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Airplane Pilot Career Paths

Find your path to a rewarding career.

Want a career as a professional pilot flying for international airlines, global corporations, or worldwide freight carriers? Competition for pilot career paths is high, and we know how to navigate the steps to get you there.

With the right training and guidance, you can start preparing to turn your dream into a successful career.

Download our Airline Pilot Career Planning Guide.

Industry Partners

HAA has established relationships with leading operators, both nationally and locally, to help open doors and provide pilot job placement for our program graduates. These pathways allow dedicated students to take the next step in their careers.

We partner with top airlines to encourage our students to pursue exciting career paths in the commercial pilot industry. These career opportunities feature training that aligns specifically with the airline’s pilot recruitment efforts.

Alaska Airlines Ascend Pilot Academy

We have formed an exclusive partnership with Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air to deliver an industry-leading career path under the title of the Ascend Pilot Academy (APA) program.

This new program provides a more financially accessible path to becoming a commercial pilot: among other incentives, enrolled cadet pilots will be eligible for low-interest financial aid and a stipend up to $27,000 upon signing on to work for Horizon Air and eventually Alaska Airlines. HAA will also contribute the cost of the Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) rating to eligible cadets.

Prospective students interested in joining the program should begin the process with Alaska Airlines by visiting the program overview page on Alaska’s career site and completing the application form.

Horizon Air Pilot Development Program

Horizon Air and Hillsboro Aero Academy have designed a program to provide students with an opportunity to fly as a first officer/ pilot with Horizon Air, following completion of the minimum requirements at HAA. If selected for the Horizon Air Pilot Development Program, the student may receive training funds to aid them in obtaining new ratings to build time as a flight instructor.

Airplane Pilot Career Paths

You’ll start your career by getting the ratings and certificates you need to fly professionally. After you finish flight training, you’ll have somewhere around 250 hours of flight time as an airplane pilot.

But you’ll need anywhere from 750 to 1250 more hours to move on to your next step—working at a regional airline or entry-level job in another pilot career path like corporate charter or cargo.

So how do you even start pursuing your pilot career goals? At Hillsboro Aero Academy, your first professional airplane pilot job is closer than you think.

There are always exceptions, but a surefire way to advance your career is to become a flight instructor. You’ll sharpen your skills through the act of teaching students and build your flight hours while you get paid.

We do hire many of our qualified graduates as flight instructors, and you’ll find the best way to make the next move in your career—whether you’re aiming to be an airline pilot, corporate pilot or freight pilot.

You’ll typically spend a year or two as an instructor before you move on to the next step.

This career path offers more routine schedules that are known in advance, the chance to work with a team, and the opportunity to fly international routes. It can start off with lower entry pay, but it leads to stronger benefits in the long run.

Like any goal, there’s a tactical way to approach your airline pilot career. First, you’ll start off flying for regional airlines like SkyWest, Horizon Air, and ExpressJet.

Here, you’ll fly everything from medium turboprop aircraft to jets like the CRJ 900. At this level you’ll gain invaluable experience around airline operations, also know as Part 121—learning to coordinate with airport crews and satisfy customers. You’ll also learn how operations at small and major airports work.

Your time at the regional level depends on the hiring needs of major airlines like Delta, American, and EVA Air. Once you make the leap into the big leagues, you’ll fly larger aircraft and longer routes.

With higher pay than airlines and less predictable schedules, this aviation career path will have you flying for businesses and private individuals around the world.

Some clients own the jet themselves and other own a fraction of their time—meaning you’ll fly a variety of missions. NetJets and XOJETS are examples of companies you’d work for in this arena.

The aircraft you’ll fly are state-of-the-art, with luxurious interiors and the latest avionics equipment. Your schedule will vary greatly from day to day—you could just as easily end up in Mumbai as in Memphis. This career demands an adventurous individual who’s ready to go with the flow and loves the challenge of changing plans on the go.

To step into this career path, you’ll start as a flight instructor and likely spend some time as a regional pilot, building the skills you need to operate at small and large airports.

If you dream of flying solo without worrying about passengers, a career as a Freight Part 135 pilot is for you.

On this path you’ll fly everything from single-engine Cessnas filled with boxes to FedEx® 747s on international routes. Like any other pilot career path, you’ll start off in smaller aircraft and work your way up.

The Freight Part 135 world works similarly to the airlines in that you begin flying regional feeder routes to learn the ropes before you step into more advanced aircraft and longer routes.

You will find yourself flying alone a lot in this career, which is as challenging as it is rewards. It’s not to say that you’ll never have a co-pilot for large operations, but you’ll have the opportunity to hone your problem-solving skills and instincts more often as a freight airplane pilot.

As one of the longest-standing and best-known flight schools in the world, we’re able to connect our alumni to a vast network spanning 55 countries. By joining our school, you’ll be connected to major airlines around the world, including those in our Career Pathways program.


The career path of an airline pilot starts by getting the required FAA ratings and certificates, including the Private Pilot Certificate, Instrument Rating, and Commercial Pilot Certificate. After obtaining these certifications, you must obtain experience by building flight hours in order to meet the airline requirements.

Yes, it is. Pilot salaries vary depending upon multiple factors like experience, job requirements, and many more but typically it is a well-paying job which leads to significant income. After a certain amount of experience, the salary potential increases greatly.

To be an airline pilot you must obtain the necessary ratings and certifications which can take 12-18 months. Next, you must build flight hours to ensure you have the 1500 hours required by the airlines. Most pilots work as a flight instructor to obtain these hours which usually takes another two years after training.

Securing a job in such a competitive landscape requires FAA certifications and training from a reputable institution. Once that is acquired, you need to gain experience and build flight hours to meet the airline requirements. It does require time and patience but the reward of working in aviation is worth it.

Questions about your career?

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