How do I become a pilot?

So you’re asking yourself the question, ‘How do I become a pilot?’ Well in this post I’m going to go through the process. We will start with the different routes of training that you can go down — there are a few by the way. We’ll then go on to talk about traditional training schemes and a more modern scheme known as the MPL. Finally we will have a quick look at which route would probably be best for you. Fasten your seatbelts, open your window covers and stow your tray tables, here we go.

So how do I become a pilot?

Well first of all, let’s have a look at the different modules that are associated with becoming a pilot. These are:

  1. PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence)
  2. ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence) Groundschool
  3. Hour building
  4. CPL (Commercial Pilot’s Licence)
  5. ME (Multi Engine)
  6. IR (Instrument Rating)
  7. MCC (Multi Crew Course)
  8. JOT (Jet Orientation Course)

Back when I started my flight training in 2005, there were really only two roads to take to become a pilot. Some airlines had been doing sponsorships for a while, but since 9/11, many of them had paused this. That meant that the two most popular routes were known as the Integrated and Modular courses. These two ways of going through your training are still available today, with another one that is more popular with airlines, known as the MPL (Multi-Crew Pilot Licence).

Learning to fly is hard work, but well worth the effort

Integrated

The integrated course is an ab-initio path. It’s designed to take anyone from absolutely no training what-so-ever, all the way to being trained and ready to operate as a commercial pilot. This usually takes approximately 18 months. The course is offered by many training providers, but the most popular at the moment (in the UK at least) is L3 Airline Academy. They have recently bought CTC Aviation and are constantly growing. L3 are great and well respected, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any others available. A quick Google search will bring up a long list of highly rated flight training academies. 

How do I become a pilot
Training on a DA42 Twinstar

The good thing about going down the integrated route is that you have a set timeline to complete your course. Your start date is set and after each module, you can move straight onto the next. This allows you to become a pilot as quickly as possible. For this luxury though, there is a premium when it comes to price. Integrated courses are generally far more expensive than their modular counterpart, meaning not everyone will be able to go down that route. 

Modular

The modular course is simply as it says on the tin. The beauty of this path is that you are able to chop and change between training providers for the different modules of the training. For example, I personally went down the modular route, and this was how my training looked.

  1. PPL – Naples Air Centre in Florida
  2. ATPL Groundschool – Oxford Aviation Academy
  3. Hour building was all done in California
  4. CPL/ME/IR was completed at Stapleford Flight Centre in Essex
  5. MCC was done back in Oxford Aviation Academy

Price, availability and customer reviews all played a big part in selecting where and when I did each module. Now there has always been a rumour going around that you should really go down the integrated route if possible. This is because, according to some, the airlines prefer students who go down the integrated path. Now let me just tell you, I never had any issue with getting a job after training. So if you are asking the question, ‘How do I become a pilot?’ Then both the integrated and modular routes are just as viable as each other.

Now although many pilots who have gone down the modular route have gone on to get jobs, there are some airlines who have struck deals with the big training companies. These training companies give their students a “fast track” route into some airlines, but as mentioned before, this comes at a price. 

The thing to remember is that there are an abundance of airlines all over the world who need pilots, so don’t feel pressured to go down the integrated route if the money situation isn’t ideal. If you’re willing to work on any plane in any country for the love of flying, then you will find yourself a job!

So what is the MPL all about?

As the aviation industry has progressed, airlines have expanded, some more drastically than others. This has meant that if an airline has hundreds of aircraft on order, they will need to train a huge amount of new pilots to fly them. With every brand new first officer taking at least 18 months to complete their basic training, and then another 3-4 months to complete their airline specific training, new pilots can’t just be plucked from the pilot tree. 

So with this in mind, the airlines tried to come up with a cost effective and faster method of getting brand new pilots in their shiny new planes. This is where the MPL (Multi-Crew Pilot Licence) was born.

What’s the difference between MPL and Integrated/Modular schemes?

The big difference is time. The integrated and modular courses take at least 18 months to complete. But once this basic training has been completed, the now trained pilot still has to complete the airline specific training. This will consist of a type rating (training to fly a specific aircraft type eg. Airbus A320), which includes ground school and simulator training. This can take anywhere up to another 3-4 months, extending the time the pilot needs to be able to fly.

With the MPL, the airline works directly with the student and trains them from zero to hero in the same 18-19 month time-frame, but the caveat is that the type rating is included in this training. So simply speaking, the student pilot is able to fly the specific aircraft that the airline wants them to use straight away. As of October 2017, there were 39 MPL programmes being run by approved training organisations (ATO’s), and this is set to grow as it gives the airlines a better time frame and more flexibility when it comes to pilot recruitment. 

The only thing to be aware of is that if you do decide to go down the MPL route, you will likely have to undergo written exams, interviews and psychometric testing first. This is because once your training is complete, you will likely automatically get a job with the airline you are training with. 

What is the MPL training process?

How do I become a pilot MPL
Image courtesy of flyer.co.uk

The whole process starts off with theoretical ground school. During this phase, the student is taught the same as the integrated/modular courses.

Once the ground school has been passed, the flight phase begins. This is split into 4 sections:

  1. Core flying skills (basic single engine flying)
  2. Basics (introduction to multi-crew operations and instruments flying)
  3. Intermediate (applying ‘Basics’ knowledge into multi-engined turbine aircraft)
  4. Advanced (Full type rating specific to the airline)

The course will secure the student pilot with at least 240 hours of practical experience. The student will also have a full type rating by the end of it. 

The downside to the MPL scheme is that you are generally tied to the airline that is training you for a number of years. Once your ATPL becomes unfrozen (we will talk about unfreezing your ATPL in another blog post), you are able to move to another airline (depending on your airline’s contract).

There is another downside. If you want to go and jump in a single engine plane and fly your friends around, you can’t This is because the MPL scheme doesn’t imbue you with a PPL (Private Pilot’s Licence). The MPL is designed to get you trained to fly a multi-crew jet aircraft. If you did want to fly single engine planes, you would need to enroll on a PPL course first.

So which path should I choose?

Put simply, ‘It depends on your circumstances and what you want from your licence.’

How do I become a pilot?
Your path depends on your circumstances. Image courtesy of kevindmonroe.com

If money is not an issue and you believe that you would be able to comfortably pay back a large loan, then integrated is a good call. This gives you a set schedule to work with and is the quickest way to get a full frozen ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence). As previously mentioned, some training organisations have contacts within the airlines that will help a new pilot get that dream job very soon after training.

On the other hand, if money is a bit more of an issue and you believe you may need to take little breaks between modules, then modular is the path for you. This will give you more flexibility to choose your training provider. It will also give you more flexibility with time frame, as you can do each module as and when you need. You may have to look a little harder for that initial job, but there are definitely jobs out there!

If you want to go straight into the airlines and aren’t too fussed about being bonded with a company for several years, then the MPL scheme may suit you. Don’t forget though that this means that you will not have the privileges to fly single pilot as a PPL licence holder would. This doesn’t really affect many people as a lot of people I know and fly with don’t fly privately anymore. You will also have to undergo some exams, interviews and psychometric testing before starting.

In conclusion

The choice is yours. Whatever you decide to do, just know that if you are asking, ‘How do I become a pilot?’, you have choices available to you. Whatever path you choose, it will be hard work and you will have to put a lot of things in your life on hold while you do it, but the rewards are well worth it.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch here.

Happy contrails.

The Humble Pilot