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How To Become a Pilot

Being a pilot always sounded like a glamorous job…and in a way, it is! Flying all over the world as an international pilot certainly sounds like a great job. However, there are many types of pilots, and, depending on what manner of aircraft you want to fly there are different qualifications required to be able to get a licence.

If flying an ultra light, no licence is required. As you step up in aircraft size and the height the machine can fly, which means taking up airspace, then a licence will be needed because you have to submit flight plans and also to have communication with the control tower. Helicopters, gliders, balloons, airplanes and fighter jets have diverse ways in which they fly so therefore the pilot needs different levels and methods of training to obtain his / her licence.

The business of flying planes is undertaken 24 hours a day 7 days a week. If you have been a passenger you will know that flights depart and arrive at airports at all hours and all these planes flying around the planet are fully crewed with flight attendants, co-pilots and pilots. So, a pilot needs to be able to work some pretty strange hours and the working day can vary from 3 to 4 hours to 12 or 14 hours. It really depends on the company you fly for and the route on that day.

You can be a short haul pilot which means you will probably have a more stable routine with regard to flying hours. Long haul airline pilots, as the name suggests, fly planes from one country to another and from one time zone to another so adjusting the body’s time clock can be very tiring. If you are a pilot for a company, a corporate jet pilot, then your work roster is based on a phone call letting you know when and where you will be flying. A cargo pilot usually works at night to capitalize on quieter times at the airport, but at least you don’t have to worry too much about your passengers. There is a lesser chance of you being a helicopter pilot simply because there are fewer companies that operate choppers. Helicopter work can consist of flights to oil rigs at sea, police surveillance, joy rides, cattle mustering, special photography and ferrying corporate executives and the rich.

Is it the Right Job for You?

You should be a practical minded person but also smart enough academically to have passed all the exams. By the way, exams continue after becoming a pilot, every 6 months as a refresher. You should have a good technical mind because the complex systems that go into the making of an aircraft must be understood for daily operation and in the case of an emergency.

Flying a plane is not just switching on auto pilot and having a cup of coffee and a nap. Some co-ordination and dexterity both help to make a skilful pilot.

You should have a confident manner and be authoritative when giving instructions to crew members and at times, to passengers. Your behaviour and ability to take control in any emergency are of paramount importance.

What’s the weather like and what atmospheric changes are expected during the flight along our flight path? Understanding the science of weather and how it affects the aerodynamics of the plane, learned in a university, will come in very handy. All these influences affect the fuel consumption and it’s the pilot’s responsibility to determine the optimum amount of fuel to load into the aircraft.

Understanding the aircraft’s instrument panel at a glance is important. As well as speed and fuel there is a whole range of indicators and dials.

Can you follow instructions? Air traffic control is basically in command of your plane until you are well away from the airport.

You are required to follow your schedule with regard to departure time and arrival time, staying within the parameters set, and knowing vital things about your aircraft and its limits.

Do you have the ability to write reports? After each flight you are required to write and submit a flight report. Maybe there were problems with the plane, or the flight path.

Education and Training

Having a University Degree is compulsory to become a pilot. Whilst the degree can be in almost any field, Aeronautics, Aviation or Engineering would certainly be of greater benefit and relevance.

You must gain flight experience, so completing 250 hours of flying time is a prerequisite to obtaining your commercial pilot’s licence. In addition to this you will need 1500 hours flying time for an airline transport pilot certificate. The flying school through which you gain all this experience must be FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) approved. Add to those flying times another 40 hours of real, in-air instrument flying to obtain the airline pilot’s licence. Once you have completed all the flying time experience, you have an exam to sit, demonstrate your flying ability, plus an instrument flying rating exam. Obviously you need to be physically fit and have 20/20 vision.

You will have to show the ability to operate the aircraft computer and navigation systems.

Airlines these days require their pilots to undergo psychological and aptitude testing as well as drug tests. If you are offered a job with an airline you will probably spend a few weeks in training and like a learner car driver, log up a few additional hours of flying time. Your first position with an airline will be as a co-pilot.

The rank of captain is usually made based on seniority but if you’re in a bit of a hurry then gaining rating experience on different types of aircraft will be considered an advantage. More exams, cross country flying, and night and instrument flying experience can all serve to speed up the promotion to a captain.

Salary and Benefits

There’s no doubt pilots are fairly well paid considering they hold the lives and safety of hundreds of passengers in their hands constantly. Also the amount of training and qualifications required are in line with the salary. Some benefits would be free accommodation in hotels as part of overnight stays after a long haul flight. Retirement is usually a little earlier for a pilot than in other corporate careers due to the physical requirements for the job. Earlier retirement is compensated for with a generous pension system.

The median salary for an airline pilot is about $120,000 per annum.