If you already have your commercial pilot license and you are ready to take the next step up the pilot food chain, it’s time to talk about an airline transport pilot (ATP) certification.
In this post we will walk you through the steps to take and give you the inside scoop on what to expect along the way. Follow this guide, and you will be ATP certified in no time.
1. Confirm that an ATP certification is the right fit for your piloting goals
The first order of business is to ensure that an ATP certification is what you actually need. An ATP certification allows you to serve as the pilot in command (PIC) or second in command (SIC) for scheduled airline flights. You will also need to be ATP certified to pilot certain charter and fractional operations.
Does that sound like what you’re looking for? Great – let’s move on to discussing the FAA requirements for ATP certification.
2. Learn the requirements for obtaining an ATP certification
The basic eligibility requirements for a pilot to begin the ATP certification process are as follows:
- Must be at least 23 years old
- Must be able to speak, read, write and understand the English Language
- Must hold at least a third-class medical certificate
- Must be able to obtain a 1st class medical certificate
- Must hold at least a commercial pilot license with instrument rating, a restricted ATP certificate or a foreign ATP/commercial pilot certificate
The training, experience and testing requirements to obtain an ATP certification are as follows:
- Complete an authorized Certification Training Program (CTP) (if you want a multi-engine rating ATP certificate. A CTP is not necessary for the single-engine rating.)
- Must have logged a minimum of 1500 hours total flight time
- Must have logged at least 500 hours of cross-country flight time
- Must have completed at least 75 hours of actual or approved simulated instrument flight time (up to 25 hours may be simulated)
- Must pass the FAA ATP written exam
- Must pass the FAA ATP oral and practical exams
3. Understand the difference between a Restricted ATP certificate and a standard ATP certificate
As of 2013, a new FAA mandate requires that all second in command (SIC) pilots for scheduled airline operation flights must hold an ATP certification (with 1500 hours of flight time). This overrides the former, less stringent requirement of a Commercial Pilot Certificate which only requires 250 hours.
A Restricted ATP certificate is geared towards graduates of specific aviation degree programs. If you are one of these graduates, a Restricted ATP certificate acts as a steppingstone and allows you to serve as a co-pilot until you log the 1500 hours of total flight time and 500 hours cross-country time needed to qualify for a standard ATP certificate. Qualifying military pilots may also earn a R-ATP certification with fewer flight hours.
To qualify for a Restricted ATP certificate, you must:
- Be at least 21 years old (at the time you take your ATP practical test)
- Be able to speak, read, write and understand the English Language
- Hold at least a third-class medical certificate
- Be able to obtain a 1st class medical certificate
- Hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate with an instrument rating
- Complete an authorized Certification Training Program (CTP) (for multi-engine rating ATP certificate. A CTP is not necessary for the single-engine rating.)
- Pass the ATP knowledge and practical test
- Meet flight minimums:
- Military pilots: 750 hours total with 200 hours cross-country
- Graduates of approved 4-year programs: 1000 hours total with 200 hours cross-country (with at least 60 credit hours) or 1250 hours total with 200 hours cross-country (with 30-59 credit hours)
- Graduates of approved 2-year programs: 1250 hours total with 200 hours cross-country (with 30+ credit hours)
- Other pilots: 1500 hours total with 200 hours cross-country
4. Apply for, attend, and graduate from an ATP certified training program (CTP)
In most cases, you will want to enroll in an ATP certified training program (CTP). An exception to this would be if for some reason you don’t intend to get a multiengine rating and if your ATP certificate is not being issued concurrently with an airplane type rating.
The FAA maintains a list of certificate holding programs who are authorized to conduct the ATP CTPs. There are programs all over the country, so you should be able to locate one relatively nearby.
By the time you enroll in an ATP certified training program, your instructors will expect you to have a solid grasp and competency of the maneuvers and procedures that you have previously trained on and been tested in.
The purpose of this school is to refine these skills and take them to the next level. As a profession airline transport pilot, you will be held to a higher set of standards with more narrow tolerances. Expect focus on polishing up your instrument flying capabilities.
The FAA says that the scope of the program includes training in “aerodynamics, automation, adverse weather conditions, air carrier operations, transport airplane performance, professionalism, and leadership and development.” You will learn about how large turbine aircraft handle and perform at high altitude as well as in adverse weather conditions.
Expect this program to bridge the knowledge gap that exists between your current commercial pilot-level knowledge and that of the air carrier environment you are about to enter.
The program will be made up of three key components: academic training, practical training and hands-on flight experience.
5. Log necessary flight time
Although you will get some of your required flight time during your training program, you will still need to build up the rest of your necessary hours to meet ATP minimums. Many pilots find that the best way to get hours fast is by attending an approved part 141 flight school’s associate’s or bachelor’s degree program and then being a flight instructor. This tactic could help you hit your hours quota in 18-24 months.
If your program qualifies, remember that you have the option of getting your restricted ATP certification so that you can land a co-pilot position and start building the remaining hours that way as well.
6. Pass written, oral and practical tests
You have already passed written and oral FAA tests and excelled on your check rides in the past, so you have a good idea what to expect. For the ATP test, there will be a focus on instrument procedures, and you will need to demonstrate maneuvers like steep turns and stalls.
In some instances, your check ride may take place in a simulator. If this is the case with you, be prepared for abnormal and emergency situation simulations.
7. Obtain a first-class medical certificate
A final order of business is passing a first-class medical exam. The process is similar to what you underwent for your first-class or second-class certificate, just with an extra medical criterion and a slightly different renewal timeline.
To get started, contact a local AME and schedule an appointment for an exam. Fill out your digital application through FAA MedXPress prior to the exam.
At the exam, be prepared for the physician to conduct an electrocardiogram to check your heart function. It is required once at age 35 and again every year after age 40. Other than that, the criteria for passing the exam are the same as a second-class medical.
For a detailed listing of what the AME will be looking at, review the airman medical standards for a first-class medical certificate.
Once you receive your first-class medical certificate, keep in mind that a first-class medical must be renewed every year for pilots under age 40. If you are 40 or older, you will have to renew every six months.
Although it may take you a while, the process to go from a commercial pilot certification to an airline transport pilot (ATP) certification is straightforward and well-laid out. Follow the process and you will take that next step in your aviation career. Congratulations!