A pilot is any individual who is officially licensed to fly an aircraft. This can include commercial (airline) pilots, military pilots and private pilots.
Pilots are responsible for flying a range of aircraft. There are a number of different categories of pilot including:
- Airline pilots – normally employed by a particular airline, commercial pilots are responsible for commercial passenger flights as well as the national and international transfer of cargo. It is not uncommon for commercial flights to have at least two, if not more, pilots in order to ensure the safety of passengers and ease of flight. A single individual is normally in charge – the captain, or pilot-in-command. He or she will be accompanied by co-pilots, who may have similar levels of expertise but are usually less experienced. The pilot-in-command takes overall responsibility for the safety of all passengers and crew.
- Private Pilots – wealthy individuals and corporations may have private jets and have pilot staff on the payroll.
- Military pilot – most nations employ pilots on a contract basis for defence of the nation. Pilots in the military may have particular specialisms e.g. fighter pilots, bombers, transport pilots or trainers. They may also specialise by vehicle e.g. helicopter pilots or Harrier Jump Jet pilots and, if so, will undergo highly specialised training. Military pilots will also need to meet stringent fitness requirements. The transfer into commercial flight is relatively common and military pilots are granted exemptions.
As a prerequisite to becoming a pilot, all pilots will be required to sit a series of pilot aptitude tests. These tests are used to measure your potential to successfully become a pilot.
Learn more about the pilot aptitude test and start practicing today.
Commercial pilot salaries will vary depending upon airline. However, short haul pilots with experience can expect to earn from £55,000 upwards, whereas experienced long-haul pilots can earn salaries well in excess of £100,000.
There is a cap of 900 hours on flight time per year within the UK but it is possible for pilots to earn extra money if they are not scheduled to meet their full quota.
- You will ultimately be responsible for the lives of your crew and passengers.
- Ensuring that an aircraft is in working order and monitoring it throughout the flight.
- Studying flight plans and monitoring weather conditions.
- Working with air traffic control.
- Deciding on how much fuel to carry.
- Briefing cabin staff and, on commercial flights, passengers.
- Recording flights in a logbook, including technical problems occurring on a flight.
There are several routes to becoming a pilot but this is a highly competitive career:
- Learn to fly with the military, such as the Royal Air Force (“RAF”) or with the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. Military pilots are able to convert to commercial pilots.
- Become a trainee commercial pilot by applying for a scholarship with a commercial airline. This is hugely competitive.
- Obtain a Private Pilot’s Licence (“PPL”) and subsequently a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (“CPL”) – it is possible to study for a PPL and then undergo further study and training to qualify as a commercial pilot. PPLs are awarded based upon passing medical examinations as well as written examinations and flying time (45 hours). There is a range of PPLs available and they are granted depending upon aircraft type. In order to qualify as a commercial pilot you will need to follow this up by completing the Civil Aviation Authorities (“CAA”) CPL. This qualification requires significant financial and time expenditure. You will also need to pass a class 1 medical examination which is held at Gatwick Airport South.
- You will also be expected to have a strong academic background and a good set of GCSEs and A-levels. It will be beneficial to study maths and physics.
- you will need to be calm with the ability to work in potentially high-stress environments.
- communication skills are paramount.
- technical skills, as mentioned in the qualifications section above.
- mathematical skills; it may also be beneficial to have an understanding of physics and a base knowledge of aeronautics and/or aeronautical engineering.
- pilots need to have exceptional discipline.
- you will need to be physically fit; there is an impact on the body when flying at altitude and working shift patterns.
The majority of pilots work shifts. Working conditions, while professional and pleasant, are likely to be physically and mentally demanding. There are also jetlag effects from multiple crossings of time zones that you will need to become accustomed to. Furthermore there is a physical impact upon the body when spending considerable time at high altitude and in a pressurised environment.
You should expect to spend considerable time away from home. If working as a standby pilot you will also be expected to be based close to the airport.
This is a highly competitive career and it is advisable to have obtained experience prior to applying for scholarships. Within the UK Air Cadets provides a foundation in key skills for aspiring pilots and teaches individuals aged 13-19 to fly. Another option (also run by the Air Cadets) is the Career Cadet Force (“CCF”) which will allow individuals as young as 16 to learn to fly single handed at no cost.
The majority of employers are commercial airlines. For a list of airlines click here.
Military personnel will often move into commercial flying. Health issues may result in careers finishing earlier than anticipated but pilots are renowned for their professionalism and will move into a wide variety of roles.
Also known as…
- Airline Pilot
- Commercial Pilot
- Transport Pilot
What’s it really like?
How long were you in this particular job / industry?
I was a transport pilot for the Royal Air Force for twelve years and spent a short period as a commercial pilot before re-training as a lawyer.
What did you do before this job?
Before becoming a pilot I had been a teacher, having graduated from university with an Economics degree.
What did you do in a typical day at work?
As a pilot I didn’t work every day but but would usually spend 4 days per month in the flight simulator and an average of 16 days actual flying and stand down time in a calendar month. On flying days I would have to get up about 5.30 a.m. and my first job was to meet on the station and then go on to the operations room to collect TAPS (terminal approach procedures) for airports I was flying to, including diversions and airports en route. I would then have to check if there were any Royal Flights and collect any other bulletins. If I was flying abroad I would collect and collate all sorts of flight information e.g. which airfield radars were closed for servicing and IFF numbers – these are secret numbers I would have to memorise to get back into British airspace which had to be sent by signal before I could re-enter control zones in the UK. There were also lots of forms to be completed – e.g. F700 which specified full details of all crew and passengers.
What did you like about the job?
I didn’t particularly like the job, although I did when I first started doing it commercially. The money was and remains very good though. Being in transport there is a lot of waiting and when you are flying it can become very boring. The majority of flight time was spent on auto-pilot and/ or under mandatory radar control. Flying airways around the world from beacon to beacon at say 38,000 feet is not that stimulating but it is a living.
What did you dislike about the job?
I never enjoyed the considerable time I spent away from home and my kids and wife. I spent a lot of time in hotels and flying is remarkably tiring. Once one has stayed at all sorts of exotic hotels and places it becomes tedious.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of doing this job?
The advice I would give is that the job is very repetitive; however, you need to be professional at all times. On the plus side it does provide a very good standard of living. It is not an old man’s job as it is far more physical than you think. You are constantly living at cabin pressure which is the equivalent of 6000+ feet and you may get bored; it’s somewhat like being a bus driver in the sky. It has its good points and you can retire early with a good pension. My advice is study for something else in your spare time of which there is masses. I did a law degree.
What other inside-information can you give to help people considering this career?
If you love flying then it is the career for you. I did not particularly love flying but my Dad had been a pilot and it was for him I went in. I would have been better doing something which suited me better. You meet a lot of nice people but beware of air traffic controllers, especially in southern France. Always rely on your own judgment when flying and double check everything relayed from the ground. I am now alive because I did that, having received directions from air traffic which were totally wrong. I ignored them. I was given a direction to fly 265 degrees magnetic which would have taken me into mountains if I had followed the direction. Finally, flying, unless one is a top gun, is not all beer and skittles, as the aircraft can go wrong and you spend a lot of time waiting around in airports for all sorts of reasons – if you are impatient it is not the job for you.