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Becoming a Pilot

The Inside Track

BALPA represents the majority of pilots in the UK. This is our guide to what it takes to become a pilot and the main obstacles to consider.

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The average member of the public has an outdated perception of what it is to be a commercial pilot. Most assume that pilots enjoy a well-rewarded jet-setter lifestyle, flying with glamorous cabin crew to exotic locations. Today, unfortunately, the reality does not always live up to the image.

Read the inside story
If you dream of becoming a professional pilot, it’s worth reflecting on what it will take to achieve your goal before committing significant amounts of time and money.

Qualifications &
skills required

A surprisingly broad range of skills are needed to become a pilot, and it’s vitally important not to concentrate solely on the academic and technical side but to consider the personal attributes that are required in the flight deck environment.

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If you dream of becoming a professional pilot it’s worth spending some time reflecting on what it takes, academically and personally, to achieve your goal before committing significant amounts of time and money. Many people have failed to achieve their dreams because they have overlooked this.

The hardest part of the process is usually securing your first commercial pilot position. Many believe getting a commercial licence earns them the right to permanent employment, but this is far from the truth. Pilots can take several years to land their first position, while some never reach the flight deck at all, even after spending significant sums of money and devoting years of their life to training. Only the most determined and resilient will succeed.

Resilience and determination to succeed

From initial flight training to retirement, a flying career will be punctuated by significant highs and lows. You must be prepared and able to deal with numerous challenges if your ambitions are not to be derailed.

Academic qualifications

Check you have the essential credentials to become a pilot.

Personal attributes

It’s not all about the skills you have on paper – your personality counts too.

Security and vetting

Find out more about the background checks you’ll face.


How would you cope with unpredictability?

Decision making and management skills

Find out more about how being a pilot involves more than just technical skills.

Back up qualifications and skills

Why it is vital to have a ‘Plan B’?

Pilot medical – Your first priority

To operate as a commercial pilot you must be 17 or over and will require a Class 1 medical certificate and have general medical fitness, good eyesight and hearing. There are a number of medical conditions that could prohibit you from making a career in flying, so obtain your Class 1 medical before you take any other step.

Choosing a Course

There are three accepted routes to obtaining a licence that will enable you to fly for an airline.

The Integrated and Modular paths lead to exactly the same licence, while the MPL gives you a Frozen ATPL, which has certain restrictions. Each route has its pros and cons and will suit some people more than others.

The Integrated Route

The Modular Route

The Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL)

Training to become a Helicopter Pilot

You may be considering getting a helicopter licence. If so, a UK CAA CPL (H) licence is the key to almost any of the helicopter pilot jobs in the world, be it instruction, pipeline patrols, long lining, crop spraying, oil and gas rig flying or HEMS.

There are many factors to be considered, and ultimately your choice of school will be influenced by personal preference and your selected training route.

Key questions & advice

Post Brexit Licencing

As of 1st January 2023, pilots operating G-Reg aircraft (UK registered aircraft) in the UK are required to hold a UK licence.

This measure has been implemented as part of the UK’s departure from the European Union and the subsequent changes to aviation regulations.

Financing your training

Once you have decided on a career as a professional pilot, the biggest initial challenge is financing your training.

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The final total cost should not be underestimated and a significant contingency budget should be allocated, as inevitably the training is going to cost more and take longer than originally anticipated.

Average training costs are currently between £80,000 – £120,000 but maybe more once ancillaries and extras are added.

Financing options will vary according to the type of course selected. Unless you are fortunate enough to have access to significant funds you will need to obtain some form of financing. In the current economic climate funding options are quite limited and generally security and/or guarantees are required.

Financing the integrated and modular route

Financing the MPL

Airline Training

Once you have completed your basic and advanced training to achieve your frozen ATPL the next logical step is to apply for a job with an airline willing to employ low-hours pilots.

Getting a job

Arguably, securing your first commercial pilot position is the most difficult challenge of your career, and no flying training organisation offers absolute guarantees.

Bear in mind that the training path takes approximately two years, and as aviation is extremely volatile, the job market can change drastically between commencing and completing your training.

It is largely assumed that pilots are well paid and some are. Generally, only after several years experience and a several promotions will you finally enjoy a good income with associated benefits.

Learn more about salary & benefits


The airline industry is global and offers a varied range of flying opportunities.

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Even though you may have an underlying goal in your career, the volatility of the industry means it is very difficult to predict how your career will develop. Two pilots graduating from the same FTO on the same day can have dramatically differing careers.

Flying jobs

Ongoing training/testing

Non-flying jobs

If you are considering flight training, or are currently at a flying school, you can join BALPA for FREE as a trainee ‘nextGen’ member.


Benefits of Membership

  • Career resources (guides, information, webinars)
  • Our fantastic ‘Crew Connected’ service
  • Access to members area of BALPA portal
  • Latest job vacancies
  • Quarterly magazine ‘The Log’, and monthly newsletter ‘On the Radar’
  • BALPA discount on industry-leading ‘loss of licence’ insurance
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