How do I become a Commercial Jet Captain?

Many pilots will tell you that they have the best office in the world and who can argue. Flying across the skies and travelling around the globe sounds like the best job. So, just how do you become a commercial jet Captain?

Before you start


A pilot is responsible for a very expensive piece of equipment and the lives of themselves and others. If you plan to exercise airline transport pilot (ATP) privileges, you must be eligible to pass and hold a first class medical.


Commercial Airlines may have minimum education requirements. Whilst a pilot licence will satisfy some Airlines, other operators will require you to attain higher qualifications.

Police Records

Ideally, you should hold a clean police record showing no history of criminal convictions.
If you have a criminal record you should make enquiries with your Civil Aviation Authority and your preferred Airlines to find out how your police record may affect you.

English Proficiency

The official international aviation language was declared in 2008 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation to be English. Pilots who operate internationally must demonstrate English Language Proficiency. In order to do this, pilots need to sit the English ICAO test. The test result will determine the English level that will then be endorsed on the licence.


Flight Training

There are many Flight Training Organisations (FTO) available where you can learn to fly. Check whether your preferred Airline has an existing relationship with an FTO as this may help you find an Airline position. You should carefully consider your choice of FTO, looking at their industry links, reputation and longevity.

You can complete your flight training on a pay as you go basis, completing the theory and practical experience required as and when you like. Or, you can complete an all-inclusive integrated program. When you have finished the prescribed course of study and training you will have achieved a pilot licence and may also hold an aviation diploma or degree level qualification.

Some Airlines offer traineeships or cadetships to aspiring pilots who meet minimum requirements. Cadets usually undertake an integrated program of study and practical training approved by the Airline and in conjunction with an FTO. After successful completion of the program, you have a guaranteed position with the Airline.

Licences and Ratings

Pilot licences are permits issued by the Civil Aviation Authority determining that the holder has gained the knowledge and practical experience required to operate an Aircraft. To fly commercially you must hold your Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) however to become a Captain on a passenger jet you will need to hold an Airline Pilot Transport Licence (ATPL). The ATPL allows you to operate as pilot in command of an aircraft employed in commercial air transportation.

Along with your licence, you will need to be endorsed with additional qualifications based on the type of Aircraft you are flying. These will include;

  • Multi-Engine rating: authorisation to fly a multi-engine aircraft;
  • Instrument Rating: accreditation to operate an aircraft using navigation equipment, for example when flying in cloud;
  • Type Rating: additional certification relating to a particular aircraft. These are required for aircraft over a certain weight.

Operational Experience

Once you have your CPL and meet the Airline’s minimum requirements you can work for an Airline. If you do not yet meet the minimum requirements for your preferred Airline, you may need to join another operator to gain experience. Check out our blog post 10 Employment Options for Pilots for some ideas.

If you are working permanently for an Airline, it is likely that you will be given the opportunity to gain experience on the different aircraft types that the Airline operates. If the Airline you join operates the aircraft that you aspire to Captain, you may achieve this in time as you become more senior and as your experience increases.

Alternatively, you might take opportunities at several different Airlines and upgrade by rank and to different aircraft as the opportunities present themselves.

At Wings Recruitment we have positions available for various aircraft types in different locations around the world. For more information about our current opportunities check out our website for available positions or contact our friendly team at

Good luck, and above all, enjoy the journey.