Date: 29 January 2018
So, for as long as you can remember you've wanted to be a pilot, right?
Awesome, me too! Back in 2015 I set out on the rather long pre-training journey. There is simply no denying that flight training is a complex industry in itself and there's certainly lots to think about before you even consider applying. With that in mind I penned this blog post to highlight my own process from that initial research right through to the first day of training. I hope you find it insightful.
While an airline pilots' lifestyle could be seen as rather sedentary, pilots are actually assessed annually against the medical criteria set out by the aviation authorities. Satisfying the criteria provides you with a Class One medical certificate which must be sought prior to enrolling on an integrated course and then retained well into your career. With this in mind it may pay to consider the scenario whereby you apply for a course, attend selection, go on to pass everything but then fall at the medical hurdle. I couldn't even begin to imagine the heartbreak if I were to be in that situation and if I'm honest, it was that reason alone that saw me seek a medical before I even considered applying for a course.
At the time of writing, a Class One initial assessment will set you back roughly £450 - £500 plus tax. An initial medical must be conducted at one of the CAA's approved Aeromedical Centers. You can find these locations on the CAA website and full detail on what is tested and pass / fail criteria can also be found on the CAA website.
So you've got your medical certificate... now what? Well, it's highly likely you've already completed a fair bit of research by this point so I shan't labor it too much and instead I'll simply mention some of the major questions / concerns / considerations I had.
1. Which career program is right for me?
A few years ago there were only a handful of routes to the cockpit which tended to focus on the frozen ATPL (Whitetail) and hold pool approach. These days there's more options with the development of the MPL and airline specific programs. By-and-large each program offers the same endpoint but there's factors such as cost, training location and eventual base that might influence your decision. A few things to consider here might be whether you're looking to fly short-haul, or long-haul from the get-go and/or whether you'd be happy to live in the United Kingdom once qualified, or relocate to locations such as Middle East or Eastern Europe? As an example, you could be taking the controls of the B737, an A320 out of Qatar or an A330 out of London Heathrow. Various airlines, various opportunities. Lots to think about. You might be set on flying for one carrier only and that's also fine.
2. What are the facilities like?
This is something a brochure can never truly represent and for that I'd recommend an open day. I visited two during my research. The first I was alone and the second I took family as part of their involvement in my career choice. At L3 Airline Academy's Southampton Crew Training Center, I was able to see simulators used for type-ratings down the line, as well as your ground school environment and canteen etc. In Bournemouth, you see the DA42 used for later stages of training. Cadets at various parts of their training were available to help you gain a true insight and Admin staff were able to answer queries on accommodation among other things. All in all, these days are very helpful but if you can't attend one at the school I'd also recommend events like Pilot Careers Live where you can meet representatives from various airlines as well as attend a few key note speeches from industry experts / pilots.
3. How am I going to fund it?
This somewhat links to point one. Training to be a pilot is a significant investment, and despite common belief is not one to which many have in cleared funds. While some airline programs offer select candidates support with obtaining security for loans, but these are very competitive. They're still worth a shot applying to but in my case I ended up electing to take a Whitetail place and borrowed part of my course fees from a bank. Investments of this size are rarely a simple high-street loan and are considered more of a mortgage. You'd most likely benefit from speaking with well-regarded financial advisors on this matter as they'll know the finance market better than anyone. It's also worth considering whether you'll be able to afford to meet repayments given the airline you're applying to. For example, your loan may be in Sterling but if you're to be based in Eastern Europe and paid relative to the cost of living in such countries, then would a conversion back to Sterling for loan-payments leave you with much for daily expenses? Food for thought eh!
Having decided on a career program that's right for you it's time to take the plunge and click that “Apply Now” button. But wait, consider this first: With some career programs open for a set time window and with applicants not receiving a response either way until its closure, why rush? I've been a victim of this in the past and the early bird doesn't always catch the worm. Granted, some programs are open on a rolling basis, such as the Integrated ATPL (Whitetail) program or the larger Generation easyJet Program, but even then, take your time with completing application forms.
Besides wanting to know your name, email address and the standard job application details, L3 Airline Academy and/or the airline want to learn more about your motivation. It's likely this will come in the form of one or more character/word-limited essay questions. It's worth researching into the scheme/academy/airline you're applying for as this will help you answer these questions and also pay dividends at interview. I was also sure to have family and friends read over my answers to make sure they read well and were free of spelling mistakes. You'd be surprised at what a couple of days makes to one's perception of his/her own answer(s) and with them likely to make or break your progression to selection, I'll reiterate my point: Don't rush.
If you're successful in your initial application form you'll be invited to a selection event at L3 Airline Academy, or at the airline themselves. Generally speaking, the purpose of selection events is to assess your mental math ability, have you complete some tests to determine your aptitude for flying, oversee how you work in a group environment and seek out your motivation for how you'd handle given scenarios in a competency / evidence-based interview. Assessments can vary based on the program you apply to though.
Having failed selection first time around on my mental math accuracy, you may find it pays to spend some time each day revising basic mental arithmetic technique prior to attending a selection. It may also help you to think about your life to date. When it comes to individual interviews having a bit of life experience will come in handy but that's not to say it's essential. Ultimately just be yourself for the entirety of the selection event and with any luck your natural flowing conversation, research into the company and your honesty in answers will demonstrate how you match airline values.
Also, treat selection like any other job interview. Dress smartly.
If everything to this point pays off then it's safe to say that a tough yet thoroughly enjoyable 18 or so months lay ahead of you. You'll start off working towards passing 14 ATPL Theoretical Knowledge exams. In the midst of it you may well feel like you'll never see the light at end of the tunnel but trust me, it does come about eventually. Once that's out the way it's time to head to one of the academy's training locations to complete your flight training. Exciting stuff. I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed this part and nothing could ever beat being at the controls of a Cessna 172 and DA42 Twinstar. Well, okay... maybe being at the controls of the airliners later down the road, but at the time of writing flying around the skies of New Zealand in a light aircraft was simply breath-taking.
So, there you have it. My quick rundown of the pre-flight training journey. Everyone's own stepping stones may well differ but there's certainly lots to think about. I wouldn't worry about rushing things though as airline flying isn't going to go anywhere. Don't believe me? Then check out future aircraft deliveries for the European airlines alone.
Check out George's personal blog here