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What is this job like?

Pilots fly airplanes and helicopters to do many jobs. Most pilots fly people and cargo from place to place. Some pilots test new planes, fight fires, do police work, or rescue people who are hurt or in danger.

Before they take off, pilots plan their flight carefully. They check their plane to make sure that it is working properly. They also make sure that baggage or cargo has been loaded correctly. They check the weather forecast to see if they will run into any bad weather on their trip. They then decide what route they should take, and how high and fast they should fly.

Takeoff and landing are often challenging and require a great deal of piloting skill. As a result, pilots must be especially careful during those times. The rest of the flight can be fairly easy if the weather is good because planes have computers and other gauges to tell pilots if their trip is going according to plan. These gauges show whether there is enough fuel, whether the weather is changing, and whether the plane is on course. Pilots must check monitor these gauges at all times during the flight to be sure that all is going well. If problems come up, the pilots must quickly take steps to solve them.

The law says that pilots who work for an airline cannot fly more than 100 hours a month or more than 1,000 hours a year. Most airline pilots fly about 75 hours a month, and work another 75 hours a month at other parts of the job. When they are flying, airline pilots often stay away from home overnight. Airlines have flights at all hours of the day and night. This means that airline pilots are often asked to work odd hours.

Pilots who do not work for the airlines can have unusual work schedules, too. For example, they may fly 30 hours one month and 90 hours the next. Most of them do not have to stay away from home overnight, but they may have to work odd hours.

Pilots who fly very long distances may have "jet lag." This is fatigue caused by moving through different time zones. The work of pilots who test new planes may be dangerous. Pilots who work on farms or who help police and firefighters also might get hurt on their jobs.

Flying does not involve physical work. However, pilots can feel a lot of stress because they know that they are responsible for the safety of their passengers. They must be careful and quick to react if something goes wrong.

How do you get ready?

All pilots who are paid to fly must have a license from the Federal Government. Pilots must be at least 18 years old and must have flown at least 250 hours to qualify for a license. To get a commercial airline pilot's license, a person must be at least 23 years old, and the person must have flown for a total of 1,500 hours or have gone to a school for pilots.

A doctor must also examine the person. The doctor makes sure that the person can see and hear well, and is healthy enough to fly. Pilots must also pass a written test to show that they know how to fly properly. The pilot's employer may ask him or her to pass other special tests as well.

Many pilots learn how to fly in the military. Others become pilots by going to flight schools. Most companies want the pilots they hire to have some college education. In fact, most people who enter this occupation have a college degree.

How many jobs are there?

There were about 76,000 pilots, copilots, and flight engineers outside of the military in 2008.

Pilots are located across the country, but airline pilots usually are based near major metropolitan airports or airports which have a high amount of flying activity relative to their population.What about the future?

Pilots are expected to face strong competition for jobs through the year 2018, especially with major airlines. Opportunities should be better with regional and low-fare airlines. There are several reasons for the strong competition. More and more qualified people are trying to become pilots. This is because they think the job is interesting and exciting. Also, pilots can often travel for personal reasons free of charge. Although the number of pilots is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2018, applicants will face competition as very few pilots quit their jobs because they love the work and the pay is very high.

Former military pilots have an advantage over other applicants. This is because they usually have spent more time flying, using more advanced equipment, than other pilots. Pilots who have specialized pilot's licenses also will have a better chance.

When the economy is bad and fewer people choose to fly, some pilots may lose their jobs.

How much does this job pay?

In May 2008, pilots had average yearly wages of $119,750. Pilots may be paid extra for flying at night or for flying to other countries. Usually, pilots who fly a jet aircraft for large airlines earn more than other pilots.

Are there other jobs like this?

Air traffic controllers

Airfield operations specialists

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