Commercial & ATP Certificates

Commercial & ATP Certificates

The big airplanes that take you coast to coast — and even the smaller connecting planes — require pilots to have a commercial-pilot or airline transport-pilot (ATP) certificate. That's reassuring!

If, after flying for awhile, you decide you want to pursue a career in commercial aviation, you'll need one or both of these certificates as well as ratings for instrument flying and for multiengine aircraft. The greatest advantage commercial pilots have is that they get paid for what they love to do — fly! Sure, it can become a "job" after awhile, but few will trade it for a desk job.

To fly passengers for pay you must have a commercial-pilot certificate. An airline transport-pilot certificate is broader and is typically required for flying larger aircraft. In addition, both certificates allow for ratings to be added on for multiengine and various types of aircraft.

If you're considering a career as a professional pilot, I recommend you go to the best school you can afford. The better airlines want graduates from the better schools. Some even have their own schools to train pilots their way and build loyalty. Many of these schools offer low or free tuition for pilots who accept employment with the school's airline sponsor. Start your career by joining the AOPA and reading their Flight Training magazine to find out which schools are most respected in the industry.

Chances are your local airport or flight school won't be able to train you as a career pilot. Fortunately, there are many places that can, and most of them are showcased on the Internet.

A good place to start is at, a website for folks who want to be commercial aviators. It provides extensive resources on training (college vs. military vs. flight academies), who's hiring, how to get hired, and a chat room where you can talk with active airline pilots about their careers. It's a great aviation career resource!

How much will training toward an ATP certificate cost? Just as costs vary with the particular college, costs for your commercial-pilot training in flight school can be minimal ($25,000 and lots of work and study) or in the stratosphere ($100,000 or more). Just as with college, you can obtain scholarships to help you out or even pay your way. Talk with professional pilots and ask them for advice. Decide on what your flying goals are (airlines, business jets, freight, international flight, etc.) and find a mentor to help you reach them.