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How to get a Private Pilot License
I remember being on the airfield in Barton in Manchester midway during my PPL getting increasingly frustrated as the autumn months approached. My PPL’s progress had stagnated as the winter months began to set in.
There were multiple issues: the airfield was waterlogged; the weather was not suitable; there were no instructors available – the list goes on.
Although I had been lucky to receive my PPL flight training completely free by winning a PPL scholarship with the Honorable Company of Air Pilots, they were now threatening to cancel my PPL scholarship because of the lack of progress.
I was apprehensive for a while as losing the scholarship would have been devastating as I could not afford the training independently. At the same time, I was trying to get settled into my graduate job as an engineer, and dealing with repaying the huge uni debt pile – quite a tough time to be honest.
In this blog post, I will do my best to share some of the critical issues to consider to get your Private Pilot Licence to try to save you the stress, worry and financial anguish in getting your PPL.
If you are looking for PPL training in the North West, make sure you check out ANT in Blackpool! I did the majority of my training there and thought they were excellent!
Flight training is expensive enough as it is – and I want you to avoid having the same struggles that I had during my PPL. I will share essential items to consider to increase your chances of successfully achieving your Private Pilot Licence and minimising the agro.
What is a PPL?
A private pilot licence allows you to fly a small single-engine piston aircraft typically with two to four seats in good weather with your family and friends. A critical aspect of your private pilot licence is that you cannot earn any money from flying.
The PPL is a great tool to have, and you will have a lot of fun with your family and friends exploring the various places you want to visit. The freedom that a private pilot licence give is just amazing!
For those new to flying, the PPL forms the start of your pilot training. Once you have a PPL, you can build on it with other ratings such as a night rating – to allow you to fly at night or an IMC rating – that will enable you to fly in low visibility and low cloud situations.
Although you cannot earn money from flying with a PPL, you can pursue other activities such as an aerobatics rating or, once experienced, tow gliders at your local gliding club!
What is a LAPL?
A LAPL is a light aircraft pilot license. A LAPL used to be known as a NPPL (National Private Pilot Licence) and works and is a good alternative if all you want to do is fly recreationally and keep the costs of getting a pilot’s licence to a minimum.
The other benefit of getting a LAPL means that if you are struggling to meet the requirements of a Class 2 medical, the LAPL medical requirements are less stringent.
Why bother getting a full PPL if a LAPL is cheaper and less stringent in medical requirements? Well, unlike a PPL that you can add ratings to (and upgrade), you cannot add additional rations to a LAPL or upgrade the licence to higher professional licences if you.
A LAPL is an excellent alternative if you want to fly purely for fun!
How do you get a PPL?
1) Book a PPL trial lesson
Before you dive in and spend loads of money on flying lessons that may not be for you, the first step is to go and complete a ‘trial flight’ first. A trial lesson will allow you to get a feel for what flight training will be like and if it is for you, i.e. do you have the aptitude for it?
2) Private pilot license medical requirements – Book your medical
If you wish to complete an EASA PPL (European standard), you will need a CAA Class 2 medical as a minimum. If you have aspirations to fly professionally, you will eventually need an EASA Class 1 medical, but this is not immediately necessary at PPL level.
A class 2 medical will generally cost between £300-400. A class 1 medical will cost around £550-£800 depending on where you get it completed and if additional tests are needed.
I will do a separate blog post on class 1 and class 2 medicals. It is worth bearing in mind that class 2 medical are slightly more forgiving with longer validity periods. Class 1 medical revalidation is every 12 months (as a minimum).
The timeline shortens the older you get.
3) Finding a flying school – What factors do you need to consider when selecting a flying school for your private pilot licence?
Have a look online for the flying school that is closest to you. A few things to consider when choosing a flying school:
- What is instructor availability like? You do not want to enrol with a flying school that does not have any instructors on Mondays when you work shifts and your day off falls on a Monday!
