It’s been a long time since my last post, but I get asked this question countless times at every recruitment event I attend, so thought it might be worth writing about. Let’s start with a disclaimer – this is just my personal advice. Have a read by all means, but at the end of the day everyone’s circumstances are different and there’s no “correct” answer to this question.
Perhaps there’s a misconception that the skills required in the role of an airline pilot are purely technical. Most people I speak to seem to think that A-Levels in subjects like Maths and Physics will give them an advantage in training, and also a stronger application form when they apply to an airline. It’s worth noting that in the British Airways Future Pilot Programme to date, although General Studies and Critical Thinking are excluded from the A-Level results that will be considered, there’s no preference for Maths and Engineering subjects over Arts and Humanities.
The truth is that although it’s obvious to most that technical skills are required to be a good airline pilot, what’s less frequently understood is that a high number of non-technical skills are essential too. Flying is only half the job. Working with your colleague in the flight deck, the cabin crew, ground staff, engineers and passengers requires a completely different set of skills which are just as important. So focusing exclusively on the technicals might just leave you lacking in other areas.
It goes without saying that solid Maths and English skills are necessary, but a practical rather than theoretical form of Maths is what’s really required. I have an A-Level in Maths, and I honestly don’t think that a single item from the syllabus comes up in ATPL groundschool. A good understanding of GCSE Maths is sufficient. You can see a post about the kinds of things you’ll need to be able to do here…
The key is choosing subjects which you enjoy. So if you love Maths, by all means study it at A-Level. But don’t struggle through something you don’t enjoy under the misapprehension it will somehow make you a better pilot!
Exactly the same applies to your choice of degree. Several universities offer aviation related degrees. If you love aviation then fill your boots, but beware narrowing your skill set to a point where you’ve not had the opportunity to develop some of the other skills you’ll need to be a good airline pilot. Some of the best pilots I know have degrees in Computing, Geography and Music.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to get in touch!