If you want to become a pilot, deciding where to train, which course to take and securing a place on a programme can be more daunting than the training itself. Many Approved Training Organisations (ATOs) will require you to pass a rigorous assessment process.
They often don’t require any flying experience, so they are looking to identify if you have what it takes to complete the training, fly as a First Officer and command as a Captain. We’ve pulled together tips from pilots who have been there and done it - designed to put you in the best possible position to launch your airline pilot career.
1. Visit a pilot careers event
Our friends at Pilot Careers Live www.pilotcareerslive.co.uk host career expos around Europe that many leading Approved Training Organisations and some airlines attend. This is a really valuable experience for your initial research as it will allow you to find out what types of training programmes are on offer, what the airlines are looking for in their Pilots and of course, where you can train.
2. Visit an ATO
Once you have a good idea of what training is available, you will be able to shortlist a number of Approved Training Organisations (or ‘ATOs’) that interest you. You are about to spend anything up to £120,000 with your chosen provider, so it would be wise to see if you like the place first! You may get to see the classrooms, aircraft and simulators and speak to past and present students of the school – this should help you get a true feel of where is best for you. Organisations such as CAE Oxford Aviation Academy, L3 Airline Academy, FTE Jerez and Airways Aviation hold regular open days and tours.
3. Get aviation on your CV
It is important for you to showcase that you have the motivation and determination to make it through a challenge training course. Having an aviation related exercise on your CV will help – but don’t worry, this doesn't necessarily mean splashing out on a PPL*. You could demonstrate your commitment through work experience or volunteering for an aviation organisation - you may be able to volunteer at your local flying club and you could even wrangle some free flying from it. There are some fantastic aviation causes out there that always need volunteers – check out Aerobility - a charity offering disabled people, without exception, the opportunity to fly an aeroplane.
* Having a trial lesson is always a great idea, to ensure you actually enjoy flying!
4. Speak to a pilot
Find one, then rack their brains for their experiences! Try to find out about their research, selection and training experience – and their day to day life as an Airline Pilot. What do they think is required to become a Pilot? What challenges does the 21st century Pilot face? Read blogs and visit forums - there are many cadets who write blogs whilst going through training. They will provide some of the most up to date selection and preparation advice you can find and most are willing to respond to comments and messages – you can even contact the Aileron team directly, we’re line flying Pilots! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
5. Pick up a magazine
We love Airliner World – a printed monthly issue and online news site. There are always a great variety of articles to keep you in the loop of the commercial world, and fantastic photography to boot.
For Pilot training and careers, Pilot Career News is an online news site dedicated solely to – you guessed it - the latest in Pilot careers news and events for aspiring pilots. Flight Training News is a monthly paper jam packed with European news on aviation training, careers, scholarships, safety and events news.
6. Do your finances
In this day and age, fully-sponsored Airline Pilot training programmes are few are far between. Pilot training is expensive, so if you don’t have six figures stashed under the mattress, you’ll need to look at what funding options are available. You may be able to use a secured bank loan, or several smaller unsecured loans. Take a look at your existing banking provider or other local banks and building societies for products that might be available to you. You could also speak to an Independent Financial Advisor who may be able to point you in the right direction.
There are some modest flight training scholarships available - check out our blog on Gaining your PPL to find the latest scholarships on offer that can help you take some important first steps.
7. Play computer games
So you’ve picked an ATO, applied to a programme and have been invited to a selection event – congrats! It’s now likely you’ll undergo a variety of assessments, both ‘technical’ and ‘non-technical’. The technical skills test is typically taken on a computer with a joystick and keyboard. They are designed to test whether you have the natural technical aptitude suited to pilot training. They could look at hand-eye coordination, information processing skills and overall capacity to manage multiple tasks. The tests will differ from one ATO to another, but you can check out online forums such as Pprune (Professional Pilot Rumour Network) to get an insight into what you could expect – many aspiring Pilots share their experiences here. They say you cannot learn to pass these tests – they are notoriously challenging. However, you can certainly prepare as thoroughly as possible by familiarising yourself with the test style. Some online pilot aptitude tests do require paid subscriptions - a couple of examples are Latestpilotjobs and Skytest. Alternatively, you could get some good practice on joystick-based computer game.
8. Don't wing it
If you are assessed on ‘non-technical’ skills, this will likely take the form of a group exercise or interview – perhaps both. Do not misjudge this as the ‘softer side’ of training as you will not be able to ‘wing it’ (pun wholeheartedly intended). At well-established training organisations, assessors are highly skilled in building a picture of your personality and potential. The sort of the competencies they will be hoping to see demonstrated are cooperation, leadership, situational awareness and decision making. Group exercises will usually put you in a position where you must overcome a fictitious challenge and come to a resolution as a team, for example, being stranded on a desert island with only some shark repellent and a pair of chopsticks… you get the idea.
A one-on-one interview will provide an opportunity for the assessor to build a picture of your motivation and dedication towards pursuing an Airline Pilot career. The questions will often be ‘competency-based’ - some good examples of these types of questions can be found here.
So when do you start preparing for this? Now is the answer. As soon as you have decided that you want to become a pilot you should start working to improve your non-technical skills. Go out there and look for opportunities that will mean you can provide solid examples in an interview – being part of a sports team, university society or committee are just a few valuable experiences you could draw upon.
9. Do your research
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” – Benjamin Franklin.
Simple, yet effective: research the training organisation that you are applying to and research the industry. In a climate of cost awareness, more than ever airlines need their Pilots to be commercially savvy and customer-focussed. In an interview you may be asked to display knowledge of current affairs and if you are applying to an airline-sponsored training programme, you’ll want to get up to speed on its business model, current challenges and cultural values. Be sure to familiarise yourself with the latest news and challenges within the industry – and demonstrate that you have understood them by consolidating your own views on the issues.
Tips for qualified Pilots
If you are looking to apply for a low-hour or experienced Pilot job these can be very competitive. It is important to make yourself stand out. All of the tips above are just as applicable to interview preparation for qualified as well as aspiring Pilots. You will have to display evidence that you have the hours they are asking for - what better way to present it than in an Aileron personalised Pilot Logbook?
One last thing… Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn
If you don’t succeed on your first attempt then try not to be too downhearted. Many successful Pilots have taken multiple attempts to pass selection and secure a place on a training programme. If the ATO you apply to provides feedback, make sure you work on this and if you really want it, do not give up.
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