Before you do anything!
Two things! Firstly, organise a trial flight at your local flight training school/aeroclub. These make an asbolutely great birthday present and prices range between £100 and £180. This will give you the opportunity to feel flight and get a taste of the controls whilst also allowing you to find out how you react to flying. Some people just don’t like it, others become airsick and some become addicted to it! It’s also worth mentioning that getting airsick during a trial flight or one of your first flights isn’t the end of the world. It doesn’t mean you can never be a pilot. As an Air Cadet, my second flight in any form of light aircraft ended with a sickbag and at the time, broken dreams and a shattered heart. I thought I couldn’t hack it. However, after jumping back in the same type of aircraft two years later and completing aerobatics, armed with ginger I was fine. Today I don’t require anything to fly despite undertaking steep turns and some unusual attitude recovery.
Secondly, if your dream and aim is to become a commercial pilot, ensure you are medically fit enough by going for an initial EASA Class One Medical. These are undertaken in and around London at varying places as listed on the CAA’s website and currently cost around £636. I cannot emphasise how important it is to go for your initial medical examination! You may find out you have a condition which disqualifies you from flying or makes it difficult for you to attain medical certification. With this said, do not give up on your dreams should you be told you aren’t fit enough, time and time again, I hear of people being sent for further tests and investigations to show the CAA that they are in fact fit enough. However this sadly doesn’t guarantee everyone medical certification. It’s imperitive you find out if you are fit enough before spending vast quantities of money on flight training. This £636 may be the best £636 you ever spend!
Should you study towards a degree at University?
There are many questions I hear from aspiring pilots. Questions similar to my own in years gone by. This question is one of many and the answer isn’t simple.
It’s entirely down to you as an individual. Some people simply arent suited to University life and study and that is perfectly fine. Other aspiring pilots wish to get into an airline and fly as soon as possible and so they pick the fastest route to the cockpit. Many aspiring pilots do not take well to spending in the region of £27 000 – £50 000 on University and then a further £40 000 – £120 000 on flight training.
It’s worth a great deal of time and consideration to see what option works best for you as an individual. Of course, many flight training organisations now offer degrees as part of their course, therefore one would graduate with a frozen ATPL also. I chose the University of Leeds because of it’s reputation as a world renowned and respectable University alongside it’s fantastic staff, facilities and student life. The main reason for choosing the University of Leeds however, was exposure to their Aviation courses during Sixth Form College which ultimately was too attractive and inviting to ignore. That alongside it’s content, lead to me choosing to study for a degree. I feel this provides a good safety net should something go wrong in later life because the degree covers engineering, marketing and management amongst other topics vital to the aviation industry. This would allow me to go into another career in the aviation industry should such action be needed.
Modular Vs Integrated
One of the most common questions any aspiring pilot asks. One of the most common questions any pilot gets asked. One of the most difficult and awkward questions to answer.
The truth is, it’s your decision. In an ideal world where money were no object, I would assume that most people would train at one of the big Flight Training Organisations and then be hopefully placed with a large airline with a reputable reputation afterwards. However, this sadly isn’t the case. The Integrated route is a fantastic way to become a fully qualified pilot. It brings you from zero hours to a ‘frozen ATPL’ and places you in an airline with a type rating, setting you up for life. It is however, very expensive and prices currently cost around £100 000 or more. Some airlines alike Are Lingus, occasionally open up partly or fully sponsored cadetships with such schools whilst other airlines alike EasyJet, simply agree to mentor you through the flight training only and then ask for an additional £25 000 for a type rating course. Those not fortunate enough to be able to afford such a degree opt for the modular route whilst others manage to secure a bank loan which often requires parents/the owner to remortgage their house. The benefits of this route can’t be underestimated, flying is often undertaken in extremely scenic parts of the world such as Southern Spain or New Zealand and one goes from nothing to the right hand seat of a cockpit in around 18 months of full time study with around 120 hours of flight time.
To describe the modular route, it’s first neccessary to break down what an Air Transport Pilots License actually consists of:
- Private Pilots License (PPL)
- Night Rating
- Hour Building (100 Hours)
- 14 ATPL examinations
- Multi-Engine Piston Rating (MEP)
- Commercial Pilots License (CPL)
- Instrument Rating (IR)
- Jet Orientation Course (JOC)
- Multi-Crew Co-operation Course (MCC)
Leading to issue of a ‘Frozen ATPL’ with around 200 hours of flight time.
The modular route is substantially cheaper than the integrated route and actually leaves you with more in terms of ratings and licenses than the integrated route. The modular route is often used as a ‘pay as you go’ route whereby you do flight training as and when you can in blocks. For example, people on my degree typically complete their PPL in their first summer of University, then steadily work on the next ratings and licenses in breaks from University in the following two years. This is also a lot friendlier on the wallet and costs in the region of £40 000 to £60 000. This is still a great deal of money, but when undertaken alongside a job, can make becoming a commercial pilot far more achievable. The modular route gives a student pilot far more hands on flying experience than the integrated route which leads to the argument that it makes a more experienced and therefore better pilot. It does however, generally take a longer amount of time to complete compared with the integrated route. It is however not unheard of for students to complete the modular route in 16 months or so. One of the biggest advantages of this route is that it can be undertaken at a local flight training school and therefore, prevent having to move abroad for long periods of time. However, this does bring the disadvantage of unreliable British weather.
