How to Become a Pilot in the UK

A detailed look at how to become a pilot in the UK including how much it costs and methods of completing training. This article also provides information on how much pilots get paid, and what the current demand for pilots is like in the UK.

Introduction

As far as careers go, pilots are held in high esteem across the world. They are considered professionals who do a job that people perceive as exciting, and sometimes dangerous. They are also thought to earn very high salaries and when people hear the word pilot, they generally only think of a commercial airline pilot. However, in reality, the way that people perceive the career of a pilot is not always accurate, and most people who want to become one may not even know where to start. Luckily, in this article, we cover all the above, plus more, for those wanting to know more about being a pilot in the UK, and how to become one.

What are the different ways to become a pilot in the UK?

There are three main ways to become a pilot in the UK. If you have the time and money, an integrated course is the most efficient option. Following a selection process, you will begin ground school, lasting approximately six months.

On successful completion of ground school, you will move into the flight training phase, consisting of basic and advanced training, including hour-building to reach the flying hours and legal experience requirements.

Following this phase is a Multi Crew Cooperation (MCC) course, which will sometimes include a Jet Orientation course. At the end of this course, you will be qualified with a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) and Multi-Engine and Instrument Ratings (ME/IR), the minimum license and ratings required to fly for an airline.

how to become a pilot in the UK
[British Airways is] “the flag carrier (of the UK), with its hub at Heathrow Airport; the airline flies to 245 destinations all around the world.” – en.wikipedia.org

The next method is known as modular training, which is precisely what it sounds like: the above training but divided into modules. This is perfect for someone with a smaller monetary or time budget that wants to spread their pilot training out and pay in installments.

The average modular training plan may follow the below sequence:

➢    Ground school, exams, and flight training up to and including a flight test for a Private Pilot Licence

➢    Build hours required for CPL

➢    Complete a theory course and 13 exams for the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)

➢    Complete a course and flight test for the CPL

➢    Obtain a Multi-Engine Rating

➢    Obtain an Instrument Rating

➢    Complete an MCC course and a Jet Orientation course if you wish

The final way to become a pilot in the UK is fairly new and is known as the Multi Pilot License (MPL). This license is restrictive because it must be attached to an airline or operator and completed for a specific aircraft type. It only allows the holder to act as co-pilot on that aircraft and does not include PPL, CPL, or ME/IR privileges outside these approved operations.

How much does it cost to become a pilot in the UK?

Getting a pilot’s license in the UK is not for the faint of heart (or cash), with integrated courses at institutions such as FTA and L3Harris costing between £80,000 (US$97,000) and £90,000 (US$110,000) on average. While there are several financing options available, this is a large debt to incur so you should consider very carefully if this is a career you want to, or are capable of, pursuing. If you’d rather break the course costs into smaller, more affordable segments then modular courses cost a little less and may be the best path to take.

How long does it take to become a pilot in the UK?

A typical integrated course will take between 16 and 18 months, a relatively small amount of time for such a complex career! Fear not, though, as most integrated courses are full-time and prepare you more than adequately for the requirements of the job. Modular courses can take slightly longer, depending on how you choose to break the course components down and how efficiently you get through them.

how to become a pilot in the UK
While you can fly recreationally in the UK as a non-citizen and foreign license holder with certain conditions, becoming an airline pilot in the UK is a little bit more complicated.

“The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who, in their gruelling travel across trackless lands in prehistoric times, looked enviously at the birds soaring freely through space, at full speed, above all obstacles, on the infinite highway of the air.”

Wilbur Wright

Can a foreigner become a pilot in the UK?

While you can fly recreationally in the UK as a non-citizen and foreign license holder with certain conditions, becoming an airline pilot in the UK is a little bit more complicated. The first step in the process is determining if you can obtain an unrestricted right to live and work in the UK. Similar to the US, there are only a few means of eligibility, including through family and/or spouse privileges or employer sponsorship. Following this, if you hold a foreign pilot’s license, you will need to go through the conversion process to obtain your UKCAA license. If you do not hold a foreign license then you will need to begin your training through one of the methods outlined above. The Queen Mary University of London provides a comprehensive guide to living and working in the UK on its website.

How much do pilots in the UK get paid?

The salary that commercial airline pilots receive in the UK can vary widely with factors such as experience, seniority within a particular airline, and position, such as First Officer or Captain. The average starting salary for a pilot in the UK is £25,000 (US$30,000), with the highest salaries reaching over £150,000 (US$182,000) according to Jobted. They also quote the average salary as being £54,000 (US$65,500).

