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How To Become A Commercial Pilot

9 December 2016 by  | 

Pilots sitting in an airplane cabin flying and smiling

According to the Boeing market forecast 2014-2033 there will be a global demand for over half a million new airline pilots over the next two decades. Boeing believes that 94,000 of these vacancies will be in Europe alone.

With this in mind, it is a good time to become a professional commercial pilot. Before starting down this path, you need to remember that becoming an airline pilot requires a lot of hard work, time, and a lot of money. Even then, there is no guarantee that you will get a job next day after gaining commercial pilot qualifications – competition for positions with the top airlines is fierce. Becoming a pilot is something you will need to have a real passion for in order to stay the course. If you are still interested, below we outline 5 steps you will need to take on a way to achieving your dream.

Step 1: Meet commercial pilot physical requirements

In order to obtain a commercial pilot’s license, applicants must be at least 18 years old and able to communicate effectively. You need to have a Class 1 Medical Certificate. You must pass a physical exam that involves a vision test, as well as have logbook endorsements from an authorised instructor to verify your flying experience and be able to demonstrate aeronautical knowledge.

Step 2: Plan your budget and time

The next thing you probably need to think about is how you plan to finance your training. Obtaining an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) can cost over £100,000 and take the best part of two years. Some airlines now offer financed training for a limited number of candidates each year. This effectively provides the trainee with a loan to cover the cost of training which can be repaid later through the company’s payroll once the newly qualified pilot begins working. If you’re self-financing, check the terms and conditions of payment of each school – there might be some schemes that you can work with. Remember that you will need to meet loan repayments out of your salary when you start earning.

Step 3: Train as a Private Pilot

Prospective commercial pilots can train as private pilots initially to learn the basics of the flight as well as more about aircraft operations and maintenance, air traffic control procedures and practices and of course, manoeuvring. Some flight schools offer recreational or private training courses as prerequisites for commercial pilot training. You will be able to take a “modular” course – this allows students to stagger training by completing individual modules over a period of time. This has the advantage of allowing the trainee to remain in paid employment.

If you have no flying experience at all, you will probably opt for an “integrated” course which is also known in the industry as “ab initio” (from the beginning). This is a full time course of flying and ground training run by an Approved Training Organisation (otherwise known as a flying school!).

Step 3: Pass Required Tests

In order to gain a commercial license, pilots must pass all commercial flight and ground exams. Upon completion, you will finally be the proud holder of an ATPL and you can then start applying for airline jobs. The skill test requires candidates to perform a variety of operational tasks, demonstrate their ability to meet industry standards and exhibit proficiency in flying. They must also pass a written exam to demonstrate their knowledge of navigation, safety and regulations.

Step 5: Pursue Additional Certification

Applicants will need to become licensed as an airline transport pilot in order to work for commercial airlines. They will need to be at least 23 years old, have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight experience and pass all examinations. Individual airlines may apply additional education and experience requirements.

A career as an airline pilot can be very rewarding, financially and in terms of job satisfaction. Commercial pilot salaries can be quite high after several years. But the reader should appreciate that becoming a commercial pilot requires a lot of hard work, determination, time and money.

Further reading:

BALPA – A new approach to the pilot skills shortage

BALPA – Becoming-a-pilot

IFALPA – Press Releases (shows trending stories and themes in commercial aviation)

Read how to become a Private Pilot:

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