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What Is a Commercial Pilot License?

By A. Garrett
Updated May 17, 2024
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A commercial pilot license, or CPL, is a certification that allows its holder to be compensated for operating a plane. Prior to receiving a commercial pilot license, an applicant must satisfy certain prerequisites. The process for obtaining a commercial pilot license tests an individual’s knowledge, skill, and experience. Despite the arduous nature of the application, there is a myriad of job opportunities in commercial aviation.

The majority of countries require an individual seeking a commercial pilot license to be 18 years of age or older. An applicant usually must also be fluent in English or the language of the country where they are applying. Most countries also require the petitioner to hold a private or recreational license. If all those requirements are met, the requisition for a commercial pilot license may proceed. During this period, an applicant must submit to a medical examination, pass a test on her knowledge of piloting, and then pass an actual flight exam.

Holding a commercial pilot license allows an individual to transport passengers and perform other tasks involving people and populated areas. Consequently, a pilot must be physically able to operate the aircraft without risk of being incapacitated by lingering health issues. A medical fitness test ensures that the health of a prospective commercial pilot poses no danger to her passengers or the civilians on the ground. Such tests evaluate a petitioner’s heart, blood pressure, vision, and hearing.

There are two types of commercial pilot license certifications: single-engine and multi-engine. Both require the same hours of flight training and instruction. The instruments used by single-engine aircraft pilots differ from those used by multi-engine aircraft pilots, however. An applicant for a commercial pilot license typically gains the experience needed through private instructors or certified flight schools.

The knowledge portion of the commercial pilot license test seeks to ensure that the candidate possesses an appropriate comprehension of the techniques and instruments used for commercial flight. An applicant must know the rules of the air and understand air traffic procedures. She must also understand how her airplane operates and demonstrate command over the instruments and equipment used in flight. If a prospective commercial pilot passes the knowledge test, she moves on to the practical portion of the exam. During this part, she will fly with an aviation regulator who will test her skills of routine flight procedure.

Passing the medical examination, knowledge test, and flight evaluation results in the issuing of a commercial pilot license. A commercial pilot can work for large airline companies. She can also be employed by private charters. Flight instructors also have commercial pilot licenses. Finally, someone with a commercial license can work civil service jobs as crop dusters, rescue pilots, or emergency transport operators.

The nature of commercial flying jobs vary. For example, an airline pilot has few nonflying duties due to the presence of flight attendants and other support staffs. A charter pilot may have to load passenger baggage and act as a tour guide, however. Some jobs require more time away from home as well. Airline pilots spend a great deal of time traveling from destination to destination, while a civil service pilot may work only in his assigned district or region.

Commercial pilots are also exposed to certain dangers that holders of private or recreational licenses are not. For example, a crop duster may inhale pesticides. Rescue pilots run the risk of suffering bodily harm during their missions. Also, because commercial pilots spend more time in their planes, engine noise may cause hearing loss over the long term. Fatigue is another issue that most commercial pilots encounter.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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