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Are you thinking of flying for a living? Becoming a commercial pilot is a big growing experience, and takes a good number of hours to get there. But once there you’ll find it very rewarding to actually be paid to fly, for once! 

In this podcast we will discuss:

  • Some of the key differences in commercial pilot training
  • Why becoming a ‘professional’ through the process is very important
  • How it’s like PPL training, and why it’s not anything like it
  • The steps to best prepare yourself
  • Some items you can study that will be big

While for some it may seem commercial training is a long way off, it’ll get here before you know it. As a commercial pilot you can fly for hire, but not in all situations. You may end up being an instructor, an airline pilot, for fly or an on demand operator. You can even be a commercial pilot in someones own. There are lots of possibilities! 

The journey isn’t super easy to get here, but it is worth it. You’l want to check out episode 123 as well for some extra motivation to get your commercial pilot license.

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On this episode of AviatorCast, the path to success in commercial pilot training.

Welcome aviators to another episode of AviatorCast. Load up your flight bag with useful flight training topics, interviews, and aviation passion. Let’s kick the tires and light the fires. Coming to you from Angle of Attack Headquarters in Homer, Alaska. Here’s your host and flight instructor, Chris Palmer.

`Welcome, everyone to another episode of AviatorCast. My name is Chris Palmer. Coming to you from rainy, getting cold, Alaska. Happy to be here. You know, I went flying yesterday. I don’t usually do this, but I just went to the airport all by myself, jumped in the flight school airplane, and I went up for a rip for about 30 minutes, just doing some touch and goes at the airport. Had a lot of fun. The reason I don’t usually do that is because I’m a commercial pilot, I’m a CFI, and I fly for hire now most of the time, someone pays me to do that rather than me just going out and doing it. But I kind of just had to get a flight and do it for my soul and it felt really good. Anyway, interesting.

Today on the podcast, we are going to be talking about the path to success in commercial pilot training. Now, I’ve already done a podcast on private pilot success and on instrument success. I will do another one on certified flight instructor success. But now, we’re talking about the commercial pilot license. If this is where you’re at, you’ve got your private pilot and your instrument and you’re working toward your commercial, or this is something you’re wanting to do someday, then this is going to be a podcast for you.

Have you always wanted to fly for a living? It’s something that you dreamed of doing as an actual job, someone paying you to do it? Well, this podcast will help you with that. Does the thought of becoming a commercial pilot excite you? Something that you can really see yourself doing for a living, and are you willing to put in the hard work to get there, because becoming commercial pilot does take a whole lot of hard work and really you have to step up as a person, as an individual, as a professional in order to make this happen. This is kind of the pinnacle of where you get as a pilot in the lower ratings. Okay? Really actually, this is what they would call an advanced rating where you’re getting something that takes even more effort and work to do.

You know, being a commercial pilot, it takes a lot of responsibility because essentially what you’re doing at this stage is you’re saying, “I’m going to carry passengers for hire.” And because of that, you really need to have a good solid foundation in so many of the areas that we’ve touched on throughout all of training, through all the different knowledge topics, through the flying the airplane in a very efficient and safe way, and also just having good decision-making, aeronautical decision, making whatever you want to call it, and being a good, safe pilot. All right? This is really where you become well-rounded and become a better pilot.

Now, so far you would have covered your private pilot training, your instrument training, and now you’re moving into commercial training, which is kind of interesting coming off of instrument training, because you’re going back to more of the stick and rudder type of flying, the visual flying that you would do in private pilot. What I see a lot of when I have a commercial student is I see that they are still very used to looking at the instruments and that can be kind of a hold back for them when they actually go into the airplane and kind of go back to those basics again that were learned on the private pilot level. So, we’re going to be talking about some of those things you’re going to be learning again, going over again, learning to a much greater depth and kind of what you would expect from the commercial training.

A lot of people say it’s like a private pilot on steroids. I don’t really agree with that. I think it’s definitely more than that. The biggest thing I think of when I think commercial pilot is the professional aspect, and that has a lot more to do with attitude than it has to do with what the FAA is requiring you in terms of what’s on the ACS. It’s very important to be a professional and to really change your mind about how you are going to present yourself in aviation, because it all changes at the commercial pilot level.

All right, so let’s talk about a little bit about what’s going to be different in your commercial pilot training. So if something happens and, and I think about this as a flight instructor, as someone that owns a flight school, as someone that does online ground school and online learning. That’s really what we’re doing now with this podcast. I think a lot about kind of where the demographics come from.

