Congratulations, because you are setting out to be an Airline Pilot, which is an amazing career! And you’ve come to the right place like 300,000 others who have watched my video about how to become a pilot.

I’ve been flying as an Airline Pilot for over 8 years. I was once in your position, wondering where to start, what requirements are needed and which path to take. In this article I am going to give you my simple 6 step formula;

How to become a Pilot in 6 steps

1. Desire or Motivation
2. Ability (Aptitude, Education and Personality)
3. Medical
4. Finance and Sponsorship
5. License
6. Get Hired

If you can complete all of these six requirements you will be on course to become a pilot!

Captain is pulling an aircraft throttle, while first officer is piloting and taking off. Pilots are sitting in Boeing 737-800.

It’s so important for people to find jobs suited to their strengths and their passions. People who love their jobs work more diligently at them. They become more adept at the intricacies of their duties. They serve the world well.

Captain Sullenberger, from his book “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters”.

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To Be An Airline Pilot
Andrew Cook - Publisher: The Crowood Press Ltd - Paperback: 160 pages

1. Desire or Motivation

Firstly you have to have the right desire or motivation to want to become a pilot. This is always the number one requirement on the journey of how to become a pilot. The training courses and exams to become a pilot require dedication and ultimately lots of hard work to complete. Flying needs to be something that you aspire to. Something you enjoy and are passionate about.

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For those of you who have never been flying I strongly suggest booking a trial flight at your nearest flying school. You need to experience flying and discover if it’s really for you. A trial flying lesson usually only costs about £100. Some students will find they get air sickness, so that is something important to rule out before choosing flying as your career.

View over the wing

I would also strongly recommend you take flying lessons and get yourself to a solo standard. This generally would take about 15 flying hours to achieve and would cost in the region of $2000.

Private Pilots licences are expensive and generally a waste of money if your aim is to undertake a full time training course anyway. Because you may have to repeat the same basic flying training modules. There are scholarships (flying for FREE!) available through the Air League, GAPAN and Air Cadets which will pay for you to get to a solo standard for freeUnderstandably places for scholarships are extremely competitive.

If you are a mature candidate (ie over the age of 45 and wanting to undertake full time pilot training), I would strongly suggest completing a PPL. A PPL is about 45hrs of flying and this will prove your piloting aptitude (see (2) below), which tend to be not as strong as your younger counterparts.

2. Ability

This is your ability to actually pilot an aircraft and work as part of a team. I’ll subdivide this into 3 parts for this how to become a pilot guide;

 i) Aptitude

Firstly your aptitude; which is a measurement of your raw piloting ability. Computerized aptitude tests are used to measure different abilities such as hand eye coordination, multitasking or cognitive skills.

How to become a pilot step 2, Pilot AptitudeI would highly recommend having your aptitude independently measured before you set off on becoming a pilot. Whilst the tests are not 100% accurate they are a good indicator of your potential success with training. The Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators, can arrange these test for you find these details on the GAPAN website

Some airlines require you to sit aptitude tests, even though you could be an experienced pilot, so your ability to do well in them can affect your future chances of employment. You can try these online aptitude test for free now:

ii) Education

To be a pilot you need as a minimum GCSEs (or equivalent qualification) in English, Maths and Science. I would strongly recommend staying on at school to complete A levels. If you are choosing A level subjects (a question I get asked alot by aspiring pilots) my advice is pick the ones you enjoy and can therefore do well at and get top grades.

How to become a pilot step 2, Education requirementsHaving said that, it is certainly beneficial to have A-levels in Maths and Physics, although not a requirement. Previously some airline sponsorship schemes required students to have A-levels in maths and science subjects, although this is far less common nowadays. If you can get A or B grades in Maths or Physics then pursue those as A-levels. If you struggle or don’t enjoy maths and physics then don’t risk failing or getting poor grades;

Pick the subjects you can do well at and get good grades in!

University level education in not necessary, however a university degree could provide a sufficient backup plan should you not be successful in becoming a pilot or maintaining your medical certificate due to ill health.

iii) Personality

Personality is very important. You need to have the suitable character traits which airlines are looking for. For example you need to be:

  • responsible
  • calm under pressure
  • maintain high standards
  • good communicator
  • lead by example

But above all you have to be able to get on with people. Put simply in an interview situation an assessor will be thinking to themselves – could they happily sit next to this person for eight hours, confined to a small space at the front of an airliner?


