Since 1973, when American Airlines became the first major airline to hire a female pilot, the ranks of female pilots have grown each year. As of 2011, commercial airline pilots numbered just over 123,000, including 8,175 women serving as commercial pilots. For both men and women, the path to becoming an airline pilot consists of rigorous training and education requirements to get into and graduate from pilot school.
To get into flight school, a pilot must be at least 18 years of age and have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Additionally, a student pilot should be able to read, write and understand English fluently. Some schools require a pilot to pass an aptitude test to be sure flight school is a good fit for her and her skills. Just like other schools, pilot schools require students to undergo an application process, which typically consists of submitting an application, paying a registration or application fee, and turning in necessary documentation like a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Medical Certificate, driver's license and proof of high school diploma. The admissions committee can also require an essay describing why that student wants to become a pilot.
Airline pilots must fulfill certain physical requirements in order to fly commercially. A pilot should have perfect 20/20 vision, with corrected 20/20 vision via contacts or glasses acceptable with most airlines. For severe cases of colorblindness, a pilot may not be able to obtain the FAA Medical Certificate needed to fly, but mild to moderate cases of colorblindness are acceptable. Most schools require a pilot to obtain her FAA Medical Certification before starting classes.
The exact curriculum each pilot school utilizes varies, but generally includes classroom ground work, flying with an instructor and solo flight training. Generally, pilot schools offer the same education path, where a student earns her private pilot certificate first, followed by her instrument rating, commercial multi-engine certificate, commercial single-engine add-on rating and certified flight instructor certificate. Most schools also include periodic testing after completing a course or section, which includes book or computer tests, as well as practical flight tests. While in school, students prepare for Federal Aviation Administrative testing and many schools administer the FAA flight tests.
A pilot may also have to fulfill other miscellaneous requirements, such as undergoing a credit check. Because of flight training times, aircraft rental, gas usage and other factors, attending flight school incurs large expenses. Some pilot schools run credit checks on potential students to be sure they will be able to afford the costs or qualify for financial aid to help cover the tuition. A student may also incur other expenses, such as room, board, books and training materials. Depending on the school, a pilot may have to hold a student pilot license prior to applying to that school. Potential pilots can earn a student pilot license starting at the age of 16.
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images