Airplane pilot: how to get a license

The passion for flying unites many young boys, who after graduation decide to embark on a path that allows them to become aircraft pilots . In front of their eyes there are two possibilities: becoming a pilot of airliners, or attempting the Air Force Academy to pilot military planes. In this post we will explain how to become an airliner pilot, what are the necessary requirements and what tests must be passed to obtain flight licenses.

If you want to find out how to do your dream job, also read:

  • Professional Training: study courses and traineeships

Aircraft pilot requirements: the Curriculum Vitae

The primary requirement for becoming an airliner pilot is psycho-physical fitness, which can be achieved through a medical examination at the Air Force's forensic medicine centers or the Maritime Health clinic of the Ministry of Health. There are two classes of assessments based on the license that will be obtained:

  • II class is the first one that must be obtained for the private pilot license
  • I class, the subsequent suitability for commercial and airline pilot

Other requirements are the high school diploma and good knowledge in mathematics, physics and English, verified with an entrance test.

The first license: PPL

Subsequently, you can enroll in a flight school approved by ENAC, where you can take a course to obtain the first license, the PPL (Private Pilot License), that is, that of a private pilot.

The course consists of a first theoretical part, and a second practical part on a flight simulator, and subsequently on an airplane. After 47 hours of practical flight (37 in double command with instructor and 10 solo) and a theoretical-practical examination at the ENAC (National Civil Aviation Authority) you will be able to obtain the PPL, which enables you to fly a private plane with non-paying passengers. The total cost of this license is around € 10, 000.

The second license: CPL

Once the PPL is obtained, you can continue the path to take the CPL (Commercial Pilot License), which is the commercial pilot license, which allows you to become an instructor and work on aircraft. In order to access the commercial pilot course, 150 flight hours are required as pilot commander. After a period of various trainings, you can take the exam to achieve the CPL. The total cost to reach the CPL is around 35 thousand euros.

Third and final license: ATPL

With the commercial pilot license it will be possible to continue the path to obtain the latest license, the ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot License), the patent that enables airline pilots, which is essential to be hired as airline pilots. To get the ATPL you need to pass a series of exams, such as legislation, meteorology, air navigation and so on.

The ATPL includes two qualifications, one preliminary theoretical (Frozen ATPL) and one complete (Full ATPL). To fly an airliner as commander, Full ATPL must be obtained, following 1500 total flight hours. But, before obtaining the "full ATPL", the Frozen ATPL is obtained, the theoretical suitability achieved by passing all the theoretical exams. The total cost of achieving the ATPL is approximately 100 thousand euros.

After ATPL there are specializations to be obtained, which can be requested by individual airlines before hiring. They concern specific activities, such as mountain flight, aerobatic flight, or qualifications, such as flight instructor.

Interview with the airplane pilot Massimiliano Bramati

To better understand how to become a pilot and what are the difficulties of the profession, we interviewed Massimiliano Bramati, 29 years old, pilot on Boeing 737-800 NG at Neos since December 2011.

  • How long did it take you to complete the whole process and then to find work as a pilot?

Before embarking on this career, I always worked for Neos as a flight attendant from the age of 20 to 23, the age at which I made the decision to risk and invest a significant amount to obtain licenses to become an airline pilot. I speak of risk because nowadays, even if I manage to pass all the exams, finding a job is very difficult, not to mention being able to find it in Italy: almost impossible. Obviously this is only a period and surely things will change, but it is good to know that the situation is really drastic at present.

Briefly summarizing my path, having started at 23 with my studies, and having reached 26 to have an indefinite contract in the probably most stable and organized airline that there is in Italy, towards so many guys that I met in the various flight schools that have been looking for a permanent job for years without being able to find it, I can't afford to talk about difficulties, although I must admit that obtaining the frozen ATPL was not exactly a walk. There are two types of paths to obtain the ATPL, the modular, and the integrated: the first is the oldest method where each qualification is carried out separately, also wanting in different flight schools, where you manage all the process; the second is the more modern and "comfortable" one where all the courses are integrated into a single path which is managed by a single school that supports you from start to finish.

