Is there a pilot shortage?
An independent look at the truth behind the much talked about pilot shortage
Is There a Pilot Shortage?
Prior to Covid-19, the answer was yes there was a global pilot shortage but the situation was a bit more complex than the straight forward answer might suggest. However, at present in 2021, there is no pilot shortage due to the impact on aviation of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Whenever you hear reports of ‘pilot shortage’ it is usually referring to a world-wide shortage, not necessarily a shortage in Europe or the UK. The shortage is always specific to a region, type of operation and pilot experience.
Covid-19 Pandemic & Aviation
The impact on of the Covid-19 pandemic on commercial aviation has been catastrophic. With huge portions of fleets being grounded for almost a year, tens of thousands of pilots around the world have found themselves out of work. IATA do not anticipate airlines recovering to pre-Covid levels of operation until 2024 and beyond.
However, flight training provider CAE have stated that due to natural attrition (such as retirements), the world will require 260,000 pilots over the next 10 years. This suggests that whilst the immediate outlook is bleak, when the industry recovers, employment opportunities will start to open up.
Pilot Shortage Pre-Covid
The remainder of this article was first published prior to the Covid-19 pandemic but address the age-old questions that come up when this topic is discussed.
First of all, let’s get the statistics out the way. In 2016, Boeing have forecast that the aviation industry will require 679,000 new pilots between now and 2035. Airbus have said that between 2016 and 2035, there will be a requirement for in excess of 500,000 new pilots. Keep in mind though, that this is a worldwide forecast.
It’s a general point, and I don’t want to tarnish all flight schools with the same brush, but if you are considering starting your flight training, be aware that lots of Flight Training Schools will always tell you there is a looming pilot shortage regardless of the market state. To them, ultimately you are profit, and to make profit, they need people to train with them. It’s not going to be good for business if they tell prospective students that there is no point training as there are no jobs! It’s not the case at the moment, as the market for freshly graduated low hour pilots is better than it’s been in a long time, but keep it in mind.
Secondly, the airlines want to avoid a pilot shortage from occurring, in fact they want the exact opposite; lots of pilots on the job market. It’s simple economics. Pilots cost a lot of money to airlines. They get paid a lot and have lower productivity than other personal due to flight time limitations. If you have lots of unemployed pilots, it puts a downwards pressure on wages as you have lots of applicants for one position. The opposite occurs when there’s a shortage; airlines have to put up terms and conditions to attract the best candidates. Lots of pilots looking for employment suits airlines.
Terms and Conditions
In 2008, we saw a recession across Europe and other parts of the world. This put a lot of airlines out of business and left a lot of pilots unemployed. As a result, the last 10 years have seen pilot wages stagnate in many regions as pilot supply has outstripped demand. This pressure on terms and conditions wasn’t helped by an increase in the retirement age in Europe from 60 to 65 being introduced. This meant that pilot who were planning to retire, could stay on for an additional five years if they wanted to.
More recently, airlines have again been expanding, and the major carriers have been recruiting heavily. When the major carriers recruit, it tends to shake up the employment market as people move up the next step of the ladder. As a result, there are less pilots to choose from and we are now slowly starting to see terms and conditions improve at mainly airlines, as they look to generate interest from the most capable crews.
As airline financial performance has started to improve, their pilots have started to demand a share in the profit through increased wages. Lufthansa pilots have been striking throughout 2016 to fight for a better increase in their salaries as they haven’t had a pay rise since 2012. Delta Airlines pilots recently secured a whopping 30% increase in their pay.
Middle East & Asia
The pilot shortage is more notable across the Middle East and Asia. Airlines in this part of the world are expanding rapidly and don’t have enough established and experienced local pilots to fill the seats. Therefore, they need to recruit pilots from parts of the world where aviation has been established for a longer period, such as Europe, America and Australasia. They are offering huge sums of money to attract crew, in some cases in excess of $20,000 a month.
However, whilst there is clearly a pilot shortage in these parts of the world, it isn’t for inexperienced cadet pilots straight out of flight school, it’s for experienced First Officers and Captains. An experienced Captain takes years to train and build up the required experience whereas a cadet pilot can be ‘on the line’ in as little as 18 months.
Who does the pilot shortage affect first?
In general, a pilot shortage would usually hit the regional carriers first, as they are unable to offer the terms and conditions found at the charter, low cost and legacy airlines.
Naturally, most people aspire to improve their living standards throughout their career, and this means moving up the ladder to the next job. Once working for a legacy carrier, there isn’t a step up, and therefore pilot retention at these companies is very high and generally only recruit when they expand and to replace retired or medically unfit crews.
Regional Airlines in the United States
The pilot shortage is particularly notable at regional airlines in the United States. In the US, the FAA introduced a requirement for pilots to have 1500 hours total flight time before operating for a commercial transport operator. You graduate from flight school with around 250 hours, but you now need to build those hours up through instruction, banner towing, general aviation etc. The regional carriers have traditionally recruited the cadet level entry pilots, and this has significantly stemmed the flow of available candidates.
The European market is currently doing pretty well with recruitment for pilots of all experience levels from legacy carriers through to the regional operators. It’s debatable whether you could call it a shortage, rather than just a good employee’s market for the moment. Flybe did however suggest last month that a shortage of pilots was holding back growth.
To assess if or how bad any pilot shortage in Europe will get, you need to look at potential expansion opportunities and how saturated the market currently is. Much of Europe is well connected to Europe and millions of people now have access to air transport thanks to the success of low-cost carriers over the past ten years.
Can there be more expansion?
How much more room is there for airlines to expand in order to offer services to new destinations and untapped markets? That’s yet to be seen but it’s certainly nothing like those opportunities in developing counties with huge populations like India and China. That being said, airlines like Ryanair, Wizz Air and Norwegian Air Shuttle have impressive numbers of aircraft on order, and many of these frames are for expansion rather than fleet replacement.
