How To Become An Airplane Pilot: A Complete Guide

Do you dream of pursuing a career as a commercial airplane pilot? While this career path may appear intimidating to achieve, it is a path that many people consider. Our admissions team is frequently asked, "What steps do I need to take to become a pilot?" So let us walk you through a complete guide to becoming an airplane pilot. Additionally, I will outline the professional pilot program and things to consider for the pilot industry.

At Hillsboro Aero Academy, we take pride in our over 40 years of experience training professional pilots, which sets us apart in the aviation industry. Few flight schools in the United States have the same experience and reputation as ours. With the longevity of this experience, we have gained valuable insight into how to help aspiring pilots obtain their airplane pilot ratings and certificates and, in turn, apply that knowledge toward pursuing a successful career in the aviation industry.

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Pilot Career Considerations

  1. Training commitment - To make the most of your training, we suggest you enroll as a full-time student and aim to complete five weekly activities. While we understand this may seem challenging, it has been historically proven to be the most effective method for successful training. Consistent engagement with the material allows for quicker absorption of concepts and helps maintain momentum throughout your training. Additionally, maintaining a consistent pace can lead to overall cost savings as you are less likely to repeat lessons due to extended breaks between ground or flight activities.
  2. Flexibility - Flight training demands flexibility due to the schedule fluctuation caused by maintenance and weather. However, the career of an airplane pilot demands even greater flexibility. Certain operations are specific to certain parts of the country, while others require unique schedules, especially in commercial airline work. This type of the job involves a lot of travel and the ability to relocate at short notice. It's crucial to consider this before committing to a career as a pilot. Adaptability and flexibility are vital for success in this profession.
  3. Medical requirements - As you may be aware, obtaining an FAA Medical Certificate is necessary for your flight training and to pursue a career as a commercial pilot after graduation. Our admissions team is available to guide you through the process and provide recommendations for a certified medical examiner to conduct the evaluation. Obtaining a medical certificate prior to starting your training is advisable, as it ensures that there are no medical impediments to becoming a commercial pilot. It is important to note that our training aircraft have weight considerations for training which might require a student to use the Cessna 172 instead of the 152 which would increase the training costs. 

Next Steps Once You Decide This Career Is For You

1. Speak with our admissions team - To get started on your journey toward your dream career, please get in touch with our admissions team. You can speak with our admissions representative, Ashley Souza, by calling 503.726.3000 or emailing Ashley can provide you with all the necessary information on the required ratings and certificates for our training program. Additionally, she can inform you about our career partners, financing options for eligible students, and student visa requirements. If you would like a better understanding of our program, you are welcome to attend Ashley's bi-monthly information webinar, which you can register for here. We can also arrange a campus tour for those local to our area.

2. Apply - Once you've contacted our admissions team and are ready to enroll, you will need to apply to Hillsboro Aero Academy via our online application, which can be found on our website at During your application, you will need to upload the following documents required for approval: 

  • Proof of citizenship – Valid signed passport, or for U.S. citizens, you can also provide a birth certificate and driver's license.
  • Proof of education - There are three options for proof of education: A copy of a high school diploma equivalent to a U.S. high school diploma or GED, a copy of a college diploma from an accredited university in English or including a translation, or take the Ability to Benefit test and pass meeting HAA standards. The test consists of two sections, one math and one verbal.
  • Financial verification (international students only) – International students must show that they have the majority of the funds needed to cover the cost of training and living expenses for 12 months available to them as a liquid asset in some bank account. Submitting copies of a current bank statement often meets this requirement, but they must be in English. If the training is being paid for by someone other than the applicant, then a signed letter of support must accompany the financial statements.
  • Affidavit of Support (international students only) - If financial documents are not in the student's name, a legal document that declares the financial support and relationship to the student is required stating the financial resources will be used for flight training and personal expenses while attending as a student. 
  • English proficiency (international students only) – Applicants are required to be able to read, write, speak, and understand English to qualify for a visa, so our admissions team will conduct a phone interview to determine if the applicant's level of English meets the requirements.