Is the UK a good place to be a pilot?

Just like most developed nations and member states of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UK’s pilots are looked after with competitive salaries, great benefits, and progressive laws in terms of fatigue, anti-terrorism, and other safety and wellbeing measures. With over 40 airports across the UK, including several of the world’s busiest, and many of the world’s major international hubs a relative stone’s throw away in surrounding European nations, the UK’s pilots have plenty of destinations to keep them from getting bored, whether they fly domestically or internationally. While “good” can be defined as many things, there are certainly worse places in the world to be a pilot than in the UK.

how to become a pilot in the UK, big ben
UK’s pilots are generally looked after with competitive salaries, great benefits, and progressive laws in terms of fatigue, anti-terrorism, and other safety and wellbeing measures.

Do you need a degree to be a pilot in the UK?

Contrary to popular belief, most countries, including the UK, do not require pilots to obtain degrees. While a basic understanding of maths and physics is required to be successful, many countries that offer integrated training courses do not require these subjects as prerequisites, with most countries now stipulating that a pass in the final High School exams (GCSEs in the UK) is sufficient.

However, tertiary education and qualifications, especially those relevant to the aviation industry, are looked upon favorably and will boost a pilot’s employability in a competitive market. For those pilots who wish to move into a management role later in their career, though, a degree is required for certain positions in most countries, and the UK is no different.

How to become a fighter pilot in the UK

Becoming a fighter pilot in the UK is often a difficult and lengthy, but highly rewarding process if successful. You will first need to meet the entry requirements which include, but are not limited to, age, education, and medical prerequisites. Following successful completion of the application process, which includes aptitude tests, interviews, and physical and medical assessments, you will commence Initial Officer Training (IOT) which all new RAF Officers must complete.

Upon graduation from IOT, you will move into specialist training, which is an Elementary Flying Training course for pilots. If successful, you will then be streamed into fast-jet, multi-engine, or rotary-wing training based on your flying ability, flying experience and operational requirements. The RAF website outlines the application process as well as entry and training requirements in further detail.

how to become a pilot in the UK
Becoming a fighter pilot in the UK is often a difficult and lengthy, but highly rewarding process if successful.

“The roles of our pilots are as varied as the aircraft. You will be streamed to fast-jet, multi-engine or rotary-wing (helicopter) aircraft according to operational requirements and your flying ability. You will then usually specialize in that aircraft type throughout your career.”

recruitment.raf.mod.uk

Are pilots in demand in the UK?

Given recent global events concerning the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, passenger numbers the world over, and certainly in the UK, are skyrocketing. While this means that demand for pilots is increasing, the pilots required are those with thousands of hours of experience on airliners, especially those that were stood down during 2020 and 2021, not entry-level pilots with a few hundred hours at most. Add to this the looming recession fears, and the times of uncertainty are not over for the aviation industry.

The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) recently issued a warning to those aspiring pilots considering flying careers, noting this uncertainty in addition to fierce competition from still-unemployed, experienced pilots as reasons to do due diligence before investing 6 figures into pilot training. With this said, it is safe to say that while demand is slowly increasing for pilots in the UK, the demand is still relatively low, particularly for new pilots.

how to become a pilot in the UK
Contrary to popular belief, most countries, including the UK, do not require pilots to obtain degrees.

What is the best way to become a pilot in the UK?

The best way to become a pilot in the UK is highly subjective to individual circumstances. For example, if you are single with no children or otherwise have enough time, money, and energy, then the integrated course option may be the best path to take for you. However, if you are established in your current career with a family to look after, then a modular course while continuing to work may be more suitable. Ensure that you assess your current circumstances and do your research before choosing which way to pursue your career as a pilot.

Conclusion

Becoming a pilot in the UK, and most other nations for that matter can be a lengthy and costly process. Just like any career of this nature, you should carefully consider your options and whether or not this is the right career for you before investing the significant amount of time and money required to get qualified. If you decide to go through with this career, whether that be commercial pilot training, private pilot training or in the military, then get ready for the most challenging, but likely the most rewarding, journey of your life! Where will your pilot journey in the UK take you? 

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ken johnson

Ken

Ken is a passionate aviator, a professional pilot and flight instructor. He has over 17 years of flight experience across hundreds of aircraft ranging from recreational, aerobatic, historic, commercial and military aircraft, training hundreds of students along the way. Find out more.

Ken has 124 posts and counting. See all posts by Ken

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