how to be a commercial pilot, getting a CPL

All you need to know about becoming a Commercial Pilot

Confused about whether you should do your CPL in India or Abroad?

Interesting question and one that needs to be addressed accurately once and for all. My Commercial License is around 7 years old and costs haven't changed all that much since then. I remember how many student pilots back then (especially small town and tier 3 city boys and girls) were completely clueless about the hidden costs that not many people would tell you about. Here's hoping this answer addresses all these areas once and for all. Your CPL costs can be roughly divided into 6 areas assuming you do it all in India:
  1. Cost of flying (Including Single and Multi Engine Rating)
  2. Cost of ground studies and examinations
  3. Cost of Auxiliary documents like Medicals and RTR(A) license
  4. Cost of living
  5. Cost of renewing your Instrument Rating (Recurrent every 1 year)
  6. Cost of Type Rating (The most important, and often ignored cost)
Let's address these areas one by one:
Cost of Flying (Approximately - 20.5 lacs to 22 lacs) The cheapest flying club in India today will cost around Rs. 9000 an hour to fly a single engine aircraft (Cessna 152 / 172). Assuming you do 200 single engine hours your total single engine cost is Rs. 18,00,000 (Eighteen Lacs). Multi engine flying in India costs around Rs. 25,000 per hour and a full multi engine rating costs anywhere between Rs. 250,000 to Rs. 400,000. (Two lac fifty thousand to Four Lac rupees) Its safe to add around Rs. 5,000 - 10,000 towards flying school / club registration charges, cockpit checks and SPL / FRTOL charges which are documents required prior to joining the flying school / club.
Cost of Ground Studies and Examinations (Approximately 1.5 lacs to 2.25 lacs) A pure Indian CPL holder is required to clear 5 examinations with the DGCA, namely Navigation, Meteorology, Technical - General, Technical Specific and Regulations. Most reputed ground schools offer a full training package that costs around Rs. 150,000 to Rs. 200,000 for all subjects. The good news is that most of these schools offer a 'study till you pass' policy which means you do not need to pay again in case you do not clear and can indefinitely attend classes. Most average cases clear all papers within 2 - 3 attempts per paper. One must note that DGCA charges Rs. 2,500 per CPL examination. Back in 2007 - 08, this was Rs. 500 per paper. Cost of Issue of a CPL / PPL / FRTOL is approximately Rs. 25,000.
Cost of Medicals / RTR Examination (Rs. 6000 to Rs. 12,000 for documentation / & Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 40,000 for ground studies) You may choose to start with Class II medicals for issue of an SPL and FRTOL followed by a Class I medical sometime during your training and before CPL application. Both Class I and Class II medicals hover around Rs. 1000 to 2000 depending on where you get them done. Note, in case you live in a place where many pilots apply for medical dates throughout the year, you may be required to travel for your medicals which is an additional cost. An RTR(A) or RTR(C) license is required for issue of an unrestricted FRTOL from DGCA. This document requires ground studies that may cost anywhere between Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 40,000 depending on the examiner. The exam itself which is conducted by WPC costs Rs. 500 per attempt and requires traveling to Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata or Hyderabad depending on the attempt dates. Issue of an RTR license from WPC costs either Rs.5,000 for a 20 year license or Rs. 10,000 for a lifetime license.
Cost of Living (Variable) No matter where you do your CPL from, you are going to be faced with living costs. Some flying clubs offer hosted accommodation free of charge, but from the little that I've heard, it's often sub-standard. What it costs to live while you do your CPL really comes down to personal lifestyles. I had batch mates living in the hostel taking the flying club bus to ones living in hotels and maintaining a car for the entire duration of their training which could be anywhere between 18 - 36 months.
Cost of Renewing your Instrument Rating (Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 90,000) Pilots who haven't landed a job within a year of getting their CPLs often ignore this cost because it isn't really mandatory to keep your Instrument Rating live to apply for a job. However, for a pilot who wishes to continue flying for sport, unrestricted, renewing the IR every year becomes mandatory and a cost. An IR renewal requires instrument hours and a check on a yearly basis and most flying schools renew it for anywhere between Rs. 50,000 to Rs. 90,000 including examination / check ride fees.
Cost of Type Rating (Rs. 15,00,000 to Rs. 30,00,000) This is by far the make or break point for most uninformed pilots. I know of at least 15 off cases personally, who were not aware a type rating was required post completion of their CPL. Earlier, way back, in the 80s and the 90s, airlines would bear this cost and recover it in the form of a bond signed with a newly employed pilot, typically for 10 - 15 years of employment. The cost of type rating on an aircraft like a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A320 would be recovered from the pilot over this period via salary deductions. However, post the 90s, airlines have required pilots to pay this cost of training upfront. Cost of a type rating today, can be anywhere between 15 lacs to 30 lacs depending on what kind of aircraft or which company one joins. This cost essentially DOUBLES the cost of your CPL which is something most aspirants do not account for in the beginning. 30 Lacs and 60 lacs are 2 VERY different numbers.
Cost of airline training (10–25 lacs) Here’s another surprise that has cropped up in recent months. Cost of airline training typically includes your mandatory courses like AVSEC and SEP that a pilot generally undergoes post joining an airline. Furthermore, it also includes your supernumerary flight training and SLF phase. These costs were, earlier, borne by the airlines and deducted from the first few months of salary. However, owing to recent financial pressures and a constant supply of pilots, this cost is now to be borne by the pilot. Depending on the airline, you are looking at anywhere between 10 to 25 lacs to be paid towards this training. I have heard of just one airline requiring a bank guarantee as against upfront payment.
These are the most important costs one is looking at during the 18 - 36 months you spend getting your Commercial License. I may have missed a few, if you want clarifications on those, drop me a comment or a message. Enjoy this casual video of my recent experience at a Boeing 737 FBS 🙂 Fly safe. Cheers!
  • Step 1: Get admitted in a flying clubhow to be a commercial pilot, getting a CPL
  • Step 2: Start flying
  • Step 3: Give an oral exam administered by the Chief Flying Instructor for a Student Pilots License and an FRTOL (A document required to fly solo)
  • Step 4: Apply for Class 2 medicals with a registered DGCA doctor prior to issue of the SPL and FRTOL.
  • Step 5: Apply to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for a unique Pilot Computer Number (A number that stays with you for the rest of your life)
  • Step 6: Apply for Class 1 medicals during your CPL training.
  • Step 7: While finishing the 200+ hours of flying you need, apply to DGCA for 5 written examinations that have a 2.5 year validity (5 years for ATPL) each for issue of license. These examinations are Navigation, Technical General, Technical Specific, Regulations and Meteorology.
  • Step 8: Apply to the Wireless Plannning Commission for a RTR(A) License.
  • Step 9: Contingent on having all the above requirements done, apply to DGCA for a CPL and an FRTOL.

