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How do I become a pilot?

Dear followers! This is the question a lot of you have asked me in the past and it’s time to give you a proper answer. I will include all the related “what do I need to do to become a pilot?”- questions you’ve asked me, and I will go through them step by step!
I will often refer to my way, how I became an airline pilot. There are other ways and not all of them are ideal, neither was mine!

Q & A

Do I need a university degree to become a pilot?

No, not necessarily. I went to university before I switched to flying school. But that never really influenced my pilot career. There are very, very few airlines which require a university degree, but those are rare exceptions. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to university. In fact in one case, I highly recommend going to university. Let’s imagine this likely scenario: You’ve passed your assessment with your most favorable airline (for example: British Airways, Virgin, Easy Jet etc) and suddenly the economy is in a downfall or other aviation related crisis, and the airlines have to put your flight training on hold. In the worst cases that I have seen, the flight candidates had to wait for three to four years until their training started. Here’s where the university comes into play!
As soon as the airline puts you on hold, apply to any university and study something of your interest. Maybe even something aviation related. Why? It’s your life we’re talking about. Do something with it, don’t lay back for three or fours years doing nothing, hoping the airline will call you whenever they feel like it. Here comes a hard fact!!! Airlines aren’t waiting for you, they have more things to worry about than flight training candidates on a waiting list. That’s why it’s called a waiting list. Gain some life experience, do something, as NIKE says, JUST DO IT! Or as I would say: “Nothing to it, but to do it!” Anything new learned will improve your life in any kind of way!

Other scenario: Imagine the airlines aren’t hiring for two years, it can happen, trust me. Now you have been laying back a few years after school, and haven’t done anything aviation related, and then you stand opposite the flight training captain. ”So what have you been doing for the past two years since flight school?”, ”Nothing really, I was taking a break from everything”. The look on the captain’s face will be priceless, if you know what I mean?
So take care of yourself, apply to university or find a job, I know a lot of my friends who worked as a ramp agent before they started their flying career.

How long does it take to become a pilot?

It depends on what kind of pilot you want to become. To become an airline pilot you have to go through five stages (six including the assessment).
These are the five stages:

  • PPL ( Private Pilot License ) – approx 6 months
  • CPL/IFR ( Commercial Pilot License and Instrument Rating, it’s an add on to the PPL ) – approx 6-8 months
  • ATPL ( Airline Transport Pilot License ) – approx 6 months of theory, ground training only
  • MCC ( Multi Crew Cockpit License ) – approx 2 – 4 weeks
    “Airline Assessment”
  • Typerating plus supervision phase (varies depending on operator) – approx 3 – 6 months

If you add it all together you’re roughly going to need two to three years to become an airline pilot. Considering that you pass all of your theory tests, checkflights and the assessment.

My math, physics and english grades aren't good, can I still become a pilot?

Don’t worry if you fail one of your exams in a subject you think is necessary to become a pilot. One bad grade won’t make you fail the assessment. Having constantly bad grades in maths, physics or English, you might want to step up your game to improve your grades. Because having overall bad grades in technical subjects will certainly confront you with strange questions at the assessment. ”You want to become a pilot but regarding you grades in physics it looks like you don’t have much interest in that, why?”
I’ve seen students fail because they were bad at head calculations, a thing you can actually improve by practicing. The same applies with the English exam. You can easily pass the exam by practicing and improving your English skills. And don’t be mistaken, you’ll want to improve your english skills not just for the assessment, you’ll be needing them on a daily basis if you want to be a pilot.

Sports

Never give up your sports lessons!!! Imagine you pass your airline assessment and then fail your medical examination because you’re not fit enough to fly a plane?! (Blood pressure, lung capacity etc.) You will feel devastated failing the easiest exam of all!
I’m not saying you should be ripped like a “Men’s/Woman’s Health” model, but it helps if you do sports on a regular basis to maintain a healthy body. I work out three times a week just to get the heart rate up and exercise my body, because as a pilot you do a lot of sitting. You don’t want to worry every time you have to take your annual medical exam if you’ll pass or not!

To which airline shall I apply?

This question you should be able to answer yourself.
Ask yourself in “which country would I like to work in?”
Would you want to work in the country you grew up?
Where all your friends and family live?
Narrow it down to your future interests. But don’t be too picky. You can’t approach any airline saying, “Okay, I want to fly this plane, I want to be stationed at this airport and have holiday from here till then”. Your future airline will decide that for you, (where to live and which airplane to fly etc) especially at the beginning without any seniority.

But be flexible,
There are many airlines across the world which have their own flight school.

What school education do I need?

I went to school in Germany for 13 years (standard education period), which means I have the German “Abitur”, which is similar to the British GCSEs or a college degree in the United States. Any school education in Europe which takes longer then 10 years is most probably appropriate to become a pilot. A lot of airlines require a decent school education. There is the possibility to work as a commercial pilot on smaller aircrafts with less years of education. But if you want to work for any major airline (British Airways, Air France, United etc), I highly recommend that you get a proper educational degree before you apply to any airline. The other option is to fly on executive jets and collect at least 1000 hours, and then apply to bigger airlines. It’s not the “fast-track” but it’s a different approach. There isn’t the perfect approach to any airline job, but mine was maybe the safest way.

Which classes/subjects shall I attend at school?

Maths is very helpful for your flying career. You might not use binomially equations whilst flying a plane, but it helps if you’re good at head calculations, geometry and basic algebra, because a lot of airline assessments will test your math skills.

If you have the opportunity to choose between biology and physics, I would recommend going with the physics classes. It will make things a little easier once you have aerodynamics, weight and balance or metrology courses at flight school.

The same applies with languages. Nothing against my Spanish or French followers but if you have the choice to take English classes at school, do not hesitate. The language in aviation is ENGLISH. All courses, manuals, books, weather information, exams, radio communication etc will be in English. There are exceptions but don’t rely on those! If you have the opportunity to learn another language besides English, do so, you never know what it’s good for.
There are many ways on how to improve your English. Read English books, get in contact with a native speaker or watch English movies (or my youtube videos ;)) etc. The possibilities are endless !

Any other classes where your technical understanding is required, take them !

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Get a taste of the airline assessment. SKYtest is a company I’ve been working with for the past three years. They have gotten many of my colleagues and me through countless airline assessments.
They’ve specialized themselves in helping flight students to pass the fierce aptitude tests, spatial orientation, multitasking exercises, concentration tests, maths and physic calculations.

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