Although not a full and comprehensive answer, I do hope this brief overview helps. As with both the modular and integrated route, it’s vital that before picking a flight training organisation, you see what’s on offer first. This allows you see what school suits you as an individual best.
Finance is no easy topic to discuss or advise about with regards to flight training. In the past, prior to the Brexit vote, a Spanish bank was prepared to offer a loan to cover the significant costs of flight training at the three large flight training organisations. To attain such a loan however, meant that a property be underwritten on the loan. This commonly lead to parents re-mortgaging their houses to help their students fund flight training. This bank has since stopped providing such loans to British citizens. I am assured however, that British Banks still offer such loans on similar conditions, although are not publicised to a great extent.
Unless you have the money required to complete flight training, the other option is to work and save as much money as you can to pay for the flight training. This can be then used to pay for an integrated course or can be used in a ‘pay as you go’ manner via the modular route.
Some flight training schools now offer a degree in partnership with Middlesex university in Professional Aviation Pilot Practice. Such a degree opens the avenue of student finance which is able to fund some, but not all of the flight training fees.
Scholarships and bursaries must not be overlooked. Various organisations exist which take pride and pleasure in awarding flying scholarships and bursaries to those whom have successful applications. Such organisations include the RAF Air Cadets Organisation, The Air League and The Honourable Company of Air Pilots (Formerly GAPAN). These are just a handful, a simple google will reveal all those available. Such opportunities can provide a significant advancement in your personal flight training whilst reducing the cost of attaining any form of flying license. I was fortunate enough to receive both an Air Cadet and Air League scholarship amounting to 24 hours towards my Private Pilots License (PPL) which enabled me to complete my PPL less than half of its normal cost.
Regardless of your financial circumstances and position, finance is merely a hurdle to overcome. Do not allow finance to stop you achieving your dream. If you want to fly that much, you will find a way to overcome the finance hurdle, whatever it takes.
Contacts & Networking
One of the most important things to begin to do as soon as you start flight training is begin to network. In all careers and industries, it’s often said that is all about who you know. Aviation is no different, it is perhaps more important in aviation. Any aspiring pilot should be in regular contact with someone who is already doing that. Luckily, as you progress through flight training, you will come into contact with more and more people like this. When you do, ensure you introduce yourself and gain a means of communicating with them. You might need it in the future! For your first airline interview for example, you may be able to run through a few questions with them. It’s also important to network with the pilot recruitment teams and management of an airline. This is harder than networking with pilots, but can be done at events alike the Pilot Careers Live Exhibition’s across Europe. Do all that you can to build a portfolio of aviation contacts; it will serve you well.
In the age of digital networking, LinkedIn provides a fantastic platform in order to communicate and connect with pilots and aviation professionals. It is seriously worth considering creating a LinkedIn account if you haven’t already. Ensure that your profile is up to date, professional and attractive to airlines. It may help you secure that interview, anything is possible this day and age!
As you come closer to the end of my tips and advice, it seems extremely poignant to end on perhaps the most important thing to any aspiring pilot, Motivation.
Motivation is key to reaching your goal of the left hand seat of an airliner and beyond. Without motivation, I personally believe that it’s simply not possible to become a commercial pilot. This is because of the vast amount of barriers that are required to overcome. Of course, many professions are full of barriers, however I believe the route to the flight deck is an especially challenging one, and I am sure that many pilots and aspiring pilots will agree. Drawing on personal experiences, I wouldn’t be on an aviation degree if it weren’t for motivation, especially since it required a science foundation year, which alongside an extra years tuition fees, was extremely difficult. Additionally, I struggled to attain Class One Medical Certification and currently, face the challenge of financing my remaining flight training. Should I have lacked motivation, I guarantee I would have given up on my dream.
Motivation isn’t permanent, it doesn’t just appear and remain, it constantly needs feeding. Personally, it was important to realise that motivation can, at times, need boosting. It can fade over time. What was my solution? Going to my local airport, Leeds & Bradford, and watching the aircraft arrive and depart, watching and hearing a Jet2.com Boeing 757-200 roll down Runway 32 and rotate into the skies above. The impact of just half an hour watching the aircraft and airport operations can’t be under-estimated. That’s not the only thing that bolsters my motivation in tough times though, for years I have always gone to one particular video on YouTube to motivate and inspire me. I anticipate that most of you know what video I am talking about, a simple but profoundly inspiring advert. The 2011 British Airways, To Fly To Serve Advert. Today it still brings goose-bumps to my skin, during my struggles during the degree and currently, ATPL’s, watching videos alike this remind me of my determination, commitment and motivation to work hard to achieve my life-long ambition.
Of course, I am not saying go to the airport and watch planes, then return home and watch motivational aviation videos on the internet. We all have different ways and means of finding what motivates and inspires us. The key message to take away from this section is to ensure that you use any means necessary to maintain your motivation to become a commercial pilot. Motivation is one of your only friends in this challenging and expensive route to the flight deck.