Total process takes around 18 - 24 months. Cost is around 18 - 25 lac Indian rupees.

At some point in time during the process, you will need to get an ELP (English Language Proficiency Test) done if you are not a native English Speaker. For an Indian CPL, this is generally a requirement.

capt samarth singh da 42 pilot general aviation

To fly an airplane under your command, is the most liberating feeling in the whole wide world. To have a place of work above the clouds is fulfilling and satisfying ONLY if you are truly passionate about flying. Now lets talk about the passion for a bit.

When I was a kid all I ever wanted to be was an airline pilot. That was purely for the love for and the fascination with flying. When I grew up I began to analyze the profession more objectively.

Flying for an airline comes with a lot of perks, the traveling, the pick ups and drops in a busy city like Bombay where professionals battle it out on the crowded streets everyday and the sheer attention you enjoy as a 'PILOT.' However, in my 7 years as a pilot I've realized all those kicks and perks start meaning 'less' very soon. You get used to the attention, the traveling and the convenience becomes part of your life. The ONLY thing that's left behind is the sheer PASSION for flying. If a pilot is truly passionate about FLYING, he will always have fun doing what he does.

As a grown up, I think the single most fulfilling thing about flying for a living, is the fact that I almost NEVER bring my work back home. What happens on a flight, stays on a flight, and the next day is a new one. Mistakes made, fights with colleagues and a bad landing never carry forward to the next day. ALSO, I'm almost certain I'm not flying with the same crew the next day which makes work so much easier!

