How to become an airline pilot (with salary and skills)

Updated 28 July 2023

If you're passionate about aviation and travel you might enjoy a career working as an airline pilot. To become a pilot it's necessary to undergo specialist training, which can help you to start a rewarding career. Learning more about how to become an airline pilot can help you to decide whether it's something you want to do. In this article, we discuss the steps to becoming an airline pilot and look at the job in more detail, including the average salary for airline pilots.

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How to become an airline pilot

If you want to know how to become an airline pilot there are some steps that are essential to follow. Undergoing the right training and obtaining the correct licenses and qualifications is vital for anyone doing this job. There are several different routes you can take to becoming a pilot and obtaining the appropriate licenses. You can use these steps to guide you through the process:

1. Do some research

The first step is to thoroughly research this career path to decide if you really want to commit to it. This means finding out as much as you can about the routine responsibilities and the day-to-day conditions of being a pilot. If you know anyone who already does this job, talking to them about their experiences is helpful. Another important part of your research is taking a test flight. This gives you the experience of pilot training on a light aircraft. These research activities are important for familiarising yourself with the job and deciding whether you want to pursue it.

Related: FAQ: qualifications to be a pilot (plus career paths)

2. Get a Class 1 medical certificate

Before you can begin training it's a requirement to obtain a Class 1 medical certificate. This certificate is valid for twelve months for people aged under forty. The examination can take up to four hours and includes:

  • medical history

  • physical examination

  • eyesight test

  • lung function test

  • ECG

  • blood and urine tests

3. Choose and complete a training route

You can then choose and complete the training route you prefer. Generally, there are three different choices available. You might take modular training, which breaks the training down into smaller parts. This begins with studying for a private pilot's license and then further training to gain a commercial pilot's license.

You can then complete further ratings and courses that permit you to work as an airline pilot. Alternatively, you can choose integrated training which combines all parts of the training and you study with a single training provider. This training gives you the minimum qualification necessary to work for an airline. A third option is obtaining a multi-pilot license. This type of training is mainly conducted through a flight simulator and is tied to a specific airline. You might find it challenging to move to work for another airline with only a multi-pilot license.

How much does training cost?

Training to become an airline pilot is a substantial financial investment that can cost between £70,000 and £120,000. The cost of the training means it's important to be certain that you want to pursue a career as an airline pilot. For this reason, it's advisable to do as much research as you can and ensure that this is a career you really want before you commit to pilot training. Often modular courses cost less than integrated training. A modular course also allows you to spread the costs out over a longer period of time.

Related: How much does it cost to become a pilot? (skills and salary)

Can you study to be a pilot at university?

You can study aviation subjects at university at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels and these qualifications might benefit you if you want to become an airline pilot. Some courses also include training for a commercial pilot's license at an additional cost. It's important to be aware that a degree in aviation alone doesn't qualify you to be a pilot but it can provide a valuable foundation for beginning pilot training.

Related: How to become a pilot in Scotland (with qualifications)

What do airline pilots do?

Airline pilots fly passengers, airline crews and cargo between different locations, both domestically and internationally. Airline pilots might work on long- or short-haul flights. They use specialist and advanced equipment to navigate the aircraft and control its movements.

Airline pilots work in teams of two and are based in the cockpit of the plane. During flights, pilots communicate with air traffic control and also provide information to passengers on the flight's route, progress and conditions on the ground at the destination. Pilots are also responsible for addressing any mechanical issues that arise during the flight. This work involves a range of skills plus in-depth technical knowledge.

What is the average salary for an airline pilot?

The average salary of an airline pilot is £78,862 per year. Various factors can influence the salary you earn. You might be able to earn more as you progress in your career and gain more experience as an airline pilot. The airline you work for might also impact the amount you earn.

What skills are important for pilots?

A variety of different skills are important for pilots to help them manage complex and demanding work. These include both hard and soft skills. Before you proceed with any training, it's sensible to realistically assess your skills and consider whether you're suited to this type of work. Learning about the skills that pilots require can also help you to identify where you can develop your own skills. Here are some examples:

Communication skills

Communication skills are vital for pilots because their responsibilities include communicating clearly and effectively with colleagues, air traffic control and aircraft passengers. Pilots communicate with air traffic control about important safety instructions, advice in emergencies and other essential information. Strong communication skills are vital to protect the aircraft and passengers. More generally, interpersonal skills are also useful for communicating with cabin crew and passengers.

Team working skills

Pilots work in a team of two people in the cockpit and are also part of a wider team alongside the cabin crew so team working skills are essential. Two pilots who are working together coordinate their actions and communicate clearly to avoid accidents and ensure a safe and pleasant flight. Team working skills help you to form positive relationships with your colleagues and collaborate effectively.

Decision-making skills

Pilots make significant decisions whilst flying so decision-making skills and the ability to think quickly are important. These decisions include important safety decisions such as how to respond if there's a mechanical failure during the flight. In situations with a range of possible solutions, pilots rapidly decide which option is the most appropriate and make decisions with certainty.

Related: Interview question: describe a time you had to make a difficult decision

Confidence skills

Pilots experience high-pressure situations at work such as emergencies, delays, time restraints and unexpected situations so it's necessary for them to stay calm. Remaining calm under pressure makes it easier to make the appropriate decision. The ability to stay calm also helps pilots to complete complex tasks whilst they're working. This ensures the safety of the flight.

Leadership skills

It's necessary for pilots to have leadership skills because they're responsible for leading their crew and creating the right atmosphere on the flight. This means ensuring that everyone is focused on safety and making the flight as pleasant for passengers as possible. Leadership skills help you to guide others effectively, communicate instructions and information and bring the team together to work cohesively.

Related: 15 leadership competencies and how to develop them

Technical skills

Technical skills and knowledge are vital for understanding the aircraft and how it operates. This allows pilots to navigate and control the aeroplane effectively. Piloting a flight includes standard technical and safety procedures and it's important for pilots to understand these and have the skills to complete them correctly. Pilot training equips you with the knowledge and skills you require in this area.

Numerical skills

Numerical skills are important for making rapid calculations with accuracy and speed. Having these skills helps pilots to direct the flight safely and efficiently. These skills also help pilots to make adjustments in response to an emergency or a sudden change in conditions, such as turbulence or other weather conditions.

Creative thinking skills

Whilst numerical skills and making data-based decisions are important for pilots, it's also an advantage to have creative thinking skills. Having creative thinking skills helps pilots to solve problems and respond to issues or unexpected situations. Using creative thinking skills alongside the ability to think quickly and make appropriate decisions means that pilots are equipped to respond to a broad range of challenges whilst flying.

Confidence and self-motivation skills

Pilot training is a significant undertaking and the work of a pilot can be complex and demanding so having confidence and the skills to motivate yourself are vital. These skills help you to persevere when you can encounter challenges and to be confident in your own decision making. Whilst some people are naturally more confident than others it's possible to develop your own self-confidence and your ability to motivate yourself.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.

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