Looking at it independently, now is a good a time as any to start your flight training. You must however, consider this. Just because you have a licence, you don’t have the right to secure employment as a professional pilot. The airlines want more than just a licence, they need a competent commercially minded operator and a frozen ATPL doesn’t guarantee this. Just because there is a job opening, meeting the minimum requirements doesn’t mean you’ll get it, even if you’re the only applicant. Yes, there is a pilot shortage across many parts of the world but this isn’t a job guarantee.
Choose your training route and flight school carefully, and be aware of the qualities that airlines are looking for in their pilots. It’s much more than just stick and rudder skills.
Commercial Airline Pilot Medical Requirements
What are the requirements to hold a Class One Medical?
What are the medical requirements to become a pilot…
To exercise the privileges of your Commercial Pilots Licence, you must be in possession of a valid Class 1 Medical certificate. This is something you should seek to obtain before you start your flight training just in case a medical condition (which on occasions people aren’t already aware of), prohibits you from being given a Class One Medical.
The requirements are not particularly stringent, and a normal healthy person should have no problem being awarded one. The medical examiners are generally concerned with if you have the ability to do the job of a commercial pilot without difficulty or impedance, such as due to reduced mobility, poor hearing or eyesight and that the potential for you to suffer from acute incapacitation (such as due to a seizure, collapse, heart attack or stroke etc.) is negligible.
First Steps to Getting a Class 1 Medical Certification
The very first recommendation to any aspiring pilot is to obtain a Class One Medical certificate. This is a mandatory requirement for all flight crew in order to operate a jet commercially. For a UK issue Medical, the initial assessment can take place with a specifically authorised CAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) listed on their website.
There have been people who have invested significant amounts of money in obtaining a Private Pilot’s Licence (requiring only a class two medical), with the view to continue training towards a commercial licence, only to find that they were ineligible for a class one medical, and therefore unable to pursue a commercial career. So make sure you can pass the medical requirements before commencing your pilot training.
Initial Class 1 Medical Assessment
During the initial assessment you are tested and checked for a general level of good general health and any disqualifying conditions are identified. Unfortunately for some, this occasion may highlight an underlying medical condition which has not before been detected, and the medical certificate will not be issued. Some conditions are not necessarily disqualifying but may require further investigation and testing.
The following is assessed at the initial examination:
Disclaimer: The information below has been taken from the UK CAA website. We have provided the information for use as a guide only. Any medical enquiries should be directed to the regulatory authority for your country. This guidance was correct at the time of posting but may since have changed. The list is non-exhaustive.
- Medical history review
- Eyesight test – “If you wear glasses or contact lenses it is important to take your last optician’s report along to the examination. An applicant may be assessed as fit with hypermetropia not exceeding +5.0 dioptres, myopia not exceeding -6.0 dioptres, astigmatism not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, and anisometropia not exceeding 2.0 dioptres, provided that optimal correction has been considered and no significant pathology is demonstrated. Monocular visual acuities should be 6/6 or better.”
- Hearing test – “Applicants may not have a hearing loss of more than 35dB at any of the frequencies 500Hz, 1000Hz or 2000Hz, or more than 50dB at 3000Hz, in either ear separately.”
- Physical Examination – “A general check that all is functioning correctly. It will cover lungs, heart, blood pressure, stomach, limbs and nervous system.”
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) – “This measures the electrical impulses passing through your heart. It can show disorders of the heart rhythm or of the conduction of the impulses, and sometimes it can show a lack of blood supplying the heart muscle. Changes on an ECG require further investigation. A report from a cardiologist and further tests (for example an exercise ECG) may need to be done.”
- Lung function test (spirometry) – “This tests your ability to expel air rapidly from your lungs. Abnormal lung function or respiratory problems, e.g. asthma will require reports by a specialist in respiratory disease (UK CAA Asthma guidance and Guidance for Respiratory Reports).”
- Haemoglobin blood test – “This is a finger prick blood test which measures the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood. A low haemoglobin is called anaemia and will need further investigation.”
- Urine test – “You will be asked to provide a sample of urine, so remember to attend for examination with a full bladder. This tests for sugar (diabetes), protein or blood in the urine.”
All content in the quotation marks has been referenced from the UK CAA medical website.
How strict is it?
The award of Class One Medical certifications seems to be more lenient as science and studies have evolved. For example, it is now permissible to hold a Class One Medical if you have either Type 1 or 2 diabetes as long as you demonstrate you can effectively manage your blood sugar levels. If there are any doubts as to your fitness to hold a medical, you may be required to demonstrate your competency in the simulator (for example a practical hearing observation).
Some conditions (such as diabetes), whilst not immediately disqualifying, my require a restriction to be placed on your authority to operate. This is referred to as an Operational Multi-crew Limitation or OML. This allows you to exercise your class one medical privileges only as part of a multi-crew environment. Crew who have an OML restriction may not fly together as part of a 2 crew flight, and an OML holder may not fly with another pilot over the age of 60.
After the medical initial issue, you are required to attend a medical assessment on an annual basis until the age of 60, then every six months until you reach 65 which is the age at which class one medical privileges are revoked.
Items such as ECG and audiograms are retested at periodic intervals, increasing in frequency with age. For example, ECGs are carried out every 2 years between the ages of 30-39 then yearly until 59, then every 6 months until retirement.
What if I Can’t Get a Class One Medical?
For those unlucky enough not to be able to obtain a class one medical, you may still be able to hold a class two medical which allows you to operate light aircraft with a private pilot’s licence (PPL). A class two medical is effectively a less stringent class one medical, with test renewals initially taking place every two years.
