How To Become A Pilot In The UK: All You Need To Know

Embarking on the path to become a pilot in the UK is an exhilarating journey filled with challenges and triumphs. In this comprehensive guide, we unveil the essential steps and insider insights that pave the way to a rewarding career in aviation. Buckle up as we take you through all you need to know to spread your wings and soar into the captivating world of aviation in the UK.

Becoming a pilot in the UK

Table of Contents

What does a pilot do?

A pilot is a highly competent and trained individual who operates and navigates aeroplanes. Their major responsibility is to safeguard the aircraft’s, passengers’, and cargo’s safety. Pilots are responsible for the following duties and tasks:

  • Flight Planning: Before each flight, pilots conduct extensive flight planning. This includes checking the weather, calculating gasoline requirements, and planning the route.
  • Pre-flight Inspections: Conducting pre-flight inspections of the aircraft to ensure that it is mechanically sound and that all systems are operational.
  • Aircraft Operation: Pilots are in charge of controlling the aircraft’s controls, including the steering, navigation, and communication systems, to guarantee safe and efficient flight.
  • Takeoff and Landing: Pilots manage the aircraft during the key phases of takeoff and landing.
  • Communication: Pilots interact with other aircraft and air traffic control (ATC) to maintain safe separation and adherence to assigned routes and altitudes.
  • Navigation: The use of navigation instruments and technology to determine the position, course, and altitude of an aircraft during flight.
what does a pilot do
Ever wondered what a pilot does?

How to become a pilot?

Becoming a pilot in the UK involves a structured process that includes education, flight training, and obtaining the necessary certifications. Here are the general steps to become a pilot in the UK:

Educational Requirements:

  • Obtain at least five GCSEs (or equivalent) with grades A to C, including English, Mathematics, and a science subject.
  • Consider pursuing A-levels or an equivalent qualification, preferably in subjects like mathematics or physics, to enhance your academic qualifications.

Choose a Training Route:

  • Decide on the type of pilot you want to become: private pilot, commercial pilot, or airline transport pilot.
  • Enrol in a flight training school or a university aviation programme that is approved by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in the UK.

Obtain a Private Pilot License (PPL):

  • Start with obtaining a Private Pilot License, which allows you to fly light aircraft for non-commercial purposes.
  • Complete a minimum of 45 hours of flight training, including at least 10 hours of solo flight time.

Build Flight Experience:

  • Gain additional flight experience to meet the minimum hour requirements for advanced licenses and certifications.
  • Consider obtaining additional ratings, such as an instrument rating or night rating, to expand your skills.

Obtain a Commercial Pilot License (CPL):

  • If your goal is to become a professional pilot, pursue a Commercial Pilot License.
  • Complete a minimum of 150 hours of flight time, including specific requirements for solo and dual flight time.

Complete Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) Theoretical Knowledge:

  • For those aspiring to become airline pilots, you must pass the theoretical knowledge exams for the Airline Transport Pilot License.
  • This step often involves ground school training and self-study.

Gain the Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL):

  • Accumulate the required total flight hours (usually around 1,500 hours) to be eligible for the ATPL.
  • Successfully complete the ATPL skills test.

Secure a Type Rating (if necessary): If aspiring to fly specific types of aircraft, such as large commercial jets, you may need to obtain a type rating.

Apply for Jobs: Apply for pilot positions with airlines, charter companies, or other aviation organisations.

Continue Professional Development: Keep abreast of industry developments and regulations and continue training and education as required for recurrent checks and to advance in your aviation career.

How to become a pilot
Embark on the journey to becoming a pilot.

Pilot minimum requirements

The minimum requirements to become a pilot in the UK can vary depending on the type of pilot license or certificate you are pursuing. Here are the general minimum requirements for the two primary types of pilot licenses:

Private Pilot License (PPL):

    • Be at least 17 years old.
    • Hold a valid Class 2 Medical Certificate issued by an Aviation Medical Examiner.
    • Complete a minimum of 45 hours of flight training, including at least 25 hours with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flight time.
    • Pass a Private Pilot License skills test.

Commercial Pilot License (CPL):

    • Be at least 18 years old.
    • Hold a valid Class 1 Medical Certificate.
    • Hold a PPL.
    • Complete a minimum of 150 hours of flight time, including specific requirements for solo and dual flight time.
    • Pass the Commercial Pilot License skills test.

Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL):

    • Be at least 21 years old.
    • Hold a valid Class 1 Medical Certificate.
    • Hold a CPL.
    • Complete a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, including specific requirements for solo and dual flight time.
    • Complete the theoretical knowledge exams for the ATPL.
    • Pass the ATPL skills test.

