What Does an Airline Transport Pilot Do?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2020
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An airline transport pilot is a person who acts as the pilot in command of a commercial aircraft. The airline transport pilot certification is the highest level of certification a pilot can earn, and once the pilot has earned such certification, he or she can operate as the pilot in command of any aircraft that carries cargo or passengers. The pilot is solely responsible for the safety of the aircraft, cargo, and passengers on board. In order to become such a pilot, the candidate needs to be at least 23 years old in most countries — though the age restriction can vary by region — and he or she and must first earn a commercial pilot's license.

Extensive training is necessary in order for a candidate to become an airline transport pilot. The specific requirements may vary by country, but generally, a pilot must sit for 500 hours of cross country flight time, as well as 1,000 hours of night flight time. The pilot must also earn a specific level of instrumentation rating, which again can vary by country. This means the pilot can fly the plane by instrumentation rather than by sight. The pilot must also be in good physical health and must have good moral character in order to become an airline transport pilot.


Once fully certified and licensed, the airline transport pilot will be responsible for all operations of the airplane before, during, and immediately after the flight. This means inspecting the plane before the flight, preparing the plane for departure from a gate, preparing the plane for takeoff, operating the plane during flight and addressing any issues that may arise during flight, landing the plane, taxiing the plane to a gate, and shutting down the plane after the flight. The safety of the plane, passengers, and cargo is the primary responsibility of the airline transport pilot.

Flight planning, navigation, communication, and weight balancing may be other responsibilities of the airline transport pilot. If the pilot operates in a specific industry, he or she may also need to meet additional qualifications and take on additional responsibilities as outlined by the airline. If the pilot is a member of the military, he or she will need to complete other training as it pertains to military operations. The costs for obtaining the proper certifications can vary; flight time is perhaps the most expensive cost, since a pilot will need to spend a significant amount of time flying an aircraft before he or she can be considered for the airline transport license.


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