MPL or ATPL- which is the best training programme to become a pilot?
We’ve put together this handy independent guide to help aspiring pilots make an informed choice on the best route to the flight deck, for them
The relatively recent introduction of the new Multi-Crew Pilot Licence was considered to radically challenge the training philosophies of the long-standing and trusted Air Transport Pilot License and the integrated training course to achieve the licence.
When we first posted on this topic back in 2016, whilst the growing popularity of MPL was clear, with airlines such as easyJet, Qatar, Virgin Atlantic and Flybe taking a portion of pilots through an airline specific MPL cadet programme, the majority of airlines still subscribed to the integrated ATPL as their preferred qualification for recruiting pilots.
Today, more airlines than ever are turning to the MPL for cadets. Places on MPL courses have been increasing for European carriers like easyJet, one of the early adopters of the programme, Thomas Cook has launched its own MPL Cadet programme and last year British Airways re-launched its iconic Future Pilot Programme as an MPL course.
So, which should you choose? Which is better? What is the difference?
A quick history lesson:
The Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) was introduced in 2006 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as an airline-specific alternative to the more traditional cadet route: the Airline Pilot Transport Licence (ATPL).
The new licence was received with mixed emotions, but in 2013 the most vocal advocates predicted that the majority of airlines would get their pilots through this new route by 2020.
So what’s the difference between MPL and ATPL?
Both are legitimate and industry recognised routes to the flight deck, so how do you know which one is for you?
Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)
The traditional ATPL route was designed to give an individual a real all-round experience and solid footing in aviation. It’s built upon hands on flight experience that is more focused on single engine and multi engine operations than on the multi-crew environment. In fact, you don’t experience a multi-crew situation until the very final stages of training .
ATPL courses are available through Approved Training organisations (ATO) under a few guises:
When done full-time, ATPL training typically lasts round 18 months. You will walk away with a ‘frozen’ ATPL (fATPL). You can apply for jobs and work as an airline pilot, but your licence will not be “unfrozen” until you have racked up 1500 flying hours. Download our handy guide to unfreezing your ATPL.
Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL)
The most distinguishing difference is you can only complete an MPL route of training for an airline affiliated training programme. These courses are designed in collaboration with the airline and the ATO that delivers the training.
From day one, you are focussed on working in a commercial airline environment, often receiving airline mentoring along the way. By the time you qualify you’ll be fully submerged in the airline culture. This could be within 18 – 24 months depending on the airline.
If you secure a place on an airline MPL, you are typically provided with a conditional offer of employment, before you even begin training. To mention a few, airlines such as easyJet, Flybe, Virgin Atlantic, Qatar Airways and Air Arabia in the UAE have all adopted the MPL with great success in recent years.
Some more differences between ATPL and MPL
You can do your ATPL either as an ‘Integrated Route’ e.g. a full-time ‘on-campus’ course, or a more flexible ‘Modular’ route; doing each module of training over a longer period of time, maybe even at different training organisations and even distance learning is available for some parts of the course.
Many training organisations advise that an integrated course is favoured by airlines over the modular course, due to the ease in assessing a comprehensive training record. However, don’t worry if you need the modular training flexibility; plenty of modular trained pilots get jobs with leading airlines, the process simply may be a longer one.
The MPL course on the other hand must be taken as an integrated, full-time course. If you need more flexibility, you’ll have to stick to an ATPL.
ATPL courses rarely have restrictions on places available. This will depend on the capacity of the ATO you apply to, you may simply need to join a waiting list. MPL courses however have a set number of places for each intake, and with an (almost) guaranteed job on offer you’ll have to fight off the #avgeeks left, right and centre! Virgin Atlantic’s MPL opened in 2014 with 8000 applications for just 12 places.
3. The course
Though very similar, the ATPL and MPL courses differ slightly in the amount of light aircraft flying and sim time you complete to gain your license. An ATPL course looks typically like this:
Back to the classroom
14 ATPL theoretical knowledge examinations, taken over a period on average of six months, usually split up into two or three modules.
Learn how to fly solo
Passing your exams will allow you to start you Single Engine Piston (SEP) flight training, working towards your first solo flight, first solo navigation flight and onto you first progress test.
Learn how to fly with instruments
After this you will start your Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flying. This starts off in a simulator and then into a single engine aircraft.
Add an engine and some speed!
The next phase will progress you onto a twin engine aircraft to learn about these operations and how the aircraft handles differently. This stage is quite a big step up as you fly at greater speeds and have to be prepared to react more quickly.
Add a rating
You’ll then go on to complete your Instrument Rating in a twin engine aircraft. You’ll have to log a few different types of hours to fulfil the requirements for the CAA to issue your frozen ATPL.Download our handy guide to unfreezing your ATPL.