Commercial pilot minimum requirements

The minimum requirements to become a commercial pilot in the UK generally include the following:

Age: Be at least 18 years old.

Education: Hold a minimum of five GCSEs (or equivalent) with grades A to C, including English, Mathematics, and a science subject.

Medical Certificate: Hold a valid Class 1 Medical Certificate issued by an Aviation Medical Examiner.

Private Pilot License (PPL): Hold a valid Private Pilot License.

Flight Time: Accumulate a minimum of 150 hours of flight time, which includes specific requirements for solo and dual flight time. This flight time must include at least 100 hours as Pilot-in-Command (PIC), and 20 hours of cross-country flight time as PIC.

Night Rating: Obtain a Night Rating, which typically involves additional flight training to allow for flying at night.

Instrument Rating: While not always mandatory, many commercial pilots also obtain an Instrument Rating, which allows them to fly in a wider range of weather conditions and enhances their skills.

Commercial Pilot License (CPL) Skills Test: Successfully pass the Commercial Pilot License skills test, which includes demonstrating proficiency in various flight manoeuvres and procedures.

Theory Examinations: Pass the theoretical knowledge exams relevant to the Commercial Pilot License.

How much does an airline pilot earn in the UK?

Senior long-haul captains in the UK typically reach a maximum annual salary of approximately £200,000, and some may earn slightly more due to overtime and other factors. On the other hand, the starting salary for a novice airline pilot in the UK is expected to fall within the range of £45,000 to £55,000.

Is it worth it to be a pilot?

The decision of whether it’s “worth it” to become a pilot depends on individual preferences, career goals, and personal considerations. Here are some factors to consider when evaluating whether pursuing a career as a pilot is worthwhile for you:

  1. Passion for Aviation: If you have a genuine passion for flying and aviation, the intrinsic satisfaction derived from a career as a pilot can be significant.
  1. Career Opportunities: The demand for pilots can fluctuate based on industry trends, economic conditions, and global events. Researching current and projected job opportunities in the aviation industry is crucial.
  1. Training Costs: Becoming a pilot involves significant training costs, including flight school fees, certifications, and obtaining necessary licenses. Consider your financial capacity and whether you’re comfortable making this investment.
  1. Time Commitment: The path to becoming a pilot requires a substantial time commitment. Flight training, accumulating flight hours, and meeting experience requirements can take several years.
  1. Lifestyle: Pilots often have unconventional schedules, including working weekends and holidays. Assess whether you are comfortable with the lifestyle that comes with a career in aviation.

Best Universities to become a Pilot in the UK

Here are the 5 best places to study at if you want to become a pilot in the UK:

  1. Brunel University London
  2. Buckinghamshire New University
  3. Kingston University, London
  4. Staffordshire University
  5. The University of Sheffield

1. Aerospace Engineering BEng - Brunel University London Review

Brunel’s Aerospace Engineering BEng course shines as a top choice in London, ranking 2nd in the city according to The Guardian University Guide 2023. This dynamic programme immerses students in a comprehensive curriculum tailored to meet the demands of the aerospace industry. From foundational subjects like structures and materials to specialised areas such as propulsion systems and flight testing, students are equipped with a diverse skill set crucial for success in the field. The course also boasts state-of-the-art facilities, including aerospace laboratories, flight simulators, wind tunnels, and 3D printing workshops. This provides an immersive learning environment. Engaging guest lectures and industry visits offer invaluable insights into current aerospace trends and technologies. 

Moreover, accreditation from esteemed bodies like the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers ensures the programme’s quality and relevance, paving the way for professional engineering careers. With options for placement years and participation in extracurricular activities like unmanned aircraft vehicle design, Brunel’s Aerospace Engineering BEng course offers students a well-rounded educational experience, propelling them towards fulfilling careers in the aerospace sector.

2. BSc (Hons) Aviation Management with Commercial Pilot Training in Aeroplanes - Buckinghamshire New University

At Buckinghamshire New University, the BSc (Hons) Aviation Management with Commercial Pilot Training in Aeroplanes course offers an exciting journey into the world of aviation. In just three years, you can work towards your ‘frozen’ Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) while gaining valuable industry insights and practical flight training. With access to top-notch facilities like the FNPT II Flight Simulator and close proximity to major UK airports, you’ll get hands-on experience and plenty of networking opportunities. Plus, with experienced faculty and guest speakers from big names like TUI and British Airways, you’ll be learning from the best. Joining the University Air Squadron for military flying adds an extra thrill to your studies. And with free membership to professional associations and student societies, your university experience is bound to be lively and rewarding.

