Frequently asked questions
Here are my answers to 8 questions that I regularly get asked through my blog; they're questions I had too. Please feel free to ask me any additional questions through my Contact page.
1) What are the medical and fitness requirements for an airline pilot?
Every year, each commercial pilot must pass a Class 1 medical examination. This is regulated by EASA, the European Aviation Safety Agency. The annual medical involves hearing and eyesight check ups, blood and urine tests, lifestyle questioning, and more. Anyone wishing to train for a commercial or airline transport pilot's licence will need to obtain an initial Class 1 medical certificate as part of the licensing requirements. Further details can be found on the CAA website. This initial examination costs around £500, with annual renewal examinations costs around £130.
2) What does selection and assessment involve?
This varies depending on which training school you wish to attend. However, the majority of training academies will require an online application form to be completed. This is usually classed as Stage 1. The next stage, usually held on-site at the training school, involves computer aptitude testing in the form of hand-eye coordination, memory and numerical/verbal reasoning tests. There are also mathematics and physics tests which may be included at this stage. The third stage is usually a group exercise, where communication, teamwork, time management, and leadership skills are assessed, and also a competency-based interview. The fourth and final stage is usually a simulator assessment, and possibly a further interview if your course is airline-supported. Details of the entry requirements and next steps to apply to CAE Oxford Aviation Academy are available here. More information may be available online.
3) What is the course cost and are finance options available?
Again, this varies between training schools, and also between courses. The cost of flight training has been steadily rising in recent years due to many factors, primarily the rise in fuel costs. Currently, the integrated commercial pilot training programme at CAE OAA costs £87,500 (although a type rating may be required in addition to this - sometimes at a cost of around £35,000), and alternatively, the same Multi-Pilot Licence course I studied now costs £100,500 (correct February 2017). As expected, these prices have risen since I began training in 2013. Please see the latest costs on the CAE OAA website. Fortunately, finance options are available. This is often through BBVA, although other options may be available. For further information on the UK BBVA loan scheme, please visit the CAE OAA Fees and Funding page here.
4) Which subjects do you cover during your training?
There are 14 Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) examinations across 14 subjects. These are assessed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in the form of computer-based multiple-choice exams, and are usually split into two phases, each phase taking 3 months to complete. They must all be successfully completed before flight training can commence. The subjects are:
PHASE ONE SUBJECTS
Principles of Flight
Aircraft General Knowledge - Systems
Aircraft General Knowledge - Instrumentation
PHASE TWO SUBJECTS
Mass & Balance
These subjects are the same regardless of which training school you attend. However, they may be assessed in a different order to that shown above.
5) Where can I purchase the textbooks required for the course?
Many textbooks are available from different suppliers. The textbooks required for CAE OAA are provided to you as part of the integrated training course at no extra cost. If you wish to purchase these textbooks prior to, or without attending, the integrated course; please visit CAE Oxford Interactive.
6) Can you choose your base airport?
In short, yes. Here comes the longer answer! Airlines are very dynamic. They operate on a supply and demand system, where some bases have more demand at times than others. Whilst most airlines will fly to hundreds of destinations, they will only base their aircraft overnight at a small number of airports (usually major airports where there are good transport links for staff and also good maintenance facilities). Initially, it is likely that your airline will base you at an airport of their choosing. This is to ensure the airline has a good coverage of pilots across their network. They may also require you to move bases (often anywhere in Europe) to assist their flexibility of operation and to accommodate their growth and expansion plans. Usually, however, after one or two years with an airline, you will be able to submit a base transfer request to show your preference.
7) What is the starting salary for an airline pilot?
It's probably not what you think! Flight training has become expensive, and starting salaries are being reduced. Salaries vary depending on the airline, the aircraft fleet flown, and the contract the cadet is placed on. Usually, initial cadet salaries are between £24,000-£38,000. However, this may be paid in a currency different to that of your training costs, such as Euros. This creates further complications with exchange rates. Eventually, airline pilot salaries do rise (especially in the left-hand seat as a Captain), often well above £100,000.
8) How often does the Airbus land automatically?
This can vary between airlines. The majority of airlines, however, encourage pilots to keep their skills up by manually landing the aircraft whenever they can. At my airline, every landing must be manually flown by the flight crew, unless the visibility prevents this. For instance, most airports require a runway visual range of 550 metres to allow manual landings to be flown using the Instrument Landing System (ILS, Category 1). However, under certain circumstances the aircraft may autoland in visibilities down to just 75 metres. Even in these situations, the flight crew must position the aircraft (using the autopilot) onto the ILS, and management the entire automatic landing including taxiing the aircraft off the runway manually. Over the 100 or so flights I have flown with my airline so far, just one landing has been performed "automatically" by the aircraft due to low visibility.