How Long Does it Take to Become a Captain?

How Long Does it Take to Become an Airline Captain?

A look at how long it takes to be promoted to the position of Captain on a commercial aircraft…

How Long Does it Take to Become an Airline Captain?

Being promoted from the rank of First Officer to Captain (or Co-Pilot to Pilot) can take anywhere from about 4 to 20 years from joining an airline, depending on the type of operation and the competency of the pilot.

To become a Captain of a commercial aircraft, you must have logged at least 1,500 flight hours and hold a full Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL). However, in reality, most short-haul airlines require a minimum of 3,000 hours before considering any pilots for promotion. Smaller regional turboprop carriers might however require less than this.

Given you fly a maximum of 900 hours a year, at some airlines, it is possible to be promoted to the position of Captain within 4 to 5 years. These would typically be at short-haul low-cost airlines which are expanding or have a high level of pilot turnover, which maintains the requirement for a continuous promotion process. Typically, at legacy or ‘flag carriers’ the time to command will be significantly greater than that of a low-cost airline purely because expansion is limited and pilots don’t tend to leave such airlines once they’ve started there.

Pilot Training & Performance

Meeting the hour requirement is only the start of the process. The airline then looks into your training record and performance before putting you through a ‘command assessment’. This might consist of an interview, simulator check or both. If you pass this assessment, you are then put onto a command course, however passing this course is certainly not assured, in fact many don’t get through it!

Time to Become a Long Haul Captain

To become a long haul Captain, you would need a minimum of around 5,000 flight hours which would take at a minimum 6 years to achieve. At many long haul airlines, which aren’t expanding significantly and don’t have a pilot turn over, it can take between 10 – 20 years before being promoted to the position of Captain. This isn’t necessarily because of capability, it’s because there are only a limited number of Captain positions and people are promoted in seniority order.

Some pilots will never be promoted to the role of Captain as they are simply not deemed ‘Captain material’. It’s a bit like being qualified as a pilot – just because you are qualified doesn’t mean you will get the job, you need to be a suitable candidate.