Interested in flying for a living? Richard Taylor from our Communications team explains what is involved
First, the good news
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, to keep pace with the fleet growth of international airlines and the retirement of their current flight crew. Boeing believes that 94,000 of these vacancies will be in Europe alone.
What to expect
Becoming an airline pilot requires a lot of hard work, and quite a lot of money. Even then, there is no guarantee that a newly qualified pilot will walk straight into the cockpit of a major carrier, competition for positions with the top airlines is fierce. If you nevertheless remain undaunted, then it is probably time to begin your research!
Before you start even thinking about your training, bear in mind that you will need to obtain and hold a Class 1 Medical Certificate to fly professionally. To find out if that may be a problem for you, look at the guidance on our medical pages. More generally, if you are not quite sure whether you are really cut out for a career in the cockpit, despite your burning ambition, and would like some impartial advice, you can actually sit an aptitude test run by an organisation called the Honourable Company of Air Pilots - there is a charge for this test, however.
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. That is a big commitment. Some UK airlines now offer financed training for a set number of lucky candidates. 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 are self-financing, however, most training schools have schemes in place to help you secure the funding on set terms and conditions. This is a major investment so do as much research on your chosen flying school before signing up. Do they have a payment protection programme in place, for example, in case they cease trading before you complete your training? Get as much advice as you can, and understand fully what you are committing to.
Assuming you have no flying experience at all, you will probably opt for an 'integrated' course which is known in the industry as ab initio, or, 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!).
Another option, popular with those who already have some flying experience, or are unable to immediately give up their existing jobs, is a 'modular' course. This allows students to stagger training by completing individual modules of training over a period of time. This has the advantage of allowing the trainee to remain in paid employment, but does, of course, take longer to complete than an integrated course.
The CAA publishes a full list of all approved flying schools and the type of training they provide.
Either way, you will soon find yourself in a torrent of flight training (a light aircraft only at this stage!), simulator exercises, and class-based study. You will eventually clear the first major hurdle by acquiring the essential multi-engine 'rating' and if all goes well, the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) will follow. This allows you to fly for financial reward, so even if you stopped now, although you would not be able to fly airliners, you could fly business jets or even start training student pilots!
If you do press on and pass yet more flight and ground exams, you will finally be the proud holder of an ATPL, and can therefore start applying for airline jobs. At this stage the licence will be 'frozen' however, meaning that you still have to build up flying hours (1,500 in total) before you are fully qualified. Building up these hours with an airline is known as 'line training'. If you have not already got one, you will also need a 'type rating' which will allow you to fly a specific aircraft type, such as a Boeing B737 or an Airbus A320. Although some airlines will pay for this training, you may have to consider paying for it yourself.
There are two other training options, not already discussed. One is the Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) which some, although not all, UK airlines have adopted. MPL training is generally shorter and less onerous. However, MPL graduates are effectively restricted to the right-hand seat in the cockpit to fly only as First Officers. To become a Captain, the MPL holder would still need to acquire an ATPL.
The second option is to enrol on an apprenticeship course. This new route allows students to study at one of a number of universities, and in a similar way to the integrated course, features class based work and flight training. An apprenticeship has the added bonus of providing the student with access to loans and grants.
A career as an airline pilot can be very rewarding, financially and in terms of job satisfaction. But, it is vital that anyone contemplating a career on the flight deck does some serious homework before taking the first step.
Richard Taylor is part of our Communications team