The training process
Pilot Training in the USA is not unlike Pilot Training in the rest of the world. There are a series of steps one must accomplish before you are employable as an FAA Certified Pilot. You can accomplish these steps on your own, at your own pace, at a Flight School or through a Full Time program within a Flight College or University. Do note though that most, if not all, Flight Colleges & Universities in the USA require that you have your Private Pilot Certificate completed before you commence their program.
The first step is to take a Discovery Flight – a quick 30 minute flight which will either make you really want to become a pilot (most likely) or may make you realize you are not meant to be a pilot. This flight is not a test of anything, merely an introduction to aviation itself! We, the pilots at the PilotCareerCentre all absolutely loved our first flight and knew right at that moment, that this was the best career for us!
The next step is to get an FAA Pilot Medical done - just to ensure that nothing medical is holding you back from becoming a pilot. Once you receive a valid medical, you can start your Private Pilot Certificate Training. At the end of this training, usually you will have logged between 45 and 80 flight hours (45 hrs is the minimum), you will be recommended by your Flight Instructor to do the Private Pilot Certificate Written Exam and Flight Exam. Passing the FAA Multiple Choice Exam, and successfully flying the required maneuvers will result in you receiving your first certificate – the Private Pilot’s Certificate. This allows you to fly Single Engine Piston Airplanes without an Instructor onboard, but not for remuneration.
Next up is the Instrument Rating where you will learn to fly by the instruments in the cockpit alone; without reference to the horizon. An Instrument Rating and the Private Pilot Certificate are required before you make the next step.
The next step in the Pilot Career Path in the USA is the Commercial Pilot Certificate. A common misnomer is to think that this is the Training you need to fly for the ‘Commercial Airlines’, when in actual fact it is simply the licensing required for you to be able to be paid to fly airplanes. This certificate involves more advanced training and maneuvers, and also more advanced theory. At the end of this training, and once you have successfully logged the required flight time totals; usually between 200 - 250 hours (Minimum 200 hrs), you will again be recommended to do the FAA Written Exam as well as the Flight Exam. Once both are successfully completed, the FAA will grant you a Commercial Pilot Certificate.
From here you have a variety of options. You can work and be paid as a Single Engine Charter Pilot - although there are not a lot of companies employee pilots solely in this capacity. You can elect to train to become a Flight Instructor. Another option is to continue training to get your Multi-Engine Rating. After this rating, most continue on to learn how to fly in clouds under Instrument Flight Conditions or 'IFR' with no reference to the earth other than your instruments, while flying a Multi-Engine Aircraft. This is called the Multi-Engine Instrument Rating, and is the most popular option as it enables you to be the most employable when you commence your Job Search - Why? Because the majority of Fixed Wing Aviation Companies in the US have Multi-Engine Aircraft, and also need you to have your IFR Instrument Rating to be able to employ you. Like the rest of your initial training, there is an FAA Written Exam and a Multi-Engine IFR Flight Test. Once these are successfully completed, you will receive a new license in the mail with the Multi-Engine Instrument Rating endorsed near the top of the page.
ATP - the "ATP" stands for Airline Transport Pilot and this license is highly respected in the USA and worldwide by ICAO. This is also the license you need to fly for the airlines in the US. The requirements are experience (Minimum 1500 Flight Hours, incl. 250 PIC, 100 PIC Cross Country, 100 Night, and 25 Night Cross Country PIC, and 75 Hours Instrument) and successful completion of a 2 Part Written Exam. There is also an extensive Ground Briefing and Flight Exam required for the issue of an ATP in the US. Some pilots on larger aircraft complete this training in a simulator with an FAA Inspector onboard, wile others use conventional Twin Engine training aircraft like the Beech Baron to complete this exam and Qualification.