- Is there a big waiting list? The good schools are usually busy, and you have to book weeks in advance. Use your common sense though. If it is taking days for the flying school to return your calls and there is no availability for 6 months, then look elsewhere!
- How high is the airfield elevation? The higher the airfield, the worse the weather tends to be, e.g. Leeds Bradford Airport!!
- Is the airfield grass strip or tarmac? Both are fine and good for training – be mindful that if doing your PPL during the winter, grass strips tend to suffer and have to close from time to time if there has been a lot of rain, e.g. Barton!
- Is the flying school located at a busy airport like Liverpool? Whilst the experience of mixing with the big jets is fun, mainstream airports will prioritise commercial jet traffic over you.
- So you may find that you are wasting your money orbiting in the sky because you keep having to get out of the way for commercial traffic. Also, the procedures at larger airports are more complex, and typically add a few extra hours (and cost) to a given PPL student.?
There is no perfect flying school; you have to find a good compromise between all the factors (distance, price, availability etc.) to suit your specific situation regarding your flight training objective.
What are the PPL requirements?
The PPL flight training consists of a minimum of 45hours of instruction of which 25 of those have to be dual (you and the instructor) and 10 hours of supervised solo.
As part of the flying, you have to complete a solo qualifying cross-country flight of 150NM (270km) round trip landing at two different airfields from the one of departure. The qualifying cross country flight is a significant milestone for any PPL student.
You have nine theoretical exams to complete in a range of subjects ranging from Air law to meteorology. There are 9 PPL Ground school theoretical knowledge exams to complete.
What are the PPL Exams?
- Air law
- Human performance
- Principles of flight
- Operational procedures
- Flight performance and planning
- Aircraft general knowledge
Your flight instructors at your school will be able to point you in the right direction for ground school. The first subject that you will need to pass is air law before being allowed to fly solo.
Most schools offer PPL ground school lessons for an additional fee if you are struggling with any PPL exam subjects. Check out my PPL flight training equipment complete guide if you are wondering what you may need equipment-wise.
How long will PPL take to pass?
With most students needing at least 45 hours (typically 50-60hours to pass their PPL), expect it to take around 12 months roughly.
When you start your PPL, each lesson will last about 1 hour, but as you progress, you may need slightly longer sessions to complete some of the other activities, e.g. navigation routes etc.
I would typically fly each Saturday and Sunday (if I could) would typically have one longer session or two shorter sessions (1 in the morning) and (1 in the afternoon)
It took me around nine months to complete my PPL. This was the weekend flying only with a significant amount of the time spent waiting for the weather to clear in the winter! If you can enrol on a PPL course full time, it can quickly be completed over 2-3 months during the summer months if the weather behaves.
Top tip: Don’t do your PPL slowly. You will end up wasting your money as you will have to repeat lessons if you leave too much of a gap between flying.
How much will PPL cost?
An EASA PPL costs anywhere from around £7,500- £10,000 in the UK. The price depends on where you complete your PPL and what type of aircraft you complete your private pilot licence on.
The prices for a PPL at ANT in Blackpool (where I did the bulk of my training are summarised in the table below.
|Aircraft Type||Per Hour Cost||5hr Starter Pack||10hour Pack||Full Price EASA PPL Course|
|Reims Cessna 150||£145||£795||£1375||£6995|
I included the table above to give some idea of the different options available when it comes to PPL cost. The cheapest option is to complete your PPL in a two-seater aircraft e.g. Cessna 150, with the fixed price option.
The full EASA PPL includes 45 hours flying, 45 landing fees, PPL training book, a logbook and membership to the flying club. Here are some considerations for budgeting towards a PPL.
The 45-hour requirement is the minimum. Most students complete their PPL in around 50-60 hours, depending on how consistently they can fly and the weather.
Allow yourself a budget of an additional 10-15 hours when considering taking your PPL on top of the basic requirement. All in, at my PPL skills test, I had roughly 60hours to give an idea.
