Airline pilot
Operators & Traffic Monitoring

Airline pilots fly people to destinations throughout the world. Before take-off, they study flight plans and make sure that the controls of the aircraft are working properly. They also have to check weather conditions and liaise with air traffic control.

Work Activities

Airline pilots fly aeroplanes on long and short haul flights. They are in charge of a crew, who look after the passengers. The majority of aircraft are operated by at least two pilots: a captain and a co-pilot.

Before take-off, the pilots plan the flight. This involves activities such as:

  • obtaining weather forecasts for take-off, route and destination
  • planning routes and stop-offs
  • working out the weight and balance of the aircraft.

Once in the aircraft, pilots perform a series of operational checks immediately before take-off. For example, they make sure that all the controls and instruments are working properly.

Pilots receive guidance from air traffic controllers (ATCOs) on take-off arrangements. Taking off and landing are often the most difficult parts of the job, so it's important to follow procedures closely.

During the flight, pilots will be in constant contact with ATCOs. In extreme cases, the pilot may be instructed to change course to avoid other aircraft.

The pilot carries out continual checks during the flight. This includes checking:

  • the weather conditions
  • the fuel load
  • air traffic
  • the aircraft's technical performance.

Pilots also make announcements to passengers, keeping them informed of progress, weather conditions and any other details of interest.

Pilots must be alert at all times, as they have to be ready to react quickly to any warnings or changes in weather conditions. In the event of an emergency, the pilot has to decide what action to take.

On the approach to their destination, pilots will agree landing arrangements with ATCOs. When the aircraft has finally landed, the pilot will taxi it to its final position.

After the flight, the pilot produces a written report highlighting any difficulties or problems, such as instrument failure.

Pilots, especially long haul ones, travel a lot, so can expect to be away from home on a regular basis.

Personal Qualities and Skills

Fitness, ability to react quickly and make decisions under pressure.

Pay And Opportunities

Typical employers of pilots

Pilots are employed by airlines, large and small.

Pilots work from airports throughout the UK. Opportunities for UK trained pilots also occur with foreign airlines.

Some pilots also work as instructors.


Qualifications and training required

To be a pilot, you must obtain a Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL) (Aeroplanes) with Instrument Rating (IR). The CPL is the first professional licence, and the IR allows you to fly in controlled airspace and in all weather conditions.

You would usually train via a full-time course at a Flying Training Organisation (FTO). This takes between 14 and 18 months. The courses cover practical flying skills and theoretical knowledge. Your exam subjects will include aerodynamics, meteorology, flight-deck instrumentation and aviation law.

You will need to pass stringent tests of performance and medical fitness. As part of your training you will spend time in the classroom, in simulators and flying single and multi-engine aircraft.

For more information on courses, contact the schools directly. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) publishes a full list of all UK approved FTOs on their website. Self-financing students following these courses should expect to pay around £70,000 to £80,000 for their training.

There is a longer and less expensive training course, referred to as the Modular route. You could begin training at the age of 16, and apply for a Private Pilot's Licence (PPL) at the age of 17. Through this route, you would accumulate 150 hours of experience which allows you to complete separate training modules for the CPL and the IR.

Many of those following the Modular route also add a Flight Instructor Rating to their qualifications. This allows them to work for Flying Schools, teaching PPL students and so benefiting from adding flying experience at no additional cost.

Pilots have regular skills and competency checks, usually at six-month intervals and must renew their medical certificates annually (every six months when over forty).

A Higher Level Apprenticeship is a great place to start.

Generally, you need to be educated to at least A level / Highers standard (preferably with Maths and some science-based subjects). Some applicants will be educated to degree level.

There are a small number of relevant degrees for people wanting to become airline pilots.

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