3. Medical

You need to meet the Civil Aviation Authority Class One medical requirements. The initial exam to get certified costs around £500. This medical certificate must be renewed each year for a cost of approximately £200.

How to become a pilot step 3, Pilot Medical certificationYour health can deteriorate throughout your life so its important you have a loss of licence insurance, which will payout should you lose your medical and cant fly for a living. It is advised to get in place a loss of license policy before you begin spending thousands of pounds on pilot training courses. I have policies with BALPA and APPN.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is – I wear glasses, can I become a pilot? The answer is you need to get your eyes tested to see if they conform to the<arel=”nofollow” href=”” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener noreferrer”> CAA requirements.

4. Finance or Sponsorship

You need to get financing to pay for your flight training. The majority of students will self sponsor, ie pay for it themselves using bank loans and savings. Currently a full integrated flight training course plus type rating will be around £100,000 total.

How to become a pilot step 4, get finance or sponsorshipSome airlines and organisations offer sponsorship. In 2008 Etihad offered full sponsorship to candidates of any nationality, all training was free and successful candidates were placed with the airline for 5 years.

Below is a list of Airline Training Schemes and Sponsorships:

5. Pilots License

At the moment there are 2 types of license you can get (in the UK);

Multi Pilots License (MPL)
Which is relatively new and requires part sponsorship with an airline.

Frozen Airline Transport Pilots License (fATPL)
Which consists of a Commercial Pilots Licence, Instrument rating and multi crew certificate.

How to become a pilot step 5, get a pIlot LicenseThe Frozen ATPL is the most common route to follow in the UK. There are 2 types of course; Integrated or Modular which offer this licence. Pilot Career news has a good article listing the difference between Integrated and Modular courses. CAA guidance on protecting your investment with a flight school.

Afterwards you will need a Type Rating qualification to bridge the gap between a frozen ATPL and actual airline employment as a first officer. A Type Rating  is a separate “rating” or license which allows you fly a specific type of aircraft; like a Boeing 777 or Airbus A320.

Once you have achieved 1,500 hours of flying experience at an airline, your frozen ATPL will be whats called unfrozen, and you will hold a full airline transport pilots licence, which is the required qualification to become a Captain.

Read more about Flight School in my Learning to Fly at Flight School article.

To Be An Airline Pilot
Andrew Cook - Publisher: The Crowood Press Ltd - Paperback: 160 pages

6. Get Hired

Out of my 6 requirements that I’ve listed number 6, Get Hired, is the only variable in the equation. Steps 1-5 you can carry out anytime, tomorrow if you like. But number 6 requires active recruitment and jobs availability by an airline to complete you how to become a pilot mission. Because airlines do not recruit every year, all the time. They are businesses and require a healthy economy (lots of people wanting to fly) to be flying a busy schedule and therefore requiring Pilots.

Aviation is Cyclic

Time for a quick history lesson, this is an airline’s share price from 1990-2010;

airlines-hiringIt shows extremely well the cycles of contraction and growth which the global aviation industry is subject to. World events such as the Gulf war, 9/11 terrorist attacks, SARS and more recently the 2008 global economic recession severely impact the profit making abilities of airlines as passengers fly less.

Airlines make huge losses during these periods of contraction. They have to fly less to stop losing money. This requires less aircraft and therefore less pilots. So airlines are not recruiting and often making pilots redundant which means there is an overall surplus of pilots.

During the good times, when the airline is in profit, it is usually expanding, buying more aircraft which means they need more pilots to crew them. Coupled with the numbers of retiring pilots, airlines often find they have a huge shortage of pilots during these periods and therefore start recruiting.

So ensure that you become qualified and looking for employment during one of these recruitment periods. You could be the perfect candidate for a job, but if NO airlines are recruiting, then you cant get a job.

