Airline Pilot

Job Description:

Airline pilots fly passengers and cargo to destinations around the world.

Job Category:
Automotive & Aviation

What you will do:

Your day-to-day tasks could include:

  • carrying out pre-flight checks of instruments, engines, fuel and safety systems
  • working out the best route using weather reports and information from air traffic control
  • following instructions from air traffic control
  • checking data during the flight and adjusting the route where necessary
  • telling passengers and crew about journey progress
  • writing reports about in-flight issues

On flights taking a short amount of time (short haul flights), you’ll usually work in a two-person team, as pilot (captain) or co-pilot (first officer).

On long-haul flights, you’ll often have a flight engineer on board, to check the instruments.

You might also work in crop spraying, flight testing and flight training.


You’ll need:

  • knowledge of maths
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently

As well as:

  • leadership skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • thinking and reasoning skills
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail
  • the ability to operate and control equipment
  • observation and recording skills
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
Illustration of employee looking at workspace

Entry Requirements:

To become an airline pilot, there are no specific GCSE subjects that are absolutely required, but certain subjects and skills can be beneficial for pursuing this career. The primary education and training path to become a pilot typically involves obtaining a private pilot’s license (PPL), followed by advanced training and obtaining a commercial pilot’s license (CPL). Here are some relevant GCSE subjects and skills that can be helpful:

  1. Mathematics: Strong math skills are crucial for flight planning, navigation, and understanding aircraft performance data.
  2. Physics: Physics principles are applied in understanding aerodynamics, aircraft systems, and the forces acting on an aircraft.
  3. English: Good communication skills, including reading, writing, and speaking, are essential for effective communication with air traffic controllers and colleagues.
  4. Geography: Knowledge of geography can be useful for navigation and understanding weather patterns.
  5. Computer Science: Familiarity with computer systems can be helpful, especially as aviation increasingly relies on advanced avionics and computer-based flight management systems.
  6. Foreign Languages: While not strictly required, being bilingual or multilingual can be an advantage, especially if you plan to work for an airline that operates internationally.

Post School

You’ll need to take a course to get an Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) or ‘frozen ATPL’. It will take at least 18 months to get this on a full-time course. Part-time or modular courses will take longer.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a list of approved training schools.

You could also do a degree in aviation that includes pilot training.

Before you take a pilot training course, you’ll need to pass the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Class 1 Medical before you can take a course.

To get onto a course, you’ll also need:

  • GCSEs at grade 4 (C) or above, or equivalent
  • A levels (or equivalent) in subjects like maths, English, science and a second language
  • to pass a background and security check
  • ATPL training usually costs between £60,000 and £90,000.

The Honourable Company of Air Pilots has a test for people with little or no flying experience. This could help you decide whether you’re suited to this career before you spend money on training.

You may be able to get into this role by taking a higher level apprenticeship in professional aviation pilot practice.

Some passenger airlines, have pilot training schemes where you can train with the company to get your licence.

Flying Start and the Air League have information about routes into this career, airline sponsorships, bursaries and scholarships in the UK.

Working Hours and Environment:

Your working hours will depend on the flying time for each destination.

On UK and European flights, you’ll usually be able to return home each day. Longer flights may mean that you’ll need to spend a 1 or 2 nights away from home. Your employer will provide you with accommodation.

Working hours are strictly regulated for safety reasons.

You’ll need to wear a uniform and carry identification at all times.

Career Path & Progression:

You’ll start by training as a co-pilot. When you’ve completed at least 1500 flying hours you can apply for an ‘unfrozen’ or full ATPL and qualify as an airline captain.

This will usually take 3 to 5 years after you get your full ATPL.

You must be at least 21 years old to have a full ATPL.

With experience, you could become a flight training instructor or an operations manager.