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British Air Line Pilots Association

How to become a

Commercial Pilot
How to become a Commercial Pilot

Jim McAuslan The British Air Line Pilots CAA medical, along with
BALPA Association (BALPA) is the confirmation of the training course
General Secretary professional Association for all you are undertaking. BALPA
Pilots who work in civil aviation. Associate Trainee membership gives
Additionally BALPA offers you a chance to benefit from some
“Associate Class” membership for of the facilities offered and also
those serving in HM Forces as allows you to get to know the
Pilots, or for those embarking on workings of the Association and
commercial training. future benefits of Full BALPA
BALPA wants British Aviation to Membership.
be the envy of the world. We aim BALPA is both a Trade Union
to help those young men and and a Professional Association. In
women who want to become addition to myself, the Executive
Commercial Pilots or Flying Board consists of 13 members
Instructors and have put together who are practising Flight Deck
this guide to help you. We have Crew, and we are all elected to
also produced a separate document these positions by BALPA
to help you secure sponsorship and members. As General Secretary I
bursaries (visit www.balpa.org). have a team of around 50 staff
Growth in air travel over the next and consultants, including those
decade, and the retirement of with expertise and experience in
longer serving pilots, makes it is a many areas such as, legal,
good time to consider becoming a employment/contract law,
Pilot - for those who are technical, scheduling, pensions,
determined. employment prospects/advice,
And if your ambition is fulfilled financial service facilities. In due
BALPA will support you throughout course, when you have qualified
your career. Once enrolled on a as a professional Pilot, we hope
Commercial Pilots licence course that you will become a Full
with one of the CAA approved Member of BALPA.
training schools, you can join BALPA wishes you good luck and
BALPA as an Associate Trainee all the best in the pursuit of your
Member. Whilst undergoing ab future career.
initio Commercial Pilot training
your membership of BALPA is free, JIM McAUSLAN
providing you meet the criteria of GENERAL SECRETARY
supplying a copy of your Class 1 BRITISH AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION

How to become a Commercial Pilot


Many young people dream of Combined Cadet Force (CCF), Class 2 Medical Examination,
becoming a pilot, perhaps may improve your chances of have accumulated a minimum
flying the most modern airline being selected for the Forces as of 45 flying hours, pass seven
aircraft around the skies. For a Pilot. Also for those at written examinations and take
most, it remains a pipedream. University joining the University a skills test. Depending on
But it is a dream that can be Air Squadron Officer Training how often you can take the
fulfilled. For all of civil aviation, Corps or the University Naval lessons, this will take between
and most of military aviation, Unit when at University will six and twelve months and
there are equal opportunities significantly increase your cost around £6,000. This
for men and women. chances for Pilot selection in licence enables you to fly in
There are basically two the Forces. visual conditions. If you wish
routes learning to fly: Information on becoming an to fly in instrument conditions,
Armed Services trainee pilot you will need a further
1 Learning to fly with the can be obtained from any qualification, which will cost
Armed Services Navy, Army or RAF Careers around £2,000. Additionally, if
Office.(contact details on you wish to fly at night, you
First by getting into one of the supplementary information on will need a night qualification,
Armed Services (Navy, Marines, Sponsorship/Bursaries) typically costing around £750.
Army or RAF) as a trainee pilot. If you decide to fly multi-
This is open to young people 2 Learning to fly privately engine aircraft privately, you
from 17-24. But only a limited will need at least 70 hours as
number of trainee pilots are Anyone who is over the age Pilot in Command (PIC), a
taken on each year. To be of 16 and can afford lessons minimum of 6 hours flying
accepted, applicants should can learn to fly a single engine training and not less than 7
have five GCSEs (including piston aircraft and once you hours theoretical instruction.
Maths and English), two A levels are over the age of 17 and At the time of writing, if you
or equivalent and/or a degree. completed the training, you wish to obtain a PPL as a
Vacancies are few and can have your Private Pilot’s stepping stone to a CPL/ATPL,
competition is fierce. You make Licence (PPL) issued. This is a it seems preferable to train for
an application and go through good step towards getting the full JAR PPL rather than the
a rigorous three-day selection your professional licence, as National PPL (NPPL)
process including IQ, leadership not only will you discover if If you wish to fly a multi-
and medical tests. Learning to you are suited to the engine piston aircraft, you will
fly privately is very expensive so environment, but also you will need at least 70 hours as Pilot
training with the Armed be credited with 100 hours in Command (PIC), a minimum
Services is an excellent way of ground instruction towards of 6 hours flying training and
gaining a wealth of experience the ground study requirements not less than 7 hours
at very little cost to you. for the Commercial Pilots theoretical instruction. (contact
As a note to those under the Licence. details on supplementary
age of 18 years, joining the Air To obtain a Private Pilot’s information on
Training Corps (ATC) or Licence you will have to pass a Sponsorship/Bursaries)