Taxiing white plane in hot and sunny day

Crystal Ball

In 2010 I made a prediction, in my how to become a pilot video that we were about to enter a prosperous time for the economy and airline jobs. I’ve been proved right. In 2010 there were many positive factors which began pointing to a sustained growth in the near term. In 2011 British Airways was the first major airline to reintroduce a Cadet Pilot recruitment campaign. This was unheard of in recent times, their last cadet scheme closed in 2001 (ten years previously). Other Airlines followed suit including Etihad, Easy Jet, Virgin Atlantic, Flybe, Cathay Pacific and the list goes on.

The last 4 years (2012-2016) have seen unprecedented levels of Pilot Recruitment. The “Good Times” were back again. As the larger major airlines begin growing their fleets, they begin recruiting experienced pilots. These experienced pilot come from other airlines. Because the smaller regional airlines begin losing pilots to the majors, this then sets off a chain reaction. The regional’s need pilots, and unable to attract experienced candidates they have to rely on ab-initio new trainees.

airplane flying in sunset sky

What does the future hold for Pilot Recruitment?

As of October 2016, the World economy is slightly jittery. Growth in China is dropping. In Europe the UK voted for Brexit. And it is uncertain how the world will react to the US Presidential election result. 2017 could be an uncertain year.

The good news in the UK is that the mandatory retirement age of 65 is about to send a steady flow of pilots to retirement. Those retirements, which could be up to 100 a year, will require the airline to recruit to fill those gaps.

2017 is a year to watch. I think the economy will take a pause and airlines might put on a temporary hold for recruitment plans. However airlines have huge orders for new aircraft and coupled with an ageing workforce will require something like 40,000 new pilots in Europe alone over the next decade. Also the Oil price is remaining at recent all time lows, which helps keep airline costs down. As I always say though; the caveat is that any new world event like 9/11 could put a stop to all recruitment for years.

Some people call it timing or luck and it is perhaps an element of both. Put simply, you have to be in the right place at the right time to get recruited.

Keep the Dream Alive!

Checklist for Success

Get my FREE How to become a Pilot CHECKLIST FOR SUCCESS. It’s got a step-by-step checklist to follow based around my 6 step guide with lots of great links to further reading and expert advice.

Subscribe to the Flying and Travel Newsletter, then follow the link in the welcome email to download.

I’m here to serve you! If you have any questions to ask please use the comments below.
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To Be An Airline Pilot
Andrew Cook - Publisher: The Crowood Press Ltd - Paperback: 160 pages
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Mark Vanhoenacker - Publisher: Vintage - Edition no. 1 (07/07/2016) - Paperback: 352 pages
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  • Hi, cheers for the info, I am very grateful for the help and I hope this website can help more people. Thanks.

    • Hi Kevin, thank you for the first comment on my new site! Glad to be of service and I hope I can inspire you to achieve your dream!

      • I actually do want to be a pilot and aerospace engineering. I live in the UK and applying for university next year for aerospace engineering with pilot studies and do want to get a PPL .Reading this article has inspired me even more

        • Hi Nirusan, It is great to read that you are inspired to pursue your passion. I studied Aerospace Engineering aswell, it’s a tough course to study. If it includes pilot studies too that is good, but just remember to focus on your degree (get at least a 2.1 or higher) rather than be distracted with learning to fly and completing a PPL – which you will have to undertake anyway as part of a professional pilot’s course. Good Luck! Mark

  • I’m 16 and have 27 hours logged towards my PPL. Although it isn’t necessary, it still is something I will complete. Would this mean I would complete the training courses faster? And would I receive compensation for requiring less training? Thanks

    • Hi Harry, It all depends on which training route you take. If you go modular then having those hours will count towards the course. If you go for a full time course (Airline scheme, MPL or Integrated), then the hours wont count to the course, you will still do all the same flying lessons again, irrespective of previous experience. Which is why I always recommend getting to a “solo standard”, and then stop there, as it’s very expensive to progress to a PPL and then keep it current too. It’s great if you have the passion and money to get a PPL, just don’t let it sacrifice your school work or other activities you could be doing with your time. Keep the dream alive! Mark

