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How to Become a Pilot

Published: Friday 6th December 2019

With air travel expected to double over the next 20 years, there is going to be plenty of demand for pilots, so if you do go down that career route, you can rely on having plenty of work. In fact, global demand for pilots is expected to reach 500,000 over the next two decades and it’s thought 94,000 of these will be working in the UK and Europe. 

Confident pilot smiling in front of private jet

Prepare for take off 

However, training to become a pilot is a big undertaking and requires a huge investment in terms of time, commitment and cost. If you’re in any way indecisive about a career as a pilot, there’s an aptitude test run by the Honourable Company of Airline Pilots that will should give you an indication of whether that type of life is for you and, importantly, if you have the aptitude to succeed. 

In order to start training, you’ll require five GCSE passes, including English and Maths, along with two A-levels, ideally including Maths and Physics. A degree in related disciplines such as Aviation Management or Aircraft Engineering is ideal, as it will provide a good introduction to the theory behind pilot training.  

It won’t be an easy ride 

To become a commercial airline pilot, you’ll need a Class One Medical Certificate before applying for an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). And here is where you will incur most cost. Obtaining your ATPL can cost £100,000 over a period of two years. While some UK airlines offer some financed training, this is essentially a loan which is recouped from your pilot salary when you start work.  

male pilot the captain of the plane prepares for take-off

If you have no flying experience, you’ll most likely opt for the integrated course, also known in the industry as ab initio (‘from the beginning’). This is a full time course of flying and ground training run by an Approved Training Organisation, AKA a flying school. two year part-time modular course is another option if you want to continue working. 

Through an intense schedule of simulator exercises, flight training and class-based study, your first objective will be to acquire multi-engine rating, followed by your Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL). That allows you to fly commercially, but you won’t be able to fly airliners without further training and gaining your ATPL. However, even this is ‘frozen’ until you build up enough flying hours, known as ‘line training’. You will then need ‘type rating’ which qualifies you to fly certain types of plane. Some airlines will pay for this section of your training.  

Close up pilot hand taking by portable radio set in cabin while navigating plane.

There are two other training options available. The Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) has been adopted by most UK airlines, but this shortened course means graduates are restricted to only fly First Officers in the right hand seat in the cockpit. To be a Captain, you’ll need full ATPL qualification. The other option is to enrol on an apprenticeship course, where you study at one of a number of universities. The advantage here is that you can benefit from access to loans and grants, which can make financing your training easier 

Landing a pilot job 

Pilot jobs are easy to find once you’ve qualifiedSalaries start at around £36,000, but can increase significantly as you gain experience, reaching heights of up to £140,000 

young aviation personnel team with suitcases at airport after flight

While a career as a pilot can be financial rewarding, those looking at going into the profession should make themselves fully aware of the costs and commitment involved. Pilots have a lot of responsibility on their hands and need to be decisive quick thinkerspossess in excellent communication skills and be able to remain calm in emergency situations. That said, if that sounds like you and you’re passionate about flying, you could be set for one of the best jobs in the world.  

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