airline transport pilot flying a commercial jet

Airline Transport Pilot

What is an Airline Transport Pilot?

The Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate is the pinnacle of pilot certification in the United States, granting its holders the authority to act as pilot-in-command (PIC) of scheduled airline operations and cargo flights. This certification is governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and is a testament to a pilot’s experience, skill, and knowledge.Airline Transport Pilot flying

Airline Transport Pilot Requirements

  • Be at least 21 years of age (see R-ATP below) or 23 years of age, depending on the aeronautical experience requirements met.
  • Be able to read, speak, write, and understand the English language.
  • Be of good moral character.
  • Hold a commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating, a foreign airline transport pilot license with instrument privileges, or a foreign commercial pilot license with an instrument rating.
  • Must hold a 1st-class medical certificate
  • Complete an approved ATP Certification Training Program (CTP).
  • This requirement is only valid if you are seeking the ATP certificate with a multi-engine rating. The ATP single-engine rating does not require the completion of an ATP CTP program.
  • Pass a pilot knowledge test with a score of 70% or higher.
  • The ATP multi-engine airplane test (ATM) consists of 130 multiple-choice questions while the ATP single-engine airplane test (ATS) consists of 95 questions.
  • Meet the aeronautical experience requirements that apply to the aircraft category and class rating sought before applying for the practical test.
  • Pass the practical test that applies to the aircraft category and class rating sought.Airline Transport Pilot preparing for take off

Aeronautical experience requirements (ATP) (R-ATP)

a person who is applying for an airline transport pilot certificate with an airplane category and class rating must have at least 1,500 hours of total time as a pilot that includes at least:

  • 500 hours of cross-country flight time.
  • 100 hours of night flight time.
  • 50 hours of flight time in the class of airplane for the rating sought. A maximum of 25 hours of training in a full flight simulator representing the class of airplane for the rating sought may be credited toward the flight time requirement if the training was accomplished as part of an approved training course. A flight training device or aviation training device may not be used to satisfy this requirement.
  • 75 hours of instrument flight time, in actual or simulated instrument conditions, subject to the following:
  1. An applicant may not receive credit for more than a total of 25 hours of simulated instrument time in a full flight simulator or flight training device.
  2. A maximum of 50 hours of training in a full flight simulator or flight training device may be credited toward the instrument flight time requirements if the training was accomplished in a course conducted by a training center.
  3. Training in a full flight simulator or flight training device must be accomplished in a full flight simulator or flight training device, representing an airplane.
  • 250 hours of flight time in an airplane as a pilot in command, or as second in command performing the duties of pilot in command while under the supervision of a pilot in command, or any combination thereof, subject to the following:
  1. The flight time requirement must include at least—
  • 100 hours of cross-country flight time; and
  • 25 hours of night flight time.
  1. Except for a person who has been removed from flying status for lack of proficiency or because of a disciplinary action involving aircraft operations, a U.S. military pilot or former U.S. military pilot who meets the requirements, or a military pilot in the Armed Forces of a foreign contracting State to the Convention on International Civil Aviation who meets the requirements, may credit flight time in a powered-lift aircraft operated in horizontal flight toward the flight time requirement.
  • Not more than 100 hours of total aeronautical experience may be obtained in a full flight simulator or flight training device provided the device represents an airplane and the aeronautical experience was accomplished as part of an approved training course.
  • A person who has performed at least 20-night takeoffs and landings to a full stop may substitute each additional night takeoff and landing to a full stop for 1 hour of night flight time to satisfy the requirements; however, not more than 25 hours of night flight time may be credited in this manner.
  • A commercial pilot may log second-in-command pilot time toward the aeronautical experience requirements, provided the pilot is employed by a part 119 certificate holder authorized to conduct operations under part 135 of this chapter and the second-in-command pilot time is obtained in operations conducted for the certificate holder under part 91 or 135 when a second pilot is not required under the type certification of the aircraft or the regulations under which the flight is being conducted, and the following requirements are met—


