How Can I Become A Pilot in the UK?

This guest post was contributed by the team at Go Fly Flying School, in Salisbury.

Pilots are responsible for the safe operation of a range of aircraft. There are three main types of commercial pilots:

  • Commercial airline pilots, who transport passengers and cargo
  • Corporate pilots, who fly private jets owned by wealthy individuals and large corporations
  • Military pilots, who defend the nation

Routes into these various sectors of aviation vary from country to country as most territories are governed by their own aviation board which sets out an individual set of criteria that they think are important to ensure that they produce high quality pilots.

One country with a particularly rich piloting tradition is the UK. Famous for its legendary RAF and the iconic Spitfire aircraft of World War 2, the UK has always produced a high calibre of pilots and these are the various ways that you could join their ranks:

Private Pilot Training

To become a private pilot, a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) is required. Such a licence will enable you to fly almost anywhere in the world as a pilot in command, or co-pilot. However, you cannot receive payment for flying and you will be limited as to the type of aircraft you can fly.

To obtain a PPL, you will need to clock up a minimum of 45 hours’ flying time (in the UK) and pass theoretical examinations covering aviation laws, human performance and limitations, navigation, meteorology, flight performance and planning, aircraft general knowledge and flight principles, and radiotelephony. You can only acquire a PPL if you are aged 17 or over.

Initial Commercial Airline Pilot Training

To work as a first officer (co-pilot) of an airline, a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), or frozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL), is required. This is the minimum qualification accepted by commercial airlines and it enables you to fly an aircraft designed for commercial air transportation and receive payment for your services. If you wish to train for a frozen ATPL, it is advantageous to possess a PPL. You will receive a frozen ATPL when you successfully pass written theoretical examinations and clock up 200 hours of flight training. It is important to note that a frozen ATPL will not allow you to work as a pilot in command (captain).

Further Commercial Airline Pilot Training

To become a pilot in command (captain) of a commercial aircraft, a full ATPL is required. This is the highest commercial pilot licence available. You will gain a full ATPL when you have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience to your name (that would be over 62 days solid!), including 500 hours gained while working as a first officer (co-pilot) on a multi-pilot aircraft. You can only receive a full ATPL if you are aged 21 or over.

Finding a Suitable Training Provider

The following training providers can aid you in gaining the qualifications and skills required to work as a pilot:

  1. Private Training Schools – You can train at a training school that has been approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). However, you will have to meet the cost of this yourself.
  2. Military Schemes – If you wish to qualify as a pilot in the armed forces, you could join the Royal Air Force (RAF) and complete their generic Initial Officer Training before applying to enroll on their Elementary Flying Training (EFT) scheme. Alternatively, you could join the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. Once you have qualified as a military pilot, you will be able to complete a conversion course that enables you to become a commercial pilot.
  3. Universities – Several universities offer prospective pilots with the chance to study for courses in air transportation and operations and obtain a frozen ATPL at the same time. You will need to pay for your tuition fees and flying training yourself. However, government loans may be available.
  4. Commercial Airline Scholarship Schemes – You could apply for a place on a trainee commercial pilot scholarship scheme with a commercial airline. However, entry to such schemes is highly competitive and it is advantageous to have obtained experience of flying prior to applying for scholarships.

Personal Qualities and Skills

While formal pilot training is a necessity, it is also essential to possess certain personal qualities and skills. To work as a pilot, you will require:

  • An ability to follow and provide instructions
  • Good teamwork skills
  • Excellent hand-to-eye coordination and spatial awareness
  • Map reading and 3D display interpretation skills
  • Confidence when using complex technology
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • An unflappable manner and a willingness to take charge in an emergency
  • Good eyesight and normal colour vision
  • Good hearing
  • A high standard of physical fitness

You will also require at least five GCSEs, including maths, English and science, and two A-levels or equivalent. University qualifications in maths, physics and aeronautical engineering are favourably looked upon. In addition, it is necessary for you to pass an extensive medical check and, where appropriate, fall within an airline’s height and weight boundaries.

Whether you choose to become a private or commercial pilot, you must be prepared to work extremely hard. Training to become a pilot is no simple undertaking, particularly when you have other commitments in life.


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