A commercial pilot is in complete reliance of maintaining his or her class one medical. The CAA may revoke it at any time, consequently grounding the pilot, potentially permanently. Pilots have found themselves in a position where there medical was revoked due to a medical condition which they were told would not improve. With continual developments scientific knowledge and medical treatment, coupled with the authorities occasionally reviewing disqualifying conditions, some people have managed to get back into flying commercially after fearing their career was over.
It’s worth considering have some additional loss of income insurance (or loss of medical insurance) in place to ensure you are financially secure if you do lose your medical. Trying to find an alternative job which compares to a pilot’s salary is not easy.
How Do I Pay for Flight Training?
A look at how to fund your commercial flight trianing
How do I pay for or finance commercial flight training?
To fund or finance you commercial flight training, you generally have the following options:
- Be accepted large bank loan, secured against a property to pay for integrated training
- Be accepted for an airline specific cadet program where the airline either sponsors your training or will act as a guarantor for a loan to fund the training
- Complete flight training through the modular route to allow you to continue working and pay for your flight training as you go / can afford it
- Save up for a number of years whilst in full time employment before self-funding an integrated flight training course
- Become a pilot with the military who pay for your flight training, then convert your licences to a civil commercial licence when you’ve finished your minimum service requirements
Unfortunately for a lot of people, financing the flight training is the biggest obstacle to becoming a commercial airline pilot. With the cost of integrated flight training for airline specific cadet programs now exceeding £100,000 / €100,000, securing the funds needed to finance the training can be both very challenging and daunting.
With integrated flight training programs starting at about £80,000, there are only a handful of realistic options you can use to fund the training and one of these is a bank loan. Due to the amount of money you will need to borrow, banks will require a ‘guarantor’. This means the loan is secured against an asset, and the asset is typically a property.
The majority of prospective commercial pilots want to start their flight training shortly after leaving school and clearly you are unlikely to own a property at his age. Therefore people are generally reliant on their parents or other family members (such as grandparents) securing the loan against their property for you or re-mortgaging the house.
Unfortunately this is not an option for everyone as not all families own their home or have paid off enough equity in the mortgage.
Some banks offer flight training specific loans which offer payment holidays until you’ve finished the training. Others, you need to start paying the loan back straight away but clearly you won’t be earning any money whilst you are completing a full time integrated commercial flight training course.
The Risk of a bank loan
This option does not come without risk. If you don’t end up getting a flying job as soon as you’ve completed your flight training, can the loan repayments still be made? Thousands of people have had their airlines cancel their provisional offer of a job half way through their training or have even been made redundant from their airline whilst still trying to pay off the loan. You need to think about what your contingency plans are if it worst happens to protect the property you may have secured the loan on.
Although you’d hope never to need it, this is where having some additional qualifications or previous work experience to fall back on can be a invaluable.
Cadet Programs / Sponsorship
Since the tragic events of 11th September 2001 in New York City, very few airlines around the world have continued to offer flight training sponsorship. Just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic there were signs this was starting to change. For example, in 2019 Aer Lingus opened their Future Pilot Program where the selected cadets were fully funded.
British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and easyJet were prepared to act as a guarantor for loans for cadets who were successfully accepted onto their pilot programs. Some airlines such as Emirates were prepared to pay for their cadets flight training in full although this was only applicable to UAE nationals.
Airlines have felt the full financial strain of the Covid-19 pandemic and it will likely take many years to recover and perhaps even longer to pay back the loans they needed and build up a healthy balance sheet. With many thousands of pilots currently unemployed, it would seem unlikely that any fully sponsored or loan guaranteed schemes are likely to return any time soon.
Complete Modular Flight Training
The beauty of modular flight training is that you can complete each bit of training as when you choose to. Basically you dictate the time table. It’s also a much cheaper way of getting your commercial pilots licence. Doing it this way allows you to keep working whilst completing your flight training on the side, for a cheaper price, and when you can afford it.
You can complete modular flight training for between £/€ 35,000 – £/€ 50,000. Whilst this might seem like a lot, it’s still significantly cheaper than integrated flight training and makes it more manageable. Clearly the timeline for how long it takes to complete the training will depend on how much you earn / can afford.
When completing modular flight training, you can also use smaller unsecured loans to help speed up the training, particularly the latter parts if needed.
After reading this, you might wonder why anyone completes integrated flight training; there are clear advantages and disadvantages for both.
If you’ve got your heart set on an integrated flight training program and can’t use a loan to fully fund it, starting on another career path and saving up over a long period can work. It seems daunting but if you start a different career at the age of eighteen and manage to save £/€10,000 a year you can start your commercial flight training at the age of twenty eight and potentially have joined an airline by the age of thirty. It will take a huge amount of perseverance and motivation but airline recruiters are very impressed with people who have shown such determination to pursue their dream job.
If you join the military as a pilot, they will pay for all your flight training and you can convert your flying experience into a commercial pilots licence when you leave. However, we would not recommend you apply to the military purely because you want to be a commercial pilot – you really need genuine motivation to become a military pilot with a full appreciation of the role and lifestyle. Ultimately you could be sent to war or be stationed all over the world.
Manually flying fast jets or heavy transport aircraft at low level is some of the ‘real flying’ you won’t experience with a commercial airline. Doing this for a number of years (be aware of the minimum service requirements) prior to transitioning to the commercial world is the ideal route for some people.
A Day in the Life of Flight Deck Crew
What happens from arrival at the airport to when the passengers disembark the aircraft. A full day as a pilot described.
An Airline Pilot’s Typical Day
Ever wondered what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a short haul airline pilot for the day? We take you through what a pilot does during a typical day at ‘work’.
