Demand for trained commercial airline pilots is on the rise with extremely lucrative salaries on offer but how does someone become a qualified pilot in the UK?
Training to become a pilot is a big commitment which requires significant personal investment and a wide skill set but would allow you to gain entry into one of the most challenging and financially rewarding careers in the country.
Pilots can work long hours with the day’s work typically taking place 90 minutes before departure, carrying out checks and competing general tasks.
Pilots are generally given 12 hours rest between flights and shifts can vary based on the amount of scheduled flights, flight duration and time zones. Read more about the pilot lifestyle here.
In the UK, EASA flight time limitations apply and pilots cannot work more than 100 hours in any 28 consecutive days.
Starting salaries are usually around £36,000, rising to almost £80,000 with experience, while top end salaries can reach £140,000. You can also view the average commercial pilot salaries here.
You can also find information on the top paying airlines here.
What qualifications are needed?
Firstly, budding pilots can test their ability by taking an aptitude assessment test with the The Honourable Company of Air Pilots which costs £155.
Someone who wishes to become a professional commercial airline pilot I.E. flying an aircraft with nine or more passenger seats must apply for an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) which is commissioned by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
In order to apply for this licence, individuals are required to complete necessary training and obtain a Class 1 Medical Certificate which is valid for 12 months. Applicants must have also achieved good GCSE grades and ideally know a second language. A university degree is not mandatory but good A-Level results are beneficial.
To obtain the license, trainees must accumulate 1,500 hours of flying experience in any aircraft before taking the practical skill test. ATPL theoretical knowledge exams must also be completed, these exams will cover disciplines such as; air law, radio navigation and operational procedures.
What are the different career paths you can take?
A lot of major airlines such as British Airways and Virgin offer programmes to train up new pilots, in partnership with leading training providers. Trainees are typically loaned the money for the course fees and this money is paid back gradually when the pilot is fully qualified and employed.
An individual can also enroll on a course at a pilot training school but without sponsorship from an airline, all costs must be covered independently. Once qualified there is also no guaranteed employment so this training route provides much greater risk.
A university degree can also help a person gain employment as a pilot and students can benefit from the standard government loans to cover their tuition.
Two universities that offer commercial pilot training degrees are Bucks New University and Kingston University London. These practical courses can be completed in 3 years, although the Kingston degree can be split up with a 1 year placement. Although tuition fees are covered by a student loan there will be additional fees required which will need to be self-funded. Integrated ATPL qualification fees can range between £70,000 and £80,000 for example.
For more information visit British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA)’s website, the aviation industry’s professional association.
Where can you train to be a pilot?
Once you understand the finances involved in becoming a pilot and you are still keen to obtain a license, then it would be helpful to know where you can actually undertake your training.
One example is the Flying Time Aviation course at Brighton City Airport, this is open to people with no flying experience, with courses starting from around £70,000. L3 Commercial Aviation also have academies located in Bournemouth, Coventry and Southampton.
The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has published a list of approved training organisations on the CAA website here.
Alternatively, you can search online for training schemes offered by major airlines.
As previously stated, pilot training courses can range between £70,000-£80,000 and an individual can undertake an aptitude test for £155.
Most schools and training providers offer all-inclusive packages based on the 1,500 hour minimum required to obtain a license. However, most offer an hourly rate option which is also available to students who require additional lessons and flying time.
It is worth noting that students will be subject to additional costs such as landing fees and ground training instruction.
A lot of providers offer discounts to trainees who pay for the course up front but there is some risk in doing so as in a worst case scenario the school could cease trading; paying by credit card can help protect you partially if such a situation arises. For added flexibility and less financial risk, most students pay for their training by the hour.
We hope this article has been of help to kick start your career in aviation.
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