I did ATPL Online Course via distance learning in 8 months around my full-time job and what a grind that was! Check out my best selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for how to pass your ATPL exams.

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How to go about choosing the right ATPL online course for you? (I picked CATS ATPL)

After getting rejected from an integrated ATPL course in the UK, I tried to figure out how I could progress my pilot training via the modular route. The constraints for me were: the course needed to be cheap, and the mandatory classroom days for ATPL distance learning needed to be kept to a minimum.

The material needed to be of a good standard to get me through my EASA ATPL exams on my own via distance learning.

In this blog post, I’ll share the process I went through in selecting an ATPL online course and also how I found the CATS product, to help you in deciding which provider to go with hopefully. 

One of the gaps I found during my ATPL exams was that nobody actually teaches you HOW to study – and I struggled initially as I had been out of education for a while. Check out my How To Study Effectively class on Skillshare – Skillshare is running an offer at the moment for 2 weeks FREE.

In the class, I share my study techniques of how I completed my ATPL exams in just 8 months whilst juggling a full-time engineering job (and hour building at the weekends)!

How to study effectively
How to study effectively

See the class here

The most important aspect is to figure out is what are the priorities in terms of what would work best for you and your specific situation. 

When I was looking for an ATPL online course to complete my 14 ATPL subjects, I looked at all the major ATPL distance learning providers. The providers I looked at included Bristol Ground School, CAT3C and the CAE/ Oxford ATPL distance learning product.

What I found was that CATS was by far the lowest cost product available.

With CATS, ATPL ground school in the UK is split into three modules. A single ATPL distance learning module with CATS (online only) was £599, or you could purchase the full ATPL theory course only for £1499.

While pricing was a consideration, what was essential for me was minimising the amount of time I’d need to be in the classroom.

I was limited by the number of days of annual leave that I could take from my job. I was reasonably confident I could work through the material on my own though because I was from a technical background and had studied Aerospace Engineering at university. 

Think carefully about how much classroom time and coaching you will need. The longer you have been out of education, the more help (instructor-led) you will need during your ATPL exam subjects.

Equally, the less ‘technical’ – maths and physics minded you are, the more help you will need. 

For me, with CATS only having four mandatory days of classroom brush per module, that was a deal-breaker as I needed to be super conservative with my annual leave.

A word of caution though, if going for this approach: you will need to do near enough all the work yourself and arrive at the brush-up classes with targeted and specific questions for the areas you are struggling with.

Don’t expect to come to the brush-up classes and be ‘taught’ the subjects. There is not enough time for that.

CATS ATPL EASA Theoretical Knowledge Course Overview:

The 14 EASA ATPL exams with CATS are split into 3 modules. I was on the distance learning course, and the idea is that you complete the majority of the study yourself and then arrive for the bush up classes for each module.

The brush-up classes each last 4 days. I attended Luton’s brush-up classes (as I could save on accommodation having family near there).

In terms of the amount of study time, I completed my ATPLs in 8 months and averaged 3 hours per day, 5 days a week. The brush-up classes lasted 4 days for each module.

Conveniently, the CATS Luton location is also a CAA exam centre so that worked well for me too.

What are the 14 ATPL exams?

  1. Human Performance & Limitations
  2. Air Law & ATC Procedures
  3. Operational Procedures
  4. VFR Communications
  5. IFR Communications
  6. Meteorology
  7. Principles of Flight
  8. Performance
  9. Flight Planning
  10. General Navigation
  11. Mass & Balance
  12. Aircraft General Knowledge
  13. Instrumentation
  14. Radio Navigation

CATS ATPL Course requirements

The prerequisite to join the ATPL Theory course is that you need to have an ICAO PPL.

The module split for the ATPL subjects is shown below:

Module 1: Operational

  • Human Performance & Limitations
  • Air Law & ATC Procedures
  • Operational Procedures
  • VFR Communications
  • IFR Communications
  • Meteorology

Module 2: Navigational

  • Principles of Flight
  • Performance
  • Flight Planning
  • General Navigation
  • Mass & Balance

Module 3: Technical

  • Aircraft General Knowledge
  • Instrumentation
  • Radio Navigation

How did I find the CATS ATPL online course distance learning material?

The quality of ATPL training material varies by company. One of the most important things I learnt during the ATPL process was that no one provider has perfect material. To be successful in your ATPL training, you need to use all the information available to you from multiple sources.

Specifically, in my case with CATS, the material was fine. I would say it covered perhaps 75-85% of what I needed to know ( some subjects were better than others), and I’d often find that I’d need to top this up with information from other areas.

For example, CATS had their question bank, but I found I would use both the CATS (Progress tests) and the Bristol Ground School Question bank as each was slightly better for certain things.

The Bristol Ground School question bank was good for explanations, for example. The ATPLGS question bank last 200 questions feature is an incredible tool where students who have recently completed ATPL exams flag questions that were similar to what appeared in the exam.

