Here’s What it Takes to Get a Pilot Career off the Ground

It’s no secret that there is an increasing shortage of professional pilots, meaning that if you’ve ever dreamed about pursuing a career in aviation, there’s no better time than now.

Not only will you learn how to fly, but you’ll also get to be part of an elite group of people that gets to travel the world and boast about having the most exceptional view from their workplace window. Plus, the salaries are clear cut with no gender pay gap for men and women doing the same job.

Interested? Here are the main things you need to know.

What types of pilots are there?

A vast number of pilots work for commercial airlines. From budget carriers like EasyJet to luxury airlines like Qatar Airways, holidaymakers all over the world need ferrying from A to B, and you could be the person to do it. Not only do you get to travel to destinations around the globe, but you’ll also get paid for the privilege.

It’s just not people that need to travel around the globe, though. International courier firms continuously need pilots to take cargo by air. You could work directly for the postal firm (like FedEx or UPS), or find a job with an airline that does contract jobs for them.

If you’d prefer to fly a smaller plane, you might consider working as a charter pilot that makes private flights all around the world without having a set schedule. Alternatively, you could operate a plane or helicopter for news organizations or tourism firms.

Dreaming about a little more action? How about the military, or emergency services? Fire departments, coastguards, police departments, and ambulances all have airborne divisions to track incidents and provide aid from above. 

What skills do you need to be a good pilot?

As you might expect, flying any plane is demanding. You will need to take a course to obtain your ATPL (Airline’s Transport Pilot’s Licence), which takes 18 months if you study full-time. Before you can make the course, you will need to pass the Civil Aviation Authority’s Class 1 Medical exam, have taken A-levels in relevant subjects like maths, science, English or a second language, and pass a background/security check.

To complete your training, let alone have a successful career, you will need to demonstrate:

  • Technical ability in a combination of maths, physics, and engineering – you’ll need to understand how your plane
  • Strong communication skills and the ability to work in a team of strangers.
  • Good leadership; you will potentially work with a cockpit team, a cabin crew, and
  • A capacity to work under pressure and make quick decisions in stressful
  • Excellent coordination, discipline, and self-confidence

As a pilot, you will never stop learning. You’ll probably find you pick up a lot of skills along the way that helps you on the ground as much as they do in the air.

What does being a commercial pilot involve?

Of course, your responsibilities will vary according to the type of pilot career you pursue. However, you can be sure that no two days will be alike, and you’ll have a very different experience to your friends that are stuck behind a desk from 9 to 5!

Take a commercial pilot, for example. In addition to actually flying the plane, they will be expected to carry out pre-flight checks to ensure the engines, fuel, safety systems, and instruments are safe for flight. They will also need to use data from weather reports and air traffic control to plan the best route to their destination and make adjustments during the flight if necessary.

Should any in-flight issues arise with equipment or passengers, the pilot is responsible for documenting the problem and making a call on any responses.

Where can you start getting experience?

If you’ve never flown before, it might be worth going for an initial flying lesson first. These are available at airfields all over the country and provide the opportunity to fly various small aircraft with expert guidance. It might only be a taster, but you’ll quickly get a feel for whether you have an aptitude (or at least an appetite) for flying.

If you do, you might decide to pursue further lessons – you can usually negotiate discounts for bulk classes. You’ll still only be able to fly light aircraft accompanied by an instructor, but you can expect to be taking off unassisted within the first handful of sessions (although landing will take a while longer).

If you ultimately decide to pursue a license, then there will be a minimum number of hours you have to complete to gain each level of certification. There aren’t precisely shortcuts, but there are a few ways in which you might be able to boost these hours quickly once you start.

Finding a pilot job: keep an open mind

You might already be picturing yourself at the helm of a luxury plane while working for one of the world’s top airlines – or even in your private jet. However, keep in mind that although there is a shortage of pilots, there’s still a lot of competition for the top jobs. When you’re starting, your best bet will be to work with an airline that has its flight academy, such as EasyJet, RyanAir, Flybe or British Airways.

If you pass the application stage and receive an interview, there are a few things you can do to prepare.

Firstly, make sure that you can confidently talk about your qualifications and think about how you might get across the passion you have for the industry – talking about your existing flight experience is a good place to start.

The recruiter will be looking for someone with the skills we mentioned above, but they will also be wanting to see some of your personality. Do plenty of research into the company that you’re interviewing with and always, always have a few questions to ask.

Good luck, and enjoy pursuing a career where the sky is the limit!

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