Becoming a commercial pilot is an exciting opportunity for many people who find joy in flying. While nearly anyone can get a drivers’ license, a commercial pilot license has some strict stipulations. From health concerns to random drug tests, here is a list of just some things that might prevent you from becoming a commercial pilot. Keep in mind that regulations change often and many of the issues below, except a few, are at the discretion of a human being just like you, and may not be as black-and-white as it seems. Additionally, regulations vary from country to country, so those looking to become international pilots or pilots outside of the United States may encounter different requirements.
In the USA, according to the FAA, you must be at least 18 years of age before obtaining your commercial pilot license. If you are under 18, you may still obtain a private pilot’s license and start logging your hours, studying, and developing your skills so you can become a commercial pilot as soon as possible. A student pilot also cannot perform their first solo before age 16
INSUFFICIENT FLIGHT HOURS
To become a commercial pilot, you must have logged a certain number of flight hours. According to FAA requirements, you must have at least 1,500 hours of flight time to captain a commercial airplane with your ATP certification. To become a long-haul pilot, you often need 5,000 hours of flight time, which will take years to achieve. The specific requirements may vary from airline to airline, so keep in mind that you might not land the perfect job after completing your 1,500th hour. It’s important to research the requirements of the airlines you would like to work with for guidance.
Unfortunately, some medical or health issues may cause you to fail the extensive medical examinations required to become a pilot. This includes certain heart diseases, conditions such as epilepsy, poor hearing, bad vision, and even common allergies, as certain allergy medications can make you drowsy. Before obtaining a pilot’s license, you will be required to pass a medical examination by a qualified Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).
They will determine your current state of health and issue your medical certificate being either Class I, Class II, or Class III. If you do have any medical issues that are considered “red flags,” don’t automatically give up all hope on becoming a pilot and instead speak with a pilot advocacy group. Many medical evaluators may use their discretion to determine if a health condition will or will not be considered a risk in the cockpit. Many people who have their health under control with approved medications can still become pilots. The ultimate goal is to provide a pathway for passionate and qualified pilots into the cockpit without putting their or others’ lives at risk.
While pilots without 20/20 vision can fly with contacts or glasses (and a spare pair of glasses just in case!), other vision problems may prevent you from qualifying to become a pilot. One in twelve men and one in 200 women have some degree of color blindness. It is not an uncommon occurrence, especially for men. During your medical exams, you will be tested for colorblindness. Keep in mind that not all colorblindness is the same severity. If you do not pass the color assessment, you may still be able to fly. You may be limited today flying, have other restrictions, have to complete additional training, or it may be decided that the limitations of your color vision will not affect your ability to fly. If you do have some trouble with colors, becoming a commercial pilot is not completely out of the question, so do further research to determine if it is still a viable career for your situation.
MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS
Commercial pilots under the age of 40 typically receive a physical examination every year, and pilots over 40 go through these examinations every six months. However, pilots are not always evaluated on their mental health. Being a pilot is extremely mentally grueling. There is the stress of non-routine flights, the pressure to always be performing at 100% and having hundreds of lives in your hands, working odd hours, constantly changing time zones, being away from your family and friends, unhealthy or irregular meals, lack of exercise, etc. Events happening outside of work can also have negative effects on your mental wellness. Thankfully, many airlines understand that pilots are people, not machines, and have the resources for pilots dealing with mental illness. That said, when applying for a new job or going through the process of receiving your commercial pilot certification, you may experience career setbacks for experiencing certain mental disorders.
FAA regulations require a pilot to have “good moral standings,” and they take this pretty seriously. Airlines looking for pilots to hire take it even more seriously. Unfortunately, those with criminal records will have a tough time obtaining their ATP license, but it might not be impossible. Often, it will depend on the number of marks on your record, the nature of the crime, and the amount of time that has passed.
A misdemeanor charge for letting your car insurance lapse ten years ago can likely be overlooked for someone with an otherwise clean record. However, several DUIs in the last few years or a felony assault charge will be a different story. If you want to become a commercial pilot and are worried about your past, it is first important to know exactly what your criminal record shows. It is easy to forget certain things that may come upon a background check.
If you do have a criminal record, start making reparations for it now to limit its effect on your future career. Along those lines, know when a career as a pilot is not going to be an option so you can decide on a different career path.
A failed drug test is a big issue for commercial pilots and can prevent you from securing a job that you are otherwise qualified for. Pilots are subjected to frequent and random drug testing and alcohol screening, so it is essential to not use recreational or unapproved prescription drugs while employed or while job searching. Pilots who live in states where marijuana is legal may fail drug tests if marijuana is found in their system, even if they have not used it recently. There is also the informal rule of “eight hours from bottle to throttle,” which is a reminder for pilots to not drink alcohol within eight hours of flying. In short, consider how important it is for you to pass drug or alcohol tests when deciding what to put in your body and when. It takes a long time to become a pilot and only a few seconds to lose your license.