Airline transport pilot

An airline transport pilot


Airline transport pilots fly large aircrafts with a maximum take-off weight of more than 5700 kilograms, to transport passengers, mail, or freight on long or short-haul flights for leisure, business or commercial purposes. They are responsible for the safe and efficient operation of aircrafts and the safety of crew and passengers.


Airline transport pilots typically perform the following duties:

  • make sure all information on the route, weather, passengers, and aircraft is received
  • use that information to create a flight plan, which details the altitude for the flight, the route to be taken, and the amount of fuel required
  • ensure the fuel levels balance safety with economy and supervise the loading and fuelling of the aircraft
  • make sure all safety systems are working properly
  • brief the cabin crew before the flight and maintain regular contact throughout the flight
  • carry out pre-flight checks on the navigation and operating systems
  • communicate with air traffic control before take-off and during flight and landing
  • ensure noise regulations are followed during take-off and landing
  • understand and interpret data from instruments and controls
  • make regular checks on the aircraft’s technical performance and position, on weather conditions and air traffic during flight
  • communicate with passengers using the public address system
  • react quickly and appropriately to environmental changes and emergencies
  • update the aircraft logbook and write a report at the end of the flight, noting any incidents or problems with the aircraft.

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to airline transport pilot:

aircraft captain
airline aeroplane captain
airline pilot
airline transportation pilot

Working conditions

Airline transport pilots assigned to long-distance routes may experience fatigue and jetlag. Weather conditions may result in turbulence, requiring pilots to change the flying altitude. Flights can be long, and flight decks are often sealed, so pilots work in small teams for long periods near one another.

The high level of concentration required to fly an aircraft and the mental stress of being responsible for the safety of passengers can be fatiguing. Airline transport pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong.

Most airline transport pilots are based near large airports.

Injuries and Illnesses

Although fatalities are uncommon, airline transport pilots experience one of the highest rates of occupational fatalities of all occupations.

Work Schedules

Airline transport pilots may spend several nights a week away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers. When pilots are away from home, the airlines typically provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses.

Commercial pilots also may have irregular schedules. Although most commercial pilots remain near their home overnight, some may still work nonstandard hours.

Minimum qualifications

Airline transport pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any field, including transportation, engineering, or business. They also complete flight training with certified flight instructors or at schools that offer flight training.

Airline transport pilots who are newly hired by airlines or on-demand air services companies undergo on-the-job training in accordance with national regulations. This training usually includes several weeks of ground school and flight training. Various types of ratings for specific aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or Cessna Citation, are typically acquired through employer-based training and generally earned by pilots with at least a commercial pilot certificate.

Pilots also must maintain their experience in performing certain maneuvers. This requirement means that pilots must perform specific maneuvers and procedures a given number of times within a specified amount of time. Pilots also must undergo periodic training and medical examinations, generally every year or every other year.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Airline transport pilot is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Airline transport pilot career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to airline transport pilot.

private pilot
helicopter pilot
aircraft pilot
second officer

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of airline transport pilot. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of airline transport pilot with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

airspace manager
flight test engineer
air force officer
air traffic instructor
aviation surveillance and code coordination manager

Essential knowledge and skills

Essential knowledge

This knowledge should be acquired through learning to fulfill the role of airline transport pilot.

  • Visual flight rules: Types of flight rules which are a compilation of regulations that allow pilots to fly aircrafts in clear as well as unclear weather conditions whereby it is declared that outside visual reference to the ground and other obstructions are not safe.
  • Geographic areas: Know the geographic area in detail; know where different organisations carry out operations.
  • Aircraft flight control systems: Know the setting, features and operation of aircraft flight control systems. Manage flight control surfaces, cockpit controls, connections, and operating mechanisms required to control the flight direction of an aircraft. Operate aircraft engine controls in order to change aircraft speed.
  • Air transport law: Know air transport laws and regulations. Due to the nature of aviation, knowledge of air transport laws partially overlaps with knowledge of international law.
  • Air traffic control operations: Understand the tasks performed by air traffic controllers, including Interaction and effective communication between aircraft and air traffic controllers; execution of follow-up activities, and ensuring smooth operations during flights.
  • Aviation meteorology: Understand aviation meteorology to deal with the impact of weather on air traffic management (ATM). Understand how thorough changes in pressure and temperature values at airports can create variations in head and tail-wind components, and may impose low visibility operating conditions. Knowledge of aviation meteorology can help to reduce negative impact on the ATM system by diminishing disruption and the consequent problems of disturbed flow rates, lost capacity and induced additional costs.
  • Civil aviation regulations: Know civil aviation regulations, rules and signals, including marshalling signals.
  • Common aviation safety regulations: The body of legislation and regulations that apply to the field of civil aviation at regional, national, European and International levels. Understand that regulations aimed at protecting citizens at all times in civil aviation; ensure that operators, citizens, and organisations comply with these rules.

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of airline transport pilot.