So if you think of how things are broken down as people get their pilot licenses, you have everyone that is basically required to get their private pilot license. Then you have some of those private pilots, really not many, that go on to become instrument pilots, and you have even fewer that go on to become commercial pilots. What happens in that process is all of the companies that are doing flight training or they’re doing ground training online, whatever it is, they pay less attention to those products that won’t give them a lot of payback for their efforts. There aren’t a lot of resources out there for commercial pilots to learn from.

Now, I’m going to be doing a commercial ground school soon, and that will be my resource, but I’ve put it off because most of my income comes from the private pilot and the instrument, not from the commercial. But I am really excited about doing the commercial because I know so many of you guys have asked about that.

So, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for you right out the gate, which can be kind of difficult sometimes to find where to get this information. It’s a little bit difficult. You are basically going to go into a deeper dive on every single topic that you did on the private pilot level, from airspace, to performance, to navigation, weather, everything. Okay? You’re going to go into much more depth on every single subject that you covered in private pilot, because the commercial pilot level is so much more critical and really you’re applying yourself as a professional now and you need to know how to do those things.

Now, if you think about the end goal, you realize as well that eventually what you want to do is you want to be employed by somebody, all right? When you are employed by somebody, you are going to be flying nearer to those minimums, nearer to those regulations than maybe you had a big buffer before as a private pilot where you had your personal minimums. Now, that’s not to say that personal minimums aren’t still an important conversation when it comes to being a commercial pilot, but now you have an employer to answer to, and so if you have personal minimums that just aren’t realistic and you’re not helping them further their business in a legal way. I’m not saying do illegal things because your employer tells you to, but what I am saying is that your employer absolutely has the right to ask you to do legal things per the regulations and your personal minimums become less of a factor.

That is why a lot of these subjects that we’re adding and becoming professional at, even flying the airplane better, are more critical, because now you’re winning, going to be getting closer to that line, that line of safety. Okay? We got to keep that in mind, too, that you are going to be employed by someone that expects you to do things legally, but that you’re also going to need to know the regulations and how all that works.

Now, that’s going to come to play in visibility, and airspace, and especially with airplanes, and the things that can be inoperative and you can still complete the mission. You know, what if you go fly somewhere and something breaks, can you come back without a mechanic, and how does that process work? That all kind of comes together in this idea that you have to become a professional, because the second you get your commercial pilot license done is you can be employed.

Now, if you’re just doing this for fun, then okay, I guess you can totally shirk this idea that you need to become a professional. But I think even those that are just adding a commercial rating to continue their education have a mission-oriented goal of becoming a better pilot for it. That’s the ultimate goal here is to become the best you as a pilot that you can be and bring that all together in one place.

So, that sets the stage for what is expected as a commercial pilot. It’s quite a bit. It’s definitely a new mantle to move up to. It’s going to change a lot. But really, you’re going to take a step up now. You know? It’s time to become a professional and that’s really what it’s all about.

Let’s talk a little bit more now about what you need to do and how to prepare for the commercial training. As always, you know that I start with the ground stuff, because I believe that you should be working on all of that before you move into the flight training. That saves you time, and money, and effort by doing so. So, I always start with ground school or written tests and getting that knowledge done, and then moving on to the flight training. Specifically to the ground school or written test is again, there aren’t a lot of great commercial ground schools out there. I don’t think there’s a lot of quality resources. I can hardly find anything. I ended up going back to a lot of the private pilot stuff that I knew or had that seemed to help me a lot in my commercial training.

Again, I am excited to offer that commercial ground school myself to answer to that issue, because I just felt like I was in the dark when I did my commercial training. I had a student recently, her name is Sarra, and she came up here to Alaska from Wisconsin and did her commercial rating, and she very much felt the same way. There just weren’t a lot of resources out there to offer her on how this stuff worked, and you really had to dive deep into YouTube videos and articles out there that could offer just a quality educational experience. You know, how a constant speed propeller works. You can get plenty of people that are engineers and nerded out on it to tell you how it works, but to have someone explain it in layman’s terms is much more helpful, kind of the way I go.