Other costs to factor in for your PPL
Your flying school will usually have a headset you can borrow for your lessons. If you plan on taking up flying seriously, you may decide to invest in a headset. A budget David Clake, one for around £350-£400, is plenty. There is no need to spend £1000 on a Bose A20 headset at this stage.
You will usually need to purchase books for your PPL ground school. A flight computer will come in handy and a diversion Ruler in time. Check out my post on resources to have in your flight bag to learn more. Allow £250 or so for the extra items you may need.
How to study for PPL ground school?
My ground school was augmented with some classroom instructor lessons for the PPL Exam subjects I was unsure about or struggled with.
Top tip as this really helped me: even if the weather was not flyable, I would still go to the flying school. I would then use the rainy days to progress my ground school.
The bonus was that if the weather suddenly improved, I could take advantage of any flying window. This may be a good way for you to progress your PPL ground school and get those PPL exams done! I used the POOLEYS PPL books and thought they were really good. Links below:
- Air law (See it on Amazon)
- Human performance (See it on Amazon)
- Meteorology (See it on Amazon)
- Communications (See it on Amazon)
- Principles of flight (See it on Amazon)
- Operational procedures (See it on Amazon)
- Flight performance and planning (See it on Amazon)
- Aircraft general knowledge (See it on Amazon)
- Navigation (See it on Amazon)
What is the PPL course format?
The PPL Syllabus
- Exercise 1: Aircraft Familiarisation
- Exercise 2: Pre and post flight
- Exercise 3: Air experience
- Exercise 4: Controls
- Exercise 5: Taxing
- Exercise 6: Straight and level flight
- Exercise 7: Climbing
- Exercise 8: Descending
- Exercise 9: Turning
- Exercise 10: Stalling and slow flight
- Exercise 11: Spinning
- Exercise 12: Take off and Climb (to downwind leg)
- Exercise 13: Circuits, Approaches and Landings
- Exercise 14: First Solo
- Exercise 15: Advanced turning
- Exercise 16: Forced landings without power
- Exercise 17: Precautionary landings
- Exercise 18: Navigation
- Exercise 19: Instrument flying
- PPL skills test
Irrespective of whether you eventually want to become a commercial pilot or fly recreationally, the PPL aims to teach good habits from the start. You do not need to hold a degree, and provided you can do basic mathematics and apply yourself, you can get through your PPL.
Physically, you need to be strong enough to manipulate the controls (but no superhuman strength is required!).
If you are short, the seats in most training aircraft can be adjusted to suit most measurements and, where necessary, cushions are provided to allow you to sit at the correct height/ distance from the controls.
Before each PPL training flight, you will typically have a briefing with your instructor to visit and discuss the items taught during the lesson. These briefings are vital in clearing up any last remaining doubts, setting the expectation for the flight and giving the PPL student a chance to ask any questions.
It is a good idea to read ahead and prepare for your lesson in advance as you will feel much more ready on the day and have questions for the instructor.
It is worth noting that each exercise may not be completed in the exact sequence written, and your instructor may choose to alter the sequence to make the most efficient use of the time they have with you.
Weather plays a huge part in PPL flying, so a lot of the time, progress and lessons covered will be dictated by the weather.
Exercise 1: Aircraft Familiarisation
This section of the syllabus covers the basics of the aircraft operation. You will be shown the aircraft itself, the primary flight controls and spend some time in the cockpit looking at the layout and location of all the various instruments and switches.
Exercise 2: Pre and post-flight
Exercise 2 covers all the preflight preparation right to the point after the engine is started. During your pre-flight preparation, the instructor will teach and go through various items like
- Aircraft documents
- Local rules to get permission to carry out the flight
- Weather and planning your flight
- Mass and balance
- Tech log
- Booking out with air traffic control
Once all the preparation has been completed, the next step is to head to the aircraft. You will be shown how to complete the ‘walk around’, including taking and checking a fuel sample.
