Many people are misinformed about what a "commercial pilot" is. They assume that if someone is a commercial pilot, they are an airline pilot. While it's true that airline pilots are, indeed, commercial pilots, commercial pilots are not necessarily airline pilots.
Commercial pilots can be cargo pilots, tour pilots, or backcountry pilots. They can be flight instructors, ferry pilots or glider tow pilots. See a trend? A commercial pilot is simply one who is allowed by the FAA to charge money for services. To fly a regularly scheduled passenger service, or to fly for an airline, you'll also need to gain the additional requirements for those specific jobs. For instance, an airline pilot needs to have a commercial pilot certificate, but also an Airline Transport Certificate (ATP).
If you're interested in becoming a commercial pilot, don't be intimidated by thoughts of airline pilot training. Commercial pilot training is not usually done in a jet (although it can be). In fact, many people complete the commercial pilot certificate in the same aircraft that they did their private pilot license in -- a small four-seater aircraft. The main difference is that for the commercial certificate, students need to acquire 10 hours of flight time in a high-performance aircraft, so some choose to do the entire training in a high-performance aircraft.
Here are the steps for obtaining a commercial pilot certificate:
1. Know the Eligibility Requirements
2. Get a 2nd Class Medical CertificateSince you must have a private pilot certificate to begin commercial training, chances are good that you already hold an aviation medical certificate. If it's a 3rd Class medical, you may want to get a 2nd Class medical certificate -- you'll need at least a 2nd Class medical certificate to utilize your commercial pilot privileges, and there's nothing worse than finding out you can't pass a 2nd Class medical exam once you've completed your commercial training!
3. Take the FAA Written ExamJust like with the private pilot certificate, you'll want to get the written exam out of the way early in your commercial pilot training. That way, you'll have the extra knowledge in your head already, and it will also serve as a refresher if you've taken some time off. Once your written exam is completed, you can focus on flying.
4. Start Flying!
A commercial pilot applicant needs to demonstrate proficiency, but also needs to have some experience. To obtain a commercial pilot certificate under CFR Part 61, you'll need at least 250 flight hours, including 100 hours of pilot-in-command time and 50 hours of cross-country flight. In addition, you'll need to get at least 10 hours of instrument training and 10 hours in a complex aircraft.
During your commercial pilot training, you'll learn new maneuvers, and you'll have to be more consistent and precise than during private pilot training. You'll also learn to fly longer cross-country flights, including at least one cross-country flight that is at least 300 nautical miles total and includes a single leg of at least 250 miles.
5. Take the Checkride
Once you've mastered the commercial flight maneuvers to the new standards and learned all about the privileges and limitations of the commercial pilot certificate, your instructor will sign you off for the checkride. Since you've taken checkrides before, you know what to expect: a couple of hours of ground work for the verbal portion of the exam and a quick flight is all it takes.
Remember, the examiner is testing to see what kind of commercial pilot you'll be, so act uber-professional at all times. Don't skimp on the seatbelt briefing, and remember that precision is crucial -- don't do anything sloppy!