3. Pay student fees and apply for TSA- Upon submission of your application, our team will review it and notify you of the acceptance or rejection through a letter. Successful applicants will be assigned a program start date and will be required to pay a registration fee of $150 USD. International students are also subject to an application processing fee of $300 USD, which covers the additional work required to verify their documents and requirements. Additionally, international students and Green Card holders who have been accepted must initiate the TSA training request application process. Before we issue your I-20, a required document for scheduling a visa interview appointment, you must complete this process and have your documentation approved. While the international student admission process may seem complex due to the multiple steps involved, including the visa interview, our admissions team at Hillsboro Aero Academy is available to guide and support you throughout the process. We have extensive experience enrolling thousands of international students.

4. Attend new student orientation- We hold new student orientation on the 3rd Monday of every month. This is an important event to attend as it is your first introduction to the school, our processes, our safety system, and your classmates. You will also meet our campus staff, who will support you throughout your training. By the end of orientation week, you will be assigned a flight instructor (CFI) who will reach out to you to set up a time to meet. New student orientation will also be the time to learn how to sign up for our group ground for private or the next rating, if you come with previous experience. 

5. Start flying - Once connected with your CFI, you will begin setting up a training schedule to hit your goals and timeline. From there, you can start flying and building hours toward your future airplane pilot career. 

Required Training as an Airplane Pilot

We recommend applying for our Professional Pilot Program if your goal is to pursue a career as an airline pilot, as it encompasses all the necessary ratings and certificates for a successful aviation career. A comprehensive list of the courses covered in this program is provided below, with details of the course structure and a list of what you'll learn in each course. 

Private Pilot Certificate - This is the first step in any student's training and is essential for building the foundation for additional ratings. Our private pilot training course is designed to provide the foundation to learn how to fly a single-engine airplane. The course covers a wide range of essential skills such as pre-flight preparation, takeoffs and landings, navigation, basic maneuvers, and handling malfunctions during a flight. In addition, you will work to prepare for your first solo flight and venture farther from your base airport to make your first solo cross-country flight.
  • Takeoffs & Landings
  • Basic Airplane Operations
  • Cross-Country Flying
  • Tower-Controlled Airport Operations
  • Emergency Procedures
Instrument Rating - The next step is to obtain an Instrument Rating, which is necessary for any airline job and a step toward more challenging pilot careers. The course teaches pilots how to navigate and control an airplane using only their instruments, fly in clouds without visual reference, and operate their planes in various weather conditions. The Pacific Northwest is an excellent location for developing instrument flying skills due to its diverse weather conditions and opportunities to log hours in actual instrument conditions.
  • Navigating by Instruments
  • Attitude Indicator Flying
  • Advanced Approach
  • Advanced Landing
  • Flying in Bad Weather

Commercial Pilot License - Our commercial pilot license training prepares pilots to fly professionally and gain confidence in carrying paying passengers. The course provides all the resources, information, and practice pilots need to advance in their careers and requires the completion of a solo cross-country flight and advanced maneuvers in single-engine and/or multi-engine aircraft. Experience gained from flying across different states will also provide a well-rounded experience flying in various weather conditions. The Commercial Pilot Certificate earned from passing the check ride is necessary for pilots to get hired for professional pilot jobs, whether flying commercial airliners, cargo planes, or private jets.

  • How to Fly Professionally
  • Advanced Aerodynamics
  • Passenger Considerations
  • Commercial Rules & Regulations
  • How to Fly Complex Aircraft

Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) - The Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Rating is necessary for pilots who want to teach others how to fly. This is often the first step in a pilot's career and an excellent way to gain flight hours. Hillsboro Aero Academy offers a CFI course that provides aspiring instructors with the necessary skills to teach students both on the ground and in the air. In addition, many of our own flight instructors have the opportunity to apply to be hired after completing their CFI training, making it an excellent opportunity to gain experience and build flight hours to reach the minimum hour requirements for commercial operators, anywhere from 1000-1500 flight hours.

  • How to Provide Flight Training
  • How to Provide Ground Training
  • How to Instruct, Evaluate & Motivate Effectively

Certified Flight Instructor Instrument (CFII) - The CFII Course is designed to teach flight instructors how to teach students to fly in the clouds safely and proficiently. It will prepare you to work as a flight instructor in more challenging weather conditions helping students earn their Instrument ratings.