For short haul operations, the flight crew usually arrive in the ‘crew room’ approximately one hour before departure. Here they meet and introduce ourselves to the other crew members and sign in on the airline’s system to verify they have arrived on time for the duty and are acknowledging they are fit, well rested and up to date with all the latest revisions to company manuals and notices. The pilots will then download the flight plans, weather information and notices to airman (NOTAMS) for the flights they will be operating.
Crew carefully evaluate if the weather is suitable at the departure and destination airports, whilst also looking at airports around the destination in case the flight needs to divert. Weather conditions that require special attention include strong winds, low cloud, fog or thunderstorms. Any of these factors may require changes to the flight plan or an increase to the amount of fuel to be loaded. En-route weather is also reviewed to spot areas of potential turbulence or icing. This gives flight crew a good overview of the day and builds their ‘Situational Awareness’.
The fuel figure is decided on between the two pilots and passed this onto the dispatch team.
The crew will look to find out what stand the aircraft is parked on.
The pilots and cabin crew then get together to conduct a quick briefing. This is where formal introductions between the crew take place. You may have flown with some or all of the crew members many times before and therefore be well acquainted but at some larger airlines, you may not have flown with or met any of the other crew before.
During the joint briefing, the Captain or First Officer will double check that the Cabin Crew are well rested and will highlight a few points which are important to the Cabin Crew such as the flight times and potential areas of turbulence.
Pilot vs Co-Pilot
There is a common misconception with regards to who does what on the flight deck. There is a Captain and a First Officer (or called a Second Officer depending on experience) which are often referred to as the Pilot and Co-Pilot. Whilst the Captain has overall responsibility for the decisions and ultimately the passengers and aircraft, most of the duties are split evenly with the co-pilot doing just as much flying as the pilot.
In the briefing room, the pilots would usually decide who is going to do the flying for each flight at the start of the day. For example, if they are flying 4 flights that day, the Captain may choose to fly the first and last flight, whilst the First Officer fly’s the middle two.
Head to the Aircraft
As with all passengers, all the crew have to pass through a security check at some point before arriving at the aircraft.
The pilots and cabin crew will then head to the aircraft, with the aim to be onboard about 30 – 35 minutes before the departure time. It’s worth noting that the departure time is the time that the aircraft’s parking brake is released to commence push back from the stand. Many people are under the impression that the scheduled departure time is when the aircraft gets airborne but this is incorrect.
One pilot will do the “walk around” to check the outside of the aircraft. The walkaround serves to check that there is no obvious damage or issues with the exterior of the aircraft.
The Captain will also check the aircraft’s technical log to ensure the aircraft is fully serviceable, or identify any defects. An aircraft defect doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t depart as it depends on how critical that system is and what redundancy is in place. There are complex documents which provide pilots with high specific guidance as to what can and can’t be defective. For example, if a windscreen wiper wasn’t working, the aircraft could still depart, but couldn’t land in thick fog.
Flight Deck Setup
Whilst one crew member is completing the walkaround, other crew member starts to ready the flight deck for departure. This includes running system checks, configuring the aircraft systems, inputting the route for the flight into the Flight Management Computer and checking the take-off performance. The pilot flying will also plan how they intend to fly the Standard Instrument Departure (SID).
The take-off performance varies on a daily basis and is a safety critical function. The pilots need to calculate various take-off speeds such as the speed they initiate the rotation of the aircraft and the minimum speed to maintain if an engine fails during or just after take-off. These speeds depend on runway length, aircraft weight, temperature and pressure. The take-off performance has to be double checked very carefully by both crew members.
Once the walkaround is complete and the flight deck initially set up, the crew will conduct a pre-departure briefing. This covers a range of points such as the initial taxi and departure routing, potential threats or errors that could occur (for example heavy rain showers that may be present on the climb out), high terrain, as well as looking at contingency plans should an emergency situation occur. The passengers are usually boarding whilst this is taking place.
Once all the passengers and their bags are onboard and the correct amount of fuel has been loaded, the dispatcher will hand over the final paperwork confirming how many people are onboard and the final weight of the aircraft for take-off. At this point the Pilot Flying will call for a pre-departure checklist (the names differ between aircraft types).
Once the main doors are closed the Senior Cabin Crew member will confirm to the pilots that the doors are closed and number of passengers onboard. Another very quick mini briefing will be given to the Cabin Crew member to reiterate the expected taxi time (this gives the Cabin Crew an idea of how long they have to conduct their safety briefing), expected flight time, anticipated turbulence and any other important information.
One of the pilots will then complete a PA to the passengers. During this time, the ground crew outside remove the steps, loading machinery etc. and complete a final walkaround as a final check.
Pushback and Start
The pilots will then liaise with the ground pushback team to make sure that the tug is connected and they are ready to push back the aircraft. The pilots then speak to ATC to request to push back and engine start. Assuming permission is given, the pilots reconfigure some of the aircraft systems and then complete a ‘before start checklist’.
The pushback then commences and the engines are started, usually the right engine first then the left. The pilots carefully monitor the engine indications and this is supported by the ground crew visually observing the engine start; they would report any excess smoke, noise or anything unusual.
Once the engines have been successfully started, the pilots tell the ground crew to disconnect from the aircraft. Some of the aircraft’s systems, such as the flight controls are then checked to make sure there are no technical issues. The after-start checklist is then completed.
The pilots will then request permission to taxy to the runway from ATC.
Taxiing the aircraft is one of the most critical phases of flight and therefore both crew members will be concentrating on maintaining the correct taxi routing whilst looking out for other aircraft and ground traffic. Airports can be extremely busy which is why it is so important to keep a good look out. During the taxy phase, the crew will run a number of checklists to ensure the aircraft is correctly configured and setup for departure.
When cleared to line up on the runway, the pilots will double check to make sure both the runway and final approach is clear. The flight crew turn on the strobe and landing lights and send a signal to the Cabin Crew that the take-off is about to start (this is usually either signalled by a few ‘ding-dongs’ or the seat-belt sign quickly being turned off and then on again.