  • Operate radio equipment: Set up and operate radio devices and accessories, such as broadcast consoles, amplifiers, and microphones. Understand the basics of radio operator language and, when necessary, provide instruction in handling radio equipment correctly.
  • Use meteorological information: Use and interpret meteorological information for operations dependent on climatic conditions. Use this information to provide advise on safe operations in relation to weather conditions.
  • Ensure ongoing compliance with regulations: Conduct tasks and procedures to ensure that aviation certificates maintain their validity; undertake safeguarding measures as appropriate.
  • Operate radio navigation instruments: Operate radio navigation instruments to determine the position of aircraft in the airspace.
  • Operate two-way radio systems: Use radios that can receive and transmit sound signals in order to communicate with similar radios on the same frequency such as mobile phones and walkie talkies.
  • Read maps: Read maps effectively.
  • Implement airside safety procedures: Apply a series of airfield safety rules and procedures to ensure a safe working environment for airport crew.
  • Have spatial awareness: Be aware of your position and the space around you. Understand the relationship of objects around you when there is a change of position.
  • Follow airport safety procedures: Comply with airport safety procedures, policies and legislation to ensure a safe working environment for all employees, and to ensure the safety of passengers.
  • Undertake procedures to meet requirements for flying aircraft heavier than 5,700 kg: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, validate that take-off mass is a minimum of 5,700 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to flight needs and regulations, ensure that the configuration settings are correct, and check if the engines are suitable for the flight.
  • Operate cockpit control panels: Operates control panels in the cockpit or flight deck according to the needs of the flight. Manage on-board electronic systems to ensure a smooth flight.
  • Perform flight manoeuvres: Perform flight manoeuvres in critical situations, and associated ‘upset’ manoeuvres, in order to avoid collision.
  • Read 3D displays: Read 3D-displays and understand the information they provide on positions, distances, and other parameters.
  • Apply signalling control procedures: Control train movements; operate railway signals and block systems to ensure that trains operate safely, on correct routes, and on time.
  • Manage financial risk: Predict and manage financial risks, and identify procedures to avoid or minimise their impact.
  • Comply with air traffic control operations: Act in compliance with instruction provided by air traffic controllers.
  • Maintain counterweight inside modes of transport: Maintain balance and mass distribution inside the means of transport (vessel, aircraft, train, road vehicles, etc). Ensure that passengers and cargo distribution do not hinder the mobility of the mode of transport.
  • Perform take off and landing: Perform normal and cross-wind take-off and landing operations.
  • Supervise crew: Supervise and observe the behaviour of employees.
  • Ensure compliance with civil aviation regulations: Ensure best practice standards are adopted and all regulatory requirements met
  • Ensure aircraft compliance with regulation: Ensure that every aircraft complies with applicable regulation and all components and equipment have officially valid components.
  • Operate radar equipment: Operate radar screens and other radar equipment; ensure that aircraft fly at a safe distance from one another.
  • Comprehensively inspect aircraft: Conduct inspections of aircraft and aircraft components, namely their parts, appliances, and equipment, to identify malfunctions such as fuel leaks or flaws in electrical and pressurisation systems.
  • Undertake procedures to meet aircraft flight requirements: Ensure that operation certificates are valid, guarantee that take-off mass is a maximum of 3,175 kg, verify that the minimum crew is adequate according to regulations and needs, ensure that the configuration settings are correct, and check if engines are suitable for the flight.
  • Create a flight plan: Develop a flight plan which details the flight altitude, route to be followed and the amount of fuel required using different sources of information (weather reports and other data from air traffic control).
  • Perform routine flight operations checks: Perform checks before and during flight: conduct pre-flight and in-flight inspections of aircraft performance, route and fuel usage, runway availability, airspace restrictions, etc.
  • Follow verbal instructions: Have the ability to follow spoken instructions received from colleagues. Strive to understand and clarify what is being requested.
  • Analyse work-related written reports: Read and comprehend job-related reports, analyse the content of reports and apply findings to daily work operations.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of airline transport pilot. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of airline transport pilot. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Communicate with customers: Respond to and communicate with customers in the most efficient and appropriate manner to enable them to access the desired products or services, or any other help they may require.
  • Exert a goal-oriented leadership role towards colleagues: Embrace a leadership role in the organisation and with colleagues as to provide coaching and direction to subordinates aiming at the achievement of specific objectives.
  • Give instructions to staff: Give instructions to subordinates by employing various communication techniques. Adjust communication style to the target audience in order to convey instructions as intended.
  • Maintain relationship with customers: Build a lasting and meaningful relationship with customers in order to ensure satisfaction and fidelity by providing accurate and friendly advice and support, by delivering quality products and services and by supplying after-sales information and service.
  • Handle customer complaints: Administer complaints and negative feedback from customers in order to address concerns and where applicable provide a quick service recovery.
  • Use different communication channels: Make use of various types of communication channels such as verbal, handwritten, digital and telephonic communication with the purpose of constructing and sharing ideas or information.
  • Carry out navigational calculations: Solve mathematical problems to achieve safe navigation.
  • Make independent operating decisions: Make immediate operating decisions as necessary without reference to others, taking into account the circumstances and any relevant procedures and legislation. Determine alone which option is the best for a particular situation.
  • Write work-related reports: Compose work-related reports that support effective relationship management and a high standard of documentation and record keeping. Write and present results and conclusions in a clear and intelligible way so they are comprehensible to a non-expert audience.
  • Respond to changing navigation circumstances: Respond decisively and in sufficient time to unexpected and rapidly changing situations while navigating.
  • Respond to customers’ inquiries: Answer customers’ questions about itineraries, rates and reservations in person, by mail, by e-mail and on the phone.

ISCO group and title

3153 – Aircraft pilots and related associate professionals

  1. Airline transport pilot – ESCO
  2. Airline pilot job profile |
  3. Airline and Commercial Pilots : Occupational Outlook Handbook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
  4. Featured image: Photo by Kelly from Pexels
Last updated on March 20, 2023