Responsibility: Contrary to what many believe, 'flying professionally' doesn't make you loosen up, like many other adventure sports do. Flying professionally makes you a more ALERT human being. We are talking responsibility of the utmost kind. I don't remember one flight I've done where I haven't thought of or been aware of the utmost responsibility for human life and the machine, that costs a tonne! 'Flying professionally' makes you much more 'disciplined.' Bungee jumping, Parasailing or Hang Gliding need not have the same effect.

Long story short, being a pilot is SATISFYING, EXITING, PROFESSIONALLY ISOLATED (in a good way) and the money isn't bad too.

This is my opinion of course. I'm a very passionate flyer. I head back to my old flying club every once in a way to just get into the cockpit of a good old Cessna 172 trainer for the PURE LOVE OF IT. I can't get enough of flying and I don't think I ever will.


A ICAO commercial pilots license needs renewal once every 5 years. This is the Renewal of the CPL itself and not the contained ratings which may have different renewal frequencies.

Renewal by check:

A Commercial Pilots License renewal generally entails a general flight test by day and night, each of these tests usually last upwards of 45 minutes and are done by a Chief Flying Instructor or in some cases a DCFI or PII.

Renewal by Recency:

Alternatively, a pilots license may also be automatically renewed if recency requirements are met. This in lay man’s terms means that the pilot needs to have flown a certain required hours as pilot in command of the aircraft he/she is rated for in the preceeding 6 months prior to application for renewal.

Renewal of Ratings:

An aircraft rating or endorsement on a license is generally accompanied with an Instrument Rating for that same aircraft.

This instrument rating lapses once every year. A pilot is required to fly an instrument check once a year to have this renewed to continue to exercise privileges to fly that aircraft as pilot or co-pilot.

Grouding by medical and/or other aux documents:

This is an extra piece of information. A valid First Class or Class 1 or Professional Pilot Medical is always a requirement to exercise privileges of a CPL or other license types. This medical lapses once a year or once every six months depending on the age of the license holder. Generally medicals start becoming more frequent once the pilot is older than 45. Notwithstanding any Rating ot License Renewal itself, if a license holder’s medical lapses or a license holder becomes medically unfit, he automatically loses license priviledges as well.

In some ICAO member nations, other auxiliary documents are also linked to a CPL like a Radio Telephony License. A pilot is required to ensure all of these documents remain valid at all times.

An ATPL is an Airline Transport Pilot's License. A CPL is a Commercial Pilot's License which allows you to fly an Airplane for 'remuneration.' However, a CPL allows you to fly an airplane in command ONLY if it is at or below 12,500 pounds or approximately 5,700 kgs AUW (All Up Weight).

So what does this mean to the average CPL holder? With a CPL you can fly a corporate airplane like a Beechcraft C90 or a trainer like a single engine Cessna or a multi engine DA42 in command. But, to fly the Airbus 320 or a Boeing 737 in command, one will need an ATPL.

One can however, fly a Boeing or an Airbus as a Co-Pilot with a CPL in India.

Depending on the country of license issue, a typical ATPL requirement is 1500 hours of command time on the CPL OR 3000 hours of Co-Pilot time on a CPL. You also need to clear a few theory examinations with the aviation regulator. Check with your license issuing authority for specific requirements since they vary a little with different countries.

samarth-singh-hybrid-sardool-singhBecoming a Commercial Pilot at 40 is not an issue. Getting a commercial license in most ICAO states needs you to have finished 12 years of school with Physics and Math.

Landing a job at 40, now that’s where the challenge is.

In an environment like India or Malaysia where Pilots are made at the age of 21 - 25, sometimes even younger the competition for the limited jobs is very very steep.

From my casual reading of the airline industry in both these countries, an airline or even a corporate charter firm ideally prefers candidates between 25 and 30 years of age.

Some private airlines in a country like India place a bar on ab-initio (nil experience) pilots applying to them above the age of 35. This is true for most private airlines in India which leaves you with just one choice, the national carrier, Air India which, on occasion, has allowed applicant to be up to 45 years of age.

