If you love flying and dream of piloting an aeroplane, three paths can take you there: becoming a private pilot, a commercial pilot, or a military pilot. This article will focus on the second category – commercial pilot – and what it takes to get there.
You will find out:
- What to study to become a pilot
- How to earn your Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL)
- What university degree can grant you a CPL
From the beginning, you should know that pilot school is an expensive endeavour that goes way beyond the average study fees in other professions. In the UK, for example, it can cost you around £100 000 to get the licence that allows you to fly commercial planes.
However, the cost can differ based on how you choose to get your accreditation because there are several ways, each with its advantages and disadvantages, which we will discuss as we analyse them.
What do I need to study to become a pilot
You can become a commercial pilot by following three different training programmes:
- Integrated training is the fastest way to get your pilot’s licence and perhaps the easiest because you enrol in an aviation school and follow all the courses and training within the same institution. But, at the same time, this is the most intense form of training, usually lasting around 18 months.
- Modular training is more flexible, allows you to work alongside your training, and you will likely pay less overall. Unlike integrated training, the modular doesn’t let you to start from ground zero. You need to have obtained a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) licence and account for 150 hours of flying time to start modular training. You can obtain your PPL easier (often as part of a university degree), and it allows you to fly a plane but not to get a job as a pilot.
- Multi-crew pilot licence, this form of training limits you to working for a particular airline and aircraft. The British Airline Pilots Association doesn’t recommend it unless you already hold a job offer from the airline.
Both integrated and modular training can come with or without university studies, but this article focuses on integrated and modular training taken as part of a degree. This option is best for those who wish to gain more theoretical knowledge about aerospace engineering or aviation in general and have more career options in aviation that can stretch beyond piloting commercial planes.
Naturally, this route to becoming a pilot takes longer, and it implies more learning on your part, but it leaves you at the end with many more opportunities and gives you more options for financing your studies. Universities will have a partnership with an aviation school, so you will do a combination of traditional studies and pilot training.
Let’s start by understanding better what you need to obtain by the end of your studies and training to work as a commercial pilot.
How to earn your Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL)
To be allowed to fly a commercial aircraft, you need to have the following:
- a valid Class One Medical
- an fATPL Licence
The Class One Medical
The Class One Medical is a very restrictive medical certificate you need to become a pilot. You can pass all your other tests with flying colours, but if you fail the Medical, that counts as one of the main reasons you can't be a pilot. The Class one Medical involves is a lengthy medical examination, which needs to be renewed every 12 months and will test you in these areas:
- Medical history
- Colour vision
- Physical examination
- ECG (Electrocardiogram)
- Spirometry (Lung function test)
- Haemoglobin blood test
Frozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence (fATPL)
At the end of your training, you will gain a frozen ATPL. With this, you can get hired as a Cadet First officer (FO). With this position, you will sit in the right-hand seat of the cabin. When you become more experienced, you can become a Senior First Officer (SFO).
Once you have accomplished 1500 flight hours, your ATPL becomes unfrozen, and you can apply for jobs as Captain. In this position, you will be in command of the plane and occupy the left-hand pilot seat. From this, you can advance further to become a Training Captain and teach other aspiring young pilots.
As you train for the fATPL, you need to pass exams in the following subjects, according to UCAS’s guide on becoming a pilot:
- Air law
- Aircraft General Knowledge — Airframe/Systems/Power plant
- Mass and Balance
- Flight Planning and Monitoring
- Human Performance
- General navigation
- Radio navigation
- Operational Procedures
- Principles of Flight
- VFR (visual flight rules) Communications and
- IFR (instrument flight rules) Communications
- KSA – Knowledge, Skills and Attitudes
What university degree can grant you a CPL
If your love for the skies goes beyond your desire to pilot an aircraft, and you also want to know how to build an aeroplane or any other aspect of the aviation industry, the training to become a pilot as part of a university degree is probably the best choice for you.
And if you’re wondering how to become a pilot as an international student, know that there are a few aspects to consider when choosing a degree with pilot training abroad:
- Cost (in some countries, pilot training is more expensive, like the UK, while in others, it’s cheaper, like the Philippines)
- Safety regulations (some countries will have more safety measures in place and more modern equipment, which is quite crucial for a pilot’s training)
- Weather (as you practice your flight hours, a country with more favourable weather will be more beneficial for your training)
- Where you want to live afterwards (To work as a pilot, you need a licence issued by the same country where the aircraft is registered. Of course, you can equivalate your licence, but that will likely include extra costs or extra training. In Europe, the situation is, however different because most EU countries follow the rules and regulations set by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), so with a licence from a EU country you can fly an aircraft from any other EU country.)
So, what degrees can you study and how do you become a pilot after graduation?
Aerospace Engineering with Pilot Studies
This is a degree commonly chosen by students who want both a university degree and pilot training. If you choose a programme in Aerospace Engineering with Pilot Studies, you will most likely obtain a Private Pilot Licence. You can later upgrade this licence to an fATPL by taking further modular or integrated training. Keep in mind that apart from the university fees, you’ll need to pay extra for the remaining training.
It’s most likely to find this programme format in the United Kingdom.
Aviation with Pilot Studies
With this type of degree, you will dive deeper into all areas of navigation, and you will likely gain a Commercial Pilot Licence by the end of your studies as well, so you’ll be able to get a job as Cadet First Officer without any other extra training. A degree in Aviation with Pilot Studies gives you the advantage of building a well-rounded knowledge of the industry.
You can find these degrees as either Aviation technology or Aviation Management, where the first has a stronger focus on the technological component of the industry while the second focuses more on air management.
These types of degrees are more common in Australia and the US.
A final thought
Think well before you choose this profession because you will need to invest a lot of money and effort into it. But if you’ve decided and your passion is as big as the challenges, you will definitely enjoy an exciting career which will allow you to see the world every day like no other job does.