Much of the knowledge is tested kind of the same level as a private pilot. So when you go into the written test, you’ll do the same old airspace questions, some of the same performance questions, some of the same recency of experience requirements and the things that you need to have on board with you, all of those things. Kind of revisiting those things once again. There is a lot more arithmetic in the written test. They have just deeper flight planning questions that seem to hold people up. Again, one of the tips that I give for written tests is to go through the tests first, do all the questions that you know just easily, and then move on to those deeper arithmetic questions. I usually save those for the end when I do my written tests.

So because there’s this big lack of resources, or at least right now, it really pushes you, as a professional, you need to step up, and you need to organize yourself and find those things out there. When I went into my commercial training, it really took me off guard how little there was out there to help me. And as someone that is technologically savvy, I dove deep into the internet and found many resources that could help me, but I organized that in a way that was very specific to commercial pilot and really like had long documents where it was all laid out, and how everything was broken down, and it was very helpful to have that on there. Okay? But that wasn’t given to me. There wasn’t a product I could buy, there wasn’t anything I could really get into that could really help me in a quality way.

That is still the case right now. If you go to my website and you see that I have the commercial ground school. It is going to be different, it is going to answer to a lot of the issues that I went through as a commercial pilot, but you are going to have to organize yourself really well. I will say that from an instructor perspective, when you go into commercial training, there’s this expectation that you’ve been around the block a few times now and there is definitely a lot less handholding.I don’t know if this is something that is industry wide. I would probably say that it is, but I know that through my experience, when I went through and did my commercial training, I went with a professional instructor that I really admired, and he just didn’t do anything for me that I couldn’t do for myself.

He let me fall flat on my face when I didn’t have the resources in the organization I needed to get this done, and there’s this expectation that I needed to step up, that it wasn’t him to give me the answers, that I needed to professionally figure this out. That knowledge or rather that method of being able to dig in and get the right answer is very important as a commercial pilot. Building quickly into the CFI, it’s very important you know where to find the correct answers, how to read the regulations, how to stay legal, because when you’re flying for an employer, it’s so important that you now understand how everything works. And so, that mindset really changed for me. Regardless of the lack of resources, this is what I’m trying to get across, or the lack of guidance. There’s this expectation that you as a now professional pilot or wanting to be a professional pilot will step up, and organize yourself, and do this.

So, you’re not going to your handheld anymore like you did in private pilot training or instrument training. It’s time to step up and figure this stuff out on your own to a certain extent. All right? That’s what you got to do as a commercial pilot and part of your training. Again, I think that with every license, you become a better person, you become a better pilot, and you will grow as a person throughout this process. So just plan on that, embrace it, that you need to become a better you, and those things aren’t necessarily in the training. They are these life skills that are outside of what the FAA is requiring that you need to be better at: organizing yourself, the ability to find resources, pacing yourself through the training, getting enough rest, increasing your brain power, whatever it is, so many other things that aren’t really talked about, but those are what are required to become a professional. All right?

Some of the subjects you’ll be covering in more depth, you’ll be getting deeper into complex systems, into the regulations, into the types of commercial operations you can do. I kind of joke that becoming commercial pilot doesn’t actually allow you to be a commercial pilot, that you still have to be very careful about what type of operations for hire that you actually do. And so to a certain extent, you’re learning what you can’t do as a commercial pilot and there are a lot of restrictions, but you still can find those situations where you can fly for hire. Just keep that in mind. I’m just going to leave it surface level like that for now, but those are some of the things that you’re going to be getting into that are maybe set themselves apart from other types of training that you do.

Of course, getting this test out of the way, this written test, this ground school knowledge, is very helpful to just move into the flight training, because the flight training portion of your commercial license is going to be very fast or can be fast if you’re proficient already, and you need to get all that done first so that you can quickly move through the rest.

So you’ve gone through your private pilot training, your instrument training, and now you’re on your commercial training, and really to a certain extent what you’re doing is you’re checking the boxes. As long as you are a proficient pilot, as long as you’ve gone through and done your ground school, your written test, your knowledge test, then you are going to be primed and ready to go into the training and get it done very quickly. That is because a lot of what you do in the Checkride for the commercial license is similar to what you do in the private pilot license.

