In this post we’ll try to give you a high level view of how to become an airline pilot. Think of it as the view from 36,000 feet.
While forecasters may disagree on the number of vacancies, and despite the impact on the aviation industry of a pandemic it seems highly likely that the demand for commercial pilots will continue for many years to come. If you are young, ambitious, and you have the financial backing then there are opportunities for those reaching for the sky.
You may have seen TV documentaries like the one about EasyJet in which young recruits are put through their paces in the right hand seat of the cockpit of an Airbus A320. Here they hope to demonstrate that they do have the required skills to become a permanent member of the crew. Once they have passed the final tests they can look forward to a career path that leads to the position of Captain, and perhaps one day, Instructor.
To reach this point they have gone through months of training and spent a great deal of money. Depending on the route taken and your own personal aptitude the final figure is likely to be around £100, 000 from ab initio to ‘frozen’ (f) ATPL. There are two paths you can take, the integrated and the modular route. The integrated route is the full time study method in which you fully immerse yourself in flying and study until you reach your goal about 18 months later. The big advantage of this path is the continuity of study and training.
The modular route allows candidates to study and train at their own pace. The advantage of this path is that it allows flexibility in planning and financing, with breaks in which to earn money for the next stage.
Here then is a summary of the steps taken on either path. Of course, this is only a summary that will give you a rough idea of what’s required. For the details you are strongly advised to do your own research, consult the Civil Aiviation Authority website (or equivalent for your country) , and talk to flight instructors, and of course qualified airline pilots.
As with all things in aviation the onus is on you to check the latest information, whether that is the weather, aeronautical charts, or training requirements.
First Steps To A Commercial Pilot’s Licence
The first step for any aspiring airline pilot is to pass a Class 1 CAA medical examination. There is little point in dreaming of a career in commercial aviation if you are unable to pass this essential test of your physiological condition. This is a very thorough examination that includes eyesight and hearing tests.
The next step is to obtain a Private Pilots Licence. If you have no flying experience at all then you’ll need to complete a minimum of 45 hours of training of which 5 can be on an approved flight simulator. Those 45 hours should include 25 hours of dual flight i.e. with an instructor. You will also need to include 10 hours of solo flight.
Five of these ten hours should be solo cross-country flight. One of those cross-country flights should be of at least 270 NM in total with two full stop landings at two different aerodromes to that of your departure point. This is commonly known as the Qualifying Cross Country (QXC).
Aviators with previous flying experience and perhaps existing lesser licences should check the PPL requirements with the CAA and their Chief Flying Instructor. The 45 hours is a minimum and most students will take longer than that to meet the required standards so always budget for more hours than the minimum. However long it takes you to complete all the required air training you will also need to pass all the multiple choice ground school exams.
Finally, you will need to pass the Skills Test which consists of about 90 minutes of scrutiny of your flying skills by an examiner.
After the PPL, on to the Commercial Licence
Having obtained the PPL the candidate now needs to consolidate what was learned and to expand on those new skills. This would be the ideal time to add a Night Qualification to the licence. This can be achieved after 5 hours training under instruction during the hours of darkness. Now comes the time to hour build i.e. fly more solo, navigate to other airfields, and generally gain as much experience as possible.
It’s vital at this stage to maintain the momentum and build confidence. This air time is not just about improving flying skills but also in decision making and being in every sense of the phrase the Pilot in Command.
If they’re not already there many candidates jet off to hour build in places like Florida or Australia where the skies are big, blue, and generally less congested than the grey skies of Europe. The PPL holder will need to complete about 100 hours during the hour building phase. So the budget for this will need to include not just the aircraft hire rates but accommodation, food, travel, and landing fees.
Next, the private pilot can start studying for the ATPL (Air Transport Pilot’s Licence) theory exams. There are fourteen of these, all multiple choice. The study syllabus can be completed by distant learning, or by part or full time attendance at an appropriate centre.
Onwards & Upwards
So by now you are a confident private pilot with 100 or more hours of solo time in your logbook. Your ATPL Theory exams are in the bag and things are progressing well. Your next three steps can be taken in any order.
You’ll need an Instrument Rating so that you can fly in poor weather by reference to the cockpit instruments alone. Again, this requires a substantial amount of training, 55 hours in total. As well as the cost of the training there will be other expenses such as approach and landing fees.
You will also need a Commercial Pilots Licence or CPL. To obtain this you’ll need a further minimum of 25 hours of training. This training includes learning to operate more complex aircraft with retractable undercarriage and variable pitch propellers. Once achieved you’ll be able to fly for ‘hire or reward’.
The third step is the multi-engine rating. Typically this will involve a minimum of six hours training on a light twin-engine aircraft, plus a further set of ground school exams with the inevitable hours of study and tuition.
By now you have a CPL/IR with a multi-engine and night qualification. You have a valid Class I medical and passes in all the ATPL theory exams.
Your next two tasks are to complete the MCC or Multi-Crew Cooperation course and the Jet Orientation course. Both of these courses can be completed in commercial simulators. The MCC course is designed to enhance your awareness of being part of the team in the cockpit. As the title suggests the JOC course is designed to familiarise you with the processes and controls of jet aircraft.
Having emptied your wallet (or drained the Bank of Mum & Dad) you are now ready to occupy a position within an airline as a junior officer. With so much money at stake it is essential that you protect your investment in yourself by spending it with reputable and authorised training organisations. Do your research thoroughly and visit the establishments before signing any agreements and handing over your funds. Always pay in installments rather than large lump sums.