How to Become an Airline Pilot

How to Become an Airline Pilot

A Comprehensive Guide on Becoming an Airline Pilot

How to Become an Airline Pilot in 2023

If you’re thinking of becoming an airline pilot, you need to obtain a commercial pilots licence (as well as a few additional ratings), pass all the theory exams, and pass a medical examination.

This site provides a step-by-step guide on exactly what you need and how to do it.

Whether you are just starting to research how to become an airline pilot or you are already seriously considering how to go about completing your pilot training, is here to help guide you through the process. We don’t just stop there either, we are here to offer you assistance from the start of your journey right the way through to the end of your career.

Your Step-by-Step Guide on How to Become an Airline Pilot

There’s a lot of information to take onboard depending on which stage of the journey you’re at. We’ve broken the topics down into manageable chunks which have been designed to help you navigate your way through all the information you need to become a commercial airline pilot. This page is an introduction and the expandable menu below is there to get you started with the most commonly asked questions. More in-depth answers to all the questions are covered on dedicated pages which you can find by scrolling down through this page.

Become a Pilot – Getting Started

How to Become an Airline Pilot – Introduction

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 whilst it will take a few years for the airline industry to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines will start recruiting pilots again.

The quickest answer to the question of ‘How do I become a pilot?’ is that you need a commercial pilot’s 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 University degree courses.

How Do I Become an Airline Pilot?

To become a commercial airline pilot, you need to complete your commercial flight training and obtain the licences required to operate a commercial jet. You also need to hold a Class One Medical certificate. When you have both these things, you can apply to airlines for a job as a pilot.

What Licences do I Need to Become an Airline Pilot?

To operate a commercial passenger jet as a First Officer or Co-Pilot, you need to hold a frozen Air Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL). You have a frozen ATPL once you have all of the following licences and have passed the appropriate exams:

  • Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL)
  • Multi Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR)
  • ATPL Theoretical Examinations (14 of them)
  • Multi Crew Cooperation Course (MCC)

What Qualifications do I Need to Become a Pilot?

Different airlines have varying qualification requirements needed to join them as a pilot. As a minimum most European airlines require the following:

  • A frozen ATPL
  • Class One Medical
  • Unrestricted Passport
  • English Language Proficiency
  • Over 18 years old
  • Right to live and work in the country in question
  • 5 GCSE’s grades A-C including Maths, Science and English or Secondary Education Leaving Certificate

In the USA, most major airlines also require you to have completed a 4 year degree program.

Do I Need to be Medically Fit to be a Pilot?

Yes, you must have a reasonable level of medical fitness to become an airline pilot. You are required to obtain a Class One Medical certificate where a specialist aviation doctor will assess you to ensure they are satisfied of your medical fitness to operate a commercial jet. You are required to renew this Class One Medical certification on a yearly basis until you are 60 and then every six months until you are 65.

Common misconceptions are that you can’t be a pilot with certain medical conditions. You can still be a pilot in some circumstances:

  • You CAN wear glasses and don’t need 20/20 vision
  • You CAN have Type 1 / 2 Diabetes (in some countries), if it’s well controlled
  • You CAN have HIV under some circumstances in some countries
  • You CAN be a pilot if you have lost a limb in some circumstances

Do I Need to be ‘Fit’ to be a Pilot?

There is no minimum standard of fitness to become an airline pilot. You don’t have to complete a fitness test to pass the medical or join an airline. However, leading a healthy life style will help you avoid any issues that can result in the suspension or revocation of your medical certificate. This includes the usual advice that would be given by any medical professional, such as:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Living an active lifestyle
  • Having a balanced diet
  • Don’t be overweight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Only drink alcohol in moderation

What Skills Do I Need to be a Pilot?

Being a pilot is a very diverse job and you need an equally diverse skills set. You need a strong set of both ‘Technical’ and ‘Non-Technical’ skills. For example, you need to have the following as a minimum:

  • Reasonably competent at Maths and Science
  • Good hand to eye coordination, memory and spatial awareness (assessed via aptitude tests)
  • Strong leadership, teamwork, decision making, communication and situational awareness skills
  • Good standard of English

How Much Does Commercial Pilot Training Cost?

Commercial pilot training can cost between £40,000 to £120,000 depending on which path you choose and with which flight training organisation. Full time integrated flight training costs more than modular training.

How Much do Airline Pilots Get Paid?

Co-pilots or First Officers get paid between about £30,000 to £100,000 a year, depending on their experience and the airline they work for. Captains get paid anywhere between £80,000 to £250,000, again depending on the type of operation and their experience.

Generally speaking, long haul airlines pay more than short haul airlines and legacy carriers pay more than low-cost airlines. Another rule of thumb is the bigger the aircraft you fly and the further you fly it, the more you get paid.