  • How to Provide Flight Training in Instrument Conditions
  • How to Teach Instrument Flying Skills and IFR Rules & Procedures
  • How to Instruct, Evaluate & Motivate Effectively

Multi-Engine Flight Instructor Rating (MEI) - This optional course helps you become an instructor for private and commercial pilots in a multi-engine airplane. This course builds on your multi-engine training, focusing on specialized skills and instructional techniques. The course covers single-engine approaches, aerodynamics, and emergency procedures. In addition, you will learn how to use the simulator effectively to teach safely and proficiently. The Piper Seminole, a complex and challenging aircraft, is used for this course to ensure high instructional proficiency.

  • How to Provide Flight Training in a Complex, Multi-Engine Aircraft
  • How to Teach Advanced Aircraft Systems & Aerodynamics
  • How to Instruct, Evaluate & Motivate Effectively

Training Aircraft & Location

Training Aircraft- Our training is conducted in various aircraft to ensure a comprehensive and practical learning experience. Our fleet of 42 Cessna 152s is ideal for beginners due to their easy handling and simple controls. In addition to the two-seater aircraft, we offer 18 ultra-versatile 172s, a 4-seater aircraft, the most popular planes ever built. Our fleet also includes 13 Piper Seminoles, which are well-known for their safety and reliability and are perfect for our students' multi-engine ratings. To maintain our fleet and provide maximum safety and availability, our on-site maintenance team oversees all of our aircraft. They also assist student pilots or instructors who may have questions about operating a particular aircraft.

Hillsboro Campus - Located to the west of Portland, Oregon, lies our Hillsboro Campus, situated in a broad valley surrounded by mountain peaks and within 60 miles of the Pacific Ocean. As one of the top ten most livable cities in the U.S., Portland offers a consistent quality of life. The campus features a mild and comfortable climate throughout the year and offers diverse weather and terrain for aspiring airline pilots to acquire the skills employers seek. Moreover, the campus is just 90 minutes from the beach, making it an ideal destination for a weekend getaway. With nearby student housing, students can connect with their peers and integrate into the Hillsboro community.

Redmond Campus - Our Redmond Campus, situated in the outdoor playground of Central Oregon, is known worldwide for its beautiful scenery. The campus benefits from a high desert climate and sunshine throughout the year, with Cascade peaks providing a stunning backdrop. Although Redmond primarily trains Ascend students enrolled in our partnered Alaska Airlines Ascend Pilot Academy, the weather conditions are varied enough to provide students with real-life instrument flying experience. Additionally, the campus offers convenient student housing close to several dining and shopping options. Located north of Bend, a major outdoor destination, this campus is ideal for those who enjoy outdoor activities. From summer hikes in the Cascade peaks to world-class skiing during the winter, Redmond Campus offers the perfect setting for outdoor enthusiasts.

Airplane Training Duration and Cost

Training Duration - If you participate in at least five weekly activities, the full-time Professional Pilot Program will take about 16-18 months to complete. Upon completion, you will have 250 flight hours in your logbook. 

Program Cost - The program fee for the private, instrument, commercial, and CFI courses is approximately $67,650.00 USD. Additionally, if you want to get the CFII rating, it will cost you an extra $12,165 USD. Please note that the given costs are based on the historical average of our students and not the FAA minimums. This approach provides a more realistic representation of the actual cost incurred by students. You can get a further breakdown of the costs for each rating here.

Financing - For those who are eligible, we offer financing options that can be found on our website or discussed with our admissions team. However, please note that a U.S. citizen is required as a cosigner for all financing options, or you must be a U.S. citizen yourself.

Pay As You Go - At Hillsboro Aero Academy, you can begin flight training without making a large initial deposit. Instead, you can pay for each lesson as you go and settle the balance upon completing it. International students need to demonstrate their ability to pay for training before applying for a visa, but no one is obligated to transfer funds before starting flight training. Ground school is paid for in advance for each rating. 

