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Documenting Flight Time/Commercial Pilot Certificate
By the time you've finished your initial service commitment and are thinking of separating to work for the airlines, you've probably accomplished much of what you need to get started - you just need to make sure it is all documented correctly.

First, make sure your flight time is documented properly, especially your pilot in command (PIC) time. (Confused on when you can log PIC time?
Check out a good article here. Note that PIC time for FAA purposes may be different than the standard an airline uses for hiring purposes.) Then go ahead and get your commercial pilot certificate. As long as you've been on active flying status in the past twelve months, the process is pretty easy. An FAA Flight Standards District Office examiner will check out your log book and documentation and award the commercial pilot certificate with appropriate qualifications and ratings. You have to take a Military Competency Airplane test, which covers covers civilian certification and currency regulations, flight operation regulations, and accident/incident reporting regulations. If you haven't been on active status in the past twelve months, you will likely have to complete additional tests. Click here for a plain-English version of the process from the FAA Western Pacific Region Flight Standards Division. Or you can view a copy of the actual regulation here.


Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certificate and Type Ratings
For many airlines (especially "regionals"), a commercial pilot certificate will meet the minimum requirements to apply. However, in most cases an ATP certificate is required to be competitive. Unfortunately you can't just qualify for an ATP certificate on the basis of your military experience - but there are still a few bonuses available to military types.

First, you can use GI bill benefits for flight training, including ATP exam preparation programs. You can receive up to 60% of the training costs for flight training. For more,
see the official GI Bill guide here. You can also get reimbursed for the cost of the ATP examinations (knowledge/written and practical). Click here for more on eligible exams and reimbursement rates (enter "ATP" into the keyword search, or search for FAA as the organization).

Second, once you have an ATP certificate, you can qualify for a type rating at the ATP level without additional testing based on your military experience, if you happen to fly an applicable aircraft. The process is the same as qualifying for a type rating for your commercial pilot license. So if your military aircraft has an equivalent civilian type rating, you could be in luck. For example, if you happen to fly the T-43, you could qualify for the B-737 type rating, which is required for employment with Southwest - with no additional costs except for those related to getting your ATP.
Click here for type rating requirements , including a listing of equivalents (p. 9-9). For more on the basic ATP requirements/process, see "Getting Your ATP Knocked Out" on this page.


What Else Do You Need?
There are a few other odds and ends required or preferred by most airlines:




Getting an ATP Minimize

Okay, so you know you need an ATP to be competitive... how should you go about it?

First, the prerequisites needed to take the knowledge (written/computer-based) test. (Source: Taken from this FAA guidance.  Also see the FAA ATP Knowledge Test Guide).

  • Hold FAA Commercial Pilot Certificate, or military pilot within past 12 months
  • First Class Medical Certificate
  • Flight Experience
    • 1500 Total Pilot Flight Hours
    • 250 Total Pilot In Command (PIC) Hours
    • 500 Cross-Country Hours (at least 100 PIC)
    • 100 Night Hours (at least 25 PIC)
    • 75 Instrument Hours (up to 25 hours in simulator can count)

Your passing score on the knowledge test is good for 24 months (extended if you maintain your military flight status).  The Practical Test (check ride) is required after the knowledge test to receive the ATP certificate.

How Should You Prepare?

There are a number of flight schools out there that specialize in ATP preparation.  A few notes/advice...

  • Many ATP courses are 2-day courses, though longer ones are offered.  Most military pilots seem to think the 2-day course is sufficient, especially with some advance studying.
  • Some ATP packages are offered with optional extra flight time... depending on your aircraft background you may want to consider it... see the discussion here.
  • If you are eligible for the GI Bill, make sure you choose a school that is approved by the VA because the GI Bill will pay up to 60% of your costs.  Most schools that are eligible will have someone who handles GI Bill processing and will likely loudly proclaim their eligibility, but you can call the VA at 1-888-GI-BILL1 (1-888-442-4551) to confirm a school's eligibility.
  • If you are considering getting a type rating, typically the ATP costs will be included in the price of the type rating program, so you'd be better off to get both at once.
"Exhibit Hall CRM" Minimize

During every pilot's search for that ideal flying job, we inevitably find ourselves at one pilot convention or another. These conventions present great opportunities. It is a chance to gain more knowledge about potential employers, to introduce yourself to the airline recruiters and to offer airlines the chance to learn about you. At my first convention, I was lucky to hear a presentation given by Capt Eric Hendricks of AirTran on what he termed “Exhibit Hall CRM.” Exhibit Hall CRM basically addresses some of the bonehead things recruiters see frequently at conventions. I thought what Capt Hendricks said that day was so fundamental and important that I want to share it with you. For those headed to their first convention, this should be required reading.

Lesson #1 – When you attend an airline convention, act and look like you are there for an interview. Spend the money on a decent interview suit, be properly groomed and don’t neglect the shoes. Any major retailer such as
Men’s Wearhouse can offer advice on what to and what not to wear to an interview. The flying community is relatively small, so you are bound to run into old friends, but remember, that isn’t why you are there. The convention isn’t the time to start getting loud and reliving old memories. You never know who is paying attention to you.

Lesson #2 – Recruiters are people too. They need to eat and sleep like the rest of us. When you see a recruiter outside the convention, such as checking in at the hotel or eating in a restaurant, 99% of the time that isn’t a good time to introduce yourself or give the recruiter your resume. Along those same lines, don’t be a pest by doing such things as visiting the same recruiter over and over and over and…

Lesson #3 – Let your resume do the talking for you. A recruiter goes through a lot of resumes during the course of a day. They can scan a resume and pick out the information they need in less than 15 seconds. Once they have done that, they will ask you for any additional information they may need. If you do ask questions, ask questions that indicate you've already done your homework. Questions such as “What type of equipment do you fly?” are things that you should know before you ever talk to a recruiter. Do your research beforehand and engage on the positive as opposed to the negative. Bottom line is smile and do not talk yourself out of a job.

Lesson #4 – Know who you are talking to. As an example, AirTran Airways is not ATA. If you take the time to make airline specific resumes, then make sure you hand the correct resume to the intended airline. ‘Nough said?

In summary, airlines are looking for qualified people who they don’t mind spending hour after hour with in the relatively small space of the cockpit. If you are handing an airline a resume, then you are likely qualified. Don’t put yourself out of the running due to likability issues because you only get one chance at a first impression.


In order to exercise the privileges of an airmen certificate, all pilots must posses a current medical certificate issued by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME). There are three types of medical certificates: First, Second and Third Class. You can find the associated medical standards and testing requirements for each type here. Each type of certificate is valid for a specified period of time; generally First Class certificates must be renewed every 6 months. In order to hold an ATP certificate you must have a First Class Medical Certificate - most airlines will generally require this as well, even if their minimum hiring requirement is a commercial pilot license. For more information, download Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations Part 67 (14 CFR Part 67). Need to schedule an exam? Click here to locate an AME! (Note that not all AMEs can give First Class certificate exams; also some flight surgeons are designated AMEs, which can save you time).

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