. Pilots who work on farms or who help police and firefighters also might get hurt on their jobs.

Flying does not involve much hard physical work. Pilots can feel a lot of stress because they know that they are responsible for the safety of their passengers. They must be careful and quick to react if something goes wrong.

How do you get ready?

All pilots who are paid to fly must have a license from the Federal Government. They must be at least 18 years old. They must have flown at least 250 hours. To get an airline pilot's license, a person must be at least 23 years old. The person must have flown for a total of 1,500 hours, or have gone to a special school for pilots.

A doctor must also examine the person. The doctor makes sure that the person can see and hear well, and is healthy enough to fly. Pilots must also pass a written test to show that they know how to fly properly. The pilot's employer may ask him or her to pass other special tests as well.

Many pilots learn how to fly in the military. Others become pilots by going to flight schools. Most companies want the pilots they hire to have some college education. In fact, most people who enter this occupation have a college degree.

Source: The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

See also: Selected Astronauts and Aviators.

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