Career Path of Professional Airplane Pilot

After you finish your training, you can begin your career as a professional pilot. First, I'll describe some possible career paths most of our alumni pilots have embarked after completing their flight training. The most common career path many students take is toward the airlines. However, we understand that being an airline pilot may not be for you, so we have included additional career paths that can grow your airplane pilot career. 

First step: Airplane Flight instructing

After finishing your training and accumulating 250 flight hours, the subsequent move for most pilots is to work as a flight instructor, which is the ideal approach to accumulate the required 1500 total flight hours for most commercial operations. Being a flight instructor is a highly satisfying and demanding chance to refine your airmanship skills and gain a profound understanding of aeronautical knowledge and experience.

Next Step: Airline Pilot Route

One of the most common routes after building the required 1500 hours is to work as an airline pilot often starting with a regional airline and eventually working your way up to a major or legacy operator. 

  1. Regional - From being an airplane flight instructor with the required minimum hours, the next step would be moving on as a regional pilot, which involves flying for regional airlines such as SkyWest, Express Jet, and Horizon Airlines. As a regional pilot, you will fly various aircraft, ranging from medium turboprop planes to jets like the CRJ 900. This role provides invaluable experience in airline operations, also known as Part 121. You will learn how to coordinate with airport crews, ensure customer satisfaction, and understand how operations work at small and major airports. In addition, as a regional pilot, you will gain an understanding of the nuances involved in flying commercial aircraft and the various aspects of airline operations. It is a challenging yet rewarding career that provides an excellent foundation for those looking to advance their aviation careers.
  2. Legacy/Majors - You'll then move onto working as a pilot at a legacy/major airline. This involves flying larger aircraft on longer routes for legacy carriers like Alaska Airlines or major airlines like United. You will be responsible for flying wide-body jets, which are typically larger and heavier than regional aircraft. You will also fly longer routes, often crossing international boundaries and time zones. Working for a legacy or major airline provides pilots with many benefits, including job security, higher salaries, and excellent benefits packages. However, the job also comes with its own set of challenges, including longer periods away from home and more demanding schedules. Despite these challenges, many pilots find the experience of working as a pilot at a legacy/major airline to be highly rewarding, as it provides an opportunity to travel the world and gain valuable experience flying some of the most advanced aircraft in the industry.
Next Step: Corporate Pilot Route

Working as a corporate pilot can be a highly rewarding career with several unique advantages over other aviation jobs. One of the main benefits of being a corporate pilot is the higher pay compared to airline pilots. However, the trade-off is a less predictable schedule, as corporate pilots often fly for business and private individuals worldwide. Corporate pilots operate state-of-the-art aircraft with luxurious interiors and the latest avionics equipment, making for a high-end flying experience. This career demands an adventurous individual ready to go with the flow and loves the challenge of changing plans on the go. To step into this career, you will likely spend some time as a regional pilot first, building the skills you need to operate at small and large airports. Working as a corporate pilot can be a lucrative and exciting career for those willing to put in the time and effort.

Next Step: Freight Pilot Route

Working as a Freight Part 135 pilot can be an excellent option for those who prefer to fly solo without worrying about passengers. As a freight Part 135 pilot, you can expect to fly various aircraft, ranging from single-engine Cessnas filled with boxes to FedEx 747s on international routes. Typically, pilots start in smaller aircraft and work their way up, beginning with regional feeder routes before stepping into more advanced aircraft and longer routes. One of the benefits of flying solo as a freight pilot is the opportunity to hone your problem-solving skills and instincts. Without the distraction of passengers, you can easily focus on the task at hand and navigate any issues that arise. While the job can be demanding, the experience of flying solo as a freight Part 135 pilot can be highly rewarding, providing a unique opportunity to see the world from a different perspective.


You may feel overwhelmed with the amount of information I presented regarding how to become a professional airplane pilot through our Professional Pilot Program and the potential career paths that are possible. However, taking the first step towards becoming a pilot is simple; begin by getting in touch with our admissions team at or call us at 503.726.3000. Our team is always ready to have a conversation with you to help you take the right steps on your new career journey today.