61 Special Supplement: Go Commercial!
There are two main routes to becoming an airline pilot: Integrated and Modular training
A section in the magazine dedicated to training for a commercial licence, from 61 Modular v. Integrated routes to 62 advice from the leading aviation training organisations,
68 a day in the life of a BA Cityflyer captain and, finally, 77 banner towing — an example of using your commercial licence for something other than carrying passengers or freight
Finding your way to a career as an airline pilot requires determination and it isn’t cheap — so this is not a choice to be taken lightly. You can start training as a school leaver, but the minimum age at which you can be issued with a full Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) is 21. Although no academic qualifications are required to enrol on an ATPL course, you are more likely to land a job with an airline if you have GCSES and A-levels. Additionally, knowledge of maths and physics will give you a distinct advantage when taking the written exams.
The first thing you need to do is obtain an EASA Class 1 medical, which is far more stringent than the one required for a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL). If you cannot pass the medical it is the end of the road as far as your commercial flying career is concerned — but it is better to discover this early, before you have paid for any training!
Integrated courses offer intensive, full-time training. Generally the approved training organisations (ATOS) that offer this type of training have close links to airlines. The Integrated route is the quickest way to get the professional licence, obtaining the qualifications to fly as a first officer within one or two years, and has particular appeal to entrants with little or no flying experience. It is also the most expensive way of obtaining an ATPL. Some courses have links with banks that can provide finance to students to help them make it through the course.
More appealing to experienced pilots and those who need to spread their training costs over an extended period of time, the Modular route enables students to break their training into chunks so that they can complete them part-time, at their own pace and according to their finances (as ever, we would caution would be trainees never to pay large amounts of money up front and, as far as possible to pay as you go).
The ATPL exam syllabus consists of fourteen subjects, including Principles of Flight, Operational Procedures, Meteorology, Comms and Navigation — each of which culminates in a multiple choice exam. The exams can be taken at a number of locations around the country.
Flight training starts with the familiar PPL. Next comes the CPL (Commercial Pilot Licence. It normally takes between four and six weeks (weather/experience dependent) to complete a CPL course. At least five hours — plus the skills test — must be flown in a ‘complex aircraft’ with a retractable undercarriage and a variablepitch propeller. If you have never flown in what’s termed a complex aircraft before, it is recommended that you choose a course which covers more than the minimum number of hours.
In practical terms, to begin working commercially you will require a multiengine rating and the all-important (and rather daunting) Instrument Rating, too.
To work for an airline you then need to reach the ‘frozen’ ATPL stage while you build up your flying hours to the 1,500 minimum for the full licence.
It is now mandatory for pilots to undergo Multi Crew Cooperation (MCC) or Crew Resource Management (CRM) courses before they can apply for a job. Some airlines may require a type rating on either an Airbus or Boeing aircraft, although a number will provide this as part of in-house training.
Some ATOS are able to place their students with a partner airline, but for many prospective pilots it will be a case of sending off CV after CV and maybe taking on other work until they land their first airline job. When they do, it will probably be as co-pilot or First Officer, working on short-haul flights alongside a Training Captain.
You might expect to become a Captain after around 5,000 hours of experience, depending on the airline. It’s a long road to follow, but whatever type of commercial flying you do, many would say you will still be working in ‘the best office in the world’.
To work for an airline you will need to reach the ‘frozen’ ATPL stage...