How to become a Commercial Pilot

Training to become a costly process of committing Medical can only be carried out
commercial pilot yourself to a CPL or ATPL by the Civil Aviation Authority
course there is one thing to (CAA) Medical Unit at Gatwick.
When you have your Private consider. To avoid wasted money and
Pilot’s Licence you can fly for Can you pass a CAA Class time, it is possible (and
fun – but not for ‘hire or One Medical? You might feel recommended) to undergo a
reward.’ As soon as you want completely fit, but there are Class One Medical tests before
to earn money from conditions that do not affect commencing any training, even
commercial flying you must everyday life and might not for the PPL if you intend to
obtain a Commercial Pilot’s even affect flying privately (for proceed from the PPL to
Licence (CPL) or obtain all of which a Class Two Medical is commercial flying. A Class
the theory qualifications and required), but which will stop One Medical is valid for the PPL
most of the flying qualifications you flying commercially. Many medical as well.
for the Airline Transport Pilot’s of these conditions involve You will need to remain
Licence (ATPL). The latter eyesight. The eyes do not need reasonably fit throughout your
qualification is known as a to be perfect, but conditions flying career. Although you can
‘Frozen ATPL’ and may be such as colour deficiency fly commercially until the age
upgraded to a full ATPL when (affecting some ten per cent of of 65, you must be able to
sufficient flying experience has the male population) are not pass a renewal medical every
been obtained. compatible with professional year, (or six months, depending
Before embarking on the flying. The initial Class One on age and type of licence).


1 Moving from the Armed edge training course.

Services to an airline Depending on the course
undertaken, the integrated
Airlines do take pilots from the course will last between 9
RAF, Army and Navy. If you months and 36 months, and will
leave the Armed Services and require a minimum of 150 hours
wish to become a commercial flying training for the CPL(A) or
pilot you have to take a special 195 hours for the ATPL(A). If
civil aviation course and gain a you wish to achieve an Airline
conversion qualification before Transport Pilot’s Licence in the
being awarded a CPL or ATPL. future, then the ATPL course is
the one that you should choose.
2 Putting yourself through You will have to attend a train-
training ing school approved by the Civil
Aviation Authority. To be
A Commercial Pilot’s Licence accepted, you will need to
(CPL) may be gained by com- demonstrate sufficient knowl-
pleting an approved course of edge of Mathematics and
either integrated training, or Physics to facilitate an under-
modular flying training com- standing of the theoretical
bined with a theoretical knowl- knowledge instruction content

