Airline Pilot

    If you are wondering how to become an airline pilot, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers within the aeronautical industry, as well as transport and logistics job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Airline pilots fly passengers and cargo to destinations all around the world for commercial, business and leisure purposes. The job is exciting and challenging, but it also carries a lot of responsibility.

    Your pilots’ duties would vary slightly, depending on the organisation you work for, but would typically include:

    carrying out pre-flight checks of onboard instruments, engines and fuel
    making sure all safety systems are working properly
    working out the best route based on weather reports and other information from air traffic control
    briefing the cabin crew and following take-off instructions
    monitoring in-flight data and making adjustments to deal with changing weather patterns
    telling passengers and crew about progress
    following airport approach and landing instructions from air traffic control
    writing flight reports, noting any problems with the aircraft or the flight path
    helping to load and unload luggage or cargo (on small planes).
    On short-haul flights, there is usually a pilot (captain) and a co-pilot (first officer). On long-haul flights, there are normally two pilots and often a flight engineer, who monitors the instruments.

    As a pilot, you could also work in other areas of aviation, such as crop spraying, flight testing and flight training.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good pilots include:

    the ability to follow spoken instructions from air traffic control
    the ability to give clear, confident instructions to crew members and passengers
    good teamworking skills
    the ability to work with technology
    good hand-to-eye coordination
    the ability to read maps and 3D displays
    good written communication skills
    the ability to remain calm and able to take charge in an emergency.

    How to become an airline pilot
    You would normally start work with an airline as a co-pilot or first officer and would need to achieve a minimum of an Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL). This is known as a ‘frozen’ ATPL until you have completed enough flying hours to apply for a full ATPL and qualify as an airline captain.

    You can qualify as an airline pilot in several ways but whichever route you decide to take, the minimum age of issue for a full ATPL is 21. You should be physically fit, with good hearing, eyesight and normal colour vision. Some airlines impose height and weight restrictions, and you must pass a strict medical examination.

    Private Training
    You can fund your own training at a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)-approved training school, but you would have to pay the full cost of the course (around £50,000 to £60,000 in total). You can get a complete list of training providers from the CAA personnel licensing department and the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) in Further Information.

    Sponsored Training
    Some airlines offer places on sponsored training schemes. You normally need at least five GCSEs (A-C), including English, maths and science, and two A levels, preferably in maths and physics. The entry requirements can vary between companies, so check with individual airlines.

    Armed Forces’ Experience
    If you are a qualified pilot from the armed forces, you can take a conversion course to gain a commercial pilot’s licence. There is strong competition for pilot training in the forces and you must serve a minimum term before taking up employment with an airline (See RAF job profiles for details).

    University Route
    Several universities offer courses in air transport and operations with pilot training options. Some of these allow you to study up to frozen ATPL level. In most cases, you have to fund the flight training modules yourself. To search for colleges and universities offering these courses, visit the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS). Please check with the individual colleges and universities for their entry requirements.

    BALPA and the Air League have details about routes into this career, airline sponsorships, bursaries and scholarships. The Royal Aeronautical Society and GoSkills also have information about this job. See their websites in Further Information.

    The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN) provides an aptitude test and assessment scheme for people with little or no flying experience. Although not a requirement for flight training, it can prove a useful way to decide whether you are suited to this career, before you make a financial commitment to training.

    Training and Development
    Your training to reach the frozen ATPL level can take between 9 and 36 months, depending on which entry route you follow. It may be shorter if you already have a Private Pilot’s Licence, Commercial Pilot’s Licence or experience from the armed forces. The training normally includes:

    principles of flight
    navigation and communications
    operational procedures
    aviation law.
    You will also fly simulators and real aircraft. As a trainee, you sit exams and take a skills test for all pilot licences.

    During the training period, you learn basic flying skills and usually work towards the frozen Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL). You must complete a minimum 195 hours’ flying time to achieve this.

    You will normally start work as a co-pilot, alongside a training captain, on short-haul flights to give you maximum experience of take-offs and landings. A full ATPL is normally awarded after 1,500 flying hours (with at least 500 as a co-pilot). Eventually you will become a fully-qualified captain.

    As a pilot, you must renew your instrument rating (IR) and take skills tests for specific aircraft every six to twelve months. You also have regular medical examinations.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    The basic salary for co-pilots is around £21,000 a year
    First officers earn between £30,000 and £40,000 a year
    Experienced captains can earn between £55,000 and £70,000 a year.

    Job Prospects
    Pilots work for scheduled and charter passenger airlines, freight carriers and private business charter companies. Airline companies all over the world employ pilots, so you could be based in the UK or overseas.

    Once you have around five years’ experience, you can apply to be a co-pilot on long-haul flights. You need at least 5,000 flying hours before you can apply for promotion to captain. This usually takes between seven and ten years to achieve.

    As a pilot, you can take on training or management jobs alongside flying duties, or transfer to ground-based management.

    Other opportunities include flying instruction, ferry-flying, bush flying and agricultural flying in remote areas.

    Useful logistics or transport resources:
    British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA)
    Balpa House
    5 Heathrow Boulevard
    278 Bath Road
    West Drayton
    UB7 0DQ

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