Commercial pilot training

Training Explained

Training Explained

Commercial pilot training in the UK and Europe

In this article we will explain the sometimes bewildering world of commercial pilot training and licensing.

Each nation has its own requirements for commercial pilot training and licensing. In Europe there is a harmonised pilot licensing system, governed by the European Aviation Safety Agency, or EASA.

What is EASA?

EASA is a rulemaking European Community body which is responsible for airworthiness directives, aircraft certification specifications, and licensing standards. In each European state, there is also a ‘Responsible Authority’ such as the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and, in France, the Direction Générale de l’aviation Civile, DGAC. The responsible authorities act as agents of EASA, issuing pilot and engineer licences and approving the schools (called Approved Training Organisations, or ATOs) who are allowed to conduct training, normally within their national boundaries. EASA is a European agency, so it is possible to complete elements of training in any European state and have them count towards your licence issue. Most people tend to train in their home state, but there are often cost advantages to conducting some of the elements overseas.

The three types of pilot’s licence are:

  • A Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) which allows you to fly for fun and/or during training. You may take non-fare-paying passengers.
  • A Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) for low hours multi-crew and single-pilot operation.
  • An Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) for experienced multi-crew commercial pilots.

Licence names can be suffixed (A) for fixed wing aircraft or (H) for helicopters. There are slightly different licensing rules for fixed-wing and helicopter pilots.

There is a fourth licence type, the Multi-Pilot Licence (MPL). This allows the holder to act as a co-pilot on a specific multi-crew type of aircraft but is restricted to that purpose only.

You may hear people talking about a ‘frozen ATPL or fATPL’.  There is no such licence.  What they are talking about is a CPL with the additional qualifications needed to act as a pilot on multi-crew air transport aircraft, which are a multi-engine instrument rating, an MCC certificate, and theory exam passes at the ATPL rather than CPL level.  Holders of a CPL licence who meet these criteria will be able to apply for an ATPL with no further training when they meet the ATPL experience requirements, which include 1500 hours flight time.

The EASA ATPL, CPL, and PPL are European pilot’s licences, and are accepted at face value in all EU states.

Commercial pilot training in the UK

Commercial pilot training routes

There are two routes to airline employment for professional pilots. There are large schools that will take you from the start right the way through to licence issue, these are called ‘integrated’ schools. The alternative is to use two or three smaller specialist schools, each offering a particular element of training; these are the ‘modular’ schools. Wings Alliance helps aspiring commercial modular pilots achieve their ambition, by offering assistance with course planning, in-training support, and post training advice for securing a job on the flight deck.

Each route has its advantages and disadvantages and different licensing criteria apply to the two routes in terms of the specific training elements required and flying hours achieved. Although the routes are different the end licence is exactly the same.

The modular route for commercial pilots


  • Reduced cost, and therefore less burden of debt – generally 25% more training time at, typically, 70% of the cost
  • Flexibility in training choices
  • Staged payments throughout the training sequence
  • A choice of high-quality flight schools
  • The ability to work whilst qualifying


  • The perceived lack of employment opportunities
  • The difficulties of identifying the best choice of flight school
  • The potential lack of complete training records to offer prospective employers

The integrated route for commercial pilots


  • The perceived better employment opportunities
  • Everything is done with one company, only one choice is required


  • The cost of integrated training is substantially higher than modular training
  • The level of debt carried forward into employment and the repayments required are significant
  • Inflexibility – you have to be able and prepared to fit around the ATO requirements, rather than the course being built around your needs
  • Integrated courses are often associated with zero-hours airline contracts

The flight time requirement for integrated courses is 195 hours, of which 55 hours can be done in a simulator. The requirement for the equivalent modular students is 255 hours. Even so, the modular route is significantly cheaper.

Why do airlines like modular students?

An increasing number of recruiting pilots are, themselves, modular trained, and they, therefore, recognise the advantages of this route. This generally means the graduates have more flying experience and more variety of flying. They have also often developed better life skills, as generally, they continue to work while they are training and many have transferable skills developed in their previous careers.

What’s different about  training as a member of the Wings Alliance?

We are a not-for-profit organisation with a clear purpose: to help aspiring commercial pilots achieve their ambitions. Our aviation and admin professionals will assist you with course planning, in-training support, and post-training work placement to prepare you for a successful career in the flight deck. The modular commercial pilot training route with the support of  Wings Alliance combines the advantages of modular training with the advantages of integrated, but at a more reasonable price.

Modular training explained

Training for the ATPL exams with Bristol Groundschool


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