How to become a Commercial Pilot

of the course.
The training course includes
ground studies in such subjects
as Aviation Law, Flight
Performance and Planning,
Principles of Flight and
Navigation. Then there is the
flight training. This includes fly-
ing in single and multi-engine will pay for your training. press such as Flight
aircraft and in simulators. There Airlines normally require a mini- International magazine.
is a high technical content mum of five GCSEs/S Grades Some airlines, including
including Avionics, (A-C/1-3) (seven for British British Airways, operate cadet
Communications, Meteorology Airways) including English, pilot training schemes, although
and Operational Procedures. Maths and Science, and two such schemes are liable to be
These courses typically cost good ‘A’ levels/three H Grades, suspended during periods when
between £50,000 and £60,000. preferably in Maths and there is little or no requirement
If you already have a PPL and Physics. Advanced for new pilots.
have achieved 150 hours flight GNVQ/GSVQ level 3 and Airlines are very selective
time as a Pilot, you may elect to BTEC/SCOTVEC national about who they will and will not
take the modular route. The awards are also acceptable sponsor. Successful candidates
module for the CPL consists of preferably in a relevant area, must convincingly demonstrate
at least 25 hours flying training. such as Science or Engineering. a real interest in flying. The
It is also necessary to have com- Increasingly now Commercial spending of, say, £6000 of your
pleted the ground studies, (if Training Providers are entering own cash towards securing your
you wish to achieve an ATPL, into “airline partnership” PPL would show the type of
then it is best to do the ATPL arrangements involving the commitment the sponsor is
ground study course at this Training Providers conducting looking for.
stage), have successfully passed aptitude assessments and selec- Generally airlines will insist
the skills test and have 200 tion tests. These Training on you meeting the standards
hours flight time as a Pilot Providers can then provide an for a Class One Medical
before the licence can be issued. introduction to the banks for a although some employers set
You will also need to complete loan facility and if you are a their own higher standards.
the module for the Instrument “high achiever” and “first time Age requirements for airline
Rating, which consists of a fur- pass” student, they liaise with sponsorship schemes varies – so
ther 50 hours training. airlines to offer you a “fast it is best to check out the web-
track” introduction to the air- sites for these airlines, or the
3 Obtain full or partial line for interview selection for a websites of the Training
sponsorship job, once you are fully trained Providers they are in “partner-
and the airline has vacancies. ship” with. Typical sponsorship
There is great competition for A comprehensive list of ages can range from 18 to 28.
sponsorship and at the time of Sponsorships and Bursaries is Some airlines have height
writing there is a changing available separately from BALPA restrictions - in British Airways
approach from airlines to whole and can be downloaded from for example it is between 1.58m
and part sponsorships which the Public Area of the BALPA (5 ft 2) and 1.91m (6ft 3).
seems to be developing away website www.balpa.org. British airlines also require that
from the traditional sponsorship Additionally details of sponsor- applicants have the unrestricted
arrangements. You might be ship are obtainable from indi- right to live and work in the UK
able to obtain full or partial vidual airlines and are some- and have a passport allowing
sponsorship by an airline which times published in the aviation unrestricted worldwide travel.

How to become a Commercial Pilot

After your Commercial becoming an airline pilot. theoretical examinations and

Pilot’s Licence To be the Co-Pilot (First achieved 1500 hours flying time,
Officer) of an airline requires a 500 of which must be in an
With your Commercial Pilot’s frozen ATPL or an ATPL and aircraft requiring more than one
Licence you are ready to fly for Instrument Rating. To be a crew to operate it. This will
‘hire or reward’. You may carry Captain requires a full ATPL and probably be gained as a Co-Pilot
goods in small aircraft, do aerial Instrument Rating. with an airline. It is also
photography, spray crops, or necessary to have completed a
decide to undertake a Flying The Airline Transport Pilot’s Multi Crew Co-Operation
Instructor Course to train Licence (ATPL) Course. This is included in an
others to PPL and CPL standard. integrated ATPL course, although
But at some stage you will A full ATPL is not issued until you many airlines may include this as
most probably consider have successfully completed the part of their initial training.

