Become an Airline Pilot

Thinking of becoming an Airline Pilot?

A comprehensive guide on how to become an airline pilot

For many, young or old, becoming an airline pilot can seem to be an unachievable goal and a distant dream, but it doesn’t need to be. It is achievable and the airline industry needs more pilots – in 2019 airlines are starting to see the first signs of a pilot shortage occurring.

The quickest answer to the question of ‘How do I become a pilot’ is that you need a commercial pilots licence (with a few ‘add-ons’ to that licence) and you achieve this by going to a flight school. However, the longer answer is a bit more complex as there are a few different ways you can go about getting the required licence, both of which have their own benefits. If you are serious about a career as a commercial pilot, you need to spend time reading and digesting the process, training methods and understanding the job prospects once you’ve finished training.

Whether you are seriously considering becoming an airline pilot, or you’re just seeking some initial background information about how to achieve it, we have everything you need to know right here. It can be a complex process, but we’ve made everything as clear and easy to understand as possible. We have covered everything from the latest cadet airline pilot opportunities, how to finance your commercial flight training, to the universities which offer aviation based degree courses. We also have an aviation jargon buster to help you out with all the aviation acronyms.

How to Become an Airline Pilot – A Summary

There are two diffent ways to become an airline pilot. Before you can pilot a commercial jet, you have to pass 14 ground school examinations and a number of flight tests in order obtain a frozen Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) – the big licence needed to be a commercial pilot with an airline. Once you have obtained this licence you can apply for a job as a First Officer with an airline.

Before you start your flight training you also need to obtain a Class One Medical Certificate through your countries national aviation authority. This basically demonstrates you meet the medical requirements set out to allow you to pilot a commercial aircraft.

The frozen ATPL is actually a collection of licences grouped together. It consist of a Commercial Pilots Licence, Multi Engine Instrument Rating and a Multi Crew Cooperation Course, along with 14 theoretical (ground school) examinations. To obtain these licences, you can either apply directly to an airline who are currently recruiting for a cadet pilot program (and they will send you through a specific flight school) or you can go and obtain your licences through a flight training organisation and then apply to an airline directly. If you choose to complete the training yourself, you can do a full time course, known as an integrated flight training course, or modular training which allows you to obtain the licences when your time and finances allow.

If you apply for an airline cadet program, you will probably have to finance the flight training yourself, but you have the security of walking straight into a First Officer job on completion of the course. This is the most secure way of entering the industry. There are lots of flight schools across Europe and the world who offer specific commercial flight training. Generally speaking, it would take around a minimum of 18 months to obtain all the required qualifications when starting from scratch.

Our Becoming a Pilot introduction continues below this menu.

Pilot Medical Requirements

If you’re thinking about becoming an airline pilot, the first thing you should do is make sure you can obtain a Class One Medical certificate, which is required to operate a commerical passenger jet. We detail what’s required and how to go about getting one.

Life as a Pilot

Want to know a bit more about what life is like as an airline pilot? We have diaries for both long and short haul crew that take you through a typical day, highlighting the best and worst bits about being a commercial pilot.

Boeing 737 Pilot Simulator Assessment Guide

Airline Pilot Training

Understanding which licences are needed to pilot a commercial passenger aircraft, and how to get them can be confusing at first. We’ve got a guide on what you need and how to get it. There’s a few different ways you can get your Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL) and we explain these routes.

Financing Flight Training

Financing commercial flight training is often the biggest hurdle to gaining your commercial pilots licence. There are limited options available, but we talk you through how you might fund your training, and the cheapest route to take.

Common questions about becoming an airline pilot

It’s natural that you and depending on your age, your parents, will have lots of questions about becoming a pilot. We’ve got the answers to those common questions here in one place.

Education for Pilots

We detail what academic qualifications you need to become a pilot, what subjects you should study at school, what extra curricular activities you chould do and whether you should go to University or not.

Becoming a Pilot Overview Continued…

For many people, flying, and particularly the job of an airline pilot has always had a certain degree of glamour and excitement attributed to it, you just need to see the recent series of British Airways and Virgin Atlantic adverts for an example of that. The opportunity to operate a state-of-art multi million pound machine seven miles up at five hundred miles per hour with a few hundred people on board to far away shores is very appealing, but for a significant number of people, it is career many aspire to but for one reason or another, few achieve.

The ‘Becoming a Pilot’ section within contains all the information you need to build up a comprehensive understanding of what you need to do to become a pilot. After you’ve read through the introduction on this page, have a look a the other pages within the section about Pilot Licences, Medical Requirements, Finances and the Type of Training.


The road to becoming an airline pilot can be a long and arduous one. It requires total commitment and often involves a degree of good fortune and a lot of patience and persistence. The industry is notoriously cyclic and volatile being heavily influenced by a vast array of external factors, with recent examples being the recession and the Icelandic volcano ash crisis. In addition to this, the financial outlay required by prospective students for today’s flight training is massive, often extending into six digit figures. These dynamic variables make it a particularly difficult occupation to achieve success in and associates a significant amount risk to your training investment. There are however a number of factors which can be directly influenced by you to mitigate the risks as much as possible. Understanding and utilising these factors to your advantage will give you the best chance of achieving success. The team at aim to help you to achieve this by giving you a realistic appraisal of the industry and provide you with an understanding of your training options.

At first, for someone who has just started looking into how to become an airline pilot, the route to first officer can seem very complicated. Understanding which licences are required to be eligible to apply for the position of a commercial pilot, and how to obtain these is a perfect example of this. There seems like a maze of acronyms and abbreviations to get your head round and knowing where look to find such information isn’t always obvious. Then when you’ve got your head around which licences you need to get, you then have to think about whether you should undertake integrated or modular training and at which flight school. Questions such as “should I go to University or not?” are very relevant, especially now given the recent increase in tuition fees, but again there is little advise on such subjects available. Our free service at addresses such questions and helps to provide a clear explanation on how to obtain the appropriate licences.

Understanding the Realities of Becoming an Airline Pilot

With the vast costs and risks involved in flight training today, it has never been so important for any future pilot to understand what is involved in achieving their goal, the risks involved and the day to day realities of the life of a modern day airline pilot. The typical airline pilots job isn’t what it used to be like thirty years ago, in terms of what the job actually involves, lifestyle and terms and conditions. That’s not to say it’s not still a very privileged and rewarding job, but one must understand the current realities of the industry and how the role of pilot has evolved over the last few decades.

As aircraft design has evolved, and technology developed, the role of pilot has followed suit. The modern fly-by-wire aircraft are now highly automated, and as result, the role of airline pilot has become much more comparable to that of a “systems manager”. On a typical day operating in and out of busy airports, the autopilot will be engaged at around 1000 feet after take-off, and disconnected about 500 feet before landing. Whilst the pilots are still providing the inputs to navigate and fly the aircraft in-between these points, the amount of manual handling has certainly decreased as advances in aircraft design have progressed. There is of course a requirement to maintain a competent degree of manual handling, and most airlines have procedures in place to allow and even encourage this.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the significant responsibility held by the flight crew. Hundreds of people put their lives in the hands of flight crew every time they fly, rightly expecting the utmost professionalism. There are of course operating procedures in force to help ensure the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft but the flight crew are often required to make quick and critical decisions taking into account a vast range of factors. For this reason the training is both demanding and intensive.

Deciding whether or not to start commercial pilot training, which training route you should choose, and which airline you might aim to work for is very subjective to individual circumstances. We recommend reading all the areas of the site to help you make an informed decision.

Visit our “Realities of an Airline Pilot Page“.