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I struggled at certain stages during my pilot training in the UK for a number of reasons; the UK weather can be a nightmare at times (during my PPL I did hardly any flying from October until March!), UK pilot training costs can also be some of the most expensive in the world – my instrumenting aircraft hire was £550/hr!
The UK has got some of the best flying instruction in the world though in terms of standards and safety. In this blog post, I want to share easy mistakes you should avoid when considering pilot training in the UK to get the most out of your flight training.
#1: Most expensive does not necessarily mean the best
Pilot salaries in the UK have been decimated by COVID 19. Those lucky enough to remain in professional pilot employment have had to take significant pay cuts through part-time work and furlough.
For this reason, it is extremely important for anyone undergoing pilot training not to pay over the odds in the hope that ‘once in employment they will be able to make the money back quicky’.
For those wishing to go all the way and become commercial airline pilots, the likes of British Airway Pilot Training (prior to COVID) opened recruitment opportunities to people from any flying school. Previously, you had to be from an integrated course with a particular flying school to be considered.
This again highlighted to me the change in times that the most expensive pilot training is not a guarantee of a job!
#2: Paying over the odds for your trial flight
Before commencing (and spending serious cash) on pilot training, the first stage is to see if you enjoy and have an aptitude for flying. You can do this through a trial flight.
One day during my hour building, I was chatting to someone who was at the flying school for a trial flight. I asked where they had got their trial flight from and the person said they had ordered it online. They had paid £350 for an hour in a two-seater training aircraft.
This is outrageous as the cost would normally be around £150-£200. Although it may seem like a 1 off cost, if you continuously overpay for all your pilot training, you may find that you run out of money. Or worse, have to borrow via a Pilot Training loan at high rates of interest.
#3: Not taking researching opportunities on How To Become a Pilot For Free!
Pilot Training UK sponsorship opportunities do not exist anymore, unfortunately. There are various pilot training scholarships available from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, Air League and Air Cadets.
The Honourable Company of Air Pilots have the following pilot training scholarships:
- Private Pilot Licence Scholarships
- Gliding Scholarships
- Flying Instructor Scholarships
The Air League have the following flying scholarship and bursaries:
- Powered Flying Scholarships (towards your Private Pilot Licence)
- Gliding Scholarships
- ATPL Theory Ground School Scholarships
- Airline Pilot Standard Multi Crew Course (APS MCC) Scholarships
The Air Cadets provide:
- Air Experience Flights
- Gliding Scholarships and Advanced Glider Training
- 12 Hour Powered Flying Scholarships
I believe it is important not to miss out on free pilot training as, honestly, getting the first few steps up the training ladder provided me with enough belief to push on myself.
To this day, without the Air Cadets and Private Pilot Scholarship from the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, the pilot training gap would have been too wide to bridge by myself.
#4. Not realising that getting a Class 1 medical is not always a straight forward matter!
The challenges involved in getting an EASA Class 1 medical does not just apply to Pilot Training in the UK, but anywhere. Your EASA Class 1 medical is very thorough in checking your fitness for public transport flight.
Very often, your Aero Medical Examiner may need to carry out further checks to assess your fitness to flying or request further information from your doctor. My Class 1 initial took roughly four months before I had it in hand.
The problem some people put themselves in is that they start their pilot training at significant expense (with a Class 2 medical) only to find later on down the line that they cannot hold a class 1 medical and fly professionally. Pilot training cost in the UK from zero to fATPL can be anywhere from £60k – £100k!
#5. Misjudging the amount of work involved for commercial pilot training in the UK
I started my ATPL theory, thinking that I could progress it gently by ‘studying in front of the television’ each evening after work. What a gross underestimation. ATPL theory is probably the hardest and intense studying I have ever done (and I studied Aerospace Engineering at university).
It is essential to recognise the intensity of the work needed. Most that struggle with ATPL exams can become quickly demotivated and start failing exams, hampering their chances of securing that all-important first job.
#6. Poor flying school selection for pilot training in the UK.
During my pilot training, I struggled with several issues that nearly derailed my pilot training at various stages. My main issues were:
- Not flying enough and having to repeat lessons because the airfield was closed (due to weather and the ground being frozen)
- Not flying enough and having to repeat lessons because there was not enough instructor availability
- The last-minute cancellation of flying lessons because of aircraft availability
These problems can really slow down your pilot training. Pilot training in the UK is expensive enough as it is, and you don’t want to increase the cost because your flying school is not right for you.
#7. Not giving Modular Pilot Training enough consideration
An integrated flight training providers sold me the promise that if I spent £120k with them, I would find myself in the right-hand seat of an A320 in 18 months time! I still can’t believe I was genuinely prepared to sell my house to facilitate this and have to borrow more money on top.
There are some excellent integrated training courses out there, but I think it is important to realise that integrated pilot training is generally (but not always) more expensive when comparing Pilot Training UK costs.
#8. Don’t give up on Pilot Training in the UK
It took me 20 years from my first flight in the air cadets to flying the B737 for the first time. You will be challenged in so many different ways: money, weather, time, issues with yourself, issues with your flying school etc. The critical thing is do not give up. Just keep going, no matter how slowly it is.