Once lined up on the runway, and cleared to take-off by air traffic control, the pilot flying for that sector advances the thrust leavers and sets take-off thrust. As the aircraft accelerates down the runway, the Pilot Flying (PF) controls the aircraft direction with the rudder pedals. The PM is verifying that the take-off thrust has been set correctly, checking the aircraft’s speed monitoring any abnormalities or failures of the aircraft systems.
At the correct calculated speed, the pilot flying carefully pulls back on the control column to “rotate” the aircraft and allowing it to climb away. Pulling back to quickly can result in the tail coming into contact with the ground so using the correct technique is very important.
Once safely climbing away and a positive rate of climb is observed, the landing gear is raised. The pilots will usually have discussed at what point they intend to engage the autopilot on the departure which could be anywhere from about 1,0000 to 20,000ft depending on the airspace, terrain and weather. Engaging the autopilot above around 2,000ft should really have been discussed as part of the briefing.
Even when the autopilot is activated, the pilot’s workload at this stage of flight is still quite intense. The crew are managing the aircraft’s configuration, speed, altitude and heading through manipulating the autopilot controls whilst communicating with air traffic control.
At around 1,000ft (although it can vary), the aircraft’s nose is slightly lowered and power reduced from take-off power to climb power. The aircraft continues to accelerate which allows the flaps on the wing to be retracted stage by stage.
Once the flaps are up, the crew complete the after-take-off checklist and continue climbing the aircraft towards cruising altitude. During the climb, various checks are completed and certain systems may need to be reconfigured depending on aircraft type.
The crew will be making initial fuel checks and verifying performance considerations like the maximum altitude the aircraft could climb to depending on the weight and temperature.
Once it is safe to do so the pilots will indicate to the Cabin Crew that it is safe to move around the cabin and will also turn off the fasten seat belt sign at an appropriate point.
Having had approximately one and a half hours of a very intense workload, the pace and intensity of the operation starts to reduce. Once established in the climb and throughout the cruise, the pilots are monitoring the aircrafts systems, navigating the aircraft, communicating with air traffic control, carrying out fuel checks and getting the weather for airports along the flight path and destination in case an en-route diversion is required. In the cruise, the pilots normally get the chance to have a meal, a cup of coffee and a chat with our colleagues, depending on how long the flight is.
Most airlines have what is referred to as a “sterile flight deck”. This means the crew should not talk about anything that is not related to the operation of the aircraft below around 20,000ft as their focus should be exclusively on the operation.
Around half an hour before the descent commences, the crew brief for the descent, approach, landing and taxy in at the destination airport. This requires a review of what autopilots modes will be used to manage the descent, the expected profile, configuration and landing performance.
A PA will then usually be given to the passengers with an update on the flight progress and expected landing time.
The approach phase is one of the busiest phases of flight. The pilots are carefully managing the ‘energy’ of the aircraft ensuring that the correct rate of descent is being flown at the correct speed. The speed of the aircraft will typically need to be reduced from over 400 mph to around 150 mph whilst reducing the altitude from around 36,000ft to 0ft. This is not always straight forward and needs to be carefully actioned and monitored.
As the aircraft approaches its destination, the flaps are gradually extended to help slow the aircraft down to its landing speed. With the help of ATC, the pilots steer the aircraft towards the final approach and intercept the ILS, usually around 10 – 15 miles from the runway.
At about 5 miles from landing the pilots select the landing gear down, final flap setting and establish the landing speed. They also complete the landing checklist.
The autopilot is disconnected at around 1,000ft although it can be taken out much earlier on the approach, or left in until a later point.
At about 30 – 50ft, the aircraft’s nose is raised very slightly to reduce the rate of descent, allowing the aircraft to touchdown on the runway. In calm conditions this might be relatively straight forward but in windy and turbulent conditions, it requires considerable skills and hand to eye co-ordination.
A good landing is considered to be one that is on the centreline, within the touchdown zone and at the correct speed. A smooth landing isn’t necessarily a good one if it doesn’t meet the above criteria. Equally a firm landing is recommended on some aircraft types if the runway is wet or it’s windy.
As the aircraft leaves the runway, it is again reconfigured and the after landing checklist is complete. The taxy in remains a very critical phase of flight and requires a high level of concentration.
Once the aircraft has come to a stop on the parking stand, the engines are shut down and the shutdown checklist is completed.
The doors are opened and the passengers start to disembark.
The turnaround then starts where the aircraft is prepared for the next flight. The turnaround can be as quick 25 minutes at some airlines. If you are flying 4 flights in a day, which is quite typical at short-haul airlines, you will be doing one initial setup and 3 turnarounds every day as well as doing just about everything spoken about above (after initial check-in) 4 times.
This article assumes that everything goes without a hiccup and there are no issues. However, the reality is that there is very rarely a ‘standard day out’ which runs seamlessly. The reality is, technical issues, poor weather, passenger issues, ATC delays etc. (or a combination of all them). occur quite frequently and they all have to be managed appropriately by the flight crew.
The check-in, planning, aircraft setup, aircraft operation and flight management described has been toned down significantly to help a person with little or no knowledge about commercial aviation to understand what a pilot does on a daily basis. However, the reality is that all of these areas are far more complex than this brief overview describes and it take years of training and experience to become fully proficient at.
Anyone that tells you that pilots don’t work hard or the job is easy don’t really understand what the job entails.
This article is based on a typical day as a short haul pilot. If you are interested in reading about a typical day as a long-haul pilot check out our article on it.
Commercial Pilot Salary
A look at an airline pilots typical yearly salary
Commercial Pilot Salary
In general commercial airline pilots are very well paid. The annual commercial pilot salary can vary quite significantly between countries, airlines and type of operation. Long Haul Captains may get paid up to $300,000 (£200,000). Junior First Officers might only be paid $25,000 (£20,000).
