How To Become An Airline Pilot

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Job description
An airline pilot is responsible for the safe and economic
operation and management of aircraft carrying
passengers and/or freight. They make sure that the
controls of the aircraft are working properly, check
weather conditions and liaise with air traffic control. Their
job is in no way routine and demands unconventional
hours in a very complex workplace.
Pilots are responsible for pre-flight preparation, filing the
flight plan and calculating fuel required, taking into
consideration meteorological information and passenger
and cargo loads. They liaise with operations control staff,
engineers and cabin crew and check that the aircraft and
its systems are prepared for departure. They conduct
checks on controls, instruments and engines.
Between take-off and landing the crew operates and
navigates the aircraft, communicates with air traffic
control, listens to weather reports, monitors engines and
systems, checks fuel consumption, and advises
passengers on the progress of their flight. Duties are
usually shared with a co-pilot.
After landing, when the aircraft has been taxied to its
final position, the Pilot shuts down the engines and
writes a flight report, noting any problems or technical
Work activities
• Carrying out pre-flight checks of aircraft systems and
making sure the aircraft insurance certificates and
other legal paperwork is up to date.
• Acquiring information about the route, weather,
passengers and aircraft to calculate best fuel quantity
• Liaising with engineers, dispatchers, cabin crew and
• Briefing cabin crew, following air traffic control
instructions and keeping passengers informed about
• Monitoring in-flight data and making adjustments to
deal with changing weather patterns.
• Monitoring aircraft conditions and passenger needs.
• Interpreting complex data, exercising hand-eye coordination
and situational awareness.
• Reacting quickly and making vital decisions in a
changing situation.
• Writing flight reports after landing, highlighting any
problems with the aircraft or the flight path.
Work conditions
Travel: including overseas is a normal part of the working
day, with absence from home overnight frequent on long
haul flights.
Working hours: required to work irregular work patterns
and unsociable hours, including weekends and bank
holidays. They are also required to spend time away from
base (overnights) and time on call.
Location: mainly in commercial airports. May be required
to relocate to an overseas base.
Typical employers
• Commercial airlines
• Executive jet owners
• Air-taxi operators.
Career development
Most airlines have structured career progression.
Substantial flying and aircraft experience is necessary for
promotion. Captaincy may take 8-10 years. Depending on
the company there are several options for promotion:
• Senior first officers with relevant level of experience can
apply to become a captain. They will have to pass a
rigorous training program and demonstrate that they
have the right skills to do the job.
• There may be an option of moving to a larger type of
aircraft instead of becoming a captain, and operating
long haul routes.
Airline pilot
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• Captain could eventually take on the role of training
new pilots and maintaining company standards. This
involves a lot of time spent in the simulator and less
time actually flying passengers.
• Senior pilots may be offered management positions in
the company, or a role in the recruitment team.
Salaries vary depending on the employer you fly for, as
well as what size craft you fly and how much experience
you have. Airlines will have their own pay structures and
employment policies.
Entry requirements and training
Open to non-graduates and graduates of any discipline.
Other relevant degree subjects
• Aviation management
• Aviation management with pilot studies
• Engineering particularly aerospace
• Physics
• Mathematics
• Meteorology.
Postgraduate study
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not a
Specific entry requirements
To start work with an airline as a first officer in Europe
you need a Joint Aviation Authority(JAA) “frozen” Air
Transport Pilot License. This becomes “unfrozen” when
you have been flying 1500 hours (with at least 500 hours
as first officer) with an airline.
The frozen ATPL implies:
CPL – Commercial Pilot License
ME – Multi Engine Rating
IR – Instrument Rating
MCC – Multi Crew Co-Operation
You must speak clear and fluent English, posses a current
class one medical and valid passport without any
There may be additional minimum and maximum height
requirements imposed by airlines.
Integrated training: A full-time program conducted at an
approved training provider that brings you to a level
where you can apply to an airline for a position as a first
officer. An integrated program is more cost efficient and
takes less time to finish compared to modular courses. A
list of JAA approved flying schools can be obtained from
the Civil Aviation Authority website.
Modular courses: The flight training is broken down into
smaller parts and gives the same qualification as the
integrated course but is done on part-time basis where
students still have the option to work while completing
Airline pilot (continued)
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their training. This enables the student to take first a PPL
(Private Pilot License) and then add on the other courses.
The training can also be done at different training
organisations. Many candidates therefore choose to stay
in full-time employment at the same time as they are
studying. Modular courses take longer than an integrated
course, from approximately 18 months to 2 years as the
modules have to be completed one at the time.
Airline Sponsor:
In the past this was the preferred and most popular way
to achieve a career as an Airline Pilot. An Airline would
advertise openings for a cadetship and sponsor the
student for their training and offer them a job at the end.
In recent times, due to the changing economic structure
of airlines, this is being phased out, with currently little
airline sponsorship available, and most pilots are selfsponsored.
Air Corps:
Similar to the Airline sponsor, the Defence Forces offers a
cadetship for the Air Corps where they train you and
contract you for minimum of ten years. At the end of this
time you can move onto an airline with flying experience.
Tips for applications
It is strongly advised to undergo a comprehensive medical
exam with the Irish Aviation Authority’s Medical
examiner to the level required by the license or rating
before commencing training. Consider becoming a
certified flight instructor which allows you to build the
hours you need to make your next move.
Skills and qualities
• Ability to understanding technical detail.
• Strong aptitude for mathematics and physics.
• Dexterity and co-ordination to handle the aircraft
• Ability to think quickly and make decisions and work
calmly under pressure.
• Ability to give clear, confident instructions to crew
members and passengers.
• Ability to inspire confidence in both passengers and air
• Flexibility in working unsocial hours.
• Physically fit with excellent vision, including normal
colour vision.
• Self-motivation and the determination to succeed.
• High degree of discipline and teamwork is an essential
element of the job.
Airline pilot (continued)
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