I’ve been asked questions like this a few times now, so I thought I’d try and jot down some notes in case anyone else is interested. Remember, this is just my personal opinion, but my advice boils down to three key items…

1. Know about the job
Can you answer the question “why do you want to be a pilot” with something other than “it’s what I’ve always wanted to do”? If you’re going into this job because of the money and the glamour, I’d respectfully suggest that you rethink your career plan! If you love aviation, then this might be the career for you, but not necessarily. Being an airline pilot isn’t just about flying the aeroplane. Of course that’s a part of it, so it’s essential that you enjoy flying, but there are so many other aspects to the role. Much of the time you’re managing the operation – briefing the departure or the approach at the destination aerodrome, setting gates, planning fuel for the next sector, and a million and one other secondary tasks. And you’ll be communicating with others – liaising with ground staff, engineers, cabin crew, ATC, and of course the customer. You’ll see both sides of the customer experience, and occasionally will have to deal with angry people when things don’t go according to plan.

On top of this, you need to enjoy study. Continuous Professonal Development is part of being a pilot. You never stop learning, and you’ll find yourself frequently looking in manuals, technical publications and company magazines. This knowledge is vital to operating safely on the line, and is tested every six months in the simulator, with a line check on a normal flight every two years.

You’ll also be required to undergo an annual medical and a check of your Security and Emergency Procedures knowledge.

It’s very hard work, but if you love flying, and love working with people, I honestly can’t think of a better job.

2. Know about the training
I’ve met a number of people who want to become a pilot that don’t realise the extent of the training. The training schedule itself probably warrants a seperate blog post, but be aware that when you get your Commercial Pilot’s Licence and Multi Engine Instrument Rating with Frozen ATPL Credit (often referred to as a Frozen ATPL), you won’t have gone anywhere near an Airbus or Boeing (The MPL is a bit different). You’re learning the tools of your trade – no matter what you fly in the future, the skills you learn here will form the basis of everything you ever do. Once you land your first job on a larger aircraft type, you’ll undergo a Type Rating, which is a six to eight week course that qualifies you to fly that particular aircraft. If you change aircraft type in the future, you undertake another Type Rating.

In addition to the flying itself, you’ll go through a concentrated period of study that will culminate in the sitting of 14 ATPL ground exams. These cover everything from Principles Of Flight to Air Law, and Aircraft Performance to General Navigation. Whilst the difficulty level of the syllabus is probably no harder than Maths GCSE, a solid understanding of trigonometry is required, and the sheer volume of the content can be hard to take on board at times. A huge amount of dedication and study is required.

3. Know about the industry
Availability of opportunities varies, and there is competition not just for training places but also for jobs at the end. Although sponsored schemes are historically harder to get into, the reward is a significantly greater chance of employment at the end of your training, so ensure you have carefully researched all the opportunities available, and look beyond the glossy brochure from the flight school. Make sure you check out airline websites regularly for recruitment opportunities and tips so that you don’t miss out. Some airlines even have mini-sites for their cadet schemes, such as www.bafuturepilot.com.

Alternatively, many flight schools allow you to pay for your own training through a process known as Self Sponsorship. This means you can start your training at your own convenience, but this certainly isn’t an easier route into flying than a sponsored scheme – there are always more graduates than there are jobs available.

Other websites to visit include:
Professional Pilots’ Rumour Network, which has sections specifically for Professional Pilot Training, and Interviews, Jobs and Sponsorship.
Pilot Careers Live, previously known as the Flyer Show, this careers fair is a must for anyone considering a career as a professional pilot.
BALPA, the British Air Line Pilots’ Association, which have recently launched their NextGen programme aimed at people considering a career as a pilot. This includes a mentoring scheme where Balpa can pass on questions from people considering a career as a pilot to those already in the industry.