How to Become a Pilot

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What does a Commercial Pilot Do?

Commercial pilots are those who are tasked to fly and navigate commercial aircraft and helicopters. Airline Pilots fly aircraft for airlines – full service, charter and low cost – which transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule.

They are responsible for transporting passengers who are either going on holiday or travelling for business, and generally work for commercial airlines. Their primary responsibility is to operate the aircraft, but throughout the day, they can find themselves checking the weather, performing pre-flight inspections. Pilots are also responsible for the safety of all crew and passengers onboard the aircraft.

What are the Main Responsibilities of a Pilot?

The responsibilities of pilots vary from day to day, depending on factors such as whether the flight is a long haul, international, or a one-hour internal flight.

General pilot duties include:

  • Pre-flight checks of all the instruments, engines, fuel and safety systems aboard the aircraft
  • Working with flight dispatchers to create the best flight path
  • Supervising the loading of cargo, baggage and fuel
  • Briefing the cabin crew members before flight
  • Following the instructions given by air traffic control
  • Adjusting the flight path in case of weather emergencies
  • Informing the cabin crew and passengers and crew about journey progress
  • Writing end reports about in-flight issues
  • Making regular checks on aircraft’s technical performance, pre-flight safety checks on navigation and operating systems

What Qualifications & Skills Do I Need to Become a Commercial Pilot?

In order to work as a commercial pilot, you need to first gain an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). Training for this can take around two years and can cost as much as £100,000.

To get on to a pilot training course, you will need to have performed well at school. E.g. grades A*-C (9-4) and A-levels in at least English and Maths. Subjects including science or a second language would be a great advantage.

You must also be at least 21 years of age to apply for an ATPL, and you’ll need to pass a background security check. you will also need to have a Class 1 Medical Certificate.

Most Approved Training Organisations (ATOs) will put you through their own testing to make sure that you have the right personality and skills to be a successful pilot. Over a series of written papers, interviews, group tests, and simulator tests, you will be expected to demonstrate skills such as problem solving, spatial awareness, and people skills.

Some of the core skills commercial pilots must possess include: strong leadership skills, the ability to remain focused and level-headed under pressure, complex problem solving skills, decisivness as well as excellent communication skills.


What’s the Career Path for a Commercial Pilot?

Typically, airline pilots start their flying career as first officers, co-pilots or flight engineers with a regional carrier. All pilots will have progressed through a vigorous flight training programme and have earned a commercial pilot’s license or an airline transport rating. Most will also have completed one or more advanced ratings such as instrument, multi-engine or aircraft type ratings depending on the requirements of their particular flying role and airline.

Commercial Pilot vacancies advertised today are often specified by the aircraft to be flown – B777 first officer or captain, B737 first officer or captain, A320 first officer or captain, A340 first officer or captain and so on.

Pilot and especially captain jobs often specify minimum requirements such as ‘2000 hours total flying time’ and/or ‘1000 hours PIC on commercial aircraft’. Hiring airlines will also want to see accident and violation free records from applicants for pilot jobs.

All commercial pilots, including captains, are required to attend training and simulator checks once or twice a year.

Some airlines, such as Lufthansa make it possible for their pilots to get involved with flight operations related projects so that they gain management experience outside of the cockpit.

How Much Does it Cost to Train as a Pilot?

Training to become a pilot can cost as much as £100,000. This is a critical aspect of the career that you should consider.

Some of the main UK airlines have fully sponsored training programmes, such as British Airways’ Future Pilot Programme or the Virgin Atlantic Future Flyers Programme. Places on such schemes are limited and highly contested, but are great opportunities if you manage to secure a spot.

How Much Could I earn as Pilot?

Starting salary for those entering the airline industry range between £20,000 and £30,000. Experienced first officers and captains can earn anywhere from £38,000 to £90,000. The most highly experienced pilots at the world’s largest carriers can expect to earn £140,000 and above.

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