Here ends fact, if you’re looking for my own opinion read on…

40 is late, way too late for a person to decide to be a pilot. If the wish to want to be a pilot is stemming out of raw passion for flying, hobby and club flying are becoming more and more accessible in eastern countries (even India). Being an airline pilot, I still manage to clock flying club hours every now and then and while commercial flying has its own charm for me, club flying in a Cessna 172 is equally exciting!

If the idea is to try to be a commercial pilot at the age of 40 just because it pays well, chances are you aren’t in it for the passion. Over the years I’ve heard many people contemplate what one needs to be a pilot. Some say academics, some say discipline, I say, first and foremost, you need to have an inherent love for flying in you. If you do, go right ahead and try your luck but don’t get your hopes up too high. The choices are few and the competition is steep.

Since you have asked for the minimum fees I am going to assume you are talking about a plain Indian CPL with no Multi Engine Rating.

I must however, at the outset, inform you that spending this minimum amount will not get you placed in an airline because there is quite a bit more to be done after the CPL.

A CPL, depending on where you do it from, will cost you around 20–25 lacs (all costs in ₹) which for western readers is 2 to 2.5 million INR. As on date, one of the best places to do this course in India is at the Bombay Flying Club because of competitive costs and quality of training.

CPL cost is generally composed of the cost of flying which is averaged at around ₹ 9000 per hour on a Cessna 172. If you were to do a CPL with no Multi Engine you will not be eligible to apply for Airbus openings hence airlines like Indigo, Go and Vistara are out of the question.

Hence a Multi Engine Rating becomes prudent and important. That brings up the CPL fees by a couple of Lacs, for western readers, around 200 thousand INR.

There is a lot more to discuss in terms of Type Rating costs and Airline Training costs. I suggest you read my detailed answer on pilot training costs here:

How much does it ultimately cost to become a commercial pilot in India?

The disparity between just a CPL and the cost to get you into an airline cockpit, could be around 30 lacs owing to type rating costs and airline training costs.

In the meanwhile, the simplest answer to this question is 20 - 25 lacs.

I hope this answer helps.

It’s a difficult ‘fact’ to make peace with, but flying is a very expensive profession. Extremely expensive!

To become a fully released First Officer in an airline will cost you upwards of 55 lacs as of 2017.

Now about your question, depending on the amount of money you have available to spend, you could opt for a loan for the different stages of getting to an airline cockpit. However, each one of these loans is extremely risky because this profession is extremely unpredictable in terms of the job market.

If an aspiring pilot has 55 of the 55 lacs comfortably available to spend, I would never bother with telling him or her about the market uncertainty because I expect THAT kind of aspiring pilot to study hard and compete. If you study hard, regardless of the market situation, you WILL land an airline or corporate flying job.

But if an aspiring pilot who has just around half of the 55 lacs available to spend asks me if its a good idea to lift finance for the balance half, I would, reluctantly so, dissuade him or her from doing that because I know how difficult it would be to undo that loan should the worst happen.

Also, these loans aren’t technically ‘education’ loans since a CPL is more of a vocational course, not a traditional degree course. So the loans are either loans against property or personal loans with absurdly high interest rates.

So, the bottomline is, take it with a pinch of salt, if you aren’t very financially well off, this profession may not be the best idea.

If you’re willing to spend more than a few years in the Air Force or the Coast Guard, you could try to do that. That way your flying becomes FREE.
I hate to break your heart but here’s the truth about scholarships and flying. There are NO Scholarships, only loans.

Flying is an expensive profession. Despite what the rumour mill states, in India, to get to an airline cockpit as of 2017, one will have to spend anywhere between 50–55 lacs if you haven’t opted for one of the cadet pilot programs. If you have opted for a cadet pilot program, this figure is often a lot more, as much as 1 Crore+

I cannot count the number of aspiring pilots who have spoken to me over the years claiming they’ve been told 25 odd lacs is all it takes. Nothing is further from the truth, the figure is way more than that once you factor in the Multi Engine Training, Type Rating and Airline Training costs.

Like I said before, flying is an extremely expensive profession but extremely rewarding as well once you get to an airline cockpit. A junior pilot’s median salary is a good enough number to even out the money spent on training.