3. Aviation Operations with Commercial Pilot Training BSc (Hons) - Kingston University, London

Kingston University London’s Aviation Operations with Commercial Pilot Training BSc (Hons) course promises an exhilarating journey into the aviation world. With top-notch facilities including a flight simulator, drone lab, rocket lab, and wind tunnels, you’ll have hands-on experience from day one. Taught at an approved Air Training Organisation (ATO) by specialist instructors, you’ll receive comprehensive pilot ground training alongside in-depth knowledge of operational, technical, and commercial aspects of the airline industry. This unique blend of practical and theoretical learning ensures you’ll stand out in future job interviews. Plus, with the potential to attain a frozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence (fATPL), your career prospects will soar to new heights.

4. Aeronautical Engineering - Staffordshire University

At Staffordshire University, the Aeronautical Engineering course offers a thrilling exploration into the intricacies of aviation design and propulsion. With a unique focus on flight deck design and the interaction between pilots and modern fly-by-wire computer interfaces, students delve deep into the heart of aeronautical engineering. The curriculum covers a broad spectrum of topics, from propulsion systems encompassing gas turbine engines, rocket engines, to internal combustion engines. Hands-on experience is integral, facilitated by cutting-edge labs featuring a flight simulator capable of mimicking Boeing, Airbus, and helicopter environments, alongside a sophisticated computerised wind tunnel. Utilising industry-standard computer-aided design (CAD) techniques such as Finite Element Analysis and Computational Fluid Dynamics, students are equipped with skills directly applicable to professional practice. Collaborative group projects also provide opportunities to apply learned concepts to real-world aircraft engineering challenges. Upon successful completion of the programme, graduates receive the prestigious BEng (Hons) Aeronautical Engineering qualification, positioning them for exciting career prospects in the aerospace industry.

5. Aerospace Engineering (Private Pilot Instruction) BEng - The University of Sheffield

The University of Sheffield’s Aerospace Engineering (Private Pilot Instruction) BEng course offers an exciting blend of practical flying experience and comprehensive aerospace engineering knowledge. Over three years, students embark on a journey that combines theoretical understanding with hands-on pilot training. Modules cover essential topics such as propulsion, instrumentation, aerodynamics, and computational design, allowing students to tailor their degree towards avionic systems or aeromechanics. With ground training for flight and five hours of flight instruction included, students gain valuable aviation skills alongside their academic studies. 

Opportunities to join the Yorkshire Universities Air Squadron further enhance practical experience. The programme also focuses on project management and interdisciplinary communication skills, preparing students for leadership roles in the aerospace industry. In the final year, students undertake a research project under the guidance of renowned academics. This course serves as an ideal foundation for aspiring pilots, with the flexibility to pursue a UK or European private pilot’s licence post-graduation through arrangements with local flying schools.

Pilot academy UK: Where to study to be a pilot?

UniversityDegreeEU/UK FeesInternational FeesEntry RequirementsFlyingDuration
Brunel University LondonAviation Engineering with Pilot Studies MEng£9,250/year£17,500/yearA-Level grades AAA including Maths & PhysicsInitial 15 hours towards NPPL, £3,075 additional4 Years (5-year sandwich)
Buckinghamshire New UniversityBSc (Hons) Air Transport with Commercial Pilot Training£9,250/year + ATPL costs£14,250/year + ATPL costs104-128 UCAS Tariff scoreN/A3 Years
Kingston University, LondonAviation Studies for Commercial Pilot Training Foundation Degree FdEng and BSc (Hons)£9,250/year£13,400/year80 UCAS points / 2 A-Levels20 hours towards PPL, commence course1/2/3 Years
Staffordshire University (Stoke-on-Trent Campus)Aeronautical Technology BSc (Hons)£9,250/year£10,900/yearA-Level BCC or CCC plus C at AS Level / UCAS 112 pointsN/A3 Years
The University of SheffieldAviation Engineering (Private Pilot Instruction) BEngApproximately £9,000/yearNo fees mentionedA-Level AAB including Maths & PhysicsIndividual arrangements made3 Years
University of HertfordshireAerospace Systems Engineering with Pilot Studies BEng (Hons)£9,250/year£11,850/year104 UCAS Points / A-Level Maths and either Physics or Technology SubjectYes, details not provided3 or 4 Years
University of LeedsAviation Technology with Pilot Studies BSc£9,250/year£19,750/yearA-Level grades AAA including Maths & Physics10 hours of PPL training included, option to complete PPL3 Years
University of LiverpoolAerospace Engineering with Pilot Studies BEng (Hons)£9,000/year£17,900/yearA-Level grades AAB including Maths & Science subject20 hours towards PPL, £3,400 additional3 Years
University of SalfordAircraft Engineering with Pilot Studies BEng (Hons)£9,000/year£13,300/year112-120 UCAS / A-Level grades C in Maths & PhysicsPPL (45 Hours), £7,608 additional3 Years
University of the West of England (UWE), BristolAerospace Engineering with Pilot Studies BEng (Hons) or MEng£9,250/year£12,250/yearA-Level grades B in Maths plus Science subject passYes, details not provided3 Years

