By Seerat Arora 27 Jun 2024 5 min read

Airline Pilot VS Commercial Pilot: All You Need to Know

Are you passionate about flying? The aviation industry is dynamic and diverse, and it offers a wide range of opportunities for those dreaming of flying professionally. If you wish to pilot a plane, you need to first understand the types of pilot licenses before applying to your dream jobs. Amongst all types of pilots, airline vs commercial pilot is the most confusing. 

These 2 pilot roles in the industry are the most sought-after. While both are commercial roles, there is a major difference between airline pilot and commercial pilot opportunities. Hence, it is essential to decide the type of pilot you wish to become before you start.

So, this article will clarify the difference between airline and commercial pilot roles, their responsibilities, and their career growth. By the end of this, you will be able to compare airline pilot vs commercial pilot and decide which path to take to make your aviation dream come true.

Commercial Pilot

Commercial pilots have various opportunities to fly different aircraft, except scheduled passenger airline flights. Some roles of commercial pilots can be:

  • Flight Instructor,
  • Jump Pilot,
  • Charter Flying Pilot,
  • Air Ambulance Operator
  • Agricultural Spraying
  • Banner Towing

To become a commercial pilot, you need to earn a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). It takes a minimum of 250 flying hours, after which you are allowed to fly larger aircraft, or even carry passengers or cargo.

A commercial pilot can have varied duties depending on the specific role. For example, a flight instructor has to concentrate on training student pilots, and a charter pilot has to safely transport private passengers to their destinations. Whatever their role, a commercial pilot always has to showcase remarkable flying skills, strong judgment (especially in case of emergencies), and a complete devotion to safety.

Airline Pilot

Airline pilots, on the other hand, are responsible for operating scheduled passenger or cargo flights for commercial airlines. 
These highly skilled aviators can work for:

  • Regional Airlines
  • Major Carriers
  • Law Enforcement
  • Corporate
  • Firefighting
  • Other Government Services

To become an airline pilot, you need to earn an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). It takes a minimum of 1,500 flying hours and intense training, to ensure experience, knowledge, and decision-making skills, which are essential to navigate the complex scenarios of commercial flying. 

An airline pilot’s main responsibility is the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft. This includes but is not limited to, communicating with air traffic controllers (ATC), planning pre-flight checks, making difficult weather condition decisions, monitoring aircraft systems, and adjusting them when necessary. They also have to coordinate and cooperate with co-pilots, engineers, and cabin crew for the safety and smooth operation of the flight.

Differences Between Commercial and Airline Pilots

Airline pilot vs commercial pilot - though they both fly commercially, there is a significant difference between airline and commercial pilot roles. Let’s discuss them:

Training and Experience

The major difference between airline pilot and commercial pilot is the experience and training required to become one. 

  • Commercial pilots are required to complete 250 flying hours.
  • Airline pilots are required to complete 1,500 flying hours.

This considerable difference in flying hours showcases the level of complexities and responsibilities that the pilots have to face when operating the aircraft. Usually, airline pilots have to operate large commercial aircraft in complicated and regulated situations, so they require more experience and training.

Career Growth

Another significant difference between airline and commercial pilot is the career prospects. Let’s see what progression opportunities they offer:

  • Commercial pilots frequently start in roles like flight instructing or charter flying. After gaining flying hours and experience, they can get more specialized roles.
  • Airline flying is more linear. Airline pilots often start as first officers and become captains after gaining more experience.

Schedule and Work Environment

Airline pilot vs commercial pilot - both pilots will experience different schedules and work experiences:

  • Commercial pilots experience more flexible schedules as they have the option to choose their working hours and assignments.
  • Airline pilots mostly have a more rigid and strict schedule. They have to fly long hours and frequently stay overnight at their destinations.

Salary and Benefits

Due to the different job responsibilities, the salaries are significantly different in both professions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary in the US as of May 2022 is as follows:

  • Airline Pilot: $160,970
  • Commercial Pilot: $93,300

Airline pilots generally make more money than commercial pilots due to the increased responsibility, more training requirement, their role in safety protocols, and the efficiency required to fly a commercial airline plane.

Moreover, in most cases, airline pilots have better benefits packages, like retirement plans, health insurance, and more. You also enjoy more perks as an airline pilot than commercial pilots.  

Note: The commercial pilot vs airline pilot salary and benefits are subject to change, depending on various factors, like size and type of aviation company, experience and flying hours of the pilot, and the country they work in.

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Becoming an Airline Pilot

Have you been dreaming about becoming an airline pilot all your life? There are several steps you have to take to complete the process:

  1. Obtain a Private Pilot License (PPL).
  2. Obtain a Commercial Pilot License (CPL).
  3. Accumulate the required 1,500 flying hours to qualify for an ATPL.
  4. Earn an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)

Commercial pilot training is an essential part of the process of becoming an Airline pilot. It creates a foundation for knowledge and skills to be a thriving airline pilot. This phase will train the pilots in flying techniques, decision-making skills, and mastering aircraft operations and systems.


The difference between airline pilot and commercial pilot is a confusing topic and many mistakenly use it interchangeably. The factors involved in airline vs commercial pilot revolve around its challenges, rewards, and responsibilities. Though both paths are taken by passionate pilots, the process is different. Becoming an airline pilot is tougher as it demands more hours and rigorous training as compared to commercial pilots. 

Whether you choose airline pilot jobs or commercial, it is vital to have an in-depth understanding of the differences between each role before you start the process. Your professional and personal goals must be matched with this decision so you can have a fulfilling and rewarding career in the exciting world of aviation.