When you finally obtained your commercial pilot certificate it was a moment of great joy and accomplishment. You begin to envision the start of your airline career as a first officer—but that feeling quickly fades as your flight instructor reminds you of the 1500-hour rule for airline pilots. All the hard work and flight training is far from over at this point, and you must push even harder to reach your goal of becoming an airline pilot.
Now all that's left to do is to build up your flight time towards meeting the requirements to earn the coveted airline transport pilot certification.
But how exactly do you do that? How long does it take to get 1500 hours? Are you a student interested in an airline career? Where do you begin, in terms of breaking this large number down into achievable chunks?
We'll help you get there in this article. Let's get started!
The 1500-Hour Rule - Restricted ATP Requirements for First Officers
The journey to becoming an airline pilot is an exhilarating one, but as Uncle Ben wisely noted in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, "with great power comes great responsibility." In this case, it means a big job comes with equally big responsibilities.
The FAA wants to make sure that you meet the minimum requirements that prove both your pilot knowledge and experience through your proficiency. Part of ensuring this is requiring that First Officers for the airlines have a minimum of 1500 hours, and are properly certified.
Requirements for Airline First Officers (SICs)
The minimum qualifications for starting out with the airlines include:
21 years or older
Hold an Air Transport Pilot Certification (ATP) or an ATP with restricted privileges (R-ATP) (including instrument rating qualification)
An appropriate aircraft type rating
At minimum a Second-Class medical certificate
Hold the minimum flight hour requirements specified in FAR Part 61
The FAA ATP Requirements
It is important to remember that in order to pursue a career as a commercial airline pilot, you must meet the ATP requirements. We know this can seem overwhelming but with a bit of dedication, you will be well on your way.
For a pilot to be given their ATP certificate, these are the requirements:
At least 23 years old
Hold a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating
Pass the ATP written exam and practical test
Have 1,500 hours total time as a pilot
Have at least 50 hours in a multi-engine airplane
Complete the ATP Certification Training Program (ATP CTP) prior to taking the ATP knowledge test
Total Flight Time
For those pilots looking to achieve their ATP Certificate, you must have a minimum of 1500 hours of flight experience logged in your logbook. But don't forget that it's not only the number of hours that qualify for certification, it's also the type of flying experience you bring that sets you apart. By taking part in transport pilot certification training, many pilots find themselves chalking up more than the minimum required hours.
1500 hours minimum, consisting of:
500 cross-country flight time
100 hours of night flight time
50 hours in a Multi-Engine, Land airplane
75 hours of instrument flight time
250 hours of pilot-in-command(PIC) time in airplanes
100 hours of cross-country PIC time in airplanes
25 hours of night flight time PIC in airplanes
What is the ATP CTP?
The Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program (ATP CTP) is a commercial pilot certification training program available to those who meet the minimum qualifications to enter. Keep in mind, that these programs will want you to be able to hold a first-class medical.
Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification: How to Earn Your ATP Certificate?
To become an airline pilot you'll need to complete aviation-related coursework and your training within this program to obtain an ATP certificate. Showing that you have the knowledge and experience necessary to meet aviation safety standards is a great way to get ahead in your career. Plus, it's proof that you can handle everyone's safe travels with ease.
ATP programs typically include:
Ground school training
Learning with a flight training device (fixed-based training device)
Training in a full flight simulator
Where can I take it?
We encourage you to check out the great list of approved training program businesses and locations the FAA provides. Take a look around to find the closest program near you.
How Long Does it Take to Earn an ATP Certificate?
This question is asked a lot, and to be honest with you, the timeframe to earn an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) certificate varies widely.
It depends on your background, goals, training intensity, and other factors. Starting from scratch could take several years, while experienced pilots can earn it in a matter of months.
The best way forward is to team up with a flight school or instructor and develop a customized plan that's tailored to your specific needs. Don't forget to stay up-to-date on FAA regulations which may change over time.
How do Pilots Achieve These Extra Hours to Get Their ATP Certificate?
After a pilot achieves their commercial pilot certificate(250 hours), they have to build up the additional 1250 hours of flight time needed to qualify for an approved training course toward their airline transport pilot certificate.
Time building is often done through working low-time piloting jobs, such as banner-towing and flight instructing(check out our list of 8 low-time pilot jobs).
