Airline Pilot Interview Questions
An airline pilot is a pilot who works for an airline to transport cargo and passengers on flights both foreign and domestic. An airline pilot can fly for either commercial, business, or leisure purposes. Flights will typically consist of two airline pilots controlling the aircraft with one being the captain and the other being the supporting co-pilot.
Airline pilots are responsible for the safety of their vessel, cargo, and passengers. They must operate navigational devices while flying as well as communicate effectively with crew members. As such, an airline pilot must possess a strong combination of technical and interpersonal skills.
Airline pilot responsibilities may include:
- Keeping and reviewing maintenance logs
- Performing an overall check of the aircraft before and after every flight
- Operating navigational devices
- Communicating clearly and effectively with crew members
- Communicating a sense of trust and competency to passengers
- Creating a flight plan based on weather, fuel levels, distance, etc.
- Handling emergencies both internal and external as they arise
Airline pilots are expected to keep a level head while providing safe passage for their aircraft. In order to effectively provide a safe and pleasant experience, a skilled airline pilot will:
- Provide direction and make decisions in case of emergency situations
- Operate on a strict schedule
- Follow strict procedures and protocol to ensure the aircraft is safe
- Stay focused on following the flight plan during long shifts
- Provide clear and friendly communication as needed
- Work with one or several other co-pilots
Aircraft pilots are highly qualified individuals who can expect to go through specialized training in order to fly commercially. First, you must obtain a private pilot certificate which will teach you the basics of flight. You must then earn FAA certification in order to fly commercially. In addition to FAA certification, a minimum of 2,500 logged flying hours will be required.
Instrument and multi-engine rating tests can be taken to further demonstrate proficiency. Having a bachelor’s degree as well will help land you a job.
Aircraft pilots are also subject to strict physical and psychological guidelines and can expect to undergo evaluations at least once a year.
The typical salary range for an airline pilot is between $101K and $168K with the median being $135K.
Factors impacting the salary you receive as airline pilot include:
- Degrees and Certifications (i.e., CPA, etc., associate's, bachelor's, and applicable certifications, ratings, and flight hours)
- Years of Experience
- Managerial Responsibilities (crew, training, and other leadership responsibilities)
- Type of Organization (commercial airline, private or corporate aircraft)
- Location (domestic, international)
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Aircraft Pilot Interview Questions
Question: When did you become interested in aviation, and what led you to this career?
Explanation: This is an opening or general question which the interviewer will ask to begin the conversation and get you talking. They also are looking to learn more about your background and discover some information they can explore in future questions.
Example: “I became interested in flying as a child. My family lived near an airport, and not only did I see the planes every day, but we frequently visited the airport to watch landings and takeoffs. While still young, I was invited on a demonstration flight and fell in love with flying. I began pursuing my pilot’s license when I was 16. After that, I obtained all my other ratings, including commercial pilot. I gained my hours as a flight instructor and then transitioned to flying commercially at one of the regionals.”
Question: In your opinion, what are the qualities of a professional airline pilot?
Explanation: An interviewer will ask you this question to see if you understand the requirements for being a professional pilot and the responsibilities the job entails. Your answer should speak not only of your technical skills, but also of your leadership skills, ability to react appropriately in case of an emergency, and knowledge of airline operations.
Example: “Professional pilots must have a wide range of skills and personal characteristics. Not only do they need to be able to pilot an aircraft, but they are also responsible for the safety of their crew and passengers. Airline pilots must be leaders, decision makers, and customer service agents. They must know about flight systems, aircraft operations, navigation, emergency procedures, airline operations, and customer satisfaction. They need to be able to act with integrity and have the courage to make decisions that may not be popular with their passengers and airline management.”
Question: What would you do if you were to lose your medical certification and couldn’t fly?
Explanation: Airline pilots are required to have current medical certifications which are renewed every six months. Medical certifications can be lost for many reasons, most commonly related to heart conditions or other incapacitating illnesses. While pilots cannot fly without a medical certification, they are capable of performing other duties for the airline. You should be able to discuss this and state which duties you would prefer if you were to lose your medical clearance for some reason.
Example: "I’m meticulous about my health and work hard to stay fit to retain my medical certification. However, if I were to lose it, there are other ways I can contribute to the success of the industry. The most obvious of these is to be a training pilot for ground school operations. I would also be willing to consider positions in airline operations, working to optimize the efficiency of the airline and improve the overall customer experience.”
Question: Since the time you began flying until now, have you had any flight violations, warnings, citations, accidents, or incidents that are not reflected in your logbook or FAA record?
Explanation: Your pilot experience is well documented both in your logbook and through the FAA. However, you may have had some incidents which were not documented due to them being minor or they didn’t reach the level needed for reporting. If this is the case, you should disclose them. They may become known if an incident occurs during your employment. If not, state this firmly and confidently.
Example: “Fortunately, during my entire career as a pilot, both private and commercial, I have not had any major incidents. However, like most pilots, I’ve encountered several minor ones. These didn’t place my passengers or me in jeopardy, nor did they harm any property or other aircraft. Many of these involved unclear communications with air traffic control or navigation errors. Each time an incident occurred, I learned from it. This helped me continually improve my flying skills.”
