Real Answers from Real Pilots

250 hour Commercial license or ATP?

Hi everyone, first time poster.

I know I want to be a commercial pilot, but I’m not sure if I want to go to the airlines. Are there other job options? What kinds of jobs can you get with a 250 hour commercial license, and what is the availability like for jobs that you only need a basic CPL for? (I’m in the Boston area) Or is ATP (and the related experience as a CFI) necessary for a stable aviation career with comfortable income? How do you decide if a 250 hour license is enough or if you “need” ATP?

Question for the pro’s, what made you decide to get ATP and go to the airlines rather than just being a commercial pilot?

A little background–I’m 25 and dying of brain atrophy in desk job purgatory. No husband, no kids, not even a dog, no obligations aside from the usual single-and-fabulous living alone expenses and student loan debt from my Bachelor’s, which is an art degree and completely unrelated to aviation. I have been obsessed with flying since I was a toddler, and more or less kept it to myself because, well, it felt too much like a childish fantasy that I was supposed to outgrow. I started a PPL program a few months ago just wanting to fly, not thinking that getting paid to fly was a realistic goal for me to have. Now that I know it is a realistic goal, flying for a living is the only thing I can think about. I’m going to flight school part time pay as you go because I work 9 hours a day plus commute. I’m estimating I can get PPL, IFR and CPL within the next ~2-3 years. Is it even possible to get an ATP license part time pay as you go?

Thanks in advance!

P.S. This isn’t a “tell me what I should do” post, more like “I want a clearer idea of what my options are, so I can make a better decision.”

Hello Alison and welcome!

There really aren’t a lot of jobs that will pay any reasonable amount of income that are available to a 250 hour Commercial pilot. The only jobs that I can think of are flying parachute jumpers, traffic watch, banner towing and of course flight instructing (if you have your CFIs). The real money and stability are at the airlines and that is of course the reason that most pilots flock to the heavy metal. Most corporate gigs will require far more than 250 hours and they will also want to see. An ATP license. So to directly answer your question, you will need an ATP license if you want to make any real money in the industry.

I chose ATP based largely off the recommendation of a cousin who had gone through the program and was very pleased with it. I never once thought of being anything other than an airline pilot, so there was no doubt for me that I needed my ATP.

If you continue on at your local flight school I think that three years is a very fair estimate of time to get a CPL You could conceivably pay your way all the way to an ATP, but 1,500 hours is a lot of flight time to buy, I think you will find that prohibitively expensive.

If you want to fly for a living, I would suggest getting your CFIs, building 1,500 hours, getting your ATP and flying for the airlines. I would also suggest finding a faster path to the airlines because while you are not old, you aren’t on the young side either and three extra years could make a huge difference in your career progression.

Chris

Alison,

Trust me I know the “joys” of the 9-5 world (purgatory is kind). Let’s be honest, there are many fine flying jobs out there and I have many friends who are happy flying cargo or corporate but the airlines are the Big Leagues. If you have an HONEST conversation with ANY pilot they either have/are flying for the airlines or they’ve at the least pondered it. I actually thought I was too old when I started but when I discovered I could I dove in with both feet. I have flown some charter stuff and I missed the airline life. I enjoy the interaction with the team (FAs, GAs, Dispatchers etc) and I enjoy knowing that I’m providing a service for hundreds of people. Whether they’re going to work, going to see family or going on vacation I enjoy the responsibility of getting them there safely and comfortably. I believe it’s a noble profession. That’ my answer to why I do what I do.

Now as to how you can get there are many routes. Unfortunately as Chris pointed out there aren’t that many jobs for low-time pilots (primarily because of insurance requirements). That’s why most people instruct. You’re in BOS so you should be looking at Cape Air as they’ll hire you with 750hrs. While that’s not 250, it’s much less than 1500. As for why I chose ATP I fear you may be experiencing what I did. You say you want to get done in 2-3yrs. You also say you started working on your PPL a few months ago but you don’t say how far along you are? Flying part-time it took me almost 2yrs to get my PPL alone. Not very efficient neither time nor money wise. I decided if I was going to do this for a living I had to get serious about my training and got all the rest of my licenses and ratings in 25% of the time it took me to get my PPL. Keep in mind you’re also going to need to get your multi-engine license and build at least 50hrs of ME time to get your ATP.

Whether you want to fly for an airline or somewhere else you do mention the desire to have a “comfortable income”. This is not a pitch for ATP but the sooner you start (regardless of where you end up) the sooner you’ll move up in seniority which is where the income and stability come from. If you’re serious about doing this for a career you need to be serious about your training as well.

Adam