See my CATS ATPL Online course review YouTube video here

I would also top up my knowledge through the brush-up classes by bringing all my problems to the class during the brush-up. I found at specific points, irrespective of how much you study the material on an iPad – I still did not understand, e.g. grid nav! 

Not unique to CATS is that irrespective of which provider you choose to complete your ATPL training, you will need to get comfortable getting information from other sources. The ATPL exams continue to evolve, and all the schools take a bit of time to catch up.

What was the CATS ATPL platform like to use?

I found the CATS ATPL theory course online easy to use and well laid out. 

CATS ATPL Online Course Home
CATS ATPL Online Course Home

What I liked was that I could download the material for offline use on my iPad and study, for example, during the lunch breaks at work or use the question bank on the train. 

Once you completed each chapter/ subject, there was a progress chart and a test that updated as you went along.

CATS ATPL Online Course HPL Progress Page

Increasingly, there are more resources available with CATS, e.g. CATS TV that has video of various classes and ATPL subjects for people completing ATPL distance learning to stream.


Would I recommend CATS ATPL?

I managed to pass all my ATPL exam subjects first time with CATS in 8 months around my job. I guess the responsibility is 100% on you to get through the CATS ATPL books and material online and grind out a result.

If you work hard and do the reading and use all the external resources (other question banks, Facebook groups etc), you will have no problem.

I think that goes for any ATPL ground school distance learning provider you use, no matter how good their material/ brush up classes are, it is up to you to get the work done. 

Frequently asked CATS ATPL questions

Is ATPL a degree?

ATPL is not a degree, but some ATPL courses offer the opportunity to provide some cross-credit from your ATPL theory and pilot training towards getting a degree. A good example of this is the Aviation Operations with Commercial Pilot Training BSc degree course from Kingston university.

What is the hardest ATPL exam?

Principles of flight! I found principles of flight to be one of the hardest ATPL subjects because it is probably the most technical subject in terms of equations, theory and concepts to understand. The principles of flight ATPL exam questions can also be very subtle in terminology and phrasing (with many traps). It is easy to get questions wrong in Principles of flight by misunderstanding the question intent.

Which is better ATPL or MPL?

An MPL (Multi Pilot Licence) is focused on multi-crew airline operations. The student is introduced to the airline simulator environment and airline procedures much earlier on during the flight training process than the traditional ‘frozen’ ATPL route.

The idea is that the student becomes much more proficient in airline operations much quicker compared to someone who follows the traditional route and is only introduced to multi-crew operations much later (after their CPL/ MEIR).

A frozen ATPL consists of a Multi Engine Instrument Rating and a Commercial Pilot Licence.

The problem with the MPL is you are tied to a sponsoring airline. The MPL licence can only be issued once the 6 take-off and landings are completed in the airline aircraft, e.g. A320.

If for whatever reason, the sponsoring airline pulls out before your MPL licence is issued, the conversion cost to get a traditional frozen ATPL to be able to fly a single-pilot operation or apply to join another airline can be upwards of £50k.

For this reason, I would say a frozen ATPL gives you more options should things go wrong during your flight training. The other advantage of a frozen ATPL is as you complete individual stages of flight training, e.g. PPL, Night rating, Multi-Engine Piston rating etc., these can be endorsed in your licence straight away. Unlike an MPL student, you do not have to wait until all your training is complete to get your licence.

Can I get a job with a frozen ATPL?

Yes. There are currently low hour pilot jobs being advertised requiring just a frozen ATPL (Commercial Pilot Licence & Multi-Engine Instrument Rating with Multi-Crew Course)

What does Atpl mean?

ATPL means Air Transport Pilots Licence. The normal pilot training route, typically after completion, will give you a CPL & MEIR (frozen ATPL). Once you have 1,500hours in total time and meet some other experience requirements, you can complete an ATPL skills test and apply for an ATPL licence.

How do I get ATPL?

To get an ATPL, you need to have completed the following (taken from the UK CAA website)

  • Hold an MPL licence or
  • CPL and Multi Engine Insturment Rating (with multi crew course)
  • Passed 14 ATPL theoretical knowledge examinations
  • 500 hours in multi-pilot operations on aeroplanes or
  • 500 hours as Pilot in command under supervision (PICUS) or 
  • 250 hours as Pilot in Command (PIC) or
  • 250 hours to include a minimum of 70 hours as PIC and the remainder as PICUS.
  • 200 hours of cross-country flight time, of which at least 100 hours should be as PIC or as PIC under supervision
  • 75 hours of instrument time, of which not more than 30 hours can be instrument ground time
  • 100 hours of night flight as PIC or co-pilot.

Of the 1500 hours of total flight time required, up to 100 hours can be completed in a suitable simulator (FFS or FNPT – but only a maximum of 25 hours may be completed in an FNPT). 

Thinking about progressing your ATPL? Check out my best selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for how to pass your ATPL exams and progress your professional flight training.

Listen to the Pilot Training Guide FREE with Audible here

See it on Amazon

If you have any questions about the CATS ATPL, please leave a comment in the section below. I would love to hear from you.

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