Question: How would you define your leadership style as a captain of a flight crew?
Explanation: As an airline pilot, you’re considered the leader of your flight crew. You are responsible for their welfare and safety as well as the safety of the entire aircraft and the passengers. You should be able to clearly define your leadership style and the responsibilities you assume when you step into the cabin of the aircraft.
Example: “One of the things I enjoy most about being an airline pilot is the opportunity to lead my crew and the responsibilities I have for the safety of the aircraft and everyone aboard. I define my leadership style as being direct, decisive, and clear. I trust the people I work with and willingly assign them tasks I know they are capable of achieving. Once I do this, I step back and let them do their job. However, I am always there to support them if necessary.”
Question: What has been your most memorable flying experience, and why?
Explanation: The interviewer will ask this question to gain an understanding of the scope of your experience. This also allows them to learn more about your communication style because you’ll be telling a story. Finally, most people in the field of aviation love to talk about flying, so this will help you bond with the interviewer who may have had a similar experience.
Example: “By far, my most memorable flying experience was my first solo flight. I was both exhilarated and terrified. I knew my instructor would not have approved me to solo unless I was ready, but it was a little frightening to be alone in an aircraft for the first time. The flight went well, and I nailed the landing, much to my relief and that of my instructor. Afterward, we celebrated, and within one or two more flights, being alone on an aircraft was no big deal.”
Question: Would you consider being a relief pilot if we weren’t able to hire you as a permanent flight crew member immediately?
Explanation: The reason an interviewer will ask this type of question is to see how flexible you are and whether you’re willing to accept an assignment that would benefit the airline. Being adaptable is a crucial quality an airline pilot must possess. Also, the path to becoming an airline pilot has many twists and turns and requires that candidates be patient while gaining the experience needed to captain an airliner. Your answer should demonstrate this.
Example: “While my heart is set on becoming a captain or junior officer with this airline, I am willing to start as a relief pilot. During my career to date, I have taken many different assignments to gain flight time and experience in the cockpit. I recognize captain positions are rare, so joining this airline in any capacity is fine with me. Once on board, it is incumbent on me to demonstrate my flying skills and earn a position in the left-hand seat.”
Question: Can you describe the most challenging decision you’ve had to make while operating an aircraft?
Explanation: Again, the interviewer is seeking to understand your experience and decision-making skills as a pilot by asking this question. Describing your most challenging decision will demonstrate your leadership skills as well as your decisiveness. You should answer this question directly and succinctly, keeping your answer brief and to the point.
Example: "One of the most challenging decisions I’ve made as a pilot was whether to fly in bad weather while I was with one of the regional airlines. The weather was marginal at best, and the dispatcher strongly encouraged me to make the flight to get the passengers to their destination and ensure the aircraft was available for the next flight. As a young pilot, I felt a great deal of pressure to take the flight. However, I decided to wait until the weather cleared. This displeased the dispatcher. I was able to take off within two hours of the scheduled departure time and delivered the passengers and aircraft safely to the destination. In hindsight, I would probably make the same decision again."
Question: What would you do if the pilot in command insisted on conducting a fight illegally?
Explanation: This is an interesting question because it addresses your ability to follow protocol and regulations. Protocol and regulations state that the pilot in command has control of the aircraft, and their decisions are final. However, regulations dictate that any pilot can voice their concerns and rescind an order if they feel operating the aircraft would be illegal or unsafe. You should address both of these issues when you answer this question.
Example: “If I was flying as the junior officer and the pilot in command insisted on conducting the flight illegally, I would state my objections and suggest that we take a different course of action. I would state my rationale behind my recommendation and provide the pilot in command with several alternatives to flying illegally. If they continued to insist on taking off, I would contact air traffic control and the airline dispatch office to discuss the situation and recommend the aircraft be grounded until the situation was rectified.”
Question: Are you willing to take on additional duties such as loading cargo on the airplane if the ground crew was shorthanded in order to stay on schedule?
Explanation: This is a bit of a rhetorical question because it is infrequent for a pilot to assist the ground crew in loading baggage and cargo. What the interviewer is really asking is whether you are willing to do tasks not generally associated with the pilot’s role. This will demonstrate your flexibility and lack of arrogance which many pilots unfortunately possess.”
Example: “As a pilot, I have a distinct list of tasks I need to perform before every flight. These include preparing the aircraft, inspecting it for airworthiness, completing the paperwork, and going through my pre-flight checklist. Once I’ve completed all these required tasks, I would be more than willing to assist any of the ground crew with preparing the aircraft for flight. As part of the team, I recognize that we all have to contribute to getting the aircraft off the ground on time and with all the passengers’ baggage and the supplies needed to provide them with a great flying experience.”
Additional Aircraft Pilot Interview Questions
What would you do if you entered a thunderstorm?
How do you feel about flying in nighttime settings?
Explain what a Dutch Roll is.
How do you figure out the slope of a runway?
Can you describe what a legal missed approach is?
What is critical mach?
What is the difference between decision altitude and decision height?
A word of warning when using question lists.
Question lists offer a convenient way to start practicing for your interview. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s coming, and that’s what makes interviews so stressful.
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