  • The experience must be accomplished as part of a second-in-command professional development program;
  • The flight operation must be conducted in accordance with the certificate holder’s operations specification for the second-in-command professional development program;
  • The pilot in command of the operation must certify in the pilot’s logbook that the second-in-command pilot time was accomplished under this section; and
  • The pilot time may not be logged as pilot-in-command time even when the pilot is the sole manipulator of the controls and may not be used to meet the aeronautical experience requirements.
  • A commercial pilot may log the following flight engineer flight time toward the 1,500 hours of total time as a pilot:
  • Flight-engineer time, provided the time—
  1.  Is acquired in an airplane required to have a flight engineer by the airplane’s flight manual or type certificate
  2. Is acquired while engaged in operations under part 121 of this chapter for which a flight engineer is required
  3. Is acquired while the person is participating in a pilot training program approved under part 121 of this chapter; an
  4. Does not exceed more than 1 hour for every 3 hours of flight engineer flight time for a total credited time of no more than 500 hours.
  • Flight-engineer time, provided the flight time—
  1. Is acquired as a U.S. Armed Forces’ flight engineer crewmember in an airplane that requires a flight engineer crewmember by the flight manual;
  2. Is acquired while the person is participating in a flight engineer crewmember training program for the U.S. Armed Forces; and
  3. Does not exceed 1 hour for every 3 hours of flight engineer flight time for a total credited time of no more than 500 hours.


  • A restricted ATP (R-ATP) is a modification to the standard ATP requirements and allows pilots to obtain the ATP certificate with fewer flight hours than the usual 1,500 hours, with certain limitations.
  • The R-ATP minimum hour requirements are as follows:
  • 1,000 hours for graduates of an aviation bachelor’s degree program from an FAA-approved institution.
  • 1,250 hours for graduates of an associate degree program with an aviation major from an FAA-approved institution.
  • The R-ATP allows pilots to become first officers in Part 121 air carrier operations with the reduced flight hour requirement. However, there are certain limitations associated with R-ATP, such as the requirement to complete additional hours of flight experience (typically 500 hours) in certain conditions before acting as a captain in Part 121 operations.

How to build time towards ATP


  • CFI

A Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) is a highly skilled professional responsible for training aspiring pilots in various aspects of flight. They provide both ground and flight instruction, teaching students essential knowledge about aircraft systems, aerodynamics, navigation, and aviation regulations. CFIs guide students through flight maneuvers, simulations, and procedures to ensure they develop the necessary skills and confidence to become competent pilots. Additionally, CFIs evaluate and assess student progress, tailor instruction to individual learning styles, and prioritize safety throughout the training process. Their role is critical in shaping the next generation of proficient and safe aviators.

  • Tow banners

A tow banner pilot is an experienced aviator tasked with towing advertising banners behind an aircraft. These pilots operate specialized aircraft equipped with towing systems designed to carry large banners for aerial advertising purposes. Their responsibilities include navigating to designated locations, coordinating banner pickup and release maneuvers, and ensuring the safe transport of the banner throughout the flight. Tow banner pilots require excellent flying skills, particularly in maneuvering with added drag from the banner, as well as precise coordination with ground crews for banner attachment and retrieval. They often work in dynamic environments, flying at low altitudes over populated areas to maximize the visibility of the advertising message. Attention to detail, situational awareness, and adherence to safety protocols are paramount in this unique and thrilling aviation role.

  • Buy an airplane

Building flight hours by purchasing an airplane can be a strategic investment for aspiring pilots aiming to gain experience and progress in their aviation careers. By owning an aircraft, pilots have the flexibility to fly whenever their schedule allows, without the constraints often associated with renting or scheduling aircraft from a flight school or club. Additionally, owners can tailor their flying experiences to focus on specific skill development or training objectives. Flying regularly also allows pilots to maintain proficiency and confidence in their abilities. Furthermore, aircraft ownership presents opportunities for pilots to explore various flying destinations and engage in recreational or business-related aviation activities, all while accumulating valuable flight hours. Over time, the hours logged in personal aircraft contribute significantly to a pilot’s overall flight experience, enhancing their qualifications for advanced ratings, certifications, and career opportunities within the aviation industry.

  • Charter Operations

An entry-level commercial pilot typically holds a Commercial Pilot Certificate with single-engine and multi-engine ratings, allowing them to fly aircraft for compensation or hire. These pilots often begin their careers by gaining experience as charter pilots, flying small aircraft for short-haul flights, or air taxi services. Entry-level commercial pilots focus on building flight hours and gaining experience in various flying conditions, honing their skills in navigation, communication, and aircraft operation. They often work under the supervision of more experienced pilots or within structured training programs to continue advancing their careers toward roles with larger airlines, cargo operators, or corporate flight departments. Adaptability, a commitment to safety, and a passion for flying are essential qualities for success in this dynamic and competitive field.

Airline Transport Pilot flying a commercial jet


An Airline Transport Pilot is not just a profession but a lifelong passion fueled by dedication, perseverance, and unwavering commitment to excellence. With each flight, you will continue to embark on new adventures, embrace new horizons, and inspire others to pursue their dreams with courage and determination. In the end, it’s not just about reaching the destination, but about cherishing the moments, lessons learned, and extraordinary experiences that define the remarkable journey of an ATP pilot.

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