I imagine the Wright brothers (inventors of the first successful aeroplane) would be pretty happy to know that people in the 21st century can now develop a career as an airline pilot and play an integral role in flying thousands of people across the world each and every day.
Pilots fly a variety of aircraft and are employed in both the civil and military aviation sectors.
However, we’re here to talk specifically about airline pilots. These guys are employed by commercial airlines, cargo and charter companies to fly aircraft on domestic and international aviation routes.
Airline pilots have full control and responsibility for the overall safety, efficiency and smooth operation of the flights they carry out. Each flight, depending upon the size of the aircraft and the route taken, has two or more pilots, with the senior most pilot acting as captain.
If you work in this profession, you will be responsible for preparing a detailed flight plan, having studied the route, weather reports and schedules for departures and arrivals.
It’ll also be your job to evaluate the fuel load required based on the total weight of the aircraft (including passengers and/or cargo), the distance to be covered and the altitude you will be flying at.
You will ensure that all the engines, systems and on-board safety and navigation equipment are in working order and have been checked over by competent technicians. Before you get airborne, you will complete pre-flight checks and brief the cabin crew.
When it’s game time, you’ll need to make sure that the appropriate procedures are carried out with respect to take-off and noise regulations.
Understandably, then, you will also be in charge of controlling the aircraft throughout the flight and liaising with air traffic controllers to plot the plane’s trajectory.
Throughout the journey, you will communicate with crew and passengers at periodic intervals during the flight, check that the appropriate instrumentation and navigation systems are working at full capacity and make changes in speed and altitude as necessary to ensure a smooth flight.
Finally, when you reach your destination, you will prepare a detailed log pertaining to technical issues and complete the standard flight documentation as required.
Salary & benefits
Pilots working for small, local and regional airlines or public charter services earn around £15,000 and £20,000. However, pilots working as first officers for large airlines can earn between £38,000 and £50,000.
Pilots on long-haul flights or experienced captains can earn salaries upwards of £55,000, going up to £150,000.
Pilots with private charter companies, used by the rich and famous, also receive higher salaries than pilots offering feeder services or transporting cargo.
Salary increases are commensurate with experience. Pilots also receive other benefits such as good pensions, uniform and flight allowances, and discounted airline travel for themselves and their immediate family.
Your working hours will depend on the flight schedule and destination that you are flying to.
Pilots are required to report at least four to five hours ahead of the scheduled departure and must spend at least two to three hours completing the required documentation upon arrival.
The average working day is between ten and 12 hours long.
To work in this area, you will need decent GCSEs and A-Level grades (or equivalent), especially in science subjects and English. Obtaining a scientific or engineering degree might also give you an edge over other prospective trainees.
In order to develop a career in this area, you will need to attain an Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL), which may take between nine and 36 months. Before you can get your ATPL you must have gained your Private Pilot’s License (PPL), followed by a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL).
You could fund all this yourself; however, it would be pretty darn expensive. Alternatively, you could train to fly with one of the armed forces before converting to become a commercial pilot later. Some organisations do sponsor people to become trainee pilots; however, this is incredibly competitive.
Training & progression
Training to become a commercial pilot is a tough and extensive process. Once you have got your Commercial Pilot’s Licence, the next step is to take the Multi-Crew Cooperation (MCC) course, which prepares you for working within a multi-crew environment, including how to delegate tasks and share out responsibility.
You will then have to undergo Type-Rating training, where you will be trained to specialise in the control of a particular type and class of aircraft.
Promotion from first officer to captain can take 15 years; however, it doesn’t take this long for everyone. Your career progression depends entirely on your employer and your level of experience.
In the future, you could become a flight instructor, take on a senior management role within your airline or become an inspector for the Civil Aviation Authority. Starting up your own business, such as a flight instruction school or a chartered airline company, is another viable career path.