In general, the more experience the pilot has and the bigger the aircraft they fly, the higher the pilots salary. Long Haul pilots are typically paid more than short haul pilots and Captains are paid more than First Officers. First Officers are often referred to as co-pilots.
United States Commercial Pilot Salary
In the United States, the large ‘major’ airlines pay their pilots very good salaries. Carriers like Delta or American Airlines pay their long haul Captains up to $350,000 when you take into account allowances and bonuses.
Regional pilots just starting off their career will typically earn a salary of $20,000 – $40,000 a year. Pilots normally start out flying at regional carriers before moving across to major airlines where they fly bigger aircraft and earn more money. However, not all pilots go on to acheive this.
UK & Europe Airline Pilot Wages
In the UK and Europe, commercial pilots can also expect to earn a good salary. Top level Long Haul Captains flying at airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa & KLM can be expected to earn between £/€ 150,000 – £/€ 250,000 a year. This varies depending on length of service, training qualifications, as well as bonuses, allowances and flight pay.
First Officers at short haul low cost airlines like Ryanair, easyJet and Wizz Air can expect to earn up to £/€ 80,000 a year whilst a short haul Captain salary ranges up to around £/€150,000. Regional pilots might start on as little as £/€20,000 a year.
Asia Commercial Pilot Pay
In countries across Asia, such as China, airline pilots were in significant demand before the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, some companies were offering pilots a salary as high as $500,000 a year for experienced long haul Captains. First Officer pay can also extend upwards of $100,000 a year. Whether these huge salaries continue to be offered as world travel demand starts to recover is yet to be seen.
The average salary for a commercial pilot in India is around ₹4,687,90o, with Captains earning up to ₹6,610,000 a year.
What Commercial Pilot Salary Comprises Of
Commercial pilots are typically paid a base salary which makes up the majority of their pay. They are then usually given allowances for overnight stays to cover expenses as well as earning flight pay for every flight they operate.
Some airlines also pay the pilot for every hour they are away from their home base. This can be quite lucrative if it is an extended long-haul trip. Many airlines also pay bonuses to their pilots if the company is profitable.
Top Level Captain Pay – it doesn’t come quick!
Whilst the pay for Long Haul Captains at major & legacy airlines is a large sum, it can take many years to be promoted to such a position. Regional, low cost and short haul generally steadily lose pilots to the major & legacy airlines due to the lure of bigger pay checks and bigger aircraft. Once at a major carrier, pilots don’t tend to leave until they retire.
With little in the way of company expansion, Captain positions only become available when another pilot retires. This is referred to in the industry as ‘dead mans shoes’. Promotion is based on seniority so it doesn’t matter if you are the best pilot in the airline; you will only be promoted from co-pilot to pilot (First Officer to Captain) when there is a gap to fill and this can take as long as ten to twenty years.
Given that most pilots will have had to have completed a few years at smaller regional carriers before joining a major, they might not hit the top pay scales until well into their fifties.
If you enjoyed reading this article, check out our page which describes a typical day for a long haul pilot.
Check out our YouTube video on how much commercial pilots get paid…
How much do airline pilots get paid a year?
Captains and First Officers Salary
How Much Do Airline Pilots Get Paid?
Generally speaking, the bigger the aircraft and the further the aircraft is flown, the more an airline pilot gets paid. Many airlines also have a yearly increase in salary that reflects the pilots length of service or seniority.
The Guardian (a UK newspaper) stated that in 2016, airline pilots were the 4th highest paid profession in the United Kingdom earning an average of £86,915 ($120,000 / €95,000), before tax a year.
The Roles of Pilots
Airline pilots are split into two roles; the Captain and First Officer. The Captain is in charge of the aircraft and ultimately responsible for the safety of the passengers, crew and aircraft. The First Officer assists the Captain in the safe operation of the flight with (on most days), the flying duties being split evenly, taking it in turns to fly the aircraft. The First Officers roles can be further split into a junior First Officer, Second Officer or Senior First Officer. Training Captains and First Officers (pilots who train other pilots) would expect to earn an extra increment on top of those stated below.
The figures below are meant to be used as a general guide and there will always be exceptions above or below the figures. Each airline has its own pilot pay scales which will vary with the type of operation and aircraft type. The taxation applicable to each country will significantly alter the take home pay (net) for a given gross salary. Please note the Dollars and Euros figures given are based on a UK pound sterling coversion. Salaries are updated to reflect conditions in 2021.
Long Haul Pilot Pay
Short Haul Pilot Pay
Regional Pilot Pay
Charter Airline Pilot Pay
Can I Be Colour Blind and Be a Pilot?
Colour Vision Requirements for Flight Crew
Can I be Colour Blind and still be a Pilot?
Yes, you can potentially be colour blind and become an airline pilot, however, it depends on the severity and what colours you can or can’t recognise.
Approximately 1 in 12 men are colour blind and around 1 in 200 women. Colour blindness is usually genetic, but it can be acquired with age or illness. Many people don’t realise that they’re colour blind until they go for their initial pilot medical assessment.
Your colour vision will be assessed at your initial Class One Medical assessment (a requirement to be a commercial airline pilot) through the Ishihara test. You will be presented with 24 plates and you must accurately state which number is visible within each plate. They are presented in a random order. If you get the first 15 right in a row, you are considered to have passed the test.
This test determines whether you have the colour vision requirements to operate a commercial aircraft. If you fail the Ishihara test, you will be given further testing to see if you are colour safe. The details of this can be found on the UK CAA website.
Up until 2013, a pilot was automatically rejected for a Class One Medical if they are colour blind. Due to advances in colour vision testing, it is possible to accurately assess the level of colour-blindness an individual has. Providing the meet the minimum standard of colour vision, even if you are partially colour blind, it is possible to be issued a Class One Medical.