Once you have achieved a being away from home for days ner-towing, ferry-flying, bush-
licence, what jobs are open to at a time, and can cope with flying in remote areas, and agri-
you? With an ATPL the range the time zone changes. cultural flying in equally remote
is almost limitless. Your Scheduled flying is popular areas. Some jobs exist flying
chances of being hired however because there tends to be corporate aircraft but these are
are entirely down to supply and fewer delays due to airport slot rarely advertised - as is the case
demand. You can be the great- problems, and night flying is with most of the “better jobs”.
est pilot in the world, but if restricted because businessmen News gets around by word of
there are no vacancies, it may are sensible enough not to mouth. BALPA Members are
take some time to obtain want to be sitting in an aero- kept abreast of current Pilot job
employment as a Pilot. plane at four in the morning. opportunities through their
However, do not get disheart- On the other hand, there can Employment Services facility
ened. It is very common for be less variety of flying than in and hosts an annual
employers in this business to be charter flying. Employment Opportunity
convinced that they need no Turboprop aircraft are seen, Conference each October
one extra on Friday only to find rightly or wrongly, as less which is supported by many UK
that the whole situation has demanding than jets, and this and overseas airlines.
changed by Monday. If you are is reflected in the salaries. Promotion to Captain in
in the right place at the right Generally speaking, a Captain many of the established airlines
time with the right qualifica- on a turboprop will be paid the depends on seniority, suitability
tions, the job could be yours. same as a Co-Pilot on a jet. and vacancies. The trick is to
There are pros and cons with However, in the new millenni- get accepted by an airline which
different types of flying. um it is apparent that turbo- is expanding but is not going to
Charter airlines tend to work prop aircraft opportunities are go bust. Minimum flying hours
their pilots very hard in the diminishing as companies re- to become a Captain are usually
summer with winters quiet. equip with smaller regional jets. in the region of 5,000, which
Quality of life on long-haul There are many non-main- will take an average commercial
flying tends to be less hectic, so stream ways of earning a living pilot some seven to ten years to
long as the pilot does not mind from flying. Examples are ban- achieve.

How to become an Airline Pilot

A few discerning banks are cheapest form of vocational 1BR or phone 0800 585505
prepared to help would-be training – potential borrowers www.dfee.gov.uk/cidhome.htm
commercial pilots invest in their should note that the maximum or
own flying future. The banks CDL amount is £8000. www.lifelonglearning.gov.uk.
are offering Career During the course, the There should also be leaflets in
Development Loans (CDL). Government pays the interest branches of the participating
Suitable applicants might be and the student need make no banks. The thing to remember
offered up to eighty per cent of repayments. The various banks here is that this is a
course fees, plus the full cost of have their own flexible “commercial loan” and once
books, materials, travel and arrangements for repayment you fall outside the criteria the
even child care. Those who have thereafter, over three or possibly loan starts to accrue interest
been unemployed for three five years. The rules are fairly and you are liable for the
months or longer immediately complex and too long to cover repayment in full. Therefore,
prior to applying might be able here, but explanatory leaflets also, during times of Pilot
to obtain a 100 per cent loan. are available from Career surpluses, or likely economic
The course towards a Development Loans, Freepost, recession in aviation, these
Commercial Licence is not the Newcastle-upon-Tyne X, NE85 CDL’s may be difficult to effect.

W H A T ’ S I T L I K E A S
A N A I R L I N E P I L O T ?
Pilots fly aircraft on long-haul control who tell the pilots when
(for example, the USA, India, the aircraft will be taking off.
Africa) and short-haul (UK, Pilots need to be able to
European) flights. understand and interpret the
Duties begin one hour or so data presented to them on
before take-off when pilots instruments and controls and
check flight plans that set out they use computers in their
the route to be taken, the calculations.
altitude at which the aircraft While take-off and landing
should be flown and the are the most demanding
meteorological information. aspects of a flight, Pilots have
Pilots need to calculate take- continuously to use their skills
off and landing weights and during the flight, checking
the fuel needed, based on the instruments and making
distance to be travelled. Pilots adjustments as necessary even
also check that equipment and when the aircraft is on
instruments are working autopilot.
properly and that noise Pilots maintain contact with
regulations for take-off and air traffic control bases and
landing are observed. with their cabin crew
They brief the cabin crew throughout the flight, and from
and supervise loading and time to time speak to
refuelling. Then they open up passengers, giving them
communications with air traffic information on cruising speed

