Hassan Jamal is a student pilot at L3Harris Commercial Aviation, in this article Hassan details what it was like to complete the integrated ATPL course.
Consider flight school
Before I dig into the life of a student pilot, I think it’s important to highlight the consideration one has to make before considering going into flight school and exploring pilot jobs.
Being a pilot comes with a lot of things that you need to be mindful of, especially the hours and the lifestyle. It is worth spending a bit of time writing down all the cons and seeing if they are compatible with the life you want.
Flight school is generally split up into phases, the ground school (theory) part, and the flying phase, and naturally, your day-to-day life will look different in those different phases. This includes your schedule, days on, and days off.
The integrated ATPL course
With my course (integrated ATPL) I started with ground school, and it took me 7 months to complete.
When I first started, I think the schedule and the hours shocked me. It was a 7:45 start, and we’d normally finish at 16:45.
I tried to start my morning well-rested with enough sleep because you need to be focused during lessons, and I’d try to have a good breakfast to take me to lunch.
I’d get dressed to get to the training centre, and I’d always choose to walk by the simulators instead of going directly to my classroom because it was a bit of a reminder of what I’m working for.
I’d set my desk up with my laptop and iPad to take notes on and began my day. We had the same lesson the whole day which I found easier to work with, but as the day goes on it becomes tougher to stay focused.
8 hours and 3 coffees later the end of the day would come.When I would get home, I found it very tempting to just sit in bed and sleep, but that would just waste my day, so I always took a shower, a quick rest, and then hit the books.
Studying is very different from one person to the other, and everyone needs to find a way that suits them, and I didn’t find mine until the end of the course, to be honest, so it’s always good to try and experiment before starting ground school.
What I used to do personally is organise my notes on my iPad properly. I used to try to find everything on that topic to keep it in my notes, and towards the end, I’d write a summary of the topic on paper because I found it easier to memorise it like that.
After that, I’d do as many practice questions as I can (question banks), and would add anything I need to my notes. I’d normally be done by 9, I’d have a quick dinner, watch a show, and head to bed early.
On Fridays, I normally take the evening off, but Saturdays and Sundays were too valuable so I used to catch up on any work I had. After 7 daunting months I was finally done with all my theory, and that meant I could move on to my flying phase. Personally, I thought that would be much easier, but as I’d find out later, I was very wrong.
The first week was just briefings about the procedures and then the flying started. I was honestly very happy, but I quickly realised I’d have to put more effort than I thought, but It was a different type than what ground school was.
We needed to memorise the quick reference handbook (QRH) of the planes we were flying, standard operating procedures, and limitations.
Normally my preparation for the flight will start the day before, where I’d study the coming lesson, and then do all the paperwork (mass and balance, and performance calculations), and in case of navigation flights, I’ll study the route I was doing.
The next day I’ll normally be up 3 hours before my flight. This gives me enough time to have breakfast and get to the airport. Once you get there you need to do a preflight on the aircraft where I would do a thorough workaround of the aircraft I was flying that day, and check the paperwork.
I’d then show up to my briefing with my instructor, we’d brief the flight including weather, and much more, and they’ll check the paperwork. After that, if it’s a dual flight we’d set off, and if it was a solo, well I’d set off.
During the flight you’re more consumed than you think you are, you’re constantly doing something, which I quite enjoy personally, and before you know it you’ve got to go back. If it was a dual flight, the instructor and I would debrief the flight, fill in more paperwork and that would be it for the day.
The flying phase
Days in the flying phase are shorter, but I always feel equally as tired after, it is more physically demanding and equally mentally demanding than ground school. One big difference is the fact that in-ground school there was a bit more order to the chaos, you’d have a weekly schedule and similar start and end dates.
When you’re in the flying phase your schedule comes out at 15:00 the day before, and it can be any time throughout the day, and that includes weekends. It gets some getting used to but that’s how it’s going to be throughout a pilot's career (definitely more demanding though), so It’s good to get used to now.