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Working full time and trying to progress my flight training alongside my job at the weekends, I found it a total nightmare to find commercial pilot training in the North of the UK. The main obstacle was finding a CPL course that could commit to taking me on for CPL pilot training during weekends.
Everywhere I called either had a massive waiting list, people didn’t get back to me, or the said flight school had questionable reviews or was too far to drive.
In this post, I’ll share why I think Westair in Blackpool is probably the best-kept secret when it comes to modular commercial pilot licence UK flight training schools.
Quick links to what is in this post:
Picking a school once you meet the UK CPL course requirements.
Do not wait to complete all your hour building and ATPL exams before deciding which school to choose for your CPL and make inquiries. You want to be looking roughly 3-6months in advance depending on what pace you are working at.
Most of the good flying schools get booked up in advance and typically have a waitlist. In February, I approached Westair as I was coming to the end of hour building for a start date late in March.
Roughly speaking, I was able to book all my flying lessons six weeks in advance with Westair and booked two sessions each Sundays to progress my commercial pilot licence.
What are the CPL Course prerequisite Modular requirements (lifted straight from the CAA website)
- Theoretical knowledge exams (either CPL or ATPL)
- 150hours TT prior to starting the CPL course
- 100hours PIC/PICUS
- CPL qualifying cross country – 300NM
- 200hours TT before taking your test
Factors to consider when choosing your CPL course
Commercial pilot licence cost:
One of the quickest ways to save money but not compromise on the quality of training is to complete your CPL licence on a single instead of a twin. The Westair CPL course costs around £7,500 once you include the skills test fee.
This is roughly half the commercial pilot licence cost at a flying school that conducts CPL on a twin. If you already hold a UK MEIR, you can do the reduced 15hr course vs the standard 25hr, including the Basic Instrument Flight Module.
I genuinely believe the Westair CPL is probably one of the cheapest pilot training in the UK when it comes to CPL licence training.
The other factor to consider is the affordable accommodation options in Blackpool; you may find it cheaper to commute from further afar for your CPL course and stay at the airport (the Premier inn hotel is well priced per night and I always found availability at sub £50/night whenever I needed to stay).
Picking a CPL course that uses the same aircraft ‘family’ that you did your hour building will give you an advantage!
Don’t be seduced into paying well over the odds for a shiny G1000 expensive DA-42 twin for CPL. There is no requirement for CPL to be completed on twin and I’d even argue that you make the CPL harder for yourself with the increased complexity of a twin.
Ok, fair enough, you avoid the dreaded practised forced landing in a twin, but the added speed and increased climb and all-round performance of a twin reduce your thinking time. The 15-20kts speed reduction of being in a single vs a twin makes VFR navigation easier.
Also, you would have done most of your hour building in a single, so you will be much more comfortable in a single. In my case, I did most of my hour building in a PA28 which is what Westair use for the bulk of the CPL course, before doing the last few hours in a Piper Arrow. The only change in the Arrow is retractable gear and a clever prop.
Location: Try and pick your CPL course to be in the area where you did most of the hour building.
I did my hour building from Blackpool airport, so I knew the local area well. I get the argument that a professional pilot should be able to fly and navigate everywhere. Still, don’t underestimate the ‘home advantage’ knowing your local area well on test day when the nerves kick in.
My diversion leg on my CPL course took me to a village 5 miles from my house! Westair was perfect for me because I knew the area well. There was good variation around the area: North puts you in the lake district’s high ground. East gives you the challenge of going in and out of controlled airspace with Leeds Bradford.
South give you Liverpool and Manchester for the same. This makes for plenty of opportunities to practice complex diversions during your CPL course. Blackpool airport is mainly GA with the odd private jet movement.
You get the good bits of operating at a grown-up airfield: ATIS, ILS & NDB (for your Basic Instrument Flight Module) but do not have the massive delays you experience at passenger airports. Most of the time Blackpool airport is quiet.
The location close to the coast meant that I never had a scrub day during my CPL course due to weather. CPL is a VFR course, and the weather plays a huge part. I had an IR(R) before my CPL so if the weather was iffy, we just adjusted and focussed on the instrument part of flying or ‘popped above’ and worked on general handling etc.
You want to check on how many other students you will be ‘competing with’ for resources during your CPL course.
I was the only CPL student at Westair at the time, and selfishly this was *AMAZING*! It meant that if there were any issues, I was the priority, and they were always resolved quickly.
The Westair CPL course was in sharp contrast to my Multi Engine Instrument Rating experience in Leeds where the flying school was overbooked. We would find lessons getting cancelled at the last minute or other students being prioritised for aircraft allocation.
Professional pilot training is hard enough as it is. If you can concentrate on the flying part and not have to participate in ‘flying school politics’, it makes the experience much more enjoyable and straightforward.
You want to have a sharp focus in the standard of CPL course instruction:
The bulk of CPL is focussed on changing your psychology and approach to flying from a PPL (do what you want) to CPL – Very formal Public Transport Flight. You want to go to a school that will push you hard, and Westair did. My instructor Stuart was extremely experienced and did not tolerate any sloppiness.
Pete, the deputy CFI is a senior CAA examiner and did my mock test. The debriefing was tough but gave me the kick I needed to tidy up and get my act together ready for my CPL skills test.
The result: I got a first series clean pass (not for free either – I had a senior CAA examiner conduct my test) and four months after finishing my CPL (the bulk of delay was waiting for my licence to be issued), I had 3 job offers: 2 to fly the 737 and 1 to fly the A320. I now fly the B737. That is not to brag – but to dispel the myth that to get a job you have to go to a ‘big flying school’ and spend £120k on an integrated course.
If you are thinking about progressing your pilot training to CPL and beyond, check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon.
If you are willing to work hard and can look past the glossy advertising from some of the other ‘big schools’: there is a draughty PA28 from an understated, honest but very capable and experienced flying school waiting to welcome you onto their CPL course in Lancashire.
If you have any questions about the Westair CPL course 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.