By Jennifer Cairns 19 Oct 2022 6 min read

How to become an Airline Captain

What is a pilot?


Professional pilots jobs have earned either an Air Transport Pilot's License (ATPL) or a Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL) (ATPL). This sets them apart from other pilots with a Private Pilot's Licence (PPL).


Co-Pilots, First Officers, and Captains


An aircraft must always have a designated senior pilot, known as the Captain, who oversees the aircraft overall. Before enrolling in a command course, a freshly certified airline or private jet pilot is given the rank of First Officer, with the option to advance to Senior First Officer. If this is accomplished, they can advance to the rank of Captain. 

Two pilots fly commercially-chartered private jet flights between the US and Europe. The person who assumes full control of the flight is known as the Captain. One pilot will assume aircraft control and be referred to as "Commander" if both pilots have completed the Command Course. Achieving the ranking of a Captain isn't easy, but ask anyone in the role and they'll tell you it's worth it! 


What credentials are required for employment in aviation?


Pilot jobs candidates must have strong GCSE in science, math, and English. Learning a second language will also be beneficial, although a degree is not required, A-levels are preferred. You must apply for an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) from the CAA UK to professionally fly an aircraft with nine or more passenger seats for a commercial airline.

Before you can do this, you will need to complete the required training and receive a Class 1 Medical Certificate, which is good for 12 months until age 40. The Honourable Company of Air Pilots offers an aptitude exam for £155 to determine if you have what it takes to be a pilot. At London's Air Pilots House, tests are conducted. For the most recent information on test dates, visit The Honourable Company of Air Pilots' website.

You will leave aviation school with a "frozen ATPL," which is made up of a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and an Instrumental Rating (IR). You can apply for jobs as a first officer or co-pilot with a frozen ATPL. After accumulating 1,500 hours of flight time, your ATPL will "unfreeze," allowing you to apply for captain roles. Along with passing the ATPL theoretical knowledge examinations in air law, operation procedures, and radio navigation, you must also pass a practical skill test.

What are the pilot routes?


The two main professional flight training programmes offered by pilot training schools, also referred to as flying schools, are integrated and modular. Without prior flying experience, integrated courses allow trainee pilots to get their ATPL in about 18 months. You must complete the training in a single sitting because the courses are rigorous. Integrated courses combine classroom instruction with hands-on flight training.

Modular training, as the name implies, is completed in parts, making it more flexible and enabling learners to work in addition to their studies to cover course fees. A Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and 150 hours of flight time are prerequisites for enrollment in a modular training programme. Even though this approach is less expensive than the integrated one, it takes longer to finish. You will be required to pay the high course costs yourself if you choose to train at a pilot training school, and you will not have a job waiting for you at the end of it.

Alternatively, you may consider the structured programmes that big airlines like British Airways (BA), Ryanair, and EasyJet provide. They collaborate with reputable suppliers who will handle the pilot training. Commercial airlines would support aspiring pilots in the past, but this is no longer the case. Nowadays, the vast majority of organised programmes are entirely self-financed. However, after completing the programme, you can get a job with the company.

Although degrees in aviation are not required, several colleges offer relevant courses. For instance, Kingston University London provides a BSc in Aviation Operations with Commercial Pilot Training, whereas Bucks New University offers a BSc in Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training.

Although the Kingston course permits students to take a sandwich year, making it a four-year curriculum, these programmes can be finished in three years. The combined annual cost of tuition for the two programmes is £9,250, but as you'll also be studying for the integrated ATPL qualification, there will be additional costs. You might anticipate an additional expenditure of up to £75,000 at Bucks and £70,000 at Kingston.

Many of these choices are covered in the guidance offered by BALPA, the professional organisation for the sector. The first-ever commercial airline pilot apprenticeship standard has been authorised. The standard, created by the Aviation Industry Skills Board and top aviation firms, intends to increase access to pilot training.


Where can I undertake pilot training?


The CAA gives suggestions for choosing a flight school if you've opted to receive your training via one. FTA (Flying Time Aviation), a commercial flying academy located at Brighton City Airport, is an illustration of a top supplier. A flight school with UK campuses in Bournemouth, Cranfield, and Crawley is L3Harris Airline Academy. Go to the careers pages of BA, Ryanair, and EasyJet to apply for one of the main airlines' training programmes.


What specialised skills do I need for this job?


If you are wondering how to become a pilot, you'll need a particular set of abilities and qualities. Among them is a love of flying, technical prowess, spatial awareness, aptitude for numbers and data analysis, ability to remain composed under pressure, problem-solving skills, attention to detail, teamwork skills, excellent communication skills, confidence, decisiveness, and the capacity to think quickly.


What is the cost of becoming a pilot in the UK?


It is not inexpensive. The cost of training to become a pilot in the UK is very high, so you should think carefully before enrolling in a course. Depending on your path, exact costs vary, but we are talking tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds. To give you a clearer idea, the typical cost of pilot training is between £70,000 and £120,000. For instance, the cost of an integrated course at a flying school like the FTA is £87,950, whereas the cost of an integrated course at L3Harris Airline Academy is £79,950. You can spread the expense over a longer period and pay slightly less for modular courses.


A summary of pilot training:


To fly for a commercial airline, you must have a Class 1 Medical Certificate and an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL).
• The minimum age to begin pilot training is 18. However, an ATPL cannot be obtained before age 21.
• If you have never flown, your pilot route may take 16 to 18 months.
• There is also a two-year part-time "modular" pilot route that enables you to work while you study.
• A significant financial investment is necessary. The price of training can range from £70,000 to £120,000.

Ready to level up and search for Captain roles? Take a look on Aviation Job Search.