Please note that I'm not asking about getting a certificate good enough for flying a wide-body passenger jet (see related question). Rather, I'm asking about getting from zero flying experience to an actual pilot/co-pilot job at a major US airline (AA/Delta/UA/Southwest).

Perhaps some regulatory organization maintains such a statistics? Or even the airlines themselves?

I'm well aware that people can have various career paths (from ex-military pilots to guys who paid for 10000 flights hours out of their pockets), but with 40,000+ pilots employed by major airlines there must be a statistically-significant median experience.

  • Well, you're not going to get the job without the certificate (and likely some amount of time working for a smaller "regional airline" carrier). Exactly how long depends on the great unknowable "market forces" -- which airlines are expanding, which are folding, and how many pilots are retiring... – voretaq7 Apr 23 '14 at 15:54
  • Right now there are over 40,000 pilots/co-pilots working between the 4 biggest airlines alone. I'm sure that there is a certain common scenario of how they got there. Perhaps the FAA compiles some sort of a statistics? – JonathanReez Apr 23 '14 at 16:04
  • As far as I know that's not something the FAA keeps track of (NBAA or ALPA might track this though) - We might be able to scare up a number for you, but just as a general warning I'd expect pretty wide error bars around any number we give you. – voretaq7 Apr 23 '14 at 17:01
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    I don't know what the average is, but the minimum is $0 and 0 hours - you can get hired as a trainee pilot without experience. – RedGrittyBrick Apr 23 '14 at 20:26
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    @RedGrittyBrick not in the US. The only $0 cost 0 time pilot training is courtesy of the USAF but I wouldnt characterize that as a free ride. – casey Apr 23 '14 at 23:59
up vote 7 down vote accepted

The distribution of how pilots get to the majors is bimodal.

If you can get a military pilot slot and give 4-10 years to the USAF, you can then get an FAA ATP and start interviewing at whatever majors are hiring and have your ex-mil buddies on the hiring board. Great way to get in at FedEx or UPS. This costs a few grand for your ATP but that's about it.

If you can't get a military slot, getting up to the point you can instruct from nothing can vary wildly in cost. The accelerated flight training programs will do this for around $70,000. Next you instruct until you hit 135 mins and do either that or instructing. At this point you shouldn't be paying for time anymore. When you get on at a regional you'll sit right seat for a few to many years then you'll upgrade. After about 1.5-2 years in the left seat you'll have the bare minimums to apply at a major.

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    Your answer is still a bit vague. The military path is clear enough, but I would be curious to see more specific figures for the civilian one. Does the $70,000 include everything or are there more payments? What's "a few to many years" on average - 1/5/10 years? – JonathanReez Apr 24 '14 at 10:05
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    Its hard to be more clear than that, the cost from 0 to Comm/CFI is entirely dependent on how fast you want to do it, and where you choose to do it. The 70k figure comes from the accelerated programs what include multi training, which will be beneficial when it comes time to move up the ladder, but greatly increases the training cost. Likewise "few to many years" depends on the job climate, industry status and company needs. Get hired at the right time and it could be 2 years. Get hired at a bad time, it could be 10 or more. – casey Apr 24 '14 at 13:50
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    To add to the above, I upgraded between 2.5 and 3 years in the right seat, but I was in the last upgrade class for almost 2 years. So the difference in hire date by only 2 weeks translated to 3 vs 5 years in the right seat. It is volatile. – casey Apr 24 '14 at 13:53

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