This is one of the most important and difficult choice for you career.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this choice. It will dictate whether or not you will be successful! Or at least maximize your chances to end up in a cockpit.
Aviation is a complex world to understand and almost impossible one to foresee. It is a cyclic environment that goes from ups and downs during periods that can last for 5 or 10 years approximately. That is why it is crucial to start with the correct reasons and
decisions. It has to be the choice that suit you the best. Keep in mind that nothing is 100% sure. It is not because you chose the best school for you that you will get a job. Unfortunately there are many factors, the most important being economy. For example, in my case, I changed my mind 3 times about which flying school I was going to pick. In a time span of 3 years, a sc
hool was bought by another one, one lost major airlines partners etc. As you can see everything can change as fast as a blink of an eye.
My best advice to chose a flying school is to go and meet them; there are a lot of meetings, Pilot Career Shows, the schools communicate a lot on social medias and they move all over Europe to explain their programs, partners, opportunities etc. Then you should visit the school and its infrastructures, at the same time do not hesitate to speak with students, instructors and more. Finally use social medias to get as much information as you can; don’t be shy, contact pilots on LinkedIn or any other website, ask them questions, what was their process, what school, career history, ask them advices.
As discussed previously being a pilot, unfortunately, may costs tons of money. But there are different ways to achieve your dream; each of them have their benefits and drawback. I’m going to list each of them and give their good/bad points.
Nowadays there are more or less 4 ways to become a pilot:
1. Cadet pilot
One of the most used today. Why? Because the airline industry is booming worldwide; companies need pilots and quickly. That is what everyone is saying, especially flying schools and manufacturers. In fact they need (for most of them), experienced pilots (+2000 flying hours) even though they are still looking for inexperienced second and first officers. Cadet pilot offer security as you can be guaranteed to get the job at the end of your training.
Each company set different standards for their pilots training. They want to know their background; where did they learn to fly? Which school did they pass their CPL IR etc. So rather than hire a pilot that did his training in his local « unknown » flying school, the companies will sign a training contract with in general big flying schools all over Europe (if it is an European company of course). These schools will have the responsibility to train pilots to the company’s standards and during a certain amount of time.
Then the airline will post a job offer of ‘Cadet pilot program’ to become an SO or FO depending the companies. In general a cadet program is for a person with no flying experience at all. It is easier to form someone without any ‘habits’ and the company can shape them to their standards. If you have already passed some licences you can always try to negotiate with them. After a long, complex and very competitive selection process, if you are successful, first congratulations as it is not easy at all. Then you have to do the whole training in their partner flying school. Again if successful and to their standard (which mean with good grades) you will get the job of your dream.
Getting a guaranteed job is something rare in aviation thus there is a price. It is impossible to say how much but it will not be cheap. However it can vary a lot from companies and it can even be FREE. No, it is not a mistake, it can be for free; for example Air France propose a cadet program from zero flying hour to a post of second or first officer for 0€. It is rare but some airlines offer that. As you can imagine the selection process is crazy. But it is possible!
My advice would be to take your chance and try every selections that offer to pay your training fees before trying a school at your own expense.
In a cadet program the biggest challenge is to manage to keep up with the fast pace of learning and training, all of this with good to excellent grades. If you don’t, you might unfortunately not be able to continue the program since it is a very selective and competitive process. This might have a stressful effect on you and if you are not used to work fast and efficiently under pressure it might be difficult for you.
You have to keep in mind that subject studied within the trainings are very dense and quite broad, so you have to stay focused until the end and manage to deal with the important workload.
Being one of the ways if not the only way that leads to a guaranteed job, a cadet program offers a job security. You will have less pressure on you as you know you will end up with a job, thus you may be able to be more efficient. It should get you to a cockpit quick enough (between 1.5 and 3 years).
2. Integrated pilot
This is a fast learning track to become a pilot. It will take you around 1.5 years from zero to be on the pilot market with a serious ATO (Approved Training Organisations or in other words a flying school). Obviously you can already have some flying experience and still be an integrated pilot, it is not only for pilots without any experience. Being an integrated means you are a full time student of a flying school. As always, there will be a selection process to join the school. It can be based on mathematics, logic, 3D, HR interview, you can even have a simulator assessment. Don’t worry if you have never flown before.
Being an integrated student means that you are part of a community. You will be mixed with students from all over Europe and each students will be at different stages of their training. Some can be at the end of their training while others just started. Being mixed with students is a good opportunity to meet new people that can become friends but also to discuss, share and learn more about aviation.
Once you have joined your school, you will start your training with the basics. Starting with the ATPL then learn how to fly, navigate, pass your PPL etc.
You will be part of your flying school program and should benefit from their career services that will help you find a job. Indeed each school have different airlines partners. Once you are qualified as a commercial pilot and also instruments rated (not always mandatory), you should be able to attend airlines’ assessments.
