top of page

What It's Like - Airline Initial Qualification

It Begins

There are a few days that every pilot remembers throughout his or her flying career. Most pilots recall their first flight, first solo, or first time flying with a loved one. One of the most rewarding days of a pilot’s career is their first day of airline training. I remember mine vividly. I can recall the classroom layout, where I sat, and who sat next to me. I remember the name card in my seat, counting how many people were senior to me (there were 12), and where the coffee carafes were located. While the experience of the first few hours were overwhelming, I can detail most of that first day as if it just happened yesterday.

It became increasingly difficult to stay focused throughout the day. We were all wondering where we would be based and which aircraft we would be assigned to for the next two years. We were curious about what the work rules would be, how the commute to work would look like from our homes, and how long training would last. The overall training “footprint” would show us the length of training as well as what topics would be covered. I was very excited to begin this next phase of my journey which would last approximately six weeks.


Every pilot completes indoctrination as the first portion of training. While other industries have different terms such as “on-boarding” or “enrollment,” airline pilots refer to this phase as indoctrination, or simply “indoc.” Most of indoc consists of non-airplane specific training which usually lasts 10-14 days. Ours consisted of multiple department representatives explaining their roles in the company, how their roles related to pilots, and general questions and answers. Examples of guest visitors included crew schedulers, aircraft maintenance technicians, and representatives from our pilot union. My favorite day of indoc was learning about and practicing water evacuations. All pilots were required to jump from a mock-airplane into a pool and practice using emergency water equipment. Thankfully, we had already taken our class photographs before messing up our perfect hairstyles.

Classroom Training

After the honeymoon feeling of indoc wears off, it is down to business. By this point, I was assigned a Boeing 737 First Officer position and had already begun my aircraft systems and procedures studies. The expectation at the airline level is that pilots will already have researched and become familiar with the content being presented prior to attending class. The classroom phase also covers fleet-specific operations. For example, worldwide training for aircraft that operate internationally or training for mountainous operations in Central and South America.

During this phase, pilots will also begin practicing their everyday job duties as First Officers. This includes flight deck preflight inspections, checklist usage, emergency procedures, and crew resource management. Many airli