You’re doing mostly the same takeoffs and landings, you’re doing stalls, and you’re doing steep turns, and a lot of it is similar. You’re going to be doing performance maneuvers, as well. Chandelles, you’ll be doing Lazy Eights, Eights on Pylons. Those are different ones that you maybe haven’t heard of before. Power off 180 landings, accelerated stalls. There’s a handful of different things you’re doing in commercial training that you hadn’t done before, but that’s kind of fun. You’re adding something new and fresh to the whole thing. The cool thing is that most of those are stick and rudder type maneuvers, and so I actually really liked the commercial maneuvers, and I often introduced them even in private pilot training, because I think understanding something like an accelerated stall is very important. Having the ability to do a power off 180 landing is very important on the private pilot level. Sometimes I do teach this stuff on the private pilot level just because I think it’s useful.

But building up to this moment where you have a bit of time behind you now, several hundred hours. You need to build your time wisely as you’re going along. So if your eventual goal is to become a commercial pilot, and this is for everyone listening today if you’ve lasted this long in this podcast today, even if the commercial pilot level isn’t relevant to you right now, if your eventual goal is to become a commercial pilot, then you need to have that goal in mind the entire time, because there may arise opportunities when you are building your time to be able to check some boxes for your commercial pilot training while you were doing other things. So while you’re in your private pilot training even, or while you’re in your instrument training, to be able to say this is for this license and and check those boxes is going to be really helpful.

Of course, making sure with your instructor that everything is legal along the way to make that happen, but having that long view of how you’re building that time to 250 hours. And so really when you get there at 250, you can become a commercial pilot is very important. Of course, that goes back to the regulations. If you go into commercial pilot regulations and look at the aeronautical experience, that will tell you the type of time that you are required to build in order to become a commercial pilot. All right?

It’ll only take a few weeks if you get into it. If you get prepared like that, and if you’re already a proficient pilot, having been flying recently to complete your Checkride. You should just be able to go right into it and kind of knock it out, but that’s predicated on you already being sharp, having that written tests done, having the knowledge done, and you should be able to get it done fairly quickly. At least that’s my experience, that you should be able to knock it out. All right?

Some tips for success, of course. The big thing for me, and I think that everyone has to go through this when they go through their commercial training, is there will be a real mindset shift to who you are and who you are becoming as a pilot. There is going to come a point where you come up on a plateau or some part of your training where you’re just not understanding, and you have to decide at some point that you are going to be a professional pilot, that it is up to you and nobody else. That you are going to take control of not only the knowledge that you have on how everything works, from all the regulations to how to fly, but also to making good decisions.

That mindset shift to you owning up to everything is very important when it comes to commercial training when it comes to becoming a commercial pilot. So, you need to decide during this process at some point that you are going to be a professional, that you are going to stand up and do all of that. Okay?

That’s big. That’s why the FDA requires us to go through commercial pilot training and don’t just say, “Hey, when you get to 250 hours, you can carry people for hire,” because they do want to see that this transition has happened and their ultimate goal is to protect the public, to make sure that there are professional pilots onboard, professional commercial pilots onboard, carrying these passengers, carrying the public. All right? That is the ultimate goal.

And you know, commercial training actually is very fun. I really enjoy this because I work with people that are dedicated, they are experienced pilots to a certain extent. There’s a lot of wheels turning throughout the process that’s really fun to watch. There’s the potential for a very quick and meaningful growth as a commercial pilot when you get to this level. So I enjoy it. I hope that you enjoy your commercial pilot training. Again, if you enjoyed this podcast, especially a certain aspect of it, please leave a comment and tell me what that was. You can even leave the time in that comment and tell me what your favorite part of this episode was. Like it, share it if you want to, don’t if you don’t want to. But most of all, make sure you take something away from this. Become a better pilot for it. That’s the best thank you that you can give me and I appreciate you guys being here.

Thanks for continuing to just be you. You are valuable to the community. We need you. And if you someday want to become a commercial pilot, it’s a very good time to do so because the opportunities were so great. I hope that you have the ultimate safety, and fun, and growth through that process.

So, that is it for this episode of Aviatorcast. Until next time, throttle on.

We sincerely thank you for joining us on Aviatorcast. Please subscribe through your favorite podcast service and leave a review. Check out more flight training resources There you can find this podcast, many free aviation training videos, as well as online ground school for private instrument, commercial, and CFI. Got a Checkride coming up? Checkride ACE from Angle of Attack is your ultimate companion, guiding you through the process so you can conquer your big day. Thanks once again for joining us on Aviatorcast. Turn left, contact ground point niner.



Chris Palmer

Chief Flight Instructor and President of Angle of Attack. Founded in 2006.


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