A partner company in need of pilots will contact your flying school. Your school will then propose them a list of candidates already qualified or not (you can be selected even before having finished your licences!). If the company accepts your candidature, you will pass the assessments. An assessment is not an easy task at all and you should be prepared for it. They are different depending on each companies. Later on I will do an article about « How to prepare for an assessment ».
As a cadet program, the pace is really important and that will be the biggest challenge. Depending on which school you chose the price can be really high; but it is possible to find a cheaper one. Remember to select the school that is the most suitable for you, pay attention to their partnership and what career services they can offer you. You should not chose a flying school only for their price. In general airline companies know the important pace of the integrated students and they tend to like that as being a commercial pilot means dealing with a lot of stress, important workload etc.
A career service that will help you get a place for a job interview
Fast pace, you can be on the market quickly if you are doing a career change
Part of the school community
Price, in general it is expensive
Fast pace, important workload in a small amount of time
Back in the old days, the modular training was often chose by pilots that were going through a career change as it offers more flexibility compare to integrated and cadet programs. Indeed here you go at your own pace! Also this should the be cheaper way to become a pilot (when it is not free from a cadet program).
Today the modular training changed a bit even though you can still do some parts as before. Let me explain the slight changes; few years ago, pilots were interested into modular trainings as they could keep their jobs thus their salary, while they pass the licences and learn how to fly. They could chose to pass their theoretical licences such as the PPL and ATPL on their own, working late after their day at work. It is a self-taught method. As you can imagine the rhythm is quite important and not everyone can do it! It was also possible to learn the theoretical part with a school but in order to save money most of them did it on their own.
Then when the theoretical part was done they could chose their flying school and scheduled their flying courses depending on their availabilities. So it could take 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, any time they needed to finish their training. This is where it slightly changed. Today if you pick any flying school as a modular one, you will not be able to chose when you want to fly. You will join a school and follow the schedule, almost if you were a full time student.
So what is left of the modular training? You can still select different school for your whole training, you can chose to pass your theoretical on your own or via a school. There is the possibility of building your flying hours in a flying club, it will be cheaper than an ATO. And finally you have to find the flying school for your CPL IR ME and MCC if needed. So basically you can do your whole training with 3 or 4 different organisation. By doing so you could get a lower price than an integrated pilot, depending on which school you chose for the CPL IR ME, this part being the most expensive of the training. As said previously, once you found a school for the CPL IR in general you will have to follow their schedule. And it can last from 4 to 9 months « full time ». The weather will be a major point in the length of the training.
Modular training offers flexibility and lower costs. But I would say that finding a job is a bit harder. Indeed, most of the flying schools have an integrated and modular training course, but generally there is a difference between both groups especially when it comes to how the school is going to help you get a job at the end. Sometimes modular students do not benefit from the career services offered by the school on the contrary to the integrated students. They consider more integrated rather than modulars.
I said in general because some schools will still help you to get interviews. That’s why it is important to go and meet the schools during the pilot career shows, to contact them and ask questions.
Unfortunately, with today’s economic growth, airlines are taking many instructors from the flying schools which reduces their capacity to train new pilots. Therefore there are less and less modular trainings and most of the schools closed this training temporarily.
I did a modular training with FTE (Flight Training Europe) and things turned out ok for me so I do not regret it. Also when I chose to become a pilot (in 2014) the economy was different, and finding a job was harder than today. That is why I picked a ‘big’ European ATO. I wanted to maximize my chances of having a job by having a big school on my resume. Also I knew that this school was not really doing any difference between integrated and modular pilots.
Being a modular pilots allowed me to meet and learn from so many different people and listen to different opinions. I had the opportunity to fly in so many different areas such as: South East of France, South West of France, Daytona Beach USA and Spain.
4. Military pilot
Finally the last way to become a pilot is via the army. Unfortunately I do not really know about military so I will not go into to much details. Not everyone can go in the army; it is a different mindset and you will have to chose between civil or military aviation. In general it is a vocation if you want to become a fighter pilot. Some will be interested by the army and others will not.
In order to become a pilot in the army you have to start ‘young enough’. You cannot start if you are 30 years old. Depending on the country you are from and the formation you will do, the age can varies but in general it is around the 20 – 22 years old.
The selection process is really hard. One of the hardest of aviation. Health plays an important role in the selection. You can be the best in flying, mathematics, logic, 3D, if you have the slightest health issue you will not make it through unfortunately.
But once you passed, the training will be entirely free and of course you will have a guaranteed job either on a fighter jet, cargo, helicopter depending on your choice but especially on your skills. The training is the same, you will pass the same licences. Then only the flying technique would be different of course.
As you know in the army you can the possibility to retire quick enough (around 30-35 years old). You can then continue with a different role/rank but you also have the possibility to do a career change a go for commercial aviation. Some airlines favour military pilots and some do not but you will be on the market with a lot of experience and a lot of flying hours.