Have a go at the colour-blind test below to see if you would pass the test. In all but 3 of the circles, you should be able to identify the number embedded within the circle without a problem. If you can’t identify the number, this is likely to be an indication that you are colour blind. To confirm you have seen the correct number, place your cursor over the white circle with a number in to reveal the hidden number.
Colour Vision Test
Test your colour vision…
How much does it cost to become a commercial airline pilot?
The total cost of commercial flight training
How much does flight training cost?
As of 2021, it will cost you anywhere between £40,000 to £150,000 to train as a commercial airline pilot. The cost depends on which flight school you train at and the type of training you do (there’s more than one training route to becoming an airline pilot).
At present, the majority of airline’s currently require the student to pay the cost of training and this seems unlikely to change for the foreseeable future given the number of pilots out of work who are seeking reemployment as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- A full time commercial flight training course (known as an integrated course) completed at a European flight school will cost upwards of £80,000 to around £130,000.
- Part time flight training, or a course completed at a various flight training organisations (known as modular training) will start at around £40,000 rising up to approxmately £60,000.
You also need to factor in that many aircraft require the newly hired employee to pay for his or her Type Rating. This is the qualification needed by a pilot to operate a specific aircraft type such as a Boeing 737. This can cost between £15,000 to £35,000 depending on who provides the training.
To see what options there are to help you fund your flight training, you can visit our ‘Financing Flight Training‘ page for more information.
Integrated Flight Training
Integrated flight training refers to a full time commercial flight training course, where all of the training is completed with the same dedicated flight training organisation. Students who complete integrated flight training can complete the course with fewer flight hours than that required if completing it through the modular route. A full time integrated course usually takes between about 14 – 18 months, however it is dependant on the weather and satisfactory student progress at each stage.
Integrated Training Advantages:
- It’s the quickest way to complete your flight training (14-18 months)
- High quality, intensive training
- Many airlines have traditionally preferred students from integrated training courses
- Many integrated flight schools have good relationships with airlines, and have a recommendation system
- Some airlines run mentored training programs which provide a fast track route into a job after completing your training
- Fewer flight hours are required to obtain your CPL/IR
Modular Flight Training
Modular flight training refers to completing your flight training one step at a time. You can do the training at your own pace, as your spare time and finances allow. It’s usually cheaper than integrated training and gives you maximum flexibility.
You would normally complete your modular flight training in the following order:
- Private Pilots Licence (PPL)
- Airline Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) Theoretical Examinations
- Hour Building
- Commercial Pilots Licence
- Instrument Rating
- Multi Crew Cooperation Course
Modular Flight Training Advantages
- It’s the cheapest way to get your commercial pilots licence
- You can pay for it as you go, no large fees are required upfront
- You can complete it in your own time, alongside a full time job
For more information on the Pro’s and Con’s of each training route, visit our Integrated vs Modular page.
Job prospects for pilots after graduating from flight shool – Will I get a job after flight training?
It’s a question we are asked all the time! See what one of our Training Captain’s has to say…
Will I get a Job After Completing Commercial Flight Training?
Whether you will get a flying job after completing your commercial flight training depends on the state of the industry, your attitude, aptitude and training record. It’s understandable that people want reassurance about their future prospects given the amount of money they are investing in their flight training, but there are never any guarantees.
For a few years up until March 2020, the pilot job market was particularly buoyant for both freshly graduated and experienced pilots. During this time, you could well have walked straight into a decent First Officer job but as always, this won’t have been the case for everyone. Both aircraft manufactures and airlines across the globe were predicting a substantial global pilot shortage for the next twenty years although it was common to hear this rebuffed by pilots who had gained their frozen ATPL years ago, but were still looking for their first flying position.
The Effect of Covid-19
Unfortunately, from early 2020, Covid-19 has been cataclysmic for most airlines across the world with huge reductions in air transport capacity requirements. As a result, significant airline failures have occurred such as Norwegian Long Haul, Flybe, Virgin Australia, CityJet and AtlasGlobal with more likely as 2021 progresses. Airline’s that have survived are undergoing significant restructuring and, in some cases, retiring entire fleets years earlier than planned such as the British Airways and Qantas B747 fleets, the Air France A380 and the Delta B777 fleet.
This has resulted in significant redundancies across the industry, dumping thousands of experienced pilots into the job market. With no bounce back in sight, potentially, until a vaccine is produced and distributed, this undoubtedly specifically impacts the job prospects of those seeking their first flying job.
Holding a Frozen ATPL Does Not Guarantee You a Flying Job
The reality is that holding a frozen ATPL doesn’t mean you are automatically entitled to a job with a commercial airline, even if they need pilots. They want the right person for the job not just a licence holder. Reputable airlines would rightly rather recruit no-one than a person with a license but with the wrong attitude and aptitude.
Getting to the point of holding a frozen ATPL, passing the theory exams, flight skills tests and multi crew co-operation course, isn’t easy, but it is something that many people can achieve if they invest enough time and money into it. Whilst many complete the training to a high standard, the end product isn’t always a well-rounded, commercially minded, enthusiastic, potential First Officer. To be successful after being issued your licence, you need to understand exactly what sort of person the airline is looking for in their pilots and this isn’t just being able to operate an aircraft to instrument rating standards, it’s much, much more.
Some people have all the desirable criteria, but just don’t perform well at airline assessments or interviews. The good news is that this is something that can be improved upon and there are many companies out there who will help you improve (FlightDeckFriend.com is one of them!). You will have invested tens of thousands of pounds in your flight training; spending a few hundred pounds more could significantly enhance your job prospects. The big airlines will only interview once for a recruitment campaign so don’t wait for the rejection email to come through before deciding to invest a bit more in a career that will hopefully last you a lifetime. The time to do it is before your interview.