Scholarships? Don’t bother, there are none!

Having said that, is it wise to opt for a loan? Let’s make it simple, and this is just my opinion, based on my financial appetite. If you have 40 of the 55 lacs available to spend right away and need just 15 over the top, go ahead and opt for a loan. However, if you’re one of those candidates who needs to lift more than half of the 55 lacs from a bank, think very hard. You need to be certain you can compete in an environment where at any given point of time, the market will afford you a 100 openings with around 3000 or more pilots gunning for those openings.

The good news is that if you are good at what you do, if you’ve studied hard and you can compete through the selection processes, you WILL get the job.

Please DO NOT be one of those individuals who believes all you need to do is put 55 lacs down, train and you get to an airline cockpit, nothing can be further from the truth. Being a commercial pilot, and staying a pilot, is hard work.

Good luck.
YES. A type rating a required to fly an aircraft with an All Up Weight of above 5.7 tonnes. Which means you will need a type rating to fly any of the commercially operated aircraft in India, for ex. An Airbus 320, B737 or an ATR 72. You can choose to delay your type rating till after getting employed by an airline, however you would be competing with a much larger number of job applicants. Getting a self sponsored type rating, arguable, reduces the competition because as compared to roughly 4500 aspiring pilots in the market applying for pure CPL openings, you would be one of maybe a 1000 type rated pilots applying for jobs on that specific aircraft type. However, once you get employed by an airline purely based on your CPL, they will expect you to pay for your type rating either upfront, or through a salary deduction.

Where’s the downside of a self sponsored type rating?

As a type rated pilot, you have spent around 12 - 15 lac (1.2 - 1.5 million) Indian Rupees getting type rated on a B737 or an A320 or an ATR 72. After that, you would technically be applying ONLY to airlines who have that specific airplane type. This reduces the number of airlines you have available to employ you. If there are 10 airlines in the market and only 5 have the kind of aircraft you are rated on, you can apply to only those 5. You could apply for a fresh CPL opening with the remaining 5, but then your type rating becomes redundant. (Also, to the interviewer, you look like an ass in the interview because you’d come across as a loose cannon not knowing what he or she is doing)

The cost implication

After having spent around 25 lac (2.5 million) Indian Rupees on a CPL, a type rating looks (and is) expensive. Choose wisely because chances are, once you are type rated, you will not want to do another type rating.
I want you guys to understand the way job availability works. And this is true for any industry. Job availability is sinusoidal. There are crests and troughs based on supply and demand. India saw its last major aviation boom in 2004 / 05 and what I consider a mini-boom in 2015 / 16.

These booms come as a result of various market factors. Back in 2004, the aviation boom was sparked because of an alignment of things like, healthy markets and the genuine need to connect a huge country like India, especially its Tier 2 and 3 cities.

The boom in 2015 / 16 came with the alignment of outperforming markets, better aviation infrastructure (versus 10 years ago) and further need for connectivity. In both of the above scenarios, passenger supply has never been a problem, since, as long as the costs are kept affordable, there’s plenty of passenger traffic in India. Let’s now talk about Pilot Jobs. Please bear in mind, regardless of a boom or a slump, there’s always going to be jobs available for pilots. When pilot jobs are NOT being created because of airline expansion, they are being created because there is still a considerable number of pilots retiring every year. Unfortunate as it is, some pilots also become medically unfit which creates room for more.

Aspiring pilots should STOP thinking about ‘Job Availability’ and START thinking about ‘Competing.’

Regardless of whether or not there is a boom or a slump, landing a job in an airline is always going to be challenging and competitive.
JUST AS AN EXAMPLE (figures are very ballpark)

During a boom, you will see 5000 pilots competing for 500 jobs, where as during a slump, you’ll see 3000 pilots competing for 5 X openings of maybe 30 pilots each (a total of maybe 150 odd jobs)
The figures aren’t well researched but you see the point I’m trying to make? There’s always going to be steep competition for pilot jobs whether youre in a boom or a slump.

The idea is to decide if you want to be a pilot, if you think you’d genuinely enjoy the job, make up your mind and study hard to compete.

Confused about a Cadet Pilot Program? Watch this video for some perspective!