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Home > Becoming a Pilot > What are the other paths to become an airline pilot?
What are the other paths to become an airline pilot?
Pilot Career - Becoming a Pilot
Sunday, 16 December 2007 18:48

Dear Captain Lim,

Thank you for your prompt response to my query on the Cadet Pilot Program with Singapore Airlines. I will try my best to get the PR (Permanent Resident) status first before I pursue further.

Besides joining the Cadet Pilot Program, can you kindly advise me as to whether there any other ways to be a pilot in other carriers? I am really very interested in this profession.

Many thanks for your advice.Michael

Hi Michael, In this email I will not only answer your question, but also elaborate on the other common queries that many aspiring pilots have been asking me repeatedly. Well, there are at least 3 paths towards becoming an airline pilot. The first is through the Cadet Pilot Program, then there is the military path and finally, the civilian or general aviation route.

Cadet Pilot Program

This program is offered by some major airlines which believe in selecting the best and then grooming some of them into the management position. At the moment, there are at least three airlines actively recruiting cadet pilots for this program in the East Asian region. They are Cathay Pacific Airways, Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines. Successful candidates are required to enter into a bond after the completion of their Company sponsored training. Some airlines do not have this program and prefer to recruit pilots directly from the open market as it saves them costs.

The Military Path

This would require you to join the Air Force, serve a stipulated period and get your flying experience there. Once you have completed the military service, you can apply to join the airlines after acquiring the necessary civilian qualifications (CPL or ATPL).

The Civilian or General Aviation Path

When someone is unsuccessful in the Cadet Pilot Program or does not intend to get 'free' training from the military, then he has to pay for the training from his own pocket. I assume that this would be the path you might want to follow if you have problems getting into the Cadet Pilot Program. Below are some common issues face by an aspiring pilot taking the civilian path:-

Are you medically fit?

A pilot has to be medically fit throughout his flying career. So before he becomes one, he must pass a medical check that is more stringent than any other profession. Contrary to popular belief, you can wear glasses and still be an airline pilot as long as your vision is correctable to 20/20. However, some airlines may apply a higher visual acuity standard. For further details, an aviation medical specialist or aero medical surgeon may be able to advise you on this. You can also click on my Links to FAA on questions about flying medicals.

Where do I start?

After you have passed the medical examination, your hope of a career as an airline pilot brightens. You can now consider enrolling into a Flying School or College of your choice. If you are hard on cash, you can join a flying club to get your Private Pilot License (PPL) or Certificate first. To qualify for a PPL, you may need to log about 40 to 50 flying hours (depending on your progress). The PPL course teaches you the basic flying maneuvers as well as some navigational flying. A Flying School or College may offer you a more comprehensive course, leading to the award of a Commercial Flying License (CPL) or Airline Transport Pilot's License (ATPL).

The CPL course would require you to accumulate up to about 250 flying hours. Here, you would embark onto more professional flying, learning to fly on instruments in multi-engine aircraft. You master the skills to fly an airplane solely by looking at the instruments without glancing out of the cockpit. Amongst others, you learn to fly the Instrument Landing System (ILS) approaches where you are only permitted to look out at 200 feet above ground level and then carry out a visual landing on the runway. (If landing at night, runway lightings are of various colors - hence pilots with color blindness would be disqualified from this profession). On successful completion of the course, you would be awarded an Instrument Rating (IR) together with the CPL after you have demonstrated to the examiner that you are able to perform the more precise flying skills than that of the PPL course.

An airline may accept a candidate directly with a CPL and a valid IR. They would give you further training on the jets as well as a new instrument rating before you are certified to fly as a Second Officer. If you are unfortunate to be employed by any regional airlines, you may consider building up your experience as a Certified Flight Instructor with a Flying Club. If you do not prefer to be a flying instructor, training other student pilots in the flying clubs, you can opt to build up your flying time by being a crop-dusting, banner-towing, aerial surveying, light air-freighter or charter pilot.

The next step after the CPL is the Airlines Transport Pilot's License (ATPL) or Certificate. To qualify for this license, you must have at least 1500 hours. Hence the need to build up this time. If CPL is equivalent to your first university degree, then the ATPL can be considered as your Master's Degree in flying. Without an ATPL (British) or ATP (USA), many major airlines are unlikely to consider your application.

What are the minimum academic qualifications?

Generally, most flying schools or colleges would be looking for five GCSEs and often two 'A' levels, preferably in Mathematics and any subjects in Science. In addition, you will have to be at least 17 years old. However, some other flying schools are happy to accept students with lesser GCE 'O' levels or its equivalent but they would still stress on a good command of the English Language, Mathematics and a science subject.

How long is the training?

A CPL course last between 12 to 15 months. If you were to pursue the professional pilot training in the College/University Programs in the USA, it can last between 2 to 4 years. However, if you choose to go for an Accelerated Program, the duration may be shorten to about half that time. Even after graduating with their licenses, new pilots can expect to spend between six months to a year doing further training on line. After completing the Company training and obtaining their type ratings, pilots should expect to spend five to six years building the experience necessary to qualify for a promotion to a better fleet.

What will it cost?

The cost of the flying training leading to the award of the CPL would range from US$40,000 to US$70,000. This would depend on which country you intend to pursue your course. Currently, demand for pilots are pretty encouraging. Airlines such as the Emirates is expanding very rapidly and they do recruit pilots from all over the world. They are prepared to take in co-pilots up to 48 years old if you meet up to their requirements. Even if you are unlucky not to be sponsored by any airlines, you can easily recover the training costs once you start your flying career. So not all is lost!

Selecting which schools/colleges?

In the United Kingdom, the CAA (Civil Aviation Authorities) have approved seven flying colleges that are offering the integrated abs initio (no previous flying experience) CPL/IR courses. They are based in Britain, the USA and Australia. The seven CAA approved commercial pilot training institutions are listed below:-

United Kingdom

1. Cabair College of Air Training, Cranfield Aerodrome, Cranfield, Bedford MK43
0JR Tel 01234-751243 Fax 01234-751363 email 106221, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

2. Oxford Air Training School, Oxford Airport, Kidlington, Oxfordshire OX5 1RA
Tel 01865-841234 Fax 01865-841807

3. British Aerospace Flight (UK) Training, Marketing Department, Prestwick
International Airport, Ayrshire KA9 2TW Tel 01292-671022 Fax 01292-671010

4. The European College of Aviation, PO Box 2323 (Dept FR2), Bournemouth
International Airport, Christchurch, Dorset BH23 6YG Tel 01202-599509 Fax 01202-591509

United States of America

5. Flight Safety International, Vero Beach Airport, PO Box 2708, Vero Beach,
Florida 32961-2708 Tel 001 561-567-5178 Fax 001 561-567-5228

6. Western Michigan University, International Pilot Training Centre, 237 Helmer
Road, Battle Creek, Michigan, 49015 Tel 001 616-964-4572 Fax 001


7. Australian Aviation College, Kittyhawk Lane, Parafield Airport, Adelaide,
South Australia 5106 Tel 0061 8-250-7688 Fax 0061 8-250-5467

Hope these information would be useful to you and others.


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