Other prospective candidates struggle to get invited to the initial airline selection. Again, there could be an element of luck involved (your application getting read by the right person at the right time) but there are steps you can take to significantly improve your chances of being invited to an assessment, and this bit is really the hardest part. Every year we receive hundreds of unsolicited CVs and Covering Letters from people asking to join ‘our airline’, and we also review lots of documents for people looking to apply to the airlines.
Quality of Application Documents
I can tell you that whilst we do see some excellent applications, we do regularly see very poor CVs and Covering Letters which I expect most companies would not even consider – I wouldn’t have done when I was a recruiter. You can see straight away that no thought has gone into the application, in some cases they don’t even bother to mention the company by name, let alone highlight why they want to work for the company in any specific terms.
It’s absolutely vital that each application is tailored to the airline you are applying to. Yes, it’s a bit more work but you’ve just spent the last year or so training to get to this point so the least you can do is spend a few more minutes on each application to ensure its specific to the airline you are applying to. Writing “I would be proud to work for your esteemed company” makes it pretty clear that you haven’t put much thought into the application, and have likely sent the same Cover Letter to every airline you’ve applied to.
Attitude & Aptitude
The final reason some struggle to gain employment is that some people have the wrong attitude and aptitude. Commercial airlines are looking for a particular person and if you don’t fall into their “specification”, many would rather slow down their expansion or cancel flights than recruit someone who they don’t deem suitable.
So, what are they looking for? Well these are a few things you might not have considered.
Someone who is commercially minded. Basically, someone who is going to be actively considering the needs of the airline and its passengers when making decisions (after putting safety first of course). You aren’t always taught this at flight school!
A team player. How well do you interact with others? You need to work with many, many people in a typical day at work and the airline needs someone who can do this effectively. How would you interact with the Captain and Cabin Crew? Are you likely to be overbearing or too timid? They want someone in the middle.
What leadership qualities do you have? The airline wants to recruit future Captains, not career First Officers.
How’s your customer service? It might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about what it takes to operate a commercial aircraft, but airlines are placing more and more emphasis on their pilot’s interaction with customers in the same of customer service.
You must always appreciate, that a commercial pilot’s licence isn’t an entitlement to a job with an airline, it’s a gateway. Try to gain the skills they are looking for ensuring you have the right attitude for the job.
We offer our own CV & Cover Letter Tailoring Services where you can have your CV reviewed for FREE by our recruitment specialist. Our friends at Aviation Job Search also offer a free guide on preparing your CV.
Interview a Pilot
Interview Questions for School Projects
School Interview Questions
At FlightDeckFriend.com, we receive a lot of requests for interviews with our pilots for school projects. Whilst we are very happy to be contacted to complete such interviews (over email correspondence) we have provided the questions and answers for questions we regularly receive.
Tell me a bit about yourself…
I’m a pilot operating for a well known UK airline. I’ve operated as a First Officer (co-pilot), Captain and Training Captain (a Captain who instructs and supports other pilots). I’ve also flown both Short Haul and Long Haul operations.
How did you get to become a pilot?
I always wanted to be a pilot. An aeroplane was one of the first things I could draw! After going to college and Sixth Form, I went to University and studied Aviation Technology with Pilot Studies. I then completed my commercial flight training before going onto join a low cost airline. I then joined a legacy carrier. I’ve been with my current airline for around 7 years.
How much do you earn?
Pilots wages vary significantly depending on rank, seniority within the company and type of airline. First Officers at an established airline flying a commercial jet can typically expect to earn approximately £40,000 – £120,000 whilst Captains will get between £90,000 – £250,000.
How many hours do you work a day / week?
It varies every day. Some days 2 hours, others 16. Some weeks 20 hours, other weeks over 50 hours. We have strict limits on the amount of hours we can fly – we can’t exceed 900 flight hours a year. This doesn’t include “duty” time such as preflight and post flight paperwork.
Do you get holidays?
Yes, about 6 blocks of between 9 – 14 days off a year. We also get the use of staff travel offering discounted flights and hotels.
Do you have to be particularly skilled?
Yes, but they are skills you can work to acquire. When airlines recruit pilots, they are looking for future Captains. Therefore, they want people who can demonstrate good leadership, teamwork, decision making and communication skills. You’ll also need to have a good standard of Maths, Science and English.
What key skills are required for the job?
Team work, communication, prioritisation, leadership and decision making are a few of they key attributes. A good grasp of Maths and Physics helps.
What training is required?
You need to pass 14 theoretical examinations and complete roughly 150 hours of flight training, passing multiple flight tests before you can apply to become a commercial pilot. You are then training on a specific commercial aircraft before going on to fly passengers. The process usually takes approximately 1 and a half to 2 years.
I would recommend choosing Science and Maths based subjects. Specific subjects that would be useful are Maths, Physics, English, Chemistry, Biology, Geography and IT. However, there is no specific requirement; you can become a pilot with good grades in any subjects you like as long as you have the right skills and attitude.
What do you like most about your job?
The daily variety and challenges that every flight brings. Every flight is different, whether it be the passengers, colleagues, aircraft, weather or destination. No day is ever the same and I wouldn’t it to be?
It’s also a great privilege to travel to far flung destinations across the globe. I’m lucky enough to fly an aircraft that goes anywhere from Australia to South America so I really do get to see the World.
What do you least like about your job?
Getting up at 3am! But at least your day is normally finished by about midday. Flying through the night can also be difficult, but we usually get a bit more time at home compared to a lot of jobs to recover from the nights out of bed.
What is your favourite destination?
The approach into London City airport is absolutely spectacular, especially when landing on the easterly runway. You fly at 2,000ft above central London, something few people get to experience.