To become a pilot-in-command of a commercial aircraft, you must have logged at least 1,500 flight hours and hold a full Air Transport Pilot License (ATPL). However, in reality, most short-haul airlines require a minimum of 3,000 hours before considering pilots for promotion. Smaller regional turboprop carriers, however, might require less than that.
Since you fly a maximum of 900 hours per year, in some airlines it is possible to be promoted to captain within 4-5 years. These would typically be short-haul low-cost airlines that are growing or have a high pilot turnover rate, which maintains the requirement for a continuous promotion process. As a rule, to inheritance or ‘standard bearers“Order time will be significantly longer than a low-cost airline only because expansion is limited and pilots don’t tend to leave these airlines once they start there.
Pilot training and performance
Meeting the hours requirement is only the beginning of the process. The airline then reviews your training record and performance before subjecting you to a “command evaluation”. This can be an interview, a simulation check or both. If you pass this assessment, you are then placed on a leadership course, but passing this course is certainly not guaranteed, in fact, many do not pass!
It’s time to become a long distance captain
To become a long-haul captain, you would need a minimum of around 5,000 flying hours, which would take at least 6 years. In many long-haul airlines, which do not grow significantly and have no pilot rotation, it can take between 10 and 20 years to be promoted to captain. It’s not necessarily because of ability, it’s because there are only a limited number of captain positions and people are promoted in order of seniority.
Some pilots will never be promoted to captain because they are simply not considered “captain material”. It’s a bit like being qualified as a pilot – just because you’re qualified doesn’t get you the job, you have to be a suitable candidate.