What subjects should I study at school to become an airline pilot ?
A look at which subjects will help you achieve your dream…
In order to become a commercial airline pilot, just about all airlines require you to have at least 5 GCSE’s that are grades A – C (or equivalent) including Maths, English and Science. At school, try and work hard in all of the subjects, but in particular these three core areas. These are the very minimum qualifications that you should look to achieve.
Whilst your completing your GCSE’s there a number of extra curricular activities you can do which will help ensure your CV stands out against the competition when you apply for a cadet pilot program. Have a look at joining your local Air Training Corps (ATC) squadron. This will allow you to develop a skills set that is highly relevant to the commercial airline sector, such as furthering your leadership, teamwork and communication skills. It will also give you the opportunity to have a go at flying for free to give you a taste of what flying a plane is really like – it’s often not what people expect!. Get involved in a school sports team. Again this demonstrates the ability to work within a team, something which the airlines are very keen on. If you have the opportunity to do so, participate in the Duke Of Edinburgh (DoE) award. This covers a range of skills and attributes many of which are transferable to be successful in your flight training and flying career.
Some airlines also require you to hold some A-Levels. Regardless of which airline you are looking to apply to, we would recommend you complete your A-Levels, as most people who you are competing with for a position will hold such qualifications and you will be too young to apply for a cadet program on completion of your GCSEs. It also gives you the opportunity to build up some valuable life experience, such as having a part time job whilst studying. We would suggest you choose strong core subjects for your A-Levels, such as Maths, Physics, Chemistry, English and Geography. These subjects not only look good on paper, but will provide you with a sound foundation from which to go on and complete the theoretical side of your flight training, which is heavily science and maths based. You should be looking to achieve a minimum of a grade C in all of your A-Level subjects.
Whilst holding a degree was common place amongst airline pilots in the past, it is becoming more and more common to see cadets going straight from A-Levels into flight training especially given the increase in the number of airline cadet programs in recent years. This coupled with the signficant increase in tuition fees (£27,000 for many degree programs), and very high cost of commercial flight training (often in excess of £100,000), it is making more sense to apply straight to an airline cadet program having completed your A-Levels.
There are arguments for both obtaining and not obtaining a degree before embarking on flight training. The case for not going to University has been strengthen by the recent rise in tuition fees. A typical three year degree may now cost up to £27,000 on fees alone. Once accommodation and living costs are added onto this figure, debts of £30,000+ will become common place amongst future graduates. When the cheapest method of modular flight training is added to this, cadets will find themselves in almost £100,000 of debt before they have even been issued with a licence, and this of course is with no guarantee of a job. As a degree is no longer a requirement for most European airlines, for many people it would seem pointless to accumulate so much debt for something that is not necessarily going to increase their chances of getting that first flying job.
There is however, an equally compelling argument for obtaining a degree. Unfortunately one of the risks of being a pilot is that we can loose our class one medical and therefore licence privileges at anytime. The airline industry is also notoriously volatile and cyclic. Unfortunately there are always casualties with economic hardship, for example, XL Airways, Fly Globespan, Silverjet and more recently Spanair, Malev and BMI, resulting in the loss of hundreds of pilot jobs, saturating an already slow pilot employment market. It can be years until one finds employment on the flight deck again. If you find yourself in such a position, like so many colleagues in the past have, it is vitally important to have a backup plan. To be able to go directly into employment that has reasonably comparable levels of remuneration to that of airline pilots, you more often than not need to hold a degree.
Choosing which degree is not easy. There are now a number of degrees being offered by universities specific to aviation and airline pilot training. A number of people in the industry have graduated from the first of now many degree courses in the UK to offer such program.
Most say they thoroughly enjoyed the course and believe it was also looked upon favorably by the airlines with whom they have attended selection; however there is a counter argument to enrolling on one of these programs. If you are unlucky enough to be made redundant, or even worse loose your medical permanently, it is desirable to have a backup plan that is completely unrelated to the aviation industry, by holding a respected degree in a core academic subject. This will provide the foundations to build a career in another field should the worst happen. Holding a degree specific to aviation is somewhat limiting when job hunting!
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.
The choice is a difficult one, and there is no right or wrong decision, it is completely dependent on individual circumstances.