For a mainly economic question, I opted for the modular course, in order to search on the internet step by step which were the schools that offered the best offers for the single qualification. In fact, I obtained the PPL in Orlando, the Instrument rating and the accumulation of flight hours in Dallas (in the USA thanks to the low cost of fuel, the rental price of the plane per hour is at least 30% lower than in Italy), the multi engine CPL and the conversion of the Instrument rating (qualifications that must necessarily be made in Europe if you want to get work in our continent, for this reason I had to convert the Instrument rating) in Iceland, the theoretical ATPL through a distance learning course supported by a Bristol school, the MCC (multi crew cooperation) in Jerez and the qualification to the B737 in Munchengladbach. My headache just came to write it, let alone do it, and all in just over two years!

Obviously it was very demanding and stressful, but my choice, compared to having done an integrated course in Italy, was worth at least 25% of savings (considering food, accommodation and airline tickets), a greater use of the English language, times shorter thanks to the almost always exploitable weather of Florida and Texas, and a truly incredible experience (for example for my hours accumulation I rented a Cessna 172 for two weeks with a friend and we traveled the United States far and wide stopping to visit the main cities).

It is also true, however, that when you decide to save you always risk a little, in fact I do not hide that I had some difficulties due to the bad management of some schools, instructors with little experience, airplanes not properly in impeccable conditions, and other minor inconveniences of various kinds.

  • What were the main difficulties encountered throughout the process to achieve ATPL?

Since on average the pilots are more passionate about the practical aspect of flight than the theoretical one, the difficulties that most students have during the course of the ATPL are undoubtedly related to passing the theoretical exams, especially in my case since I prepared myself as a "private" through a distance learning course as mentioned above.

Personally, I also remember with little enthusiasm the moments, which inevitably happen, when the instructor proposes you to repeat a lesson in order to perfect any type of appearance perhaps during training with the twin-engine airplane, where the rental cost is € 500 per hour, plus the part intended for the instructor. Really stressful.

  • What advice do you have for kids who want to start their racing career?

Opening the chapter related to the work of a professional airline pilot, although today it is no longer the elitist profession of the past, where one worked half and earned twice as much as today, this still remains a fascinating activity that excites and stimulates, which allows more free time than "normal" office jobs (on average 15/16 days a month including off-base breaks and rests), where monotony is almost always absent, where a dynamic and get paid to stay a week on an atoll in the Maldives, where, however, a great availability and a spirit of adaptation must be granted, where weekends and holidays no longer exist, including Christmas and New Year, where you are always under scrutiny and forced to a life of continuous study and updating, where you never stop learning, where you must carefully manage your energies due to the always different working hours (personalm on average 5/6 times a month I have an alarm clock set at 3 in the morning) and where you have to be available at any moment to have to change your city of residence.

Obviously then there is the most critical aspect which is undoubtedly that of responsibility: this is a job where each phase is delicate and one cannot afford to take anything lightly.

The advice I would like to give to those who decide to undertake this career is to do it only if you have a real passion for this world, the difficulties to overcome are many, especially at the beginning, and you must keep in mind that to find work it can take years.

  • How much does a pilot with your experience earn on average per month?

Some of my classmates are even paying figures of around € 40, 000 TO WORK in some foreign company that uses the crisis factor to make money in exchange for guaranteeing experience and flight hours for fresh ATPL pilots.

Since I am not here to demotivate anyone, and since I was the first to be lucky, once you manage to be hired in a European airline, the road to obtaining the much sought-after indeterminate contract is quite short: it is usually proposed after a year of contract which is considered as a trial period, where on average an average salary is already received on the 2000 € which becomes 4000 € after one year from the end of the training period (which lasts six months on average). Over the years the degrees of experience and consequently also the salary increase, until becoming, if you have the skills, Commander, and receive a monthly salary on average of 8000 €.

It is useless to remember that, especially nowadays, nobody gives anything, and this also applies to the aeronautical sector.