  • Hi, thanks a lot sir,for your valuable information.Sir I’m an Alevel student in Maths stream and I hope to follow the intergrated training programme with 2fly airborne next year.After my ATPL’s.Do I should sponsor my type rating rating or does the airlines whos connected with CAE gonna sponsor my typetraining.Because the full cost Of the inergrated programme cost €70,000/- and the type rating will exceed €25,000/.Will this be just a dream forever…????…I’m realy confused on this,Sir I expect your kind, more infirmative regards…..Thankyou sir!!!…

    • Hi Sajith, it really depends on which training provider or airline scheme you choose. My airline paid for my type rating when I did my training. You need to be realistic and plan on having to pay for it yourself, so if you cant get the funds for 70K + 25K then maybe you need to reconsider your options? The airlines that offer free typeratings over ones that make you pay will be far more competitive to get on – they’ll attract the best quality candidates and make it much tougher to get on. But dont take this comment as negative, you have to be realistic in this game, so I wouldn’t want you to start all the training and then realise you have no way of getting a type rating – the last hurdle. Good luck and keep the dream alive!

      • Sir, Thank you very much for your valuable advices and kind regards sir, last I should ask you “What should be the most effective, fast and aswell as economically friendly path that I should follow after my intergrated training with 283 flying hours, to join a Europian airlines, with low hours ?”.Because once an Emirates capt said me that he first joined “Ryan air”with 200 flying hours and even now they are seeking such candidates.Sir I kindly request your views and advices…Sir I’m pretty excited and glad to get views and advices from a great person like you.Once a B777 Qatarairways captain”Talal hussain” gave me his contact number,and said me to contact him whenever I have a doubt about my dream,I tried to contact him through viber but he never replied me although he had seen my txt’s.Sir Thank you very much sir,for handfull kindness towards me.May Jesus bless you!!!..with your future and goals.Once again Thank a lot sir.Last, I kindly expect your valuable regards sir….

        • There is no “effective path” or magic route to employment I’m afraid. You have to get applying to airlines, knocking on doors. Keep uptodate with their recruitment websites etc. It’s a long and hard process.

          Which is why I always recommend it’s better to join an airline scheme ab-initio, ie from the start of your training, not at the end; for others reading this.

  • Hi,sir thank you for your motivation,I am a Somalian man and i live in horn of Africa/Somalia In my childhood upto now my hope is to be a pilot.I think one day one time my dream will come and i wish,i will be apart of this next scholarship programme so hard to wait compared to the interest and the feelings on how to become a pilot.Please will it possible for to join this next scholarship? WAITING a humble response soon.thanks

    • Hi Mohamed, we dont offer any scholarships our self, but you can find the links above to various schemes. Good luck and Keep the dream alive!

  • Hello Pilot Mark,
    I’ve been looking and haven’t quite found the answers. As you may know it’s very difficult and expensive to become a pilot in America.

    Is it difficult for pilots to come to the UK to fly if they have all their certifications and ratings? I have 440 flight hours. I lived in the UK for three years and I wouldn’t mind returning to fly. Thank you.

    • Hi Chris, yes it is much easier and quicker to get flying on a jet in Europe, since we dont have the minimum 1000hours rule like the FAA. The only issue is you would need to get the right to work in Europe. Kind Regards Mark.

  • Hello sir. Can you please reply to my questions?
    I’m Samrat Gurung and I’m from Nepal. It’s my early childhood dream to become a pilot but I didn’t study maths and science during my high school because I’m very weak in those subject so I went with management subjects like english, accountancy, business studies, marketing, computer, is it possible for me to become a pilot? If yes, then what are some of the ways to join a flight school? Do I have to take an aptitude test? What does the aptitude test include?
    Next, are there any ways to fund up for the pilot training in a smooth way? Because I’m not from a rich family to afford for the pilot training.
    Another question, is it possible for international students to join a cadet program of any airline? If yes, then how?

    • Hi Samrat, I’m not sure of the process in Nepal to be a pilot. I would suggest you call any of your local airlines in Nepal and ask them how you can become one of their pilots, or even go further and ask if you can meet/interview one of their pilots or try a work experience placement. Good Luck!

  • Hi sir, now I am 16 years old and I have no flying experience at all. so what should do next,
    should I get those medical stuff or start to go to a fly school, and at what age should I start fly school and when should I do those medical stuff


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