Sep 5, 2018

Thinking about becoming a commercial pilot and need to know what’s involved? Find out how to get your commercial pilots licence in New Zealand, just how much it’s going to cost, where to train and what sort of job opportunities you can expect to find.

What Is A Commercial Pilot?

Pilot Going AbroadIn order to be able to be legally able to fly passengers and freight in New Zealand, it is necessary to obtain a Commercial Pilots Licence. You cannot apply for flying jobs without a CPL, and almost all jobs within the aviation industry will require further training before letting you loose in their aircraft.

After gaining a Commercial Pilots Licence pilots are able to train further to specialise in different industry areas including private charter flights, flying for airlines, agricultural flying and even things like aerobatics displays.

Things you might expect to do on the job include operating and controlling the plane both on the ground and in the air, ensuring the safety of passengers, understanding the aeronautical limitations of the plane,  communicating with air traffic control, passengers and member of the flight team, monitoring aircraft electronics and understanding aspects of flight navigation.

How Do I Get My Commercial Pilots License?

Passenger Jet CockpitThere are a number of good flight schools located throughout New Zealand offering study pathways to gaining both the theory and practical aspects of getting your commercial pilots licence. It is completely up to you how you choose to go about completing the necessary requirements however those wishing to pursue an airline career are advised to train under approved Airline Training Flight Schools (see below for more information on these).

What Are The Entry Requirements For CPL Training In New Zealand?

To begin your Commercial Pilots Licence it is necessary to complete the following requirements.

1.       You must hold a Private Pilot Licence.

2.       You must hold a ‘Class 1’ Aviation Medical Certificate. (The wearing of corrective lenses is acceptable when obtaining this Medical Certificate)

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be A Commercial Pilot?

To qualify for your Commercial Pilots Licence it is necessary to meet all of the following requirements.

1.       You must be at least 18 years old.

2.       You must gain a minimum of 200 hours of total flight time*

3.       You must pass the six theory subjects** that are part of the course curriculum, and

4.       Pass a cross country navigation flight test

5.       You must also pass a practical flight test at the conclusion of your training

*This 200 hours can include flight time spent gaining your PPL and must include advanced level flight training covering the following; cross-country navigation, night flying, instrument time and basic mountain flying training.

**The six theory subjects are the same as for the PPL but go much more in-depth and will include Navigation, Meteorology, Aviation Law, Aircraft Technology, Principles of Flight, and Human Factors in Aviation.

In addition to the above, to progress into your chosen area of specialisation you will require further training which might include Instrument Ratings, Multi-Engine Ratings, and Instructor Ratings.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Commercial Pilot’s License?

A Commercial Pilots Licence can be completed on a part-time basis or quite quickly if necessary. All going according to plan, you should be able to finish in the time it takes to successfully complete your 200 hours needed to qualify for a Commercial Pilots Licence, this can be a little as 6 months.

Factors influencing the time frame may include funding, aircraft availability, flight conditions (weather), and training institution limitations such as instructor availability and maximum course numbers.

What Is The Average Salary For A Pilot?

Commercial Plane Ready For BoardingCommercial pilots operating within New Zealand can expect to earn between $50,000 to $190,000 per year, sometimes more dependent upon the specific job. The number of flight hours along with position, skills, and experience will contribute to pay rates.

Pilots operating internationally can earn anywhere between $80,000 to $300,000 per year.

Entry level pilots will generally be flying irregular on-call hours spread erratically over each week and be paid between $25 to $80 per hour.

Agricultural pilots will also find themselves with irregular as well as seasonal hours due to the nature of the job. Most agricultural jobs like spraying and fertiliser spreading are heavily reliant on the weather and timing. Ag pilot positions are also likely to be on-call based, earning between $50,000 to $70,000 per year.

Domestic airline pilots usually start off at around $50,000 for turboprop aircraft and around $90,000 for jet aircraft. When progressing to the position of Captain they can expect to earn around $150,000 to $190,000. Qualified international airline pilots are able to earn between $92,000 and $300,000.

How Much Does It Cost To Get A Commercial Pilot License?

The cost of your CPL will be determined by the length of time it takes to successfully complete all flight time, tests and course requirements. Course costs are directly tied to flight time, meaning the quicker you master the required skills the less it will cost (as long as you reach a minimum of 200 hours total of course).

Other advantages to completing the CPL quicker will include less time away from the potential to earn and less living costs if you are away from home. As a general guide it can cost around $100,000 to $120,000 NZD to complete a CPL, this does not include any extra Ratings or hours needed to master the required flight skills and is intended as a guide only. For more accurate information on fees and costs involved it is best to speak directly with your intended flight school.

Can I Get A Student Loan For My CPL?

Paying for the cost of gaining your CPL can be daunting. In New Zealand, domestic students are able to pay for some of the course costs via the Student Loan scheme.

It is worth noting under the Student Loan scheme “pilot training students will be limited to borrow up to $35,000 per EFTS* from the compulsory fees component of the Student Loan” and “Student Loan borrowing will be limited to 2 EFTS of study each year”.

This may mean a maximum of $70,000 is available per calendar year, it is best to contact Study Link for more information on Student Loans for Pilot Training.

The Governments ‘Free Fees’ scheme also applies to the first year of study at approved Flight Training Schools, this can cover up to $12,000 for the first year of study and is well worth some investigation.

*EFTS stands for ‘Equivalent Full-time Student’ and is used as a measure of the time spent studying.

Where Is The Best Place To Flight Train In NZ?

When choosing a flight training school six important things to keep in mind are:

  1. Availability Of Aircraft. How many aircraft are in their fleet? Are they well maintained and how many students do they train at any one time?
  2. Good Overall Weather Conditions. You want to be up in the air as much as possible don’t you?
  3. A Good Mix Of Terrain. Mountains, coastal flying and other varied types of terrain provide a good mix of learning environments, improving your skills.
  4. Accreditation/Registered (NZQA). Approved course at approved flight training providers enable you to utilise Student Loans and Free Fees etc.
  5. Ratings. Does the flight school offer training in the specific Ratings (this includes various different types of aircraft)you are going to need to complete to get into the area of specialisation?
  6. Reputation. This one is particularly important if considering an airline career.


There are only 4 Air New Zealand Preferred Flight Training Organisations in New Zealand. These are:

  • Southern Wings. Covering both Auckland and Invercargill, Southern Wings offers pilots comprehensive pilot training programs.
  • The International Aviation Academy of New Zealand. Christchurch based, the Aviation Academy offers approved flight training courses.
  • Massey University. From their Manawatu campus in Palmerston North, Massey offers NZ’s only Bachelor of Aviation (Air Transport Pilot) – a three year university degree.
  • Nelson Aviation College. From their Motueka base in Nelson, the Nelson Aviation College offers the Diploma in Aviation.

Need more information on getting your fixed-wing Commercial Pilots Licence? Or need to know more about the cost of a CPL contact the friendly team at Southern Wings today.

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