So you want to be a pilot?

The most important advice given to me on an FTO open day is research...research...RESEARCH!

By no means is this all the research you need to be doing I'm just giving you a little starting point by sharing some fun things I've learnt whilst doing my own RESEARCH. As I'm going the commercial route my information is related to obtaining an ATPL through the FTO of my choice; Oxford Aviation Academy.

  1. "So you want to be a pilot?"
Everyone in the industry has read this article by Captain Ralph Kohn FRAeS! 

It's a really great overview and takes you through some key points you need to consider, it covers a basic outline of different types of flying you can achieve from PPL (private pilot's license) to CPL (Commercial Pilot's License) and military flying. It even covers the different types of CPL whether it's airplane, helicopter or ballooning! It's up to you as an individual to decide if you want to keep flying as a hobby or make it your career. This article definitely will get the cog's working. 

     2.  Professional flight training exhibition at London Heathrow airport. 

You've decided you want to take the commercial route? Attending this exhibition is essential; there's loads of working professionals for you to meet, seminar's given by various airlines and student pilot's from various FTOs (Flight Training Organisations) for you to talk to. In terms of doing our research this exhibition will provide you with masses of vital information and tonnes of free pens.

     3.  Attend an open day

How can you pick the best possible FTO for you if you don't visit them? Open day's give you the opportunity to meet with your future teachers, current students and sometimes representatives from various airline's. This is invaluable for gathering information but also gearing your approach to preparing for the rigorous assessment at your FTO. Argueably the three most popular FTO's in Europe are:

  • CAE Oxford Aviation Academy (worldwide training centres but the UK one is in Kidlington, London Oxford Airport). Website:

Each is highly recommended by students and airlines alike, they achieve amazing results with their students and run multiple courses each year. 

     4.   Consider whether you want to attend a Modular or Integrated course.

Do you already work or have a PPL? You may find that Modular study is the best way forward for you, it will allow you the chance to work whilst studying which will help keep the cost down. It may however take you longer to achieve your license. This discussion has been covered to death on pprune (pilot forums) and there is no right or wrong answer, it depends on your own personal timescale, experience, financial situation, family life etc. Pick the option that's best for you, not anyone else.

If you haven't already checked out the forum website pprune, do it! There is no amount of information I can summarise on this blog that hasn't already been covered 100 times over on this website. Take it with a pinch of salt, the aviation industry can be a tough one to crack, especially in recent times and there are some bitter student's on here whose personal experience has soured their comments. You'll have to sift through a few threads before you get to the really great ones BUT there are so many questions on there for you to consider. If you want to post, you will have to make an account but it is FREE!

    5. Funding. 

The dreaded word. Flight training is EXPENSIVE there is no two ways about it, even if taking the modular route. 

At this point it's well worth your time considering scholarships! 
You will find out about these via:
Of course there are others! I don't know everything, but see how essential all the things I mentioned before in this post? Necessary research stepping stones, not a definitive list. 

This year has been an impressive one for scholarships, the fact that the airlines are opening these schemes again gives us hope that the career is making a come back after the recession, now is the time to get into flying! This year Qatar, British Airways, EasyJet and Flybe have opened their doors to various schemes with the three FTOs I've mentioned, who knows how many more could be opened next year! 

Most of the scholarships do require you to have A levels or a 2:2 degree. If you are however in a position where you cannot apply for the scholarship (or apply or are not successful as they are highly competitive, like me with BAFPP, it's really hard!) there is another option to apply for funding. 

BBVA - One of the only bank's that will allow you to apply for a loan that will cover your ENTIRE pilot training costs. The loan does need to be secured with a UK property or on occasion they will consider a French or Spanish property. They consider each application carefully once you've been offered a place at an applicable FTO, such as Oxford, CTC or FTE (I speak of these three as these are the ones I know most about, there may be other's but you'd have to contact that school inidividually and ask if you'd be applicable for the loan there). As well as being secured you have to provide BBVA with a buisness plan, basically stating that in the event of short term unemployement (i.e. you don't have an airline job within 6 months of completeing the loan) what steps will you take to look for work outside of being a first officer. During this period you DO NOT have to start repaying the loan, but you are expected to minimalise costs where you can, prepare for an airline job but also acquire another job to save up money for the event of long term unemployment. 

