Becoming an airline pilot is a dream job.
Welcome to the most beautiful office in the world. When you imagine the pilot, you see the Airbus, the cockpit and its breathtaking view of the sky. We also see the uniform, a symbol of prestige.
This profession is however little known and many prejudices dominate the landscape. The course is tough, but whoever succeeds will exercise his dream fully.
In this guide, find out all you need to have a successful Airline Pilot career.
Typical long-haul flight of a Captain
Arrived in uniform 2 hours before boarding, I found the co-pilots in the flight preparation room, to study the flight file.
We study the route together, and define the amount of fuel needed according to the parameters of the day. The weather is pretty good, and the specifics of the flight have been taken into account.
It’s time for me to go say hello to the crew. Direction the briefing room where all the flight personnel are present. Once the instructions are given, we all join the shuttle that takes us to the plane.
Before letting the passengers board, a few checks are made around and in the aircraft.
I can get into the cockpit with my co-pilots, and we divide up the rest times. It’s a 12 hour flight.
Everyone is at their post for the passenger reception phase. The safety instructions are given by the Cabin Crew Members, and we continue with the checklists.
While I check the controls, the co-pilot is handling radio communications. We wait for the tower to give us clearance to drive towards the track. After a few minutes of taxiing and checking, I slowly line up the aircraft on the runway and wait for take-off clearance. The tower frequency reminds us « … take-off clearance ». Joysticks forward, the plane picks up speed.
That’s it, we’re taking off. At our flight level, I stabilize the aircraft. We are entering the cruise phase of the flight. We have several hours ahead of us before we land, which will take place at night. We cross the clouds, then in the early evening, the dazzling spectacle of the sunset plays out before our eyes.
We ring on the intercom, an air hostess brings us our meal tray …
Thirty minutes before landing I make contact with the approach frequency. Two devices are in front of us, so we’ll have to wait a few more minutes and do a holding circuit.
Now it’s our turn. We can spot the lights of the track from a distance. We make a turn and start the descent very slowly. The landing gear is extended. A few minutes later, you touch the track and you decelerate with it, braking and applying the « reverse ». After authorization from the tower, we reach the parking lot.
It’s time to do some final checking. Everything is in order, the reactors can be shut down, and the passengers are directed to the exit doors. Once the plane is empty, I head with my crew to the shuttle that will take us to the hotel.
We will stay 48 hours on site. The time to rest and take a short walk in this foreign country, and will have returned in the opposite direction, towards the house.
Adaptability, family life, social life
The living conditions of a pilot are totally different from other professions.
Above all, the airline pilot must be geographically mobile. In fact, every three or four days or so he leaves for a new destination, far from his home, far from his family, whom he will not see again for several days. He travels regularly from one continent to another. Coming home every night of the week is rare and the time off is not necessarily Saturday and Sunday like most people.
It is also true that some months can be busy if there are few days off between flights.
Fortunately, the pilot usually has at least 3 days of rest at home before being reassigned to a flight. It also has one of the longest recovery times due to the fatigue generated by jet lag.
You have to be dynamic and know how to adapt. The international must please. It is a profession that offers the opportunity to discover the world in a unique way.
However, this requires a restrictive pace of life because of the time differences. It is therefore important to be in good physical condition. It is also necessary to show good psychological resistance because having the safety of the flight crew and a large number of passengers in charge is a great responsibility.
Pilots must undergo medical tests every year, then every 6 months after 40 years. It is better to be in good health to withstand jet lag and repeated night flights.
The training course
Several types of pilot licenses must be passed in order to become an airline pilot, which are in order:
The PPL, private pilot license, which takes place on light aircraft;
The Theoretical ATPL, with its various certificates which covers several subjects: flight mechanics, weather, regulations, etc. ;
The CPL which allows commercial flights to be performed, accompanied by the IR qualification, which authorizes the pilot to fly in weather conditions without external visibility;
In addition to the CPL comes the MCC to be trained on crew work;
Then come the QTs, which are type ratings, different depending on the aircraft on which the company wants to train its pilot.