Excercise 2B looks at how to start and shut down the engine and handling any emergencies that may occur during the startup and shut down, e.g. flooded engine, engine fire, or no oil pressure after the start.
Exercise 2C focuses on completing a flight. Items covered will include ensuring the aircraft is secure and returning aircraft documentation to the relevant areas.
Exercise 3: Air experience
The air experience part of the syllabus is the first part of learning to fly in the aircraft. This aspect focuses on getting you used to the feeling and sensation of going flying and being in the air. You will probably have some opportunity to have control of some of the flight.
Lookout will be introduced, and the instructor will probably also point out some of the local landmarks you will be using during your PPL training.
Exercise 4: Controls
The controls section has several elements to it and consists of the following:
- 4A: Primary effect of the main controls
- 4B: Further effect of the main controls
- 4C: Trimming
- 4D: Effect of airspeed & slipstream on the control
- 4E: Effect of power chagnes
- 4F: Flaps
- 4G: Use of carburettor heat
- 4H: Mixuture control
Ex 4A is upper air work and looks at the primary flight controls: rudder, ailerons and elevator. You will perform climbs, descends, turns and make have the effect of the ruder demonstrated.
Exercise 4B goes further into the effects of controls with exercise 4C leading onto trimming. The airspeed effect and how the slipstream affects control is taught in 4D.
Ex4E focuses on how power changes affect the controls. 4F then follows onto the flap with the remainder of the Ex4 looking at carburettor heat application and mixture control.
Exercise 5: Taxing
In Ex5, taxing is introduced, including reinforcing the rules of taxing and sharing specific techniques for the airfield you are using, e.g. operations on grass or slightly boggy ground.
Exercise 6: Straight and level flight
Ex 6 is all about straight and level work. The PPL syllabus is based predominantly on looking outside with only occasional glances at the instrument.
Ex 6 will reinforce the philosophy of maintaining a good visual attitude to maintain straight and level flight by looking outside and ‘maintaining the picture’. The relationship between the altimeter and VSI will also be examined to help with accurate flying.
The instructor will then move onto straight and level with different flap settings and also maintain balanced flight.
Exercise 7: Climbing
Ex7 covers the following:
- Entry into the climb
- Maintaining the climb
- Levelling off
You will be using the VSI, altimeter and airspeed indicator to assist with accurate flying.
Exercise 8: Descending
Ex 8 looks at descending with no power, cruise descent, and descending with extended flaps. Airmanship, in particular – looking out – will be reinforced throughout the exercises.
Exercise 9: Turning
Ex 9 covers the different types of turning:
- Medium level turn
- Climbing turns
- Descending turns
- Dliding turns and turning with flaps
- Turning onto a heading
The chances are you will cover the first nine exercises relatively quickly as they will be introduced relatively early on during your training, and each flight will allow you to practice your turns.
You will eventually master your turns but do not be alarmed if, at the start during your turns, you finish your turns a few 100ft above or below the height you started.
The accuracy of the turns will come from maintaining a good picture and having a quick scan inside out outside the aircraft.
Exercise 10: Stalling and slow flight
Stalling and slow flight are probably among the most critical aspects of the PPL syllabus because of the number of stall spin accidents each year in general aviation. Ex 10 looks at the symptoms of a stall, recognising these and then carrying out efficient recoveries from the stall.
This part of the training starts with looking at slow flight and then recovery from the three different types of stall:
- Stall during straight and level
- Stall on base leg
- Stall in the landing configuration
The instructor will demonstrate how to recover competently with a minimal loss of height.
Exercise 11: Spinning
The spinning sections cover recovery from an incipient spin, and some schools also carry out completely developed spinning. Whether or not you cover fully developed spins will depend on the type of aircraft your flying school have.
Some training aircraft are forbidden from carrying out spinning.
