“I believe I can do anything. If I decide to be a doctor tomorrow, I’m going to be a doctor” – Amy Johnson
As the inspirational actions and words of the pioneers, many who have fatally died for their work will tell you, if you decide to be something you will eventually get there. The actual question you should be asking yourself is, “is this really what I want?”
So you kinda, maybe, perhaps, want to be a pilot? Here are a few questions you should start thinking about if you are not doing so already.
1. Is being a pilot realistic?
Unfortunately the biggest issue with trying to become a pilot is the cost. The cost of the course; the cost of going to the assessment centre to get on a course (which is usually not applicable in a modular so this is dependent on the course you choose; travelling to and from the school and/or perhaps to the assessment centre; loss of license insurance; life insurance; travel insurance; getting and then retaining your medical certificate which will be at least a once a year requirement, and of course the cost of living while you are training. That together is a massive snowballing bill so if you do not have help you will feel even more acutely, the huge financial burden.
As Ms Johnson quotes (above), it can be done if you really want it, as there are also scholarships available now, but keep in mind that applying for these will be extremely competitive too. If you are prepared for that battle then, I need say no more. If you are having doubts then have a serious realistic review of your own situation before taking that plunge.
2. Will you pass the medical requirement?
To gain a commercial pilot’s license you must have a class 1 medical certificate. Without this you cannot obtain a license, so health, fitness, eye sight, hearing etc is important (understatingly). As you cannot become a commercial pilot without the class 1 med cert, medical perhaps should have been number 1 on my list as even money cannot buy health.
You can find the medical requirements for UK airline pilots on the CAA website.
3. Are your expectations about being commercial pilot realistic?
Thanks to tv, films and marketing ploys, whenever the word pilot is mentioned to someone, that someone will instantly think glamour, prestige and riches. Some even add on cool and hero complex due to the image of jet (military) fighters.
While it is OK to think these things, after all films are suppose to be cool, over exaggerated and glamorous, but if you are training to be a commercial pilot and is actually expecting any of those things then you clearly have not done enough research.
It was once true, pilots really did have glamour, prestige and riches, but we are talking about the earlier years, maybe even up until the 80s. Certainly by the 90s all of that have more or less disappeared as advancing technology has reduce the manual flying actually required on board; followed by deregulation; changing mentality of consumers from buying only brand to wanting a bargain; several economic recessions, and of course the horrific 9/11 attack in NYC where the airline industry was decimated, pilots now face having to pay for all of their own training, cut salaries and increasing pressure and work load as demand for pilots now outstrip supply, which is within itself a caution to all current and new pilots.
If you are thinking of being a hero then you really need be looking at becoming an Air Force jet fighter pilot or test pilot because you will not be practising stunts or carrying out dangerous missions in a commercial airline with hundreds of passengers on board, this is not what a commercial pilot does.
4. Which route, modular or integrated and affiliated or not affiliated course?
OK, so you have made it this far on this list so this mean you are either serious, or curious, to know more about becoming a commercial pilot. As that is no longer the question, the next decision you will come across is, what route should I take to the flight deck; which course is right for me?
Unfortunately there is no obvious answer to this question and must certainly not just one correct way of doing things as each individual is very different. What course you choose will depend entirely on your own situation, mainly how you plan on financing the your chosen course.
You can choose from enrolling on a modular, which is a PAYG system if you like, or an integrated course where the flight school will train you from zero all the way to a commercial license (frozen ATPL).
If you choose an integrated course you then have to decide on whether you would like to enrol onto a course which is affiliated (MPL) with an airline or not (ATPL). Again this will depend on your circumstances and of course passing the chosen course’s assessment. As affiliated courses pretty much guarantee you a job with that airline at the end of the course where you have satisfactory passed all the required exams, medical etc, you can imagine that these courses are very competitive too.
Though I cannot tell you which will be the correct choice for you I will say, call around the schools, think of a list of questions, go take some lessons in an aircraft and bombard people with all the questions you have. Do it until you are satisfied that you have all the information you need to make the right decision for you because after all, asking questions will probably be the only free thing you will get on this journey to piloting.
5. Is this the right time?
When the majority of experienced pilots today, and I am indicating those who have flown all their life from military to commercial, are telling the next generation not to be a pilot because the trade off between the training costs and the payoff after it is not worth it, this is a problem. But then these same experienced pilots did go through the huge pay cuts, change in industry, ride the recessions and the resulting devastation of 9/11, so they do have a point. Airline travel, though still highly sought after if not even more so currently, remains a luxury item, therefore the industry remains highly sensitive to the fluctuating economy of the world. As it takes on average two to three years to qualify for a commercial license, as the cadet, you need to consider what the economy will be like once you qualify.
Though no one can predict what will happen, before becoming a pilot you need to acknowledge and accept that there is a degree of risk here and that you are essentially gambling on the fact that you think the economy will be in your favour when you qualify, and since you have taken out a huge loan, at least a few years after you have qualified too. Banks will not stop collecting debt with the excuse of unemployment.
6. Take some flying lessons
This maybe obvious but it is something that needs to be included on this list. The best way to know if you can cope and have the skills necessary for flying e.g. Motor controls and coordination, is to actually fly a plane. Keep in mind you may even need several before being able to judge yourself on this. By flying it will also test whether you really love it as much as your mind tells you you do. As humans we are all prone to romanticism while reality is starkly different.
If you accumulate all the successful people in the world and ask them for advice, I am going to bet that each and every one of them will agree that if you want to learn, you must read. Here it is no different, you must read – books, articles, procedures, texts, notices etc. By reading you not only learn about new things but you can learn from mistakes made by others to prevent you from making the same. A mistake which maybe normally harmless on the ground, in the air where you only have a few seconds to react, this can be lethal.
If you are not prepared to read then perhaps this career is not for you as, apart from learning the abundant laws, rules and expectations expected of a commercial pilot, everyday as a qualified commercial pilot you must do due diligence and check for any new notices, NOTAM (notice to airmen). A NOTAM is, in short, a notice to aircraft pilots (commercial and private) which warns of potential hazards along a flight route and/or at a specific location which could affect the safety of the flight. So reading will be a constant in your life, along with keeping healthy to retain your medical license.
So that is it, my seven points. This list is not meant to be an exhaustive list, just a few pointers to get your ignition started. Even if after considering every potential negative point you still decide to keep going forward to becoming a commercial pilot, then, good luck and I will see you on the flight deck!