OPL Airline Pilot Officer
The Airline Pilot Officer, or co-pilot, is the first rank of young airline pilots. The co-pilot is seated to the right of the captain. His duties are the same as those of the captain, since he is responsible, for example, for making landings and take-offs alternately with the latter. He is therefore, contrary to majority beliefs, a pilot in his own right. The only things that differ are the number of years of experience, and the degree of legal responsibility. All pilots go through the stage of Airline Pilot Officer before becoming, if they wish, Captain.
The first years of a co-pilot take place on medium and short-haul flights before moving on to a long-haul. The short-haul flight lasts less than an hour and the medium-haul flight less than 4 hours. From France, most of these are European and North African flights. Long haul flights last over 4 hours and are generally transoceanic.
Around € 3,000 / month at the start of a co-pilot’s career, it can quickly climb to € 4,000, depending on the company.
After approximately 4 years and 1,500 hours of flight time as a co-pilot, the latter has the choice to become Captain and thus obtain his Practical Airline Pilot License. To do this, he must return to short-haul or medium-haul flights before being able to return to long-haul.
The Captain is the legal guardian on board, and he is responsible for the smooth running of a flight. He is the one who makes the final decisions. This does not prevent him from having to take into account the opinions of his teammates, even if he has the last word, for a good working synergy. It is therefore in a way the conductor, who is required to maintain good communication between the flight crew, and must be able with composure and maturity to handle any situation or unforeseen event.
It can be around € 7,000 to € 15,000 at the end of a career; again it all depends on the airline.
There are two types of self-taught training, the so-called INTEGRATED ATP training and the MODULAR training. The main difference between these two training courses is that the INTEGRATED training allows you to start an Airline Pilot training, without any aeronautical experience, where the MODULAR training will require you to go through the Aéroclub box to obtain your PPL and thus acquire aeronautical experience. Whether INTEGRATED or MODULAR, your training will be provided in an FTO (flight training organization).
Modular training is training that requires prior experience before entering training in an FTO. You will therefore have to take your PPL at a flying club or FTO of your choice. Once you have acquired your PPL, you will have to pass different licenses and « increase » your flight hours to be able to apply with a company.
The different licenses to pass are:
– PPL * (Private pilot license)
– MURISSEMENT * (gain experience by increasing your flight hours)
– THEORETICAL ATPL (theoretical airline pilot license – applies to theory for other licenses)
– CPL / IR (commercial pilot license / instrument rating)
– MCC * (crew work)
– FCL 1.200 * (level of English compulsory)
This order is in chronological order, however, be aware that you can do your ripening after or during your theoretical ATPL, and that you can pass the FCL 1.200 just after the ATPL.
The cost of modular training is slightly lower than training.
Integrated training is training that allows you to start an airline pilot training without aeronautical experience. Throughout your training, you will be part of an FTO (Flight Training Organization – Organization offering approved training for airplane flight).
Integrated training or Integrated ATP is the most direct way to become an airline pilot in Europe, it is a course structured by an FTO comprising a schedule and a well-defined follow-up.
However, it is always good to « taste » the flight (first flight in a flying club or during certain air meetings …) before embarking on an integrated training.
INTEGRATED training lasts an average of 24 months and is distributed in most cases as below:
THEORETICAL PART (approx. 12 months):
ATPL / A (Airline Transport Pilot License / Airplane – Theoretical Airline Pilot License)
Preparation in the FTO of your choice, of the 14 theoretical ATPL modules.
PRACTICAL PART (approx. 12 months):
– CURING, maturing is the fact of increasing your hours to gain experience and be able to enter a CPL internship
– CPL (Commercial Pilot License)
– IR (Instrument Rating)
– MCC (Multi Crew Coordination / Cooperation – Teamwork) –