The Commitment & Risk of Becoming a Pilot

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. Recent examples of such volatility include the Covid-19 pandemic, 2008 economic crash and the terrorist attacks on 9/11. All of these events resulted in huge pilot job losses across the industry with many pilots having to find alternative careers.

The financial outlay required by prospective students for today’s flight training is massive, often extending into six figure sums. There is always a risk that you don’t find a job after completing your training and are left with huge debts to pay back. The training can be challenging at times and if you aren’t completely committed to the end goal, maintaining the motivation needed to complete your commercial flight training can be difficult. However, if you manage it, it’s worth it.

The Realities of Being an Airline Pilot

It’s important that prospective pilots understand all the aspects of being an airline pilot. A typical airline pilots’ job is different compared to say thirty years ago. This lifestyle, the flying and the terms and conditions have all changed. It’s still a very privileged and rewarding job, but perhaps not as glamorous as the media or films would have you believe.

As a pilot you may well spend a significant time away from home. This means missing special occasions like Birthdays, Christmas and Anniversaries. You might also regularly miss being around for family or parental activities like going to parents evening or watching a school play. This lifestyle can take its toll and is only suitable for people who have a flexible and optimistic attitude.

Be prepared to be up and working at any hour of the day (how does 5 days in a row of 4am starts sound!?) or flying throughout the night crossing multiple time zones. You get more time off, but it can be a tiring and demanding job.

Whilst the long term pay prospects are very good, at the start of you career, your earnings might be quite low compared to how much you have paid to complete your training. The pay tends to improve as you fly bigger aircraft with larger airlines but the ideal career progression timeline doesn’t always work out as people had hoped.

Do I Actually Fly the Plane?

Well yes and no. These days you don’t actually do that much manual flying during a typical flying duty at most airlines. As aircraft design has evolved, technology has become more advanced and 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 1,000 feet after take-off and then 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.

The First Officer and Captain generally split the flights evenly. For example, if you are flying 2 flights during your duty day, the Captain will fly one sector (flight) and the First Officer will fly the other one.

What are the 8 Best Bits About Being an Airline Pilot

There are many perks to being a commercial airline pilot. These are our top 10 perks:

  • Flying – Taking the controls multi-million-pound aircraft and navigating it through the skies is something you can never tire of
  • Travel – You get to see the world, especially over a long-haul network
  • Pay – the pay is generally very good compared to other industries
  • Responsibility – taking care of hundreds of passengers every day and getting them safely to their destination is very rewarding
  • The View – You have THE BEST office view in the World. Sunrise, sunsets, stunning landscapes – you see it all from 36,000ft.
  • Time Off – You normally get lots of time off as a pilot. In some cases, you have more days off in the year than days you go to work.
  • The People – You get to meet and work with some fantastic people who will share your love for aviation
  • Staff Travel –  You often get highly discounted airline tickets for yourself, friends and family

Education Requirements & Tips for Becoming a Pilot

Do I need to be good at maths to become an airline pilot?
Interview a Pilot
Should I go to university or not?
What should I study at school to become a pilot?
What qualifications do I need to become a pilot?Shutter Stock
Aviation University Degree CoursesShutter Stock

Finance Options & Questions for Becoming a Pilot

A look at the different ways to pay for your commercial flight training
A look at how much commercial flight training costsShutterstock
Sponsored Flight Training

Medical Requirements & Questions for Becoming a Pilot

Medical requirements to be a pilotShutterstock
Do you need colour vision to become a pilot?
A look at if you can become an airline pilot if you have type 1 or type 2 diabeties?Shutter Stock
Can I still be an airline pilot if I need to wear glasses?Shutter Stock

Training & Licences Guide & Questions for Becoming a Pilot

The differences in integrated and modualr flight training explained
A list of integrated flight training organisations that provide flight training for airline pilotsShutterstock
An article looking at what age is too old to start commercial flight training?
Airline Pilot Licences Explained

Useful Info & Questions for Becoming a Pilot

Easy Mental Arithmetic tips and tricks for PilotsShutterStock
Airline pilot salaryShutterStock
Is there a shortage of airline pilots?
A look at a typical day of a short haul commercial airline pilotShutter Stock
A look at the typical salary and pay of a commercial pilotShutter Stock
A day in the life of a long haul airline pilot
Flight simulator experience for those thinking of becoming a commercial airline pilot
A look at the perks of being an airline pilot
A look at what Pay to Fly is for pilots in the airline industry
Aviation Abbreviations
What are the day to day realities of being an airline pilotShutter Stock
Become a Pilot FAQsShutter Stock