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Why I chose the modular ATPL program
It was only after getting rejected from an integrated ATPL course in the UK – an MPL program that I become familiar with the modular ATPL program route. I’ll be honest, I was 100% sold by the glossy magazines of the integrated ATPL school promising a job as a first officer in an airline if I handed over £120k!
There was no way I could afford this and to pay for the ATPL course cost; the recommendation from the flight school was to take out a loan for pilot training secured against my parents’ house!
If you read on, I’ll share the alternative modular ATPL program route. No big loans financed at high-interest rates, no being tied into underperforming schools suffering significant delays, and total flexibility to train around your personal life and work commitments.
What is the meaning of ATPL?
For those new to the flight training environment, ATPL stands for Air Transport Pilot Licence and is the highest level of licence you can hold – giving the privilege of being able to command an aircraft over 5900kg with more than nine passenger seats.
In the pilot training world, the ATPL phrase has been ‘borrowed’ to create the informal ‘frozen’ ATPL.
There is no such thing as a frozen ATPL from the perspective of the pilot licencing authorities, but informally, a Frozen ATPL it is considered the combination of a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and Multi-Engine Instrument Rating (MEIR)
What is a Modular ATPL program?
A Modular ATPL program is a path that allows the student to progress their training stage by stage. Using the DIY analogy, you can consider modular pilot training to be like making over your house.
You work through each step, room by room, at a pace that suits you and your available budget. The only thing to bear in mind is that you have to complete the rooms in a specific order and within certain time frames.
The steps for a modular ATPL are:
- Have a trial flight
- Complete your initial EASA Class 1 medical
- Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
- Hour building and completing your ATPL exams
- Night rating (at some stage during your hour building)
- Multi-Engine Instrument Rating & Commercial Pilot Licence
- Multi-Crew Course
Why modular ATPL program?
Put simply the Modular ATPL can be significantly cheaper and can be completed at a time and pace to suit you. from my zero to ATPL via the modular route post, I completed my modular pilot training in 12 months.
I completed my modular pilot training around my full-time job and completed it at a fraction of the cost an integrated ATPL program would have cost. Incidentally, most integrated programs last for at least 18 months if not more. With the modular ATPL program, you can progress as fast or as slow as you wish.
What does the Modular ATPL course cost in the UK?
My modular pilot training cost around £63k vs £120k the integrated course was quoting. Recently, the prices for integrated ATPL courses have come down, but that said Integrated Courses are still generally sold at a premium to modular ATPL programs.
On the continent, particularly in Eastern Europe, there are some excellent integrated ATPL course providers that offer a very high standard of pilot training with the price comparable to the UK modular ATPL cost.
Broken down an approximate budget for a modular ATPL course could look something like this:
Medical – £750
PPL – £1,000
Hour Building & Night Rating – £15,000
ATPL Theory course cost – £6,000 (includes exams and accommodation)
Commercial Pilot Licence – £10,000 (there is no need to complete your CPL course on a twin aircraft such as a DA-42. The CPL can be completed on a complex single-engine aircraft e.g. Piper Arrow (which is much lower cost to run)
Multi-Engine Instrument Rating – £20,000
Multi-Crew Course – £10,000
There are certain extras like noise-cancelling headset (Check out my PPL Flight Training Equipment Guide) and electronic flight bag that you may consider getting.
I bought a Bose A20 headset once I started my commercial training for £1,000, but that is not a necessary expense. During my Instrument rating, I also purchased an IPad to have my plates and navigation charts in electronic form on Foreflight.
What have I learnt about ATPL programs since COVID 19?
The airline recruitment job market is not in a good place because of COVID 19. Whilst grateful to still have my airline pilot job, COVID 19 has seen my income wiped out by over 40% due to being on furlough, and part-time working as many of the UK pilots presently are.
I don’t want to bash integrated courses as some of them can be excellent and reasonably priced. That said, with a heavy heart (as this issue has affected so many pilots not just in the UK, but globally), I was very grateful not to have been on the MPL program as the very high loan repayments would have been financially crippling.
Many cadet pilots are now in this horrible position where they have these very high loan repayments, no job and mum and dads house on the line.
Had I followed through on my original plan to enrol on the MPL program with the various issues well documented in the press, I fear for what state I would be in now financially, but also my general well being and stress levels.
Think very carefully about taking big loans out to pay for flying. My bias for the modular ATPL path also stems from being able to work, save up and continue your training at a pace that you can generate your income.
Where did I complete my modular ATPL program?
I completed my Modular ATPL program at:
PPL – Ravenair
Hour Building, Night Rating & IMC rating – ANT Flight Training
ATPL exams – CATS Aviation
Multi-Engine Instrument Rating – PTT Leeds (unfortunately now closed)
Commercial Pilot Licence – Westair
How do you finance your Modular ATPL program?
In my case, I financed my Modular ATPL program through savings initially. I was also working at the same time as completing my pilot training, so my salary also supplemented paying for my training.
I did have to take out a loan for my pilot training to top up my salary and savings. In the end, though, for me, in particular, the advantage of being able to continue working was a huge advantage.
It is not very well documented, but even after you have finished pilot training, each job interview and assessment will probably set you back around £1,000.
Having an income will allow you to pay for good airline prep, e.g. simulator brush up, interview coaching etc., which will increase your chances of landing that first job. From when you first start with an airline, it can sometimes be as long as 3-6months before you earn your first pay packet as you are generally not paid during your type rating.
What problems did I find with the Modular ATPL path?
Although I am a massive modular fan, it is crucial to recognise that both integrated and modular training paths remain valid training routes. Modular pilot training does not work for everyone – modular has its issues too; no total ownership or accountability for your training, particularly if using multiple schools.
Motivation can also be an issue for the student. I often found myself completely isolated and on my own a lot, for example, during my ATPL exams. On an integrated course, though, you have your course mates, and you generally carry each other along.
Choose the training path (modular ATPL program or Integrated ATPL program) that works best for you in your situation.
I am keen to hear what your thoughts are on the various routes – integrated ATPL vs Modular ATPL, so please leave a comment in the section below!
Kudzi Chikohora is a B737 captain with over 3,000 hours of flying in Europe. He holds a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering, is a chartered engineer, and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Kudzi completed his pilot training via the self-funded modular pilot training route and created kcthepilot.com to share pilot training and aviation content.