How much do airline pilots get paid a year?
Captains and First Officers Salary
How Much Do Airline Pilots Get Paid?
First Officers (or co-pilots) can earn from £25,000 – £150,000 a year whilst the yearly salary for Captains (pilots) can range from £100,000 to about £300,000. It varies between airlines with factors such as the type of operation, aircraft flown and experience level all affecting pilot pay. Generally speaking, the bigger the aircraft, the further the aircraft is flown and the longer a pilot has been with that airline, the more the airline pilot gets paid. Many airlines 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
Long Haul Captain (Maximum)
Long Haul Captain (Minimum)
Long Haul First Officer (Maximum)
Long Haul First Officer (Minimum)
£250,000 ($350,000 / €280,000)
£80,000 ($124,000 / €113,000)
£120,000 ($187,000 / €170,000)
£60,000 ($94,000 / €85,000)
Long haul aircraft types would include Boeing 747, 767, 777, 787, Airbus 330, 340, 380. Airline examples might include British Airways Long Haul, Virgin Atlantic, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, American Airlines, Delta, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Air France Turkish Airline’s, Iberia.
Short Haul Pilot Pay
Short Haul Captain (Maximum)
Short Haul Captain (Minimum)
Short Haul First Officer (Maximum)
Short Haul First Officer (Minimum)
£130,000 ($205,000 / €185,000)
£70,000 ($109,000 / €100,000)
£70,000 ($109,000 / €100,000)
£35,000 ($55,000 / €50,000)
Short to medium haul aircraft types would include Boeing 737, 757, Airbus 319 / 320 / 321, Embraer 190/195. Pilot pay examples of such airlines include Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air, Norwegian Air Shuttle, CityJet, Jet2.com, Monarch, British Airways Short Haul, Fly Dubai, Air Southwest.
Regional Pilot Pay
Regional Captain (Maximum)
Regional Captain (Minimum)
Regional First Officer (Maximum)
Regional First Officer (Minimum)
£80,000 ($120,000 / €100,000)
£40,000 ($63,000 / €57,000)
£40,000 ($63,000 / €57,000)
£20,000 ($32,000 / €29,000)
Regional aircraft types would include Jetstream 41, Saab 2000, Dash 8, ATR42/72, Fokker 50, Embraer 145. Example airlines might include Eastern Airways, Aer Arran, Flybe, Darwin Airways or Logan Air.
Charter Airline Pilot Pay
Charter airlines operate both long and short haul. As such pay will vary between the short and long haul salary brackets.
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 train as commercial airline pilot?
The total cost of commercial pilot training
How much does flight training cost?
As of 2021, the cost of commercial pilot training is between £/€ 40,000 to £/€ 150,000. 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). Unfortunately, the cost of flight training is very expensive and can be a barrier to some people becoming a 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.
Type Rating Costs
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.
School Interview Questions For Pilots
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.
Can I become an airline pilot if I’m diabetic?
Yes, it is possible to become an airline pilot in certain countries if you have either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, with certian restrictions. Currently this includes the UK and Ireland.
The guidance on this page is relevant for UK CAA Class One Medicals. For information regarding other countries, you will need to check with your regulatory authority.
In the UK, the CAA can certify you as fit to hold a Class One Medical (which is required to fly a commercial airliner) depending on your ability to control your blood sugar levels. This applies to both individuals who require insulin to control their blood sugar as well as those who are able to control it purely through diet alone.
The CAA have produced a guide to medical certification with diabetes, which can be found here.
If you are certified with a Class One Medical, it will be with an Operational Multi Pilot Limitation (OML) restriction. With such a restriction, you will only be able to fly as multi-pilot crew where the other pilots is below the age of 60 and does not also hold an OML.
As part of the approval, the CAA set out requirements to regularly check blood sugar levels before and during flight. They also specify that your condition needs to be reviewed every six months.
Flight Simulator Experiences
Fly a multi million-pound flight simulator with a commercial airline pilot
Flight Simulator Experience for Prospective Airline Pilots
If you’re thinking of becoming a commercial airline pilot, you will be investing tens of thousands of pounds in your flight training. Many people do this without even seeing what flying a large passenger jet actually feels like. If you are conisdering becoming a pilot, we’d strongly recommend experience the thrill of it yourself first!
See if you’ve got what it takes
See if you’ve got what it takes by taking controls of one of the most advanced flight simulators in Europe. We offer flight simulator experiences a state-of-the-art Boeing 737 Next Generation simulator. Normally reserved for pilot training, this is a fantastic opportunity to experience flying a seventy tonne Boeing 737-800 anywhere in the world!
Based near Stansted Airport, UK, the 737NG HDX FNPT2 simulator offers one of the best visual effects systems of its type. You’ll take control with an experienced airline pilot sitting next to you, talking you through the session. This is NOT a generic flight simulator – it is type specific using the Boeing Flight Dynamic package meaning it handles exactly like the real aircraft in all stages of flight.
If you’re thinking of becoming an airline pilot, this is a fantastic opportunity to meet a real airline pilot and ask any questions you like from the training required to the lifetyle of an airline pilot.
An Experience Like No Other
Whether you would like to experience a landing at Hong Kong, or a take off at night at Heathrow, the session can be tailored to suit your requirements.
You’ll be briefed by an experienced commercial airline pilot, who will give you a 30-minute briefing on how to fly the aircraft before heading into the simulator to put theory into practice.
It makes a fantastic birthday or Christmas gift, or can be used by current pilots to brush up on their manual handling skills. Simulator views are welcome before making the booking.
All sessions include a 30-minute pre-flight briefing in addition to the stated time in the simulator. The simulator is located at Cambridge Airport, UK.
To make an enquiry or booking, contact [email protected]
A Typical Airline Pilot Roster / Schedule
Ever wondered what a typical pilot schedule looks like? We have some examples of both long and short haul rosters for you to look at…
Example Pilot Rosters
A pilot’s roster is very variable and depends on what aircraft they are flying and for which airline. With long-haul rosters, you usually spend more time away from home (when working) than a short haul pilot, but you usually get more days off at home as a result. Short haul rosters often have a mix of day trips and “tours” where you might spend a few nights away from home at different destinations. Some airlines will only plan you for day trips (such as Ryanair). Whilst others will have you regularly staying away from home (flag carriers like BA or KLM).
There is a common misconception amongst the general public that pilots fly a set route, but this is actually very rarely the case. Pilots typically operate any route that is flown by the specific aircraft type they are qualified to fly that is operated by the airline. This could be anywhere from a handful of destinations at a small airline to hundreds at a large one! For example, an airline like Ryanair or easyJet only operate one aircraft type, therefore their pilots could literally operate to hundreds of potential destinations.
A Pilots Typical Long-Haul Roster
Most airlines that operate Long Haul routes have a “variable” roster. That is to say that there is no fixed pattern and you can end up working any day of the week at any time of year. Most long haul airlines operate using a seniority based system which allow pilots to “bid” for certain trips or days off. The more senior you are (the longer you have been working for the airline), the more likely you are to have your request awarded. This means that if you are a very senior pilot and enjoy having weekends off and doing the flight to New York, you could well end up doing this most of the time! Junior pilots (those low on on seniority list) will have less control over their lifestyle, and in the early years will end up operating to the less popular destinations.
Long-Haul Example Roster
This example is over a one-week period without any annual leave or special requests.
Tuesday: London Heathrow (LHR) – Las Vegas (LAS) departing at 11:00 UTC.
Wednesday: OFF (day off down route in Las Vegas)
Thursday: OFF day down route (in Las Vegas)
Friday: Las Vegas (LAS) – London Heathrow (LHR) (departing 23:45 UTC). Arrive LHR Saturday Morning.
Saturday: OFF (rest of Saturday off)
The time you get off down route depends on how long the previous flight was, how long the next flight is and what the rotation of the aircraft is. For example, if the airline only operates two flights to the destination each week, you will probably get a bit more time off down route than if there were daily flights.
Read more about a typical day in the life of a long haul pilot.
Short Haul Pilot – Touring Roster Example
Monday: Check-in 06:00, STN – EDI – STN – MAD, Check Out 14:00
Tuesday: Check-in 05:30, MAD – STN – RTM – STN, Check Out 13:00
Wednesday: Check-in 08:00, STN – ZRH – STN, Checkout 15:00
Saturday: Check-in 12:00, STN – GVA – STN – GVA, Checkout 22:00
Sunday: Check-in 13:00, GVA – STN – ABZ – STN, Check Out 20:00
Airport Codes Used:
STN – London Stansted
EDI – Edinburgh
MAD – Madrid
RTM – Rotterdam
ZRH – Zurich
GVA – Geneva
ABZ – Aberdeen
A short haul day trip roster would be similar to that above but finishing back at your home base every night.
Fixed or Variable Rosters
Some airlines like Ryanair and easyJet operate a fixed roster pattern. At Ryanair for example, most bases operate 5 days on (at work), 4 days off pattern. Many pilots at easyJet operate on a 5 on, 4, off, 4, on 3 off roster. This gives the pilots the ability to effectively plan their time off as they know what days they’ll be working in a year’s time. Some airlines like BA or Jet2.com operate a variable roster with no fixed pattern. There are advantages and disadvantages to both.
Due to their nature, long haul rosters are nearly always variable.
When do Pilots receive their roster / schedule?
Again, it depends on the airline. Some airlines issue rosters to their pilots a month before the first date on the roster whilst at others it might only be a week or two. Typically, most pilots receive their rosters for the following month about half way through the current month. So, for example, you would usually get your December roster around half way through November.
Some airlines reserve the right to change their pilots rosters right up until the day before the flight without penalty or ability for the pilot to refuse the change.
Other airlines offer roster protection periods, where the roster can only be changed with the pilot’s permission or through financial incentives. This will depend on the scheduling agreement between the airline and its pilot’s and/or union.
Example Pilot Rosters for Specific Airlines
This provides some guidance as to the type of roster and how many days off you get a month with specific airlines based on a full time contract. These are examples only and may vary or be changed by the airline at any time.
British Airways – Variable Roster. Typically 9 – 15 days off a month.
Delta – Variable Roster. 15 – 19 days off a month.
easyJet – Fixed Roster. Most bases: 5 on – 4 off – 4 on – 3 off.
Jet2.com – Variable Roster. A very seasonal operation so you work harder in the summer than in the winter. Typically 5 days on, 2 off in the summer but significanlty more days off in the winter season.
Lufthansa – Variable Roster. Minimum 10 days off a month but typically 11 – 13 days off a month.
Ryanair – Fixed Roster. Most bases: 5 earlies on – 4 off then 5 lates on – 4 off.
Virgin Atlantic – Minimum 10 days off a month with a minimum of 2 days off between trips. Max 750 hours a year.
Vueling – Operate both fixed roster 5 on – 4 off, and a variable roster.
The best things about being an Airline Pilot
What a career as an airline pilot can offer you…
What are the best things about being an Airline Pilot?
Without a doubt, the job of a commercial airline pilot is incredibly satisfying and rewarding. For many, people get to go to work and do a job they love and wouldn’t swap for the world. It’s not all rosy, there’s plenty of negatives to the jobs like getting up at 3am or missing a loved one’s birthday because of a demanding roster, but at FlightDeckFriend.com, we thing the benefits by far outweigh the disadvantages.
Here’s a list of the best bits about being a commercial airline pilot:
The Office View
Yes, it’s cheesy and it’s probably been used as an interview answer thousands of times, but it’s true. Some of the finest views you’ll ever see are up at altitude. Whether it be a lunar eclipse, the northern lights or a sunrise over the alps, the views are unbelievably spectacular.
Being given the responsibility to look after a $100,000,000 aircraft with hundreds of people on board is huge and one of the reasons that pilots tend to be well paid. It’s immensely rewarding to be trusted to make decisions in the interests of the safety of the most precious cargo you can carry – people!
No two flights are ever the same. Each day presents a new challenge and provides another opportunity to learn something new. Flying these days is portrayed in the media as being repetitive and mundane, and of course there are periods of low work load in the cruise, but there is always something new that comes up every day.
The Career Opportunities
A career as an airline pilot doesn’t just stop when you reach the level of Captain. There are pilot managers, pilot ground trainers, pilot simulator trainers, fleet managers, chief pilots, duty pilots. All require different skills and additional training.
As an airline pilot, there’s plenty of opportunities to see new places all over the world. When you night stop somewhere, there’s usually time to explore, especially if you’re a long-haul pilot.
The Staff Travel
Most airlines offer their staff some form of staff travel to you and your family. At the large flag carriers, you receive what is called an “ID90” ticket, that is you get a 90% discount off the fare and its use is unlimited. This means you can end up travelling business or first class across the globe for a few hundred pounds as much as you want.
Should I go to University or not?
A look at if you should go to University or not if you plan on becoming a commercial pilot
I want to be a pilot – should I go to University?
Whilst holding a degree was common place amongst airline pilots in the past, it is becoming more and more common to see prospective pilots going straight from A-Levels or secondary education in to commercial flight training. With the fairly recent increase in University tuition fees it seems this trend will likely increase further in the coming years.
There are arguments for both obtaining and not obtaining a degree before embarking on your commercial flight training.
The arguments set out below are based on you living in a country where you have to pay for your own tuition fees. If you live in a country where going to University is free (or you only need to pay for your living expenses) we would recommend going to Uni.
Fees & Debt
A typical three year degree may now cost over £/€ 30,000 on tuition fees alone. Once accommodation and living costs are added onto this figure, huge student debts are becoming common place among graduates.
With integrated flight training costing around £/€ 100,000 any may airlines requiring you to pay for your own type rating (around £/€ 25,000) you could find yourself in over £/€ 150,000+ of debt before you’ve even got your first job.
Even if you completed modular flight training (the cheapest way to complete flight training) and your type rating is paid for by the airline (you’d be very lucky!) then you’d be in £/€ 100,000 of debt.
You tend to earn a good salary as a commercial pilot so you will end up being required to pay all of your student loans back, unlike others in lower paid jobs where the debt eventually gets written off. Equally, as you earn a good salary, if you have UK student finance debt and work for a UK airline based, a significant amount of money will be taken from your salary every month to pay the debt back.
As holding a degree is no longer a minimum requirement to join most European airlines as a pilot, it’s a perfectly fair argument to say that accumulating so much avoidable debt simply isn’t worth it. Spending a bit extra on loss of income and loss of medical insurance can cover your debts if the worst happens, meaning you might not think having a degree as a back-up plan is worth it.
Having a backup plan
There is however, an equally compelling argument for obtaining a degree.
Unfortunately one of the risks of being a pilot is that we can lose our class one medical at any time for a whole range of reasons which can put an end to our flying career. Equally, the airline industry is also notoriously volatile and cyclic; just look at the number of pilots made redundant due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Unfortunately there will always be airline failures as economies inevitably contract from time to time. For example, Flybe, XL Airways, Fly Globespan, Silverjet, Spanair and BMI are just a handful of airlines that have folded over the last decade or so, resulting in the loss of hundreds of pilot jobs. As many find out the hard way, it can be years until one finds employment as a pilot again, if ever.
If you find yourself in such a position, it is vitally important to have a backup plan. To be able to go directly in to employment that has a reasonable rate of pay typically requires a degree. it might be expensive, but a degree is a good backup plan if your career doesn’t pan out as hoped. Having loss of income insurance can of course help, but you still have a life to lead outside of aviation.
The University Experience
There’s no doubt that many people class their time at University as some of the best years of their life. It offers more than just an academic qualification, it offers life experience and an opportunity to develop as a person and build relationships. People mature at different speeds so not everyone is ready to start flight training straight after A-Levels (secondary education) and might need a few more years to develop the skills and personality needed to become employable to an airline.
It is worth noting that while many European airlines do not require a degree, it is still a mandatory requirement for many foreign airlines, particularly in the United States, the Far East and Asia.
Which degree should I choose?
If you’ve decided university is for you, choosing which degree to study and at which University is not easy.
There are plenty of degrees being offered by universities which are specific to aviation and airline pilot training (we’ve listed them here).
If you are seriously thinking of becoming a pilot and love aviation, studying an aviation degree is obviously going to be enjoyable and you tend to do well at subjects you enjoy studying. Having an aviation degree will clearly put you in a good position to commence your flight training after University.
Whilst airlines do ‘like’ aviation degrees, they are equally impressed with other core subject degrees (science, engineering, maths etc.). From a recruiters point of view, the final grading you achieved is usually more important than the subject you studied. For example a 1st class degree in media studies will probably be viewed more favourably than a 2:2 in an aviation subject as it shows you are able to apply yourself very well and to a high standard. This is an attribute which you will need to demonstrate throughout your aviation career.
Something else to consider is what type of degree you would fall back on should the worst happen and you can’t fly any more. Having a degree in a separate discipline which is unrelated to aviation may open up more employment opportunities than if you held an aviation specific degree. For example, having a degree in accounting or law is likely to open up potentially higher paid opportunities than an aviation degree would if you can no longer be a pilot.
There are both pros and cons to both the decision of whether to go University or not and what subject you should study if you do decide to go.
For most people, the choice is avoiding the accumulation of a large debt unnecessarily versus getting the university experience and all that entails along with (hopefully) something to fall back on if your career doesn’t take off as planned. It’s very subjective and ultimately a very personal decision – everyone’s situation is different.