How long does it take to be a pilot?

The time it takes to become a pilot varies depending on several factors, including the type of pilot license you are pursuing, the training programme, individual progress, and the availability of resources. Here’s a general breakdown of the time it takes for different stages of pilot training:

Private Pilot License (PPL):

    • The time to acquire a Private Pilot License can vary, but it typically takes around 3 to 6 months on average.
    • This timeframe includes ground school, flight training, and meeting the required flight hours.

Building Flight Hours:

    • After obtaining a PPL, pilots often need to accumulate additional flight hours to meet the requirements for advanced licenses.
    • The time to build these hours can vary widely, but it may take several months to a couple of years.

Commercial Pilot License (CPL):

    • Once the required flight hours are obtained, aspiring commercial pilots can pursue a Commercial Pilot License.
    • The CPL training and examination process typically takes around 6 to 12 months.

Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL):

    • To become an airline pilot, individuals often pursue an ATPL, which requires a minimum total flight hour requirement.
    • The time to accumulate these hours, complete the necessary theoretical exams, and pass the ATPL skills test can take several years.

Physical requirements to be a pilot

To become a pilot, individuals must meet certain physical requirements to ensure they can safely operate an aircraft. These requirements are set by aviation authorities and may vary depending on the type of pilot’s license and the specific regulations of the country. Here are the common physical requirements for aspiring pilots:

Medical Certificate:

    • Pilots are required to hold a valid medical certificate issued by an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME).
    • There are different classes of medical certificates (Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3), and the class required depends on the type of pilot’s license and the category of aircraft.


    • Pilots must meet specific vision standards, including near and distant vision, as well as colour perception.
    • Corrective lenses are generally allowed, but the degree of correction may be limited.


    • Pilots should have adequate hearing to communicate with air traffic control and respond to auditory cues in the cockpit.
    • Some level of hearing impairment may be acceptable with the use of hearing aids.

Cardiovascular Health:

    • Pilots should have a cardiovascular system in good health to handle the physical demands of flying.
    • Conditions such as uncontrolled hypertension or a history of heart disease may impact eligibility.

Neurological Health:

    • A healthy neurological system is crucial for maintaining situational awareness and responding to changes in flight conditions.
    • Certain neurological conditions may disqualify individuals from obtaining a pilot’s license.

Psychological Health:

    • Mental health is an important consideration for pilots, and applicants are generally required to disclose their mental health history during the medical examination.
    • Certain mental health conditions may require additional evaluation.

General Physical Fitness:

    • Pilots are expected to have a general level of physical fitness to perform the duties associated with flying.
    • Conditions that could impair physical abilities, such as mobility issues, may impact eligibility.

Drug and Alcohol Screening:

    • Pilots are subject to drug and alcohol screening during medical examinations.
    • Substance abuse or dependence issues may disqualify individuals from obtaining or maintaining a pilot’s license.

Life as a pilot

Life as a pilot is a dynamic journey defined by a commitment to safety, continuous learning, and the thrill of navigating the skies. From the intensive training that hones skills in aviation to the responsibility of ensuring passenger well-being, pilots navigate irregular schedules and diverse work environments, often exploring different cities and countries. 

The adaptability to ever-evolving technology, collaboration with a diverse team, and the challenge of staying abreast of industry dynamics characterise the profession. While the lifestyle may involve sacrifices, the deep satisfaction derived from mastering complex machinery and the opportunity to explore new horizons make the life of a pilot a uniquely fulfilling and adventurous endeavour.

Do you need a university degree to be a pilot?

No, a university degree is not a strict requirement to become a pilot in many cases. The educational path to becoming a pilot can vary, and the specific requirements often depend on the type of pilot’s license and the regulations of the aviation authority in the country where the training takes place.

For obtaining a Private Pilot License (PPL) or a Commercial Pilot License (CPL), a formal university degree