Commercial Pilot vs. Airline Pilot
There are all sorts of pilots out there. Some fly recreationally while others fly for compensation. Commercial and airline pilots are both professional aviators but are in contrasting positions. All airline pilots are commercial pilots, but not all commercial pilots are airline pilots. What are the differences between these two?
Looking at a commercial pilot vs airline pilot, there are different job opportunities for each type of pilot, minimum hours and responsibilities associated with each job. Let’s dive in.
As a commercial pilot, you fly for compensation, but not for a scheduled airliner.
Types of pilot jobs for commercial license include flight instructing, being a jump pilot, charter pilot, air ambulance pilot, agricultural pilot and banner towing pilot. Some of these positions have different hour requirements for the position.
In general, to earn their commercial license, pilots need to complete 250 hours of flight time for part 61 and 190 for part 141 training but may need additional hours for certain jobs. For instance:
- Flight instructors need 10 – 25 hours for their flight instructor certificate
- Charter pilots need at least 500 hours depending on the aircraft
- Air ambulance pilots may require around 500 hours of experience
Let’s look at the duties associated with these different roles.
Each of these commercial pilot jobs is unique in their own way.
- Flight instructing
A flight instructor is responsible for teaching students to fly. In this role, you’ll be imparting your knowledge onto student pilots during their flight training journey.
- Jump pilot
Jump pilots operate skydiving aircraft. This position can be challenging and rewarding for those interested in flying skydivers.
- Charter pilot
A charter pilot flies for a charter airline, flying fare-paying individuals. These pilots usually fly short distances in smaller aircraft.
- Air ambulance pilot
Air ambulance pilots utilize aircraft to transport organs or patients between locations for procedures. In this role, many pilots are on-call for their shift.
- Agricultural pilot
Agricultural pilots execute jobs related to the farming industry. Planting seeds, crop dusting and hauling feed are some of the duties they’ll focus on.
- Banner towing
As a banner tow pilot, you’ll perform short flights towing banners. This involves low and slow flying to showcase the banner you’re towing, whether it be for advertisement or other purposes.
Now let’s look at the airline pilot role.
Comparing an airline transport pilot vs commercial pilot, there are a multitude of differences.
With your ATP license, you can fly for the regional airlines, major airlines, become a law enforcement pilot, corporate pilot, cargo pilot, firefighter pilot, media pilot, air tour pilot and government service pilot and more. There are certain hour requirements for each role.
While you’ll need 250 hours of flight time for part 61 and 190 hours for part 141 to earn your commercial license, it’s important to complete 1,500 flight hours for your airline transport pilot (ATP) license or 1,000 flight hours for your restricted ATP (R-ATP) license to become an airline pilot. Military pilots are required to obtain 750 hours flight time and 200 cross-country flight hours to earn the ATP. Certain airline jobs require different levels of experience, but regardless, an ATP license is needed.
- Major airline pilots need 1,000 hours as a captain
- Cargo pilots need about 3,000 hours of flight time
Let’s look at the duties of the different airline jobs.
If you’d like to pursue a specific job as an airline pilot, you’ll need to understand the duties of that position.
- Regional airline pilots
Regional pilots work for scheduled airlines, transporting passengers as well as cargo. SkyWest Airlines, AeroGuard’s partner and the largest regional carrier in the U.S., is known for its professionalism. Regional airlines typically fly shorter routes, in smaller Regional Jet planes, like the ERJ and CRJ. They are typically branded by the major carrier partners.
- Major airline pilots
Major airline pilots also fly scheduled airliners, but for longer trips and with more passengers. As a major airline pilot, you’ll be flying anything from Airbus A319s to Boeing 747s.
- Law enforcement pilots
Law enforcement pilots work within police and similar aviation units. Search-and-rescue and patrolling are part of the responsibility.
- Corporate pilots
Corporate pilots fly private business aircraft and can be certified in different types of aircraft.
- Firefighter pilots
Firefighter pilots, or aerial firefighters, are responsible for containing wildfires, transporting crews and dispensing water. They’ll fly into areas only accessible by plane to fight fires.
- Media pilots
Media pilots report news from the sky.
- Air tour pilots
Air tour pilots are similar to a typical tour guide, but the view is from up above. This is an excellent sightseeing job.
- Government service pilots
Government service pilots work under state departments of aeronautics, transportation or other agencies.
Though it’s common to misunderstand the variations between a commercial pilot vs airline pilot, now that you have additional information about the job opportunities, hour requirements for those jobs and job duties of each type of pilot, you should be able to differentiate the two.