How to become a Pilot

Pilots fly various types of aircraft, including light planes, helicopters or airline aircraft, depending on the aircraft type they are approved to fly. They may transport passengers, mail and freight within Australia, internationally on scheduled airline and unscheduled charter services, or provide other aviation services as required.

Personal requirements of a Pilot

  • Good eyesight (may be corrected)
  • Able to make accurate judgments quickly and remain calm in an emergency
  • Able to use information from various sources and make decisions
  • Able to speak, write and understand English

Education & Training for a Pilot

To become a pilot you have to complete a number of licences involving practical and theoretical training. The practical component is undertaken with a qualified pilot or instructor, with flight training available from private flight training schools. You can check the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) website to find private flying schools in your area. You can also become a pilot by completing a VET qualification in aviation. As subjects and prerequisites can vary between institutions, you should contact your chosen institution for further information. Entry to this occupation may be improved if you complete a degree in aviation, aviation technology or science, majoring in aviation. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, mathematics and physics are normally required. Applicants may also be required to submit an Aviation Reference Number, complete a questionnaire, attend a selection interview and obtain a Class 1 CASA Medical Certificate. A number of universities in Australia offer relevant degrees. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements or offer external study. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information.

Duties & Tasks of a Pilot

Pilots may perform the following tasks:

  • prepare flight plans based on weather forecasts and operational information
  • make sure aircraft are properly loaded for a safe and efficient flight
  • check fuel requirements and quantities prior to flight
  • check on the maintenance status of aircraft prior to flight
  • conduct checks of flight controls, instruments and aircraft engines
  • fly aircraft according to established operating and safety procedures under a range of flight conditions, including extreme weather and emergency situations
  • make sure that passengers are correctly informed of emergency procedures, and maintain care of passengers
  • provide passengers with information and weather details
  • take bookings, load aircraft and generally assist in the promotion and running of the company.

Working conditions for a Pilot

Pilots' duties vary according to the size and nature of the company they work for.

Employment Opportunities for a Pilot

There is considerable competition for all types of employment for pilots, particularly with commercial airlines. Promotions depend on experience and the licences held. To obtain employment, pilots may need to move to a major city or regional centre, or be prepared to be away from home for extended periods. Major employers include commercial airline companies, agricultural services, aerial surveying services, aeromedical services such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service and government agencies such as the police, forests and national parks and Customs Coastwatch.


Aeromedical Pilot

An aeromedical pilot works for organisations such as the Royal Flying Doctor Service or search and rescue helicopter services. They may have some type of medical or rescue training but this is not a requirement.

Agricultural Pilot

An agricultural pilot uses planes for crop dusting and other agricultural work, flying at low levels in rural communities.

Airline Pilot

An airline pilot holds particular certificates that allow for command of a multi-crew airline aircraft to transport passengers and cargo. They can also carry out all the roles of a Commercial Pilot for their appropriate licence status.

Commercial Pilot

A commercial pilot flies in command of single pilot aircraft carrying out charter, flying instruction and other types of aerial work, such as surveys and coastal aerial surveillance in the general aviation (light aircraft) sector of the industry. They can also act as the co-pilot of large airline aircraft if they hold both co-pilot endorsement and an instrument rating.

Flying Instructor

A flying instructor teaches others so they may obtain a pilot licence, from private through to commercial levels.

Helicopter Pilot

A helicopter pilot flies helicopters for various purposes ranging from joy rides to emergency rescue operations. With additional licences and experience, opportunities exist to fly larger twin-engine helicopters, which are commonly used in offshore mining operations.

Military Pilot

A military pilot is trained to operate a variety of combat and support aircraft. For more information on military pilots and defence force careers, see the separate entries for Air Force Officer, Army Officer and Navy Officer.

Additional Information
The precise requirements (such as aeronautical experience and examinations or tests) for the issue of pilot licences are contained in the CASA regulations, which can be viewed at any licensed flying school or through the CASA website. People considering a career as a pilot need to be aware that the flying training costs can be about $8,000–17,000 for a private pilot licence, $23,000–32,000 for a commercial pilot licence, an additional $10,000–15,000 for a command instrument rating including a night VFR (visual flight rules), and an additional $10,000–15,000 to become an instructor. It is recommended that, before starting any training, you should contact numerous flight schools to determine which one offers the best course for the level of flying you wish to qualify for. Some companies may use return-of-service clauses to recover training costs in the event of an early termination of enrolment, so it is best to ensure that the course is suited to your training needs. Airlines recruit experienced commercial pilots who meet the minimum requirements direct from the general aviation industry, usually either fully qualified pilots with an Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) or a Commercial Pilot with ATPL theory subjects passed. If selected, pilots may spend three to six months in ground and flight training before completing a line check and commencing duties. All persons working in the airline industry must satisfy security clearance requirements. Check with individual airlines for full details.
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