How to become An Airline Pilot

and altitude and details of working hours. are regular health and fitness
countries over which they are Pilots have to be calm, checks throughout a pilot’s
flying. reliable and level headed, able career.
Most aircraft on short-haul to take charge in an emergency Every airline has its own
flights are flown by a Captain and have good, clear and system, but as an example,
and a Co-Pilot. On long-haul confident communications British Airways newly trained
there is the Captain with one skills. They must have excellent pilots usually start as Co-Pilots
or two Co-Pilots (though a co-ordination and have first- on short-haul routes. After
Flight Engineer might take one rate technical ability. about five years there may be
of these places on older Pilots are likely to work anti- the chance to transfer to long-
aircraft). But ultimate social hours, although the haul aircraft, still as a Co-Pilot.
responsibility for the aircraft number of hours they are Promotion to Captain is
and for the safety of its permitted to work is strictly unlikely to come until mid-
passengers rests with the controlled. On long-haul routes career. Although pilots can fly
Captain. they usually have enforced commercially until the age of
After landing, when the stopover rest periods, although 65, retirement age in most
aircraft has been taxied to its it might be a single night with airlines is 60 except in British
final position, the pilots shut no time for sightseeing! Pilots Airways it is presently 55 years.
down the engines and write a can go through several time Airline Pilots might also be
Flight Report, noting any zones on one flight. On short- eligible for senior managerial
problems or unserviceabilities. haul routes pilots might be on positions with their airlines and
Flight decks, where pilots four or more consecutive flights some attain very senior
spend long hours in a seated without even leaving the management positions. There
position, are usually very aircraft and be home again are also opportunities to
confined spaces. Flight delays most nights. become involved in training
can mean long, irregular Pilots have to be fit. There other pilots in their airline.

How much will you earn?

The Pilots’ union, BALPA, has been in the forefront of improving

pay and conditions for pilots. The basic salary range for a jet com-
mercial airline pilots is around £30,000 to £40,000 a year. An
average Captain’s pay is between £55,000 and £70,000.


Although the information given here is referenced to aeroplane

(fixed wing) commercial flying, most of it is also applicable to heli-
copter commercial flying. Salaries tend to be lower and in the UK
most helicopter work is in support of the off-shore oil and gas
industry, although there are appointments in the civilian emer-
gency services and corporate (executive) aviation.

How to become a Commercial Pilot


Whether you are a Airline Pilot, BALPA has teams advising on tech-
Charter, Corporate or Flying nical and medical issues.
Instructor, you will be taking an For Full Members, BALPA’s free
important step in joining BALPA as a legal services are second to none, and
Full Member. BALPA will represent its members
There are many good reasons why. anywhere in the world in a way that
For BALPA gives pilots the support no other organisation, and certainly
and protection they just can’t get no individual, can.
anywhere else “when the chips are BALPA negotiates with the airlines
down”. and is constantly improving the pro-
As a pilot, you could be involved in fessional status and lifestyle of pilots
an incident or an accident, you could and their families.
be attacked or sued by a passenger, At the same time, the organisation
you could work for an employer who is a key player in the world of civil
seeks to cut your allowances or aviation, consulted regularly by
increase your flying hours, you could Government, the Civil Aviation
face a disciplinary hearing or find Authority, National Air Traffic Services
yourself before an accident investiga- (NATS), the airlines, and European
tion board. You could even face the and International authorities.
loss of your flying licence on medical As a member of BALPA you will be
grounds. part of a powerful, influential profes-
BALPA has a network of support sional organisation that cares for its
groups, both in the UK and, through industry – and cares for its members.
the International Federation of Air BALPA extends its good wishes for
Line Pilot Associations, worldwide. your future chosen career.

Secure your future with BALPA

For further data and contact
information on sponsorship and
bursaries please refer to the ‘Useful
Information’ booklet.
Updates to all booklets are available
on the BALPA website: