Common Questions About Becoming an Airline Pilot

Becoming a Pilot – The Common Questions

How to Become an Airline Pilot – Frequently Asked Questions

We’ve compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions on the topic of becoming a commercial airline pilot. These questions are designed to get you started with some basic information. All of these questions are expanded on in further detail throughout the website.

If you have a question on a subject that we haven’t covered, feel free to email us.

I Want to Become a Pilot, Where do I Start?

If you’ve made the decision to become a commercial airline pilot, there are 2 things you should do first:

  • Get a Class One Medical. You need a Class One Medical Certificate in order to operate as a commercial airline pilot. There’s not much point spending lots money on any flight training until you know that you are capable of passing the Class One Medical Certification. Unfortunately, not everyone passes the medical evaluation. The initial medical examination is very thorough, and it will occasionally find an underlying issue that precludes people from obtaining the medical certification.
  • Secondly, decide whether you want to complete your commercial flight training through the Integrated or Modular route. There are advantages and disadvantages to both routes, and you need to decide which is the right type of training for you. When making this decision, you will need to factor in how you intend to finance your commercial light training. Once you’ve decided which route you are going to take, find out which flight school is right for you.

How Much Does it Cost to Train as an Airline Pilot?

Depending on which route you take, commercial pilot training can cost between £40,000 and £120,000. Integrated flight training courses usually cost between £80,000 – £120,000, whereas modular flight training can be completed for as little as £40,000.

You should also take into account that there are now many airlines who will charge you for your “type rating” when they offer you a job as a First Officer. A type rating typically costs an additional £20,000 – £35,000 which you may need to factor in to your budget.

For further information, please see our detailed article on ‘The Cost of Pilot Training‘.

How Long Does it Take to Train as a Commercial Pilot?

The length of time it takes to train as a commercial airline pilot depends on which flight training route you choose to follow. There are two different types of flight training called “integrated” and “modular” training.

With integrated flight training, you complete all of your training in one full time, intensive course with an Approved Training Organisation (ATO).

From having no flying experience, to holding a commercial airline pilot’s licence, typically takes around 2 years. Completing this intensive flight training course would allow you to apply to an airline as a First Officer. However, on acquiring your first flying job, you would need to complete a type rating before flying passengers on a large commercial aircraft and this would typically take an additional 2 – 3 months.

If you complete modular flight training, you can dictate the progression and time-line of your training rather than being given a set timetable by the flight school. This allows you to complete the flight training as and when you can afford it, potentially alongside a full-time job. You can still complete your training intensively and full time, but you have much greater flexibility over it. Modular flight training could take anywhere between 2 years to more than 5 year – it’s up to the individual.

How Many Hours do Airline Pilots Work a Year / Month / Week?

In Europe, airline pilots are limited to flying 900 hours a year. Elsewhere in the world, pilots are limited to flying between 900 and 1,000 hours a year. The number of hours you actually fly can vary significantly between airlines. For example, some airlines, like Virgin Atlantic, used to limit their pilots to 750 flying hours a year.

Both short-haul and long-haul pilots will typically fly between 700-900 hours a year. Cargo and business jet pilots tend to fly much less, usually between 300-400 hours a year.

Pilots usually get between 9 and 15 days off a month with long-haul pilots normally requiring more time off to recover from large time zone changes and deep night flights.

See are article on how many hours a day can a pilot work?

How Many Days do Pilots Spend Away from Home per Week / Month?

As a pilot, the amount of time you spend away from home varies depending on the airline you work for, and its type of operation.

Pilots at low-cost, charter and short-haul airlines (such as Ryanair, Vueling, TUI or easyJet), you can expect very few night stops and will typically be home most nights.

As a pilot at legacy airlines like Lufthansa, BA, KLM etc. touring rosters are common where you might spend 2 – 4 nights away per week staying at European destinations.

If you are a pilot on a  long-haul fleet in an airline like British Airways, Emirates or Cathay Pacific, the length of trips vary, but you can be away for as many as 10 days at a time on a longer tour. You tend to get more time off after a trip as a result of being away for longer.

For more detailed information, have a look at our article on a Pilot’s Typical Roster.

How Much Money Does an Airline Pilot Earn per Year?

Pilots are generally very well paid. First Officers typically earn a salary of between £/€ 35,000 and £/€ 120,000 a year, whilst airline Captains can expect to earn between £/€ 80,000 and /€ £250,000 a year.

The amount of money that a pilot can expect to earn varies significantly and can depend on a number of factors:

  • Experience. Generally speaking, the more experience a pilot has the more they get paid. A pilot starting out their career will earn a salary towards the lower end of the scale.
  • Length of Service. At some airlines, the longer you have worked for that airline, the more they will pay you.
  • Type & Size of Aircraft. Pilots who fly large wide-bodied aircraft are often paid more than pilots who fly smaller short-haul aircraft. This isn’t because it’s any harder but because it generally requires more experience.

For more information on this subject, have a read of our article on How Much Pilots Get Paid.

Integrated Flight Training

Integrated training is completed through a single approved training organisation (ATO) which is specifically authorised to conduct the intensive flight training course. It is designed to train a cadet with zero flying experience through to holding a frozen Air Transport Licence (fATPL) (which is the licence required to act as a Co-Pilot / First Officer for an airline) in a period of around 24 months. All the flight training is completed at the same training organisation on a full-time basis.

Integrated flight training is more expensive than modular flight training. However, when recruiting pilots straight out of flight school who have not had a flying job before, airlines sometimes prefer to recruit pilots from an integrated flight training course. This is because integrated flight training courses are developed specifically to train pilots to become an airline pilot rather than providing generic pilot training (typically given during Modular training). Integrated courses are known to be intense and the quality of training delivered is conisdered to be high.

When obtaining a frozen ATPL through an integrated flight training course, you don’t need to fly as many flight training hours as you would when completing the modular route due to the regimented syllabus and high-quality training delivered during an integrated course.

Modular Flight Training

As per its name, modular flight training is where the training is split up into different modules. For example, you complete your PPL first, then your ATPL theory, CPL, IR and MCC. These modules can be completed at a pace dictated by the student, such as completing it alongside work commitments. This means you can train as and when you can afford to pay for the training without taking out a large loan. It can be completed at a range of flight schools rather than it all being completed with the same organisation, thus offering more flexibility.

Modular flight training has the advantage of being significantly cheaper than integrated flight training, and you can complete the training as and when you can afford it.

In the past, some airlines have only recruited pilots (with no previous airline experience) from integrated courses as modular training is not always specifically geared up to train prospective airline pilots. The quality of the training throughout the modular route may be more variable than an integrated course.

However, more recently, some flight schools which have traditionally only offered integrated training, are now offering specific modular training packages. These remain a cheaper option than an integrated course but provide you and your prospective employer some reassurances about the quality of training.

For more detail, have a read of our Integrated vs Modular Flight Training page.

Integrated Flight Training Advantages:

  • Historically favoured by various airlines such as British Airways due its level of regulation, intensity and quality of training.
  • Integrated flight schools usually have links with various airlines which may help with getting a job on completion of the training.
  • It’s the quickest way to obtain a frozen Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL).
  • The syllabus is clearly set out with all the training organised for you.

Integrated Flight Training Disadvantages:

  • It’s very expensive, £/€ 80,000+. Usually requires a huge loan to be taken out secured against a property.
  • Once you start, there is no flexibility regarding the timeline of training completion. If a world event like the Covid-19 pandemic occurs during your training, which brings the pilot job market to a standstill, you can’t suspend or postpone your training. This may result in you being jobless on competition of training, with huge debts to pay.
  • Realistically, you will not be able to earn any money for the duration of the course resulting in lost earnings

Modular Training Advantages:

  • It’s significantly cheaper
  • Training can be conducted at a pace dictated by the individual
  • The timing of training can be adjusted based on airline employment market factors
  • Training can be completed alongside another full-time job
  • You can complete your training at various flight schools of your choosing

Modular Training Disadvantages:

  • Airlines tend to prefer integrated training rather than modular
  • Quality of training might not be consistent
  • Training may not be geared up to train a potential airline pilots at the earlier stages of training

Am I Too Old To Start Flight Training?

In short – if you’re under 65 then no you’re not too old, but the older you start your training, the more limited your employment options may be and the less money you can expect to earn over the course of your career.

We discuss this topic in some depth on the following page.

Should I go to University before Flight Training?

You don’t need to go to University to become a pilot, but it may or may not be a good idea to so do.

There is no right or wrong answer as to if you should go or not, it is completely dependent on individual circumstances.

We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of getting a degree before starting your professional flight training on our dedicated University or Not page.

What is a Type Rating?

A Type Rating is a qualification to fly a specific type of aircraft. Any aircraft which has a maximum take-off weight of more than 5,700 kgs, or is turbine powered requires a type rating to operate it.

A type rating course consists of a technical ground school course covering the aircraft’s systems and performance, and a simulator course, where you learn to fly the aircraft in normal and emergency situations for approximately 30 hours.

A type rating normally takes between 1 – 3 months to complete depending on your experience level and type of aircraft.

What is Pilot Line Training?

Line training is an advanced stage of pilot training which takes place on the aircraft for which you have acquired the type rating. It takes place with passengers onboard whilst being supervised and trained by a ‘Training Captain’.

The Training Captain is a specially selected Captain who is authorised to provide training to the trainee when making the step from the simulator to the real life aircraft, flying the aircraft during normal revenue operations.

This phase of training is designed to get the trainee up to speed with the normal operation of the aircraft on a daily basis, ensuring the student is familiar with company Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), flight profiles, manual and automatic handling whilst within a real-life commercial environment.

Line training for new pilots lasts anywhere from between 40 and 100 sectors (number of flights) which can take 2 – 12 weeks.