The bank wants you to show that you have another career idea to fall back on if an airline hasn't picked you up after 6 months, as you will need to start repaying the loan. It's a big cost, and a risk you need to carefully consider BEFORE applying for your course. If BBVA think you are a high risk and WILL NOT be likely to be able to repay the loan after the course if you haven't secured your first officer position then they could reject your loan application leaving you unable to attend training. Although the loan is secured, the last thing BBVA want to do is repossess a house, if anything the legal fees of doing this would be costly to the bank so they'd like to know you have another option. This is where applicant's who've been working for a few years or have been to university will have the advantage as those straight out of school at 18 years old may not have the work experience to fall back on and get a reasonably well paying job. 

It is possible that they will accept flight training instructor at a small airfield or flying school as a possible career choice at this point as you gain a CPL during your FTO training, but you will need to show where you plan to get the money from for an instructor rating (approx £8,000) and potential type rating depending on the type of aircraft you will be training others in. Savings or a parental guarantee will help with this aspect. 

If you successfully complete Oxford's assessment day you are covered by their Skillsplus guarantee, meaning if you fail the course because you lack the aptitude, Oxford will cover costs of repaying the loan as they failed to detect this during assessment, this is a rare outcome as the assessment is two day's long and is very rigorous, only 39% of applicant's are successful the first time. With this particular FTO's guarantee, having the loan secured with a property and writing an appealing buisness plan, BBVA know they will get their money back, hence why they are participating in funding the course. 

You are also able to apply for Government funded Professional and Career development loan for up to £10,000, this will not cover the entire cost of training but as the expenses are great, every penny helps at this point. 

    6.  Class 1 medical

Due to the physical demands of the job, it can be stressful at times, it is very important that you're fit and healthy before starting your training. One of the main obstacles for student pilots is eyesight, you need to have good, colour vision to pass this test. I personally took my class 1 medical BEFORE I applied for an FTO assessment but many people wait until afterwards if they're confident they'll pass, I just wanted to be sure.

Information about medical requirements and booking your class 1 can be found on CAA's website:

If you've never had a sight test it's a good idea to get one before attending your class 1 as this can be a little costly. Make sure you're fit and healthy and the medical will not be so daunting. 

It includes:

  • Sight test & colour vision test (Just like at the opticians, you'll do some reading, have a picture taken of the back of the eye and flick through the Ishihara test, shown below)

  • Field of vision test - Checking you don't have any blind spots in either eye; you have to put your chin on a rest, stare at a little cross and then click when you see a bright light flash on either side without moving your eyes. You test one eye at a time whilst wearing a pirate eye-patch).
  • Finger prick test - For cholesterol, iron deficiency or abnormalities in blood. It was nothing to be afraid of, only a tiny little prick you can hardly feel and you can have a plaster afterwards if you want one :)
  • Urine Sample - Testing for diabetes mostly, you go into a toilet cubicle with a little cup and then post it through a hatch in the wall. Pretty simple
  • Hearing test -You sit in a tiny sound proof box with headphones on, you're going to be a pilot you're not allowed to be claustrophobic! Different frequencies of sound will be played in each ear when you hear the tone you've got to click a button. This will continue until you can no longer hear the frequency).
  • EEG (electrocardigram) - This one is looking for abnormalities in heart rate or palpitations. Additional tests may be required if a murmur or anything unusual is detected. Ladies, you do have to be topless for this one but it's done in a private room and chaperones are available if you feel uncomfortable at any point. The staff are all very professional and will make sure you feel relaxed before beginning this test. 
  • General Physical by a GP - Assessing your movement, flexibility, nose, eyes and ears health, and organ structure. Again you can have a chaperone if required but it's pretty simple, you just get checked over and answer a few questions about your medical history. 
At the end of the day, if successful, you will receive a nice certificate (don't lose it!) which is your class 1 medical and is valid for a year!

      7. Prepare for your assessment!

I'm going to cover Oxford and CTC's assessments in detail, all this research you've been doing will be essential for your qualifying interview, they mostly want to find out if you've got a true passion for aviation and that you've really thought about which course will be best for you. Talk about your experiences, how you've prepared, what you know about their course and how much you love flying and you'll be golden. And of course, have an answer to the question; "Why do you want to be a pilot?"

Good luck! :)

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