(By Rudi Riet - originally posted to Flickr as Continental Connection Bombardier Q400, CC BY-SA 2.0,)
Why Does the 1500 Hour Rule Exist? The Colgan Aviation Accident
Before the 1500 hour rule, first officers(co-pilots) were hired based on how much of a need there was for them. All that was needed to get the position was a commercial pilot certificate(250 hours) and some jobs only required around 300 flight hours.
Following the catastrophic Colgan Air 3407 crash of 2009, a new rule was passed to improve the safety and qualifications of pilots. The aircraft - a Bombardier Q400 - had entered an aerodynamic stall which resulted in it crashing into a house, killing all passengers on board as well as someone inside the residence.
The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that the cause of the colgan air flight tragedy was due to the pilot's reaction to stall warnings. The US Congress then determined that stricter rules should be put in place to increase pilot safety by improving their flight training, experience, and overall knowledge.
Their answer to preventing history from repeating was the 1500 hour rule.
What are the R-ATP Requirements (College Experience) ?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established a special certification called a "restricted privileges ATP certificate" which allows pilots who have less than 1,500 hours of flight time or who are below the minimum age of 23 to serve as co-pilots until they have amassed the required number of hours.
These are the options for obtaining this certificate:
A Military pilot with 750 hours in total
A Bachelor’s degree holder, aviation major, with 1,000 hours
An Associate’s degree holder, aviation major, with 1,250 hours
Pilots who are 21 or older and have 1,500 hours of flying.
Hour Building isn't Relevant to Flying A Commercial Jet
There are some who would argue that building 1500 hours in a small single-engine aircraft is not helping to make flying commercial jets safer. Most pilots will time-build flying Visual Flight Rules and flight instructing in small aircraft, which does not compare to the experience needed in large commercial jets, flying through Class A airspace.
However, the FAA makes the argument that the requirement is a minimum in order to begin the qualifying flight training for becoming a commercial airline pilot.
The FAA's desire is that by the time a pilot has their 1500 hours they have developed enough skill proficiency, aeronautical knowledge, and understanding of airport operations to make better and safer decisions in the air.
Commercial Pilots Need 1500 Hours to Work for Airlines in America
Did you know that the 1500 hour rule only applies to regional airlines in the United States? The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the UK and Europe accept commercial pilots into the First Officer position after completing their flight training and obtaining a frozen airline transport pilot certification with 250 flight hours.
Airline Operators Also Require Flight Hours to be on Specific Aircraft Types
Before you can expect to fulfill the duties associated with air carrier operations, you will need to understand the specific types of aircraft the airline wants you to have flight hours in.
The airline typically likes to see hours in these types of aircraft:
Multi-Engine, Land airplane
Single-Engine, Land airplane
As part of training to qualify for an ATP certificate, this will also include training hours in a flight simulator and with fixed-based training devices.
What is a Commercial Pilot License?
If you're interested in turning your passion for flying into an airline career, a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) is a must. To obtain your CPL, you will need to meet certain flight hour requirements, complete ground school courses and flight training, and pass a practical test.
With your CPL, you can take on various roles in aviation such as flight instruction or giving flight tours. And if that wasn't enough, having your CPL is also a stepping stone to even higher certifications like the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP).
The minimum requirements for a CPL include:
250 hours of flight time, 100 hours of which must be in powered aircraft, and 50 must be in airplanes.
100 hours of pilot-in-command time, 50 of which must be in airplanes.
50 hours of cross-country time, 10 of which must be in an airplane.
20 hours of flight training, including 10 of instrument, 10 of complex or TAA, along with cross-country and test preparation.
10 hours of solo training, cross-country flights, and night flights.
You Can Become a Pilot — Here's Your Next Step
If the 1500 hour rule hasn't discouraged you and you're still feeling excited to become a pilot and work for the airlines, then we've got your back! Here are some helpful guides written by our experienced team - so you can get started on fulfilling your aviation dreams, no matter where you are on your journey.
Aviation curious: How Long Does It Take to Become a Pilot?
Aspiring students: Requirements to Get Your Student Pilot Certificate
Aspiring pilots: How to Become a Private Pilot in 2023 – Get Started Today!
Private pilot, future commercial pilot: How to Become a Commercial Pilot (Step-By-Step) Guide
Time building: 8 Low Time Pilot Jobs for Pilots With Less Than 500 Hours
If you already have triumphantly conquered the 1500 rule and want to prep for the aviation industry, you can knock out some of that aviation related coursework from the comforts of home with the ASA ATP test prep bundle.