Starting Out – From The Beginning…
This guide has been put together to help those of you who have an interest or who have recently decided that you would like to find out more about becoming a pilot. It will explain what is need from the very beginning through to entering that airliner cockpit for the first time. The guide contains many links to other sections of our site, if you want to open any of the links in a separate page as to not lose where you are up to in this article; it is advisable to hold the ‘CTRL’ button on your keyboard as you click the link!
So, let’s begin, you’ve just been laid off, have decided you want a career change or simply have just left school and want to pursue a career within the aviation industry and particularly flight deck positions. Brilliant, well a career as an airline pilot, although seeming rather glamorous in the public’s eyes is in reality quite a stressful tough job, which is, however, extremely rewarding. So to begin with we should probably dispel a common myth, airline pilots and qualifications. Well, that’s right, you don’t actually need any, when we say this we don’t mean flying qualifications obviously, we’re talking A-levels and university degrees, although as you can appreciate they may help you along later on in your quest with gaining a job. Most airlines however are looking for flying ability and achievements which include a number of things which you will find out about later on.
So with that myth dispelled, where does the prospective pilot start? Well, the best place to start and indeed the place 99% of pilots start is in their local flying school, you can find yours in this helpful Flying School Directory. Simply give them a call and make an appointment to have a chat with an instructor or member of staff, whom of which most will have embarked on the journey you hope to take. Every airline pilot begins with what is known as a Private Pilot Licence, which consists of, in the simplest form, all the flying skills you need to pilot a light aircraft alone, anywhere in Europe during daylight and in fair weather conditions. This licence will be one of the most memorable moments in your life, with many achievements from your first solo, first cross-country flight to passing your first flight test all happening during the course of your PPL.
Once you have gained your Private Pilot Licence, you will need to complete at least 150 hours total time as well as a Night Qualification, entitling you to fly during night time. A great bit of advice is this; ‘Don’t just fly around in circles, visit places, travel far and enjoy your hour building’ and it is spot on, this is probably the most enjoyable parts of your training when you can simply do what you like, visit where you like, take flying whoever you like and log the hours towards your hour building target. Many people decide to take a ‘Flying Holiday’ to the States and tour the country with family whilst completing this part of training.
Once you’ve gained your 150 total hours, most people then take the next step, which is, and I’m sure most will agree the less interesting part of your training. That’s right, the ATPL Theory, or Airline Transport Pilot Licence Theory, which involves you enrolling at a full-time ground school organisation or part-time distance learning, completing by self-study. The theory consists of 14 exams, more on which can be found here. How long this takes varies, a full-time course can take 6 months where as a part-time or distance learning course can take up to 9 or 12 months dependant on other commitments.
Once this theory is completed you are set to move on to the ‘Professional Training’ part of the journey. Which can start with either a Commercial Pilot Licence or an Instrument Rating, this varies from school to school but a word of advice is that you complete this professional part of your training at one single school, airlines prefer this. And so if you are to complete the following three in quick succession you are likely to do the IR first which is usually combined with a Multi-Engine Piston rating, which allows you to fly a multi engine aircraft, the training will then be completed solely on a ‘multi’ or combined with some single engine flying. Once both of these, consisting of 55 hours plus, are completed you will move on to the Commercial Pilot Licence, which consists of 25 hours advanced training and another flight test. Once you have completed these three, typically in 3-4 months back to back, you will be within touching distance of holding a frozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence or (f)ATPL for short.
The last few details are to include a Multi-Crew Cooperation course, which is a course completed entirely on a simulator, usually a jet but can sometimes be a twin-light aircraft, and is aimed at providing you with the experience and training to work within a multi-crew environment, how to delegate tasks and share our responsibilities. This course lasts from 1-3 weeks and can be completed at a number of schools throughout the UK. The final step to complete which is optional, but again is preferred by airlines is a Jet Orientation Course which can but doesn’t necessarily have to be, combined with the MCC course and gives you experience flying a jet engine aircraft apposed to flying, as you have been for your training, a piston engine aircraft.
Once this is completed you are granted a (f)ATPL, which will remain frozen until you complete a certain number of hours including several requirements, which is usually met within your first few years with an airline operation.
You now face what has been over the last 5 years the most difficult stage, applying for flying positions. During the recession there has been little if any movement in the airline industry, however since the beginning of 2011, there has been many indications from airlines that they either are or shortly will be taking on crew once again. Be sure to check out our Twitter and Facebook pages to keep up to date with any employment or important training news.