Completing all of these phases successfully means you will have a Commercial Pilot Licence with a Multi-Engine Instrument Rating, more commonly abbreviated (as these things always are) to a ‘CPL/MEIR’. If you decided not to continue your training, with this licence you would be able to instruct, or fly passengers in twin or single engine light aircraft.
Move to multi-crew
Up until this point, you will have been operating as a single crew pilot under the supervision of an instructor. The training that provides the transition into a multi-crew environment is the Jet Orientation Course (JOC) and Multi Crew Co-operation Course (MCC). You will also complete some Crew Resource Management (CRM) training. Many schools offer this course in a fancy guise – the ‘Airline Qualification Course’ or ‘Best Pilot Programme’, for example.
Completion of MCC/JOC training to the right standard means your fATPL is complete and you can start looking for jobs with any airline who recruit newly-qualified pilots. Some training organisations will assist you with this and some won’t but you should know this from the research you do before you start training with an ATO. When you secure a job as a co-pilot, you’ll be required to complete training on the specific type of aircraft you will be flying – known fittingly as a ‘type rating’ and this could be an additional cost. This training is included in an MPL course.
What does getting an MPL look like?
You’ll start on the same footing to an ATPL: six months of ATPL theoretical knowledge study in the classroom.
From here on out there are distinct differences. The MPL syllabus replaces many of the single-pilot elements of flight training with multi-crew training that you would be expected to follow at an airline. You’re working in a commercial flight operation environment much sooner that the ATPL course allows.
The MPL course is split into four key phases of training:
Aircraft Flight Training – less time single engine flying than with the ATPL route.
Multi-Pilot Flight Training in a jet simulator.
Aircraft Specific Training (typically specific to the aircraft you’ll be starting on at the airline, i.e. Airbus A320 for easyJet)
More Aircraft Specific Training continues. This is comparable to a type rating you might complete as a fATPL holder just joining an airline.
Voila! You have an MPL licence – similarly to those with an fATPL, you can convert this to a full ATPL at 1500 hours. Details on this can be found here.
4. Getting a job at the start vs getting a job at the end
Having an fATPL renders you a ‘free agent’, you have a pick of which recruiting airline you’d like to apply for after you finish your training. MPL courses are airline specific, but bringing with it a more concrete job prospect; by securing a place on an MPL course you’ll have a conditional offer of employment even before you start training.
PRICE - Usually cheaper than MPL upfront, but do be aware of potential additional type rating costs.
CHOICE- You are free to choose which airlines you apply to once your training is complete.
FLYING FOR FUN - you will spend more time actually flying and secure a Single Engine Piston rating, so you’ll be able to fly light aircraft with friends and for a hobby. An MPL does not include this as standard, so you’d have to look at adding it to your licence later on (which is, of course, an additional cost).
JOB PROSPECTS – good when the market is buoyant, but this completely depends on your training record, support from your ATO and its links to airlines.
COST – MPL training can be more cost efficient as most currently available courses include your type-specific training, which qualifies you to fly large passenger aircraft in the same way a type rating does. Again, this wholly depends on the type rating cost, and who is required to foot the bill. If the airline foots it, the ATPL route is probably still slightly cheaper.
JOB SECURITY – Fantastic! If you secure a place on the programme, the airline has pre-selected you to join before you have even set foot in a classroom.
CHANGING JOBS- You will be restricted to working for your MPL airline, until you are able to apply for a full ATPL, once you have reached 1500 flying hours - unless the airline you want to move to is willing to consider you.
HANDS ON FLYING – If you have an MPL, you won’t be able to fly commercially on your own, or as part of an airline with significantly lighter aircraft - eight or fewer seats. If you’re only interested in flying on line, this shouldn’t significantly impact you.
What would happen should the airline you are destined to work for goes bankrupt or, should you lose your job? This has happened on one known occasion with Monarch (in fact, pre collapse). The pilots in question were able to move to easyJet thanks to assistance from the ATO delivering training, and by the fact it was the same aircraft – the Airbus A320.
In our first edition of this blog, we wrote that this was gladly a rare occurrence, today we sadly cannot say the same as less structurally sound airlines continue to fall into decline. When you apply for an airline sponsored MPL programmme this is worth considering. Ensure you apply to an airline approved training school (ATO) that would be equipped to adapt the training for you in these circumstances or provide a refund for your training.
So will the 2020 prophecy be fulfilled? Will MPL overtake ATPL?
In 2016 we said: It is unlikely. What is more likely is an increase in diversity of the channels from which airlines recruit their pilots.
However, while it’s still unlikely that next year MPL numbers will suddenly leapfrog ATPL, it is clearer now that some of Europe’s biggest recruiters will increasing shift their new pilot resource pipeline to MPL cadet programmes.
For the last decade the MPL has been a trial for many airlines and the apparent success for many carriers is likely to result in the numbers of MPL training courses - and associated job opportunities for aspiring pilots - grow.
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