Strictly speaking you don't need a college degree to be an airline pilot, but it helps your chances that you do. A couple of years ago SkyWest Airlines, a large regional carrier based in St. George, UT, hired 37 pilots; only one didn't have a college degree. It doesn't matter much what your major is,...
Best answer: Strictly speaking you don't need a college degree to be an airline pilot, but it helps your chances that you do. A couple of years ago SkyWest Airlines, a large regional carrier based in St. George, UT, hired 37 pilots; only one didn't have a college degree. It doesn't matter much what your major is, but the ones that involve lots of science and mathematics are preferred. Some universities, such as University of North Dakota, offer flying lessons as part of their education curriculum.
You can earn your Private Pilot Licence (PPL) by taking ground school and flying lessons at your local General Aviation airport. The PPL requires a minimum of 40 flight hours, but in practice it takes between 60 and 80, and costs up to $8,000. After that you have to earn your instrument and multi-engine ratings, also at your expense. Flying is a perishable skill, you have to fly a minimum number of hours per month to keep your ratings current.
After the 2009 Colgan Air crash the Congress passed the law that requires the airline pilots to have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience. You can get the hours by becoming a flight instructor, flying crop dusters or towing banners along the beach, but with low hours your chances of landing a job are not good, and if you know someone who helps you get a job, the pay is low. Most people are doing it for the flying hours anyway. You can pay for your ratings and hours yourself but it can cost over $100,000.
Another way to get flying experience is through the military. However, you should pursue this option ONLY if you want to serve your country, not for the free flying lessons. The pilots in the US Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps are commissioned officers. To be an officer you must have a college degree and graduate very near the top of your class to be selected for the flight training. Many apply, few are chosen and even fewer get to fly. If you wash out of the flight training you don't get to go home, you must serve out your your enlistment. If you pass the flight training, it's "Wings plus Ten." You owe the Uncle Sam 10 years of your life. So between waiting about two years for a flight training slot to open up, up to 18 months of flight training, depending on what you get to fly, and 10 years of operational flying you are looking at 13 to 15 years before you can sell your services to the United Airlines.
Of the airlines in the US only jetBlue that I know of makes its own pilots, and only dozen or two dozen per year. The competition to get into jetBlue's ab initio training program is fierce, even fiercer that the one for the military flight training. A successful completion of the program does not guarantee the graduate a job with jetBlue either. Graduates go on to fly Cessna 402s from Boston to Martha's Vineyard or from Fort Myers to Key West for Cape Air, jetBlue's regional affiliate before, with some luck, finding their way into a right seat of a jetBlue's E-190.
If you manage to tiptoe your way through the tulips and get all your ratings and hours, you can get hired by a cargo airline. Forget UPS, Atlas, or FedEX, or even Kalita. You will fly auto parts to the assembly plants in the planes with questionable pedigree and maintenance at the time when normal people should be sleeping in bed.
If you are lucky you get hired by a regional affiliate of a major airline. At least the regionals take better care of their planes; a crash of an old DC-9 full of pick up truck steering columns does not cause as much splash in the news as the crash of a regional jet with 70 passengers aboard. While the starting pilot pay had improved over the last couple of years, whether you fly cargo of passengers, the pay is still low, in some cases new hire co-pilots are eligible for Food Stamps.
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