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Delta’s premier global network and nationally recognized culture make it one of the most sought-after airlines to work for, which means the best pilots in the world fly Delta’s fleet. Through its Propel Pilot Career Path Program, Delta is identifying, selecting and developing the next generation of pilots by supporting future aviators throughout their education and flight training as well as current Delta employees with a strong interest in becoming a Delta pilot.

Delta also recruits and hires exceptional, highly disciplined men and women, the majority with a background in military or commercial airline flying, to operate its fleet of over 800 aircraft.

So what does it take to become a Delta pilot?

David Cooperman — Former Military Pilot, Special Assignment Supervisor for Delta Flight Training, Instructor MD-88

Military pilots make up about 50 percent of Delta’s overall pilot workforce. David Cooperman was hired by Delta in 2007 with over two decades of experience flying in the U.S. military primarily for the Marine Corps and Air Force.

“The military’s flight training is very rigorous and difficult,” said Cooperman. “The technical skills prepare pilots well for the demands they will encounter in Delta’s training curriculum.”

Aside from their flight skillset, Delta recruits and hires military pilots for their leadership qualities, team-oriented work ethic and a deep appreciation for working alongside diversified people from all walks of life.

“Military pilots are also accustomed to working in highly complex operations where critical information is coming from multiple sources and needs to be shared with various parties across a huge organization. This is what Delta pilots do on a daily basis.”

As a Delta pilot who both flies and teaches other Delta pilots, Dave Cooperman says integrity is one of the most vital qualities required in his line of work.

“We hire individuals to be future captains. They must be capable of being in charge of an aircraft with over 300 customers, make sound decisions, be assertive and communicate effectively with passengers and the flight crew. Safety is paramount and Delta pilots need to have the confidence to diplomatically address any concerns, operational or otherwise, that arise in the air or on the ground.”

Kenneth Munger — Former Regional Airline Pilot, Captain MD-88

The other 50 percent of Delta’s pilots have a background in commercial aviation, including regional, corporate and cargo carriers.

Captain Kenneth Munger was hired by Delta in 2015, after flying for regional airline Endeavor Air since 2006. Endeavor is a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta Air Lines. 

“All airline pilots encounter similar challenges as they operate day to day. What sets a Delta pilot apart is how these challenges are approached, by demonstrating honesty, integrity, respect, perseverance and servant leadership, each and every day,” said Munger.

Among many reasons, Delta hires regional airline pilots because of their extensive experience already operating within the commercial airline industry. With a smaller scale operation, pilots are afforded more interactions with other frontline employees, developing distinct perspectives on the many moving parts in how to provide outstanding customer service.

“I built a skillset that serves me now,” Munger said. “I’d already dealt with making tough decisions, and been exposed to working in a complex operational environment. Being at a regional airline gives you so many opportunities to take direction and hone leadership skills, two things that are very important as a Delta pilot. The skills I learned at Endeavor, the training from Delta, and an understanding of the core values, help me better serve our customers as well as my colleagues every day.”

How does Delta select and train its pilots?

Minimum Requirements

Delta looks for pilots with high standards for aviator skills, safety, professionalism and customer service. Candidates must meet several minimum requirements before being hired, including a total documented flight time of 1,500 hours. While Delta nearly always hires pilots with well above 1,500 hours, as important in their evaluation are other valuable attributes, like: quality, quantity, recency and verifiability of training; complexity of aircraft flown; types of flight operations experienced; and hours flown as PIC (pilot-in-charge) in turbine-powered aircraft.

Delta Flight Training

Delta’s training products are constantly evolving to prepare its pilots for the ultra-dynamic operating environment.  Acquiring cutting-edge training resources like state-of-the-art simulation devices to accommodate fleet growth, producing video-based training libraries, and implementing industry-leading Crew Resource Management initiatives is all part of Delta’s top priority to train, produce and support highly qualified pilots for the rigorous environment of line operations.       

Training Process from Start to Recurrent

All pilots must pass a strict, demanding FAA-approved Initial Qualification Curricula.  Every year, the Training Department successfully runs about 1,000 new-hire pilots through an initial qualification course that culminates in an FAA type rating. The effectiveness of Delta’s training program is evident in the overwhelmingly positive completion rates both in the simulator and on the line. 

  1. Intensive two-day interview
    1. Includes face-to-face interviews, technical knowledge evaluations, psychological evaluations, record reviews, and cognitive skills tests.
  2. Pilot Indoctrination
    1. Hired pilots undergo a two-week indoctrination process that is predominantly classroom-based. The course lays the foundation for operational and administrative policies, cultural immersion, familiarization with Delta manuals, emergency procedures training, and completion of all administrative functions to introduce pilots to Delta Flight Operations.
  3. Initial Qualification Training
    1. 100 Series: Mastery of aircraft systems. Pilots are tested for retention and comprehension.
    2. 200 Series: Systems integration training that is conducted in a non-motion simulator. Pilots are tested on their ability to apply normal and non-normal procedures.
    3. 300 Series: Full-motion visual simulation is used to learn the mechanics of flying the aircraft. Pilots are tested in a maneuvers validation check ride.  
    4. 400 Series: The capstone to training, new Delta pilots are exposed to every phase of flight in a line operational environment. If the pilot successfully passes, he or she is issued an FAA certification, or type rating for the aircraft.
  4. Operational Experience in Aircraft
    1. An FAA-approved process of exposing trained pilots to real line operations by flying with a Line Check Pilot.  After completing the necessary number of hours, landings and flight segments, the pilot must then pass a final evaluation: a Line Check. Once the Line Check is complete, the pilot is now a fully qualified First Officer at Delta Air Lines.
  5. Continuing Qualification
    1. All Delta pilots undergo recurrent training every nine months and must successfully perform emergency procedures, abnormalities, instrument approach procedures, customer services and safety situations, and manual (hand)-flying exercises.


Delta will typically pair new-hire pilots from a military and civilian background together for Initial Qualification Training. Combining pilots from different backgrounds produces a synergy in which the pilots’ strengths are greatly enhanced, their various attributes complement each other, and any deficiencies are quickly diminished.

Supporting the Next Generation of Pilots

Through Propel, a pilot career path program, Delta is leveraging current relationships with aviation universities and organizations to identify and support aspiring pilots, including engagement with kindergarten through high school students.  Delta pilots will also teach students about aviation and familiarize them with pilot career opportunities through Propel’s Community Outreach efforts.  Scholarships, consistent engagement and a robust mentoring program will help the airline enhance the diversity of the candidate pool and support a more inclusive selection process.