The route to becoming a commercial pilot
It is true that people have been deterred from pursuing a modular route through flight training because they have been overwhelmed by the amount of choice afforded to modular students. We have supported many pilots through differing routes, allowing them the flexibility to make choices and advising them of the pros and cons in each case.
With a training advisor helping you understand the implications of your choices and unpick the riddles that the flight schools are selling you, the choices become a benefit rather than a hindrance. In this blog we hope to de-mystify some conundrums and answer some common questions from the beginner modular student pilot.
The stages of training you must undergo to obtain a European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) Commercial Pilot’s Licence for aeroplanes (CPL(A)), with a multi-engine piston class rating, multi-engine instrument rating and Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) theory (also know colloqually as a ‘frozen ATPL’ or ‘fATPL’) are:
- a Private Pilots Licence (PPL) course;
- so called ‘hours building’;
- an ATPL Theory course;
- a Multi Engine Piston (MEP) class rating course;
- a multi-engine Instrument Rating (IR) course; and
- a CPL course.
We have another blog article which explains these courses or modules in more detail; the purpose of this article is to discuss the considerations when making a training plan.
In the beginning – the PPL
To begin your training, you have no choice – you must start with a PPL. It does not have to be an EASA PPL. It can be issued in almost any country that is a member of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Once you have that in place you have your first choice to make: an ICAO PPL is the only pre-requisite of starting your ATPL theory, so this is element is available to you now, as is hour building. The question is, do you do one before the other or do them both concurrently?
When to do your hour building
Before we address that, however, let’s define ‘hour building’. To become eligible to commence an IR course, you must have a PPL and have logged 50 hours cross-country flying as pilot-in-command (PIC). Before starting a CPL course you must have 150 flight hours, and by the time you apply for your CPL you must have 200 hours flight time, (although you may count 5 hours in a flight training device or simulator), including at least 100 hours as PIC. ‘Hour building’ is the term used to describe the accumulaton of this flight time after your PPL course.
Some people choose to separate the hour building from the theory training, usually saving the flying until later. But there are pros and cons. Here are some considerations;
If you do your ATPL training straight after getting your PPL licence and don’t fly at all during your theory studies – which might be many months – then you run the risk of losing your flying currency and practice. This means you will have to fly again with an instructor to have your proficiency checked. It is a given that you will have lost some of the proficiency you worked so hard to get in gaining your PPL.
You will also leave yourself more flying and training to do in the 36-month period you have available to gain your CPL and IR, (which starts the month you finish your last ATPL exam). This can add time and financial pressure, as you will have less time to spend a larger amount of money. If, however, you are borrowing the money – this could be a benefit as the high costs of flying are deferred.
If you do all your hour building first and then embark on the ATPL theory, you are likely to have lost all your currency and proficiency just at the moment when you want to be in peak flying practice as you are about to start your CPL course.
There is a solid argument for the flying consolidating the theory learning – for instance, it is a lot easier to learn the colours of runway/taxy-way markings if you are using them regularly, and understanding the bigger picture behind a weather forecast is easier when you are using them regularly.
CPL or ATPL theory
To be eligible to apply for a CPL, you must have passed the theory exams within the last 36 months. These are available at CPL or ATPL level. Let’s assume that you will not do CPL exams, as that’s a poor choice unless you are totally sure that you will only ever want to work as a single pilot, such as a flying instructor. This is because you must have ATPL theory in order to fly a multi-pilot aeroplane, even as a CPL.
The main choices for ATPL theory are full-time taught, which will cost about £6000/€6500 and involve 6 months of full-time classroom training, or distance learning which will cost about £2400 and be at your own pace (6-18 months is typical) which you may do full or part-time.
There are currently 14 exams, although between 2020 and 2022 two will be combined so there will be 13. If you are doing an IR first you must have done either IR theory (not logical, as there is overlap with ATPL theory anyway) or the 7 of the ATPL subjects which will exempt you from doing the IR theory exams.
It is usual to split the 14 subjects into 2 or 3 ‘modules’, completing the study, revision and exams for each batch of exams before commencing the next.
The exams are conducted by an EASA member state’s regulatory authority. You may take your exams with any EASA state; the only restriction is that all exams must be conducted by the same authority. The state which do your theory examinations with does not have to be the same one that will issue your licence (or the same one that you do your flight training with). This allows you to ‘shop arond.’
How will you conduct your hour building?
A PPL will typically leave you with about 47:30 in your log book. The hour building is not regulated flying; you may in theory do what you want, although there are some things you need to cover before your approved courses, such as a night rating and a ‘qualifying cross country’ flight. It is also important to get the balance between flying as PIC (either solo, or with passengers) and dual (when the instructor is the PIC).
