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Airline pilot

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

Annual Salary

£24,000 to £110,000

Average UK salary in 2022 was £33,200
(source Office for National Statistics)

Working hours

39 to 41 a week

You could work: evenings / weekends / bank holidays; on shifts

Future employment

There will be 2.9% more Airline pilot jobs in 2027.

Day to day tasks

As an airline pilot, you'll work with a co-pilot to:

  • fly the plane and communicate with air traffic control
  • work out the best route using weather reports and air traffic control data
  • create a flight plan and carry out pre-flight checks
  • communicate with cabin crew and passengers
  • follow procedures during take-off and landing to reduce noise pollution
  • write reports, check data during the flight and adjust the route if necessary

Working environment

You may need to wear a uniform.

You could work on an aircraft.

Your working environment may be cramped, physically demanding and you may spend nights away from home.

You can get into this job through:

  • a university course
  • applying directly
  • a trainee scheme
  • specialist courses run by private training organisations

You could do a university degree in air transport or aviation if you're 18 or over.

Your university degree will:

  • include commercial pilot training with an approved flight training organisation
  • lead to a 'frozen' Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) which allows you to work as a co-pilot and build up the necessary flying hours to become a captain

Medical certificates

You'll need to have a minimum of a Class 2 medical certificate before you start a course.

You'll then need to apply for the higher level Class 1 medical certificate during your course to get your Commercial Pilot Licence. You could choose to apply for the Class 1 medical certificate before you start your course.

Fees and funding

As well as standard university fees, you'll need to fund the flight training part of your course. Your university can advise you about this.

Entry requirements

You'll usually need:

  • 2 to 3 A levels, or equivalent, for a degree
For more information
Direct application

You could apply directly to the Civil Aviation Authority's Military Accreditation Scheme to become a commercial pilot if you have flying experience in the armed forces.

Other routes

You could apply to join a pilot training programme with a passenger airline.

Private flying school

You could also train with a private flying school to get your Commercial Pilot Licence. Courses can take at least a year and 6 months of full time study.

You can find details about flight training schools from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Requirements and restrictions

You'll need to:

More information

Career tips

If you do not have much or any flying experience, you can do a test with The Honourable Company of Air Pilots. Pilot training is expensive and this could help you decide whether you're suited to being a pilot.

Airlines will expect you to have a GCSE or equivalent in English as it is the international language of flying.

You might also find it useful to be able to speak another language if you want to work for an overseas airline. There's lots of competition so it might help you stand out from others.

Further information

You can find out more about training to become a pilot through Flying Start.

You can learn about the current job opportunities for pilots from the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA).

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You'll start by training as a co-pilot. When you’ve completed at least 1,500 flying hours, you can apply for an 'unfrozen' or full Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) and qualify as an airline captain. This will usually take 3 to 5 years after you get your full ATPL.

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

You can find out more about training to become a pilot through Flying Start and the British Airline Pilots' Association.

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Skills required and how your skills match up

What skills are required?

You'll need:

  • leadership skills
  • excellent verbal communication skills
  • knowledge of maths
  • 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
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently
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