Private vs. Commercial Pilots: Salary, Duties, and Job Differences

Aspiring pilots have one thing in common, passion for flight. Becoming a pilot can be a promising and fulfilling career path for those with a passion for aviation and the desire to fly. However, when considering becoming a pilot, it is vital to understand the differences between flying for fun and having a fulfilling career as a pilot, depending on your professional goals and interests.

In our last post, explaining the Difference Between Private and Commercial Pilot Training, we broke down the differences between private and commercial pilots. 

In this post, we will analyze the salary, duties, and job differences between private and commercial pilot licenses, along with varying constraints and authorizations that apply to private pilots compared to commercial pilots.


What are the different requirements for a private pilot vs. a commercial pilot?


When starting flight training, you will first obtain your Private Pilot Certificate and then move onto obtaining a Commercial Pilot Certificate, if you plan to work as a pilot. A Private Pilot Certificate requires fewer hours per the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) than a Commercial Pilot Certificate, as it is only the first step in your training.

Private Pilot Requirements

To acquire a Part 141 Private Pilot Certificate from the FAA, you must complete at least 30 hours of ground and 35 hours of flight training. However, most people typically require between 50 to 60 hours to fulfill the requirements and obtain the certificate.

During the initial stages of becoming a pilot, you will gain a foundation in basic aircraft maneuvers, navigation, and the crucial skills of takeoffs and landings. You will also receive instruction in tower-controlled airport operations and emergency procedures that are essential for successful solo flights.

Commercial Pilot Requirements

The FAA mandates a minimum of 35 hours of ground training and 120 hours of flight training to obtain a Part 141 Commercial Pilot Certificate. You can meet these hours while obtaining your Commercial Pilot Certificate through our commercial pilot course.

During this stage, you can refine and expand your piloting abilities, learning advanced techniques that are essential for successful commercial flight operations. In addition, with this certificate, you will have the necessary skills to qualify for paid pilot positions, allowing you to earn a salary as a pilot.

Duties of private and commercial pilots

Private pilot duties: 

The duties of a private pilot can vary depending on the type of flying they are engaged in, but generally include:

  1. Pre-Flight Planning - Before a flight, a private pilot is responsible for checking weather conditions, planning the flight route, and reviewing the aircraft's maintenance logs and performance characteristics.
  2. Pre-Flight Inspection - A private pilot is responsible for conducting a thorough inspection of the aircraft before takeoff, including checking fuel levels, testing systems, and verifying that all required equipment is on board.
  3. Flying the Aircraft - During the flight, a private pilot is responsible for operating the aircraft safely and efficiently, following all regulations, and adhering to established procedures.
  4. Navigation and Communication - A private pilot must have the skill to navigate using visual flight rules and communicate effectively with ATC and surrounding pilots nearby.
  5. Emergency Response - In an emergency, a private pilot must be able to quickly and effectively respond to the situation, following established emergency procedures and making decisions that prioritize the safety of the aircraft and its occupants.
  6. Post-Flight Procedures - After the flight, a private pilot is responsible for completing the necessary paperwork, filing flight plans, and ensuring that the aircraft is secured and properly maintained.

Overall, a private pilot's primary duty is to safely and efficiently operate the aircraft while adhering to regulations following established procedures and prioritizing safety during the flight.

Commercial pilot duties:

The duties of a commercial pilot may vary depending on the specific role and airline but generally include the following:

  1. Pre-flight checks: Conduct pre-flight checks to ensure the aircraft is safe and ready to fly.
  2. Flight planning: Planning the flight route, considering weather conditions, fuel consumption, and air traffic control instructions.
  3. Navigation: Using flight instruments and equipment to navigate the aircraft during flight.
  4. Communication: Communicating with air traffic control and ground staff to ensure safe takeoff, landing, and in-flight operations.
  5. Passenger safety: Ensuring the safety and comfort of passengers onboard the aircraft.
  6. Emergency procedures: Knowing and following emergency procedures when faced with an emergency, such as engine failure, fire, or medical emergencies.
  7. Decision-making: Making decisions quickly and accurately in high-pressure situations.
  8. Record-keeping: Maintaining accurate records of flight times, fuel consumption, and maintenance issues.
  9. Training and development: Continue to undergo training and development to maintain skills and stay up-to-date with new technologies and procedures.
  10. Collaborating with crew members: Working with co-pilots, flight attendants, and ground crew to ensure a safe and efficient flight.

As a commercial pilot, additional duties are required compared to a private pilot depending on the job acquired and tasks on hand when carrying passengers or cargo.

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Salary differences for private and commercial pilots

Private Pilots Salary

Private pilot license holders are not paid for their piloting services. This is because a private pilot license only allows pilots to fly for non-commercial purposes, such as personal travel or recreational flying. Some restrictions with private pilots are they cannot operate in certain airspaces, fly in certain weather conditions, or fly complex and high-performance aircraft. As such, they cannot be compensated for their flying services, which would require a commercial pilot license.

Commercial Pilots Salary

The average salary for commercial pilots can vary widely depending on factors such as experience level, type of aircraft flown, and employer. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for airline, copilots, and flight engineers was $202,180 as of May 2021.

However, the median annual salary for commercial pilots was $99,640. Those in the lowest 10th percentile earned under $50,080, while those in the highest 10th percentile earned over $205,940. Additional factors that may affect one's salary include the region of the country where the pilot is employed, with pilots working in urban areas typically earning higher wages than those in rural regions. Additionally, pilots who work for major airlines, generally, receive higher salaries than those who work for smaller regional airlines or other aviation-related fields.

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Job opportunities for a private pilot vs. commercial pilot

Private Pilots

Although holding only a private pilot certificate alone does not allow a pilot to earn a salary for their services, there are a few options for those who obtain this type of rating:

Recreational Pilot - A private pilot who flies for leisure and enjoyment, typically in small single-engine aircraft.

Private Pilot (PPL) - A general private pilot license that allows a pilot to fly for non-commercial purposes.

Sport Pilot - A sport pilot is a type of pilot certification in the United States that allows individuals to fly light sport aircraft for personal or recreational purposes.


Commercial Pilots

Becoming a commercial pilot opens the opportunity to various jobs depending on your qualifications and skills. A few job opportunities for commercial pilots would be:

Airline Pilot - A commercial pilot who flies for an airline, transporting passengers or cargo on scheduled or charter flights.

Cargo Pilot - A commercial pilot flies cargo planes, transporting goods and packages across various destinations.

Corporate Pilot - A commercial pilot who flies for a corporation, typically transporting company executives or conducting business-related flights.

Tour Pilot - A commercial pilot who provides sightseeing tours, often flying in areas with scenic views and landmarks.

Flight Instructor - A commercial pilot who teaches individuals to fly and prepares them for their pilot certification exams.

Agricultural Pilot - A commercial pilot specializing in aerial crop dusting and other agricultural applications.

Military Pilot - A commercial pilot who serves in the military, often flying fighter jets or transport planes.

Air Ambulance Pilot - A commercial pilot transporting sick or injured patients via air ambulance.

Test Pilot - A commercial pilot who tests and evaluates new aircraft and aviation technologies for manufacturers and government agencies.

Helicopter Pilot - A commercial pilot specializing in flying helicopters, typically for transportation, emergency medical services, or military operations.


If you are interested in learning more about the type of pilot licenses and what is required for a career as a professional pilot, we encourage you to reach out to our admissions team with any questions at 1.503.726.3000 or We look forward to helping you start on the path toward a career in aviation.