As of 20th December 2019 there is also the requirement to do an Advanced Upset Prevention and Recovery (UPRT) course prior to your muti-crew training. An Advanced UPRT course will consist of 3-5 hours dual flying and some theory training. There is an argument to delay this as much as possible so as to get the most benefit from the training. However, financially, it makes sense to do this flying as part of your hours building. We would therefore usually recommend this to be towards the end of your hour building. There are schools that offer ‘cheap’ UPRT courses that ‘tick the box’ at minimum cost. There are others which offer great courses at a fair price. We would recommend the latter and will help you chose an appropriate provider. There is more information about UPRT on this blog article.
There is a temptation to cut your costs by doing much or all of your hour building on a cheap aircraft, perhaps on your own or with other student pilots. The danger is that you start to develop bad habits which you are unaware of. Therefore we recommend strongly that this phase of your training is well thought out and supervised by a qualified flying instructor and/or flight school.
We can help; our training advisors are experienced in planning this type of training and can help you make the right choices. They may also suggest options that you may not have come across in your own research. We’ll also help you calculate exactly how many hours you will need to log.
Will you do an IR as the last element, or earlier in your training?
There is a good case for doing an IR early: you will do more of your time under Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), which is how most commercial operations are conducted, and your later training will be less weather dependent if you have an IR. There are cost implications; the cheapest way of training utilises aircraft which are not allowed to fly under IFR. We’ll write a separate blog article on IRs, as it is a complex subject.
If you do your IR before the CPL module, you may reduce the number of hours on the CPL module.
Another popular choice is to do a combined multi-engine class rating, IR and CPL course such as the excellent course offered by Wings Alliance member, Diamond Flight Academy, in Sweden.
Should I do my MEP in my hour building?
This is quite often an option: Any DTO (declared training organisation) can provide an MEP rating, whereas the IR and CPL must be done at an ATO (approved training organisation), so it is not uncommon for a pilot to tick this rating off during their hour building.
If you had access to a ME aircraft that you could fly for similar costs to a single-engine then this may be a viable option – but that is rare. An advantage of doing so would be that more time in ME aircraft would give you greater familiarity before your MEIR course. However, it is rare for the stars to align to the extent that doing your MEP early would facilitate a cost saving. Many ATO’s would prefer you do your MEP with them as this gives them more time to get you flying to their standards and SOP’s (Standard Operating Procedures) and a better chance of being proficient during the approved courses.
Which approved courses will you do and when?
We have already touched on the many options for IRs. The CPL is less complex. Your choices are:
Combined with an IR or stand-alone
As we mentioned briefly before, most schools will offer a combined fixed structure course which will allow some fluidity between CPL and IR flying and ensure your skills are on point all the way through. Schools like Bartolini, Global and Diamond Flight academy run courses that combine the CPL MEP & IR.
Before or after the IR
Within the UK is quite common for schools to give you flexibility with how you structure your courses, and there will be different pricing depending on the order – this is to allow you to make use of any training you may have done during your hour building – a ‘restricted’ IR (IR(R)) for instance. Worth noting is that if you hold an IR you will be given a 10 hour credit towards your CPL course, and if you hold a CPL already you will be given a 10 hour credit towards your IR course. This is the Basic Instrument module that is similar on each course and would normally be flown in a synthetic Flight Training Device (FTD) rather than aircraft. The reality, in terms of cost, is that as you do the 10 FTD hours on one or the other course so the total price works out to be similar in each case.
A cost saving can be achieved here because some EASA authorities (e.g. the UK) require you to have the hours required for licence issue before you may take the CPL flight test. If you must have 200 hours total time to be able to do your CPL test, and you do your IR first, then you may include the 15 aircraft hours from the IR course in your 200 hours total time. If you choose to do the IR after the CPL, you will have to make that 15 hours up during your hour building stage. This can cost anything between £1500 and £2500. However, this consideration does not apply if the authority does not require you to have licence issue hours before the CPL flight test.
Flown on single engine aircraft (cheaper), multi-engine or both
The CPL test must be flown on a ‘complex’ aircraft. This means it must have 4+ seats, a variable pitch propeller, and retractable landing gear. For example, if you are doing the test on a Diamond DA42 (twin) aircraft, you could do the initial part of the course on a similar DA40 (single) to save costs. Another popular mix is a Piper PA-28 Warrior (non-complex, and cheaper per hour) for some training, then a Piper PA-28R Arrow (complex, and more expensive) for the last few hours of training and the test.
The benefit of a ‘mix’ of aircraft like this is that it brings the costs right down. The disadvantage is that you will have spent less time in the aircraft you are going to be doing your test in, which isn’t perfect preparation. The CPL may be flown on a complex single engine aircraft (cheaper) or a complex twin. The advantage of the twin may be that it is the same type as used for your IR training and test. The very best CPL/IR courses will be flown on a single type, often the Diamond DA42.
Finish with an MCC, but which option?
The final stage of training, after licence issue but before your first type rating, is an MCC course. We have a comprehensive brief on the differences between the three options availiable: basic MCC, MCC with JOC, or APS MCC. If you are not aware of the differences or implications, read the article here.
As you can see there are many options, each choice with different implications such as cost. If you train with us, we’ll help you make informed choices.