How to become an airline pilot: the basics

Want a career as an airline pilot? Follow our basic steps...

Hankering after a career as an airline pilot? Follow our basic steps...

To start work with an airline as a co-pilot you need to achieve a 'frozen' ATPL. You must complete a minimum of 195 hours flying time to achieve this. This becomes ‘unfrozen’ after you’ve flown 1500 flying hours (with at least 500 as a co-pilot) with an airline. Your training to reach the frozen ATPL level can take between nine and 36months, depending on which training route you follow. It will take less time if you already have a Private Pilot's Licence, Commercial Pilot's Licence or experience from the armed forces. As well as training in real aircraft a lot of your experience will be gained in ultra-realistic flight simulators. As a trainee you can expect to sit lots of written exams and demanding flying skills tests. Learning how to deal with nerves is a must! Once qualified, you will start with an airline as a co-pilot (or First Officer), alongside a training captain on short-haul flights to help you build experience. A full ATPL is then normally awarded after 1,500 flying hours. As a pilot, you must renew your instrument rating (IR) and take skills tests on simulators or real aircraft for specific types of aeroplanes every six to twelve months. You also have to pass regular medical examinations. You should expect to become a Captain after around 5000 hours of flying but the time period for this varies from airline to airline. You can start training as young as 17 but the minimum age for a CPL is 18 and you must be at least 21 to be issued with a full unfrozen ATPL. Very few pilots manage to get their first jet job in their early twenties (those on integrated courses may though) and most qualify as professional pilots between the ages of 25 and 35. Some guys and gals aged above the mid twenties on finishing their training may find that they need more hours total flight time to get a job interview. You’ll need to be physically fit, with good hearing, eyesight (glasses won’t stop you) and normal colour vision. Some airlines impose height and weight restrictions and you must pass a strict medical. The first step in your flying training will be getting a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) and generally, if you have no serious health problems, you will pass the necessary Class 2 medical examination for this. But for commercial licences there is amore stringent Class 1 medical. You must make doing this medical the first thing you do before even thinking about paying for your training. A CAA doctor at Gatwick will perform the initial examination; then a doctor who has special approval from the CAA can renew it annually. Surprisingly there are no academic qualifications required to enrol upon an ATPL course but you’re more likely to get a job with the airlines by having GCSEs and A-levels. A sound ability in mathematics and physics is an advantage and will help you through the 14 written ATPL exams. The biggest hurdle is financing the training required. Integrated Courses cost around �60,000–�80,000. Modular Courses start at around �35,000 but may end up costing as much as �60,000. TRAINING IN NUMBERS:45hrs: JAA PPL150hrs: Can start a CAA 25-hour CPL module155hrs: CPL can be issued to graduates of an Integrated course; U.S. course (Part141) & ICAO Similar200hrs: Integrated JAA CPL/IR can be issued (This includes 100 PIC); Modular CPL can be issued; CPL/IR can be issued to graduates of fully-approved UK, U.S. course (Part 41) & ICAO similar250hrs: CPL/IR can be issued to graduates of non-approved (Part 61) U.S. course; Modular JAA/FAA Part 61 CPL/IR can be issued270hrs: JAA Modular CPL/IR Multi-crew can be issued500hrs: JAA CPL holders can now fly single-pilot, public transport operations800+hrs: EC CPL/IR with more than 700 hours PIC can get licence validated in another EC State for same aerial work 1,500hrs: ATPL can be issued1000+ hrs: EC CPL/IR with more than 1,000 hours Public Transport can get the licence validated in another EC State