Flying and ‘driving’ in the blue: how does one become an airline pilot? Each country has its own rules and restrictions. In the past, you could become a pilot by attending the military academy, becoming a cadet in the air force and, after gaining experience, you could apply for various airline applications.
How does one become an airline pilot in Italy today?
Now, in Italy, the practice has changed somewhat: you need to enrol in a certified flight school, which is usually located near an airport. After following a course lasting about two years and costing an average of 100,000 euros, it will be possible to obtain a pilot’s licence.
Once you have your licence, to remain in possession of it, you must maintain a certain number of flight hours per year and every six months take exams in which your skills in emergency situations will be reassessed. This is the only way to have your licence revalidated.
Requirements for becoming a pilot
The main requirements to begin this long journey are: have a high school diploma or take a test that requires basic knowledge of mathematics, physics and English. The course consists of a theoretical part and a practical part, plus various psychophysical tests, which are repeated every two years until the age of 40 and then every year.
How to become an airline pilot: the main steps
There are different types of licences and in order to become an airline pilot you have to go through all three steps:
- The first is the PPL licence, i.e. the private pilot licence: it allows you to fly an aeroplane or helicopter with non-paying passengers (so you don’t get paid for it either) and to get it you only need 37 hours of dual control flying and 10 hours solo, plus an hour exam. You learn the basics of piloting, navigation, aircraft control and the realistic simulation of various emergency situations. Knowledge of English is not required.
- The second step is the CPL licence, commercial pilot: this licence allows the pilot to be paid for the activity, flying small and medium sized aircraft that require only one pilot or aircraft with two pilots as co-pilot. At least 150 hours of flight time as pilot in command, PPL licence and knowledge of English are required.
- Last but not least (in fact the opposite) finally the ATPL, the airline pilot: the course is divided into two parts: theoretical training of 750 hours of instruction divided between Meteorology, Air Navigation, Law, Human Performance and other subjects, plus practical training.
The airline pilot
After theoretical training, the candidate must pass a theory examination. Once you have passed, you will receive the “Frozen ATPL”, which is a certificate of theoretical proficiency that is valid for 7 years.
After practical training, the candidate must pass the flight test, which requires 1500 hours of flight time. After accumulating the required hours, he obtains the ‘full ATPL’, the much sought-after licence to fly an airliner as a commander. But, alas, the journey does not end there.
The airline pilot must then be qualified to fly, through further specific training, on a flight simulator for each model. Pilots usually tend to obtain their licence to fly the aircraft models most commonly used by airlines in order to secure more job opportunities. This training costs about 25,000 euros.
How to become an airline pilot: a journey of sacrifice
Such a high cost might demoralise people who dream of becoming a pilot, however, there are many ways to gain access, with small sacrifices. For example, once the CPL is obtained, it is possible to teach people who are trying to obtain the PPL and CPL, either at the same flight school or at others, so that they can afford the cost of the lessons for the ATPL. In addition, some airlines train pilots themselves, including providing scholarships or acting as guarantors to member banks to obtain loans to cover the cost of obtaining the licence.
This could be the best time to become an airline pilot as it is estimated that 255,000 new pilots will be needed by 2027 and aircraft will be built twice as fast as today. However, not all that glitters is gold: piloting is a stressful job and the pilot’s most important responsibility is the safety of the passenger and/or cargo he or she is carrying.
Provides a lot of sacrifice and mental stress: continuous training and evaluation is needed, limiting your weight to height ratio, good eyesight (wearing glasses does not mean you will be excluded), being tested for alcohol and drugs, difficult hours and night travel.
Piloting also means long absences from home: no matter what happens with your family, you will be forced to keep flying, keeping a cool head, as keeping your cool in stressful situations is a fundamental requirement. In recent years, airlines have reduced pilot salaries, holiday days, hotel quality, uniform costs, medical and dental plans and holidays.
According to Jobbydoo, the salary of an airline pilot with less than 3 years of work experience is on average about 2800 euros net per month. With 4-9 years of experience the average salary is around 3300 euros, while a pilot with 10-20 years of experience earns an average of 5100 euros. A late-career airline pilot with more than 20 years of experience can expect an average salary of 6400 euro..
In airlines, career advancement depends on seniority and flight time. These qualifications will also help you to enjoy preferential treatment in determining work shifts..