How to Become a Pilot
At present, there are several routes to become a professional pilot. We know from experience that the different routes combined with unfamiliar terms such as CPL, ATPL and ATPL frozen, often cause a lot of confusion. Each route has its pros and cons and each will suit some people more than others. By reading this we hope that you will gain a general understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of each route and be able to make an informed choice about your future aviation education.
There are three accepted routes to obtain a license enabling you to fly an airline. They are commonly known as:
Integrated (see our Integrated Professional Pilot Program)
Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL)
The integrated and modular routes both result in the same license whereas the training towards a Multi-crew Pilot License is somewhat different and will result in a license with certain restrictions.
Before explaining each route in more detail let’s first take a look at some of the different licenses that exist. Generally speaking, the following licenses can be obtained:
- Private Pilot License (PPL)
- Commercial Pilot License (CPL)
- Multi-crew Pilot License (MPL)
- Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)
The Private Pilot License requires the least amount of training, and, once obtained, allows you to fly aircraft for recreational purposes. At the very minimum, to act as a professional pilot you would require a commercial pilot’s license. As you gain experience flying for an airline you may, at some stage, fulfill the requirement to apply for an Airline Transport Pilot’s license. This is the highest license you can achieve, and it requires a substantial amount of experience and theoretical knowledge. The theoretical knowledge will usually be obtained during your training at a flight school and will consist of 14 subjects. When you have the required theoretical knowledge yet still lack the practical experience you will have what is called a “frozen ATPL”. In addition to the different types of licenses mentioned above, you can also add ratings to your license. A good example of a rating is the instrument rating, which allows you to fly in weather with limited or no visibility. The relevant rating will be added to your PPL, CPL or ATPL when you have completed the required training and passed the skill test.
In addition to the different ways of training and licenses, there are also different regulations around the world. In Europe, all licenses are issued based on regulations devised by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), formerly known as Joint Aviation Authority (JAA). In the USA, aviation is administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and, although the types of a license issued have the same name, you cannot use these licenses in Europe without having received additional conversion training. This conversion training is an additional cost that, in most cases, will turn out to be more expensive and time-consuming than getting a European license directly. In general, the training towards a European license is considered the most extensive and is, therefore, easier to convert to other countries.
The integrated route is an intense and structured training program that is completed within a relatively short period of time. This program is designed to take you from no experience to obtaining a commercial pilot’s license with guidance from experienced instructors from beginning to end.
The integrated training program is generally regarded by airlines as the preferred option and will, in some cases, allow you to apply for a job with a reduced amount of flying hours. In contrast to the modular training route you are required to pass a selection test. This will give both you and the flight school some idea of your suitability before starting the course.
During the integrated course your progress will be closely monitored from the beginning. At the end you will receive a flight school report that can be used as a testimonial of your performance during training. The integrated course will require you to wear a uniform throughout the training program. This plays an important part in helping acquire the attitude and professionalism required by the airlines.
We offer integrated training for students without previous flying experience. You can find more information about our Integrated Professional Pilot Program here.
In comparison to the integrated program, the modular route is a more flexible training path. After graduation you will acquire the same license, however, on a modular course the training will initially be towards the PPL. After obtaining the PPL you are required to gather experience without lesson plans and guidance from an instructor before starting the training towards the CPL. Since the program is not structured and monitored as closely as the integrated program many students take a longer time to complete it and find it harder to gather the documentation required by many airlines when applying for a job.
We offer modular pilot training for licensed pilots. You can find more information about our Advanced Training Program here.
Once you have obtained your CPL and ATPL theory you can now start applying for an airline job and continue your training towards achieving your dream of a seat in a modern airplane. However, you still have to do a little more training starting with a type rating.
The type rating on your license allows you to fly a particular aircraft type. For example, to fly the Airbus A320 you need to have the A319/320/321 rating on your license. The type rating is completed in a Full Flight Simulator (FFS). These full motion simulators recreate the aircraft’s performance and handling, allowing the trainee to experience its flight dynamics and flight deck surroundings without leaving the ground. This is a safe and cost-effective way to complete this stage of the training. The course is normally completed over several weeks, encompassing the Ground School Phase, Simulator Phase and Flying Phase (Base Training).
The syllabus covers the aircraft’s systems and the airline’s SOPs for both normal and non-normal/emergency flight operations. It usually comprises some computer-based self-training and classroom sessions and will last about 10 days.
Once the ground school is complete and further exams have been passed, you will move on to the flight simulator phase of training, where you will be paired with another student to be taught how to operate the aircraft as a team. A strict syllabus will be covered and will culminate in a final flight test (Licence Skills Test) with an approved CAA examiner. This will normally comprise 9-12 four-hour sessions, depending on type.
You finally fly the aircraft you are completing the rating for! Base training will consist of a minimum of six take-offs and landings and will be your first experience of flying a commercial aircraft. A circuit pattern will be flown to allow you to complete the required number of take-offs and landings to a safe and satisfactory standard. This completes the requirements of the type rating and the license is now endorsed with the type by the aviation authorities.
Once the type rating has been completed, the next stage is Line Training, which consists of flying regular commercial sectors for your employing airline with passengers or freight. On each flight, you will be with a qualified training captain who will supervise your flying for a defined number of sectors. This may be around 40 sectors or 100 hours depending on type, experience and qualifications. In addition to this, on the first few sectors, there will be another qualified First Officer on the jump seat to act as a safety pilot. Line Training teaches the additional skills and knowledge required in the day-to-day operation of that aircraft type within that airline. When you have completed the required number of sectors to a satisfactory standard, you will be put forward for your Line Check. This will consist of a sector as Pilot Flying (PF), where you actually fly the aircraft, followed by a sector as Pilot Non-Flying (PNF), where you will carry out duties such as liaising with air traffic control, flight plan monitoring etc.