I'm working on my instrument rating and my goal is to become a professional pilot after graduation from college. I have about 150 hours and am training in a Part 61 flight school. I know that the total time requirement to obtain the commercial pilot is 250 hours. Would it be better for me to spend more money and have 50 hours of multiengine training included in the 250 hours? Would it help me to get an interview with the regional airlines? I know the 250 hours is very low to get hired and people usually become flight instructors to earn hours, but I have no interest in an instruction career. I'm also planning to train in a Cirrus SR20-G3. Will the high performance time look better in my logbook?
-Renee from Madison, Wisconsin
Good questions, but the answers have to be somewhat vague in light of current realities in the airline industry. There are really two parts to the reply.
The first part deals with the subject of total time (TT). Each airline establishes a minimum threshold. As an example, during the hiring boom of 2007, Trans States Airlines posted hiring minimum experience levels of 250 hours TT and 25 hours of multiengine. Most regional airlines established TT minimums in the 500-hour range.
Trans States was the rare exception in 2007. So, the question is, simply, "How do you get from a brand-new commercial pilot certificate to 500 hours TT?" Unless you are prepared to rent airplanes at $125 to $200 per hour; own your own airplane; or have the extraordinary good luck of finding a job piloting a Bonanza for some rich guy, you will be faced with the challenge of acquiring that experience. For most future airline professionals, the only way to close that gap affordably is flight instruction.
There are two TT wildcards.
First, when the regional airlines start hiring again, the TT minimums may climb back up depending on the supply of and demand for pilots. There was a time when a regional carrier would not even look at a resume unless it included 1,500 hours TT.
Second, there are "competitive times." SkyWest is one of those airlines coveted by newly minted commercial pilots aiming to break into the industry. The company advertises minimums of 1,000 hours TT but, according to Airline Transport Professionals, 2,000 hours TT is competitive.
About that multiengine time: It is gold to airline recruiters. Every airline establishes not only minimum TT, but also minimum multiengine (ME). Fifty hours of ME, if you can afford it, is a good thing. One hundred hours is even better.
The Cirrus is a great airplane and a fine transition to more complex, glass-based turbine aircraft. The same could be said for any airplane equipped with primary flight displays (PFDs) and multifunction displays (MFDs). But, although experience in such exotic aircraft can certainly be beneficial to one's store of knowledge, I know of no bonus points that are directly related to experience gained in such aircraft. If an airline posts a minimum of 500 TT and 100 ME, it matters not if the 400 ASEL hours are earned in a Cirrus with all the bells and whistles or a Cessna 172 with steam gauges.
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Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines. He is an aviation safety consultant in Michigan and speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.