Exercise 12: Take off and Climb (to downwind leg)
This section looks at flying the aircraft from the ground, transitioning into the climb and positioning the aircraft onto the downwind leg, ready to complete your circuit.
Ex 12 covers all aspects to get airborne, including assessing wind conditions, pre-takeoff checks and flying the aircraft.
Using reference points on the ground, you will learn to track the runway centreline after take off, correct for wind on the crosswind leg and then position the aircraft correctly onto the downwind leg.
Ex 12 will also cover emergencies during the takeoff, e.g. rejected takeoff on the runway and engine failures soon after takeoff, where you have to pick a location to land ahead.
Exercise 13: Circuits, Approaches and Landings
Ex 13 looks at normal powered circuits, approaches and landings.
When you first start doing circuits, it will feel like a lot is going on (and perhaps be overwhelming at first). Initially, your accuracy may suffer (my instructor had to keep reminding me to watch my height) but eventually more and more of the flying will become automatic.
Like learning to drive a car, you will initially spend a lot of time thinking about ‘driving’ but eventually, certain actions become automatic e.g. gear changes leaving you with more capacity to think about what is coming next.
As you progress through your PPL training, you start off following through on the instructor’s inputs and as you become more competent, you will be allowed to fly the aircraft closer and closer to the ground until you are carrying out your own takeoffs and landings.
You will learn about circuit planning and get used to the different perspectives when looking outside and also take into account wind.
You will be taught landing techniques too in how to identify runway aiming points, fly a stabilised approach and how to make corrections if you are not quite on the right path.
The trickiest item for most is judging the landing and flare, but don’t worry – this will come with time and practice.
Ex 13 also covers go-arounds i.e. for whatever reason, you are not able to complete your landing so you need to cancel the approach and initiate a go-around.
Ex 13 covers standard techniques to depart the circuit.
Ex 13B will cover flapless approach and landings. Should the flaps fail for whatever reason when flying on your own, you will be more than comfortable getting the aircraft down safely.
Glide approaches and landings will also be practised, and this is to simulate an engine failure in the circuit environment. Glide approaches are a stepping stone towards Practice Forced Landings (PLFs) into a field.
If the engine were to fail in a single-engine piston aircraft, unlike a twin-engine aircraft, you would have to find a suitable field or area to make an emergency landing into.
Ex 13 will also cover crosswind landings along with short field operations.
Exercise 14: First Solo
The first solo is a fantastic milestone in your flying career. When the instructor feels that you are ready and safe, they will hop out of the aircraft, and you will be left to go and fly a circuit on your own.
You will complete your checks and taxi out as if your instructor was sitting next to you. But then you will look to your right and realise that you are on your own!
Savour it and enjoy the moment because you will never forget that first time feeling (a mix of fear, excitement, pride and joy).
Exercise 15: Advanced turning
After your solo, there will be more work to do on turns. You will practice steep turns, and Ex 15b looks at recovery from unusual attitudes.
Recovery from unusual attitudes will include practice from nose high & low airspeed along with recovery from nose-low & high airspeed.
Ex 15 will also look at steep descending turns if you needed to get down quickly, e.g. because of an engine fire that could not be extinguished.
Exercise 16: Forced landings without power
Building on the work carried out during Ex 13 (glide approaches), you will move onto forced landings without power.
Force landing without power work on the scenario that you have suffered an engine failure, attempted an engine restart (which has not been successful), so you now need to find a suitable location to land in.
Ex 16 will teach you to look out for obstacles in choosing a landing site and help you estimate the gliding range of the aircraft. You will also be taught circuit planning to allow you to manage your energy as best as you can to give the best chances of a successful landing.
Exercise 17: Precautionary landings
Precautionary landings are taught as a life saving get out of jail card. The idea behind precautionary landings is to give you an option to land in a non-prepared area if, for whatever reason, the flight is no longer able to continue.