If all you can afford is 1 flight a year, just to keep your rating going then do that. Ive lost track of the number of times I have ‘JUST’ had enough hours to move onto the next stage’. I unfroze my Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) to make it a full ATPL in November 2020 with 3 hours over the minimum requirement.
I would later look back and see that in 2012 as an early PPL, I flew for a grand total of 2 hours that year. How important were those 2 hours for me – extremely important!
#9. Be careful with your money during pilot training
For the most part, aviation is a super friendly place where people genuinely want to help each other. Like any environment, there continue to be people and companies that want to take advantage of young people’s ‘keenness’ and their ‘dream to fly’.
Compound it with an aviation industry where most are struggling and many pilots out of work, people are looking to try and make money ‘fast’ and will try and sell you anything. What you are sold may not be necessary or even help you in the long run or may already be available for free!
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What qualifications do I need to become a pilot?
What qualifications do I need to become a pilot is one of the questions that I get asked about the most! The base qualification that is generally recommended is maths and physics at GCSE level for Private Pilot Licence. Some airlines and pilot training schools (for commercial pilot training UK courses) may ask for A-Levels or equivalent.
At present, I have not seen any requirement to have a degree.
I have learnt (particularly as a result of COVID 19), that whatever qualification you have, come into aviation with a qualification or skill you can fall back on. We will hopefully see a recovery in the aviation industry as the COVID 19 vaccine become more widely available.
There are still a HUGE number of pilots unemployed globally. At the low hour pilot level, there is and will be massive competition for professional pilot jobs.
If you are lucky enough to secure a job after pilot training, the chances are it will be on a seasonal contract i.e. working summer only and off during the winter and most probably on a self-employed zero-hour basis.
The lack of stability in professional pilot employment and income will mean that you will need a skill or qualification that you can fall back on to keep going during the times you are not flying (or whilst looking for a job).
Finding a pilot job is extremely expensive too. You will most likely need to spend close to £1,000 for the airline assessment (assessment fee, sim prep, hotel and transport etc). On top of that, you will probably need to have £20-30k ready to pay for a type rating. Unfortunately, airline funded pilot training has all but disappeared!
The better qualified you are with an ability to earn an income outside of aviation, the more comfortable things will be all the way through from finding that first flying job to managing the future crisis that may lead to losing your job during your flying career.
What are the routes to become a pilot?
Pilot Training in the UK has two main routes: integrated or modular pilot training. Integrated pilot training is where you pay a fixed price for all your pilot training and is completed by a single provider, typically on a full-time basis. Integrated pilot training tends to take around 18 months.
Modular pilot training is where you complete your pilot training in steps, typically on a pay as you go basis. Modular pilot training can be completed on a part-time basis and I managed to complete mine around my full-time engineering role in the oil and gas industry in 12 months.
With whichever route you take, the steps to complete your pilot training in UK will normally consist of:
- Trial flight
- EASA Class 1 Medical
- Getting your PPL
- Hour Building & Night Rating
- ATPL Theory
- Multi Engine Instrument Rating
- Commercial Pilot Licence
- Multi Crew Course & Advanced Upset and Recovery Training
- Pilot Interview
Integrated courses may complete their pilot training in a slightly different sequence.
Full time-integrated pilot training takes around 18months to complete. Modular pilot training is progressed at a pace to suit the individual. I completed my pilot training in 12 months (but that was extreme!). Most modular pilots complete their training in 2-4 years.
Where can I undertake pilot training?
You can complete your pilot training at an Approved Training Organisation (ATO). Have a look at your local Civil Aviation Authority to see the closest available ATO to you.
What job skills do I need to become a pilot?
The 8 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) pilot competencies consist of:
- Aircraft Flight Path Management – Manual Control
- Aircraft Flight Path Management – Automation
- Leadership and teamwork
- Problem-solving and decision making
- Application of procedures
- Workload management
- Situational Awareness
Aside from the aircraft flight path management, you can develop many of the skills needed to become a pilot outside of the flight deck before you even start your pilot training through extracurricular activities, sport and work.
How much does pilot training cost UK?
Pilot training in the UK costs anywhere from around £60k to £100k. The modular route can sometimes be cheaper, but modular pilot training does not always work for everyone.
Think carefully about your circumstances and how much time (and money) you have to commit before decided which route to take.
My approximate costs for each phase of pilot training in the UK are shown below:
- Medical £1,000
- PPL £10,000
- Hour Building: £15,000
- ATPL Theory (distance learning): £6,000
- Multi Engine Instrument Rating: £25,000
- Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL): £8,000
- APS MCC: £10,000
An integrated pilot training course in the UK will cost around £90,000 + accommodation fees.
If hoping for airline employment, budget to have to spend between £20,000 – £30,000 for your type rating course.
Are there airline funded pilot training opportunities in the UK?
At the time of writing, there are unfortunately no airline funded pilot training opportunities in the UK. An avenue often overlooked is the military. If you meet the requirements and military flying is something you would like to do, I would recommend you look into learning to fly with the Army, RAF or Navy.
If you have any questions on pilot training in the UK, please leave a comment in the section below – I would love to hear from you!
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.