Aircraft pilot, co-pilot, first officer, captain
Airline pilots fly passengers and cargo to destinations around the world.
Salary range: £35,000 to £110,000
How to become an airline pilot
You can get into this job through:
- a university course
- applying directly
- a trainee scheme
- specialist courses run by private training organisations
You could do a university degree in air transport or aviation, which includes commercial pilot training with an approved flight training organisation.
To start a course, you’ll need:
- A levels or equivalent qualifications
- a minimum of a Class 2 medical certificate
- to be over 18
You’ll need to apply for the higher level Class 1 medical certificate during your course to get your Commercial Pilot’s Licence. If you wish, you can apply for the Class 1 certificate before your course starts.
University courses lead to a ‘frozen’ Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). This allows you to apply to airlines to work as a co-pilot and build up the necessary flying hours to become an airline captain.
As well as standard university fees, you will need to fund the flight training part of your course. Universities can advise you about this.
You’ll usually need:
- 2 to 3 A levels, or equivalent, for a degree
- equivalent entry requirements
- student finance for fees and living costs
- university courses and entry requirements
You may be able to apply directly to the Civil Aviation Authority’s Military Accreditation Scheme to become a commercial pilot, if you have flying experience in the armed forces.
You can apply for a place on a pilot training programme with a passenger airline.
You can also train with a private flying school to get your Commercial Pilot’s Licence. Courses can take at least 18 months of full-time study. Part-time or modular courses will take longer. The Civil Aviation Authority has details of flight training schools.
The Honourable Company of Air Pilots has a test for people with little or no flying experience. Pilot training is expensive and this could help you decide whether you’re suited to this career before you spend money on training.
English is the international language of flying, so airlines will expect you to have a good GCSE pass, or equivalent, in the subject. Skills in another language can also give you an advantage, for example if you want to work for an overseas airline. It may also help you to stand out from other applicants, as competition for jobs is strong.
What it takes
Skills and knowledge
- leadership skills
- excellent verbal communication skills
- knowledge of maths
- thinking and reasoning skills
- to be thorough and pay attention to detail
- the ability to operate and control equipment
- observation and recording skills
- patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
- to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently
Restrictions and requirements
You’ll need to:
- be over 21 years of age
- hold a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) issued by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
- pass the Civil Aviation Authority medical before you can take a course – the medical includes tests on your fitness, hearing and vision
- pass enhanced background checks
What you’ll do
In this role you could be:
- carrying out pre-flight checks of instruments, engines, fuel and safety systems
- working out the best route using weather reports and information from air traffic control
- following instructions from air traffic control
- checking data during the flight and adjusting the route where necessary
- telling passengers and crew about journey progress
- writing reports about in-flight issues
You could work on an aircraft.
Your working environment may be cramped, physically demanding and you may spend nights away from home.
You may need to wear a uniform.
Career path and progression
You’ll start by training as a co-pilot. When you’ve completed at least 1500 flying hours, you can apply for an ‘unfrozen’ or full Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) and qualify as an airline captain. This will usually take 3 to 5 years after you get your full ATPL.
With experience, you could become a flight training instructor or an operations manager.