Reasons may include weather deteriorating with the cloud base getting lower and below what could be considered safe. Other reasons for carrying out a precautionary landing may include a rough running engine that may fail without sufficient warning to allow you to get to a diversion airfield.
Exercise 18: Navigation
Pilot navigation will teach you to navigate a low level using visual flight rules.
- Maintaining a flight log
- Weather and operation considerations including NOTAMs
- Map work
- Safety altitudes and curising altitude
- Use of flight computer
- Take off and landing performance
Navigation will also cover procedures when lost or are unsure of your position.
One of the more challenging aspects of navigation I found was diversions. Diversions are one of the items on the PPL skills test, and at the time, it just felt like I would never be able to manage to complete a diversion on my own.
As with most things during PPL training, with each practice, you find that you can go a bit further on your own before the instructor has to help you out. Eventually, though, things ‘click’ and you can carry out the task or exercise alone!
Ex 18 will also teach you bad weather circuits – which are fun to fly at 500ft! The goal, though, is to safely land should the weather close in.
Exercise 19: Instrument flying
Instrument flying for PPL is taught to allow a safe recovery should you inadvertently enter the cloud – without getting the aircraft into an upset condition.
You will be taught the instrument scan, climbing and descending on instruments along with turns. You will also be taught how to recover the aircraft from unusual attitudes.
PPL skills test
Once at the required standard, you will have a mock skills test. Essentially you will be expected to carry out and complete everything to do with the flight yourself.
The typical scenario is that the examiner will arrive posing as a friend or family member who wants to see a destination.
From there, you will be given some time to plan the flight. Once the flight is planned, the examiner will want to see all aspects of your planning, including:
- Map and route
- Review of NOTAMs
- perfomance & mass and balance calculation
- Fuel plan
After the briefing with the examiner, you will then book out, complete your walk around and start the flight.
The PPL skills test has six sections which cover:
- Preflight operations and departure
- General airwork
- Enroute procedures
- Approach and landing
- Abnormal and emergency procedures
- Simulated asymmetric flight and relevant class or type items
The PPL Skills test will last for roughly 2 hours and cover everything you have learnt during your PPL.
There is a good chance you will be nervous, but try your best to relax. Remember that your flying school would not recommend you for test if you were not ready, so try and be as confident as you can.
The PPL skills test itself should be a relaxed affair where you simply demonstrate to the examiner that you can carry out a safe flight in good weather.
If anything goes wrong during the test, do not worry. Put it behind you and move on to the next exercise.
In most cases, provided you promptly correct the mistake or correct whatever the infringement was (incorrect altitude, speed, etc.), all will be ok.
The examiner is allowed some leeway and, in most cases, will simply ask you to repeat the aspect you did not quite get right or give you a hint that something isn’t quite right!
During my PPL skills test, I was getting closer and closer to some military airspace, and the examiner subtly said, ‘do we need to be speaking to anyone right now!’.
I realised straight away and got in touch with the military controller.
Once you are back on the ground – the last aspect is usually a rejected takeoff; try your best and keep concentrating as you taxi in and shut down the aircraft.
You will then go back into the briefing room with your examiner, and hopefully, you get the good news – you have passed!
Before the wild celebrations can begin, it is worth completing all your paperwork for your PPL application at that stage so you can apply to the CAA for your private pilot license straight away.
The paperwork includes: getting your logbook stamped up, examiner completing their report, along with getting any other applicable documentation certified.
After a few weeks, you will have fully gotten your licence issued, and you are now ready to go flying with your family and friends!
Night rating with a PPL
If you wish, you can complete your night rating when carrying out your PPL course. The night rating consists of:
- 5 hours flying
- at least 3 hours of dual instruction
- 1 hour cross country navigation with at least 1 dual flight of at least 50KM (27NM)
- 5 Solo take offs and 5 full stop landings
Are you thinking about starting your PPL, and do you have any questions about the process? Please leave me 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.