9 Easy Steps to Becoming an Airline Pilot

Becoming an Airline Pilot

Have you got your sights on becoming an airline pilot?

Like thousands of aspiring pilots, the dream of being up there in the big jets taking passengers all over the world is extremely enticing. It can be a wonderful career that combines a love of travel, flying (obviously) and adventure.

Chances are if you’re on this site you’re already thinking about being a pilot, or are already a pilot and want to know how to reach the next rung on the ladder. So I’ve put together these 9 easy steps to becoming an airline pilot.


Is Flying For Me?

If you haven’t already gained a pilot’s licence, the best first step you can take to working out if becoming an airline pilot is for you is to take some lessons.

Whilst it is not a requirement to obtain a private pilot’s licence on your own (as some courses and sponsorships take pilots from scratch), it is definitely wise to get into a plane and learn the basics of flight and the sensations of being in the cockpit. Does it feel natural to you? Do you understand the basic principles?

Book a trial flight or introductory lessons at your local airfield as a first step.


Read a Book about the Life of Airline Pilots

We are all partial to dreaming aFlightdeckSurvivalManualnd imagining what life would be like as a commercial airline pilot. We see only the good things as we have no first hand experience.

However, life flying for an airline can be incredibly stressful, involve a lot of pressure and time away from home, not to mention early morning starts and late finishes.

There are a number of books by airline pilots that explain the job and its ups and downs from a personal perspective. I recommend The Flightdeck Survival Manual by James McBride.


Check Whether You Meet the Entry Requirements

It would be no good starting out on the expensive path of becoming an airline pilot if you don’t actually meet the requirements to do the job in the first place. So before you begin, here are some of the main criteria for the licence and for most airline employers:

  • Good school grades – In the UK you’ll need five good GCSEs and two A-Levels
  • Good understanding of maths and physics
  • Good understanding of technical information and the workings of machinery
  • Good spatial awareness and coordination
  • Excellent communication and leadership skills, and a good team-worker
  • A calm disposition, especially under pressure
  • Good physical health (a Class One medical is required to complete training)


Make an Honest Financial Assessment

Learning to fly is very expensive. If you’ve already gained a PPL you’ll know this… but a full Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) is a whole lot more expensive!

The exact amount depends on whether you complete it in a modular fashion, or an all-in course. Typically you can expect to pay between £60,000 – £100,000 to gain the full licence.

There are of course sponsorships available, and if you’ve already gained some licences the cost will be reduced. But it is important at this stage to work out if this kind of financial burden is possible for you, and how you would raise the money and pay it back.

Remember, gaining the licence is only one step towards becoming an airline pilot. Finding the job may not be immediate, and as an entry level First Officer you will not be on the highest wages at first.


Attend a Pilot Training Event

There are regular events held each year to help prospective airline pilots find out more about courses, sponsorships, and the many different aspects involved in training.

If you’re serious about becoming an airline pilot, but still a bit lost about how to go about it, I think attending one of these events is a really useful thing to do. You’ll be able to speak to many different organisations and airlines in one day and ask any questions you have. It will help you understand the costs, requirements and what’s involved.

Pilot Career News put on a number of ‘Live’ events around Europe each year, including Dublin, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, Leeds and Rome. Find out more at their website http://www.pilotcareernews.com/live/


Research Sponsorship Opportunities with Airlines

Money is naturally one of the biggest hurdles in gaining an airline pilot licence. Depending on how you go about your training, it can cost over £100,000. If you’re young, chances are you don’t have that kind of money in your back pocket, and most of us don’t have a line of rich relatives waiting to give us the money.

One popular means of funding your training is by receiving sponsorship from an airline, whereby they pay your training costs and, once qualified, you get a job with them to pay it back. There is a lot of competition for sponsorships, and naturally the selection process is much more rigorous – you’ll need to be confident that you can pass the aptitude tests and impress the selection team, as you’re effectively having a job interview for an airline before even starting training.

But every year hundreds of pilots are successful in following this route, so why shouldn’t it be you?

Do some research today into the sponsorship schemes available. Each airline tends to partner with a particular training company, so you may need to do some searching. For example, British Airways use FTE Jerez, CTC Aviation and CAE Oxford (as do Flybe), easyJet also uses CTC. Turkish Airlines – a major growing carrier has recently signed a deal with Atlantic Flight Training Academy.


Plan Extra Training if You’re Already a Pilot

If you’ve already got a pilot’s licence then maybe you want to pursue a modular approach to becoming an airline pilot. This can be an easier way of affording the expense of training and doing it when funds allow.

Work out where you’re at now, and form a plan to get to the next steps down the line.

For example, do you have a PPL and night rating? A good next step would be to consider adding a Flight Instructor (FI) rating. This will open up opportunities to allow you to build up hours quickly and affordably whilst working for a local flying club and teaching new pilots.

Maybe you’re already an instructor and want to take some more steps. How about adding your multi-engine licence or commercial licence? Previously Flight Instructor’s were required to hold a commercial licence, but this is not the case any more. However, it is important for airline pilots to have this.

Finally, if you’re already more advanced than most and have lots of qualifications and hours under your belt, but not quite enough for taking a step into the airlines, check out jobs with fixed base operators such as executive aircraft operators, medical repatriation companies, parachute companies or even small cargo airlines.


Look Into Military Training

If you’re completely new to flying but are set on a career in the skies, why not look into training with your country’s military forces, such as the Royal Air Force?

This is a good way to ensure a full, professional and all-encompassing training programme at no cost to you. If you make the grade (you need to pass aptitude tests and be fit enough), you’ll be taken through many different aspects of flying, from basic to more complex aircraft, and have the chance of many years’ service. After this military service, you will need to do less work to convert to a become a civilian pilot; many airlines employ lots of former military pilots.


Apply for the Job!

This step comes last as it assumes you already have the qualifications and experience necessary to take up employment as an airline pilot. It involves one simple encouragement – stop talking about it and apply for the job. You won’t make it unless you do.

Most airlines list their jobs with recruitment agencies, and in pilot magazines.

They also list career opportunities on their own websites, often with very specific details about what they’re looking for with direct entry pilots, such as your experience and ratings.

You can’t be picky if you want to become an airline pilot – especially when looking for that first step on the ladder. It’s unlikely you’ll find a job in your hometown unless you live near a major airport. Airlines have bases all over the world, and they’ll expect you to relocate or commute to be able to fly from these airports. Flexibility is the key, and you must show willingness to adapt.

So put together your CV or resume, research the best cover letters for pilots, and hone your interview skills. Then commit to applying for all of the jobs you can!


Matt Falcus is a private pilot and aviation writer. He has been flying since 2006, taking the opportunity whenever the British weather allows to explore the local area and other airfields. He is author of a number of aviation books.

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  1. October 13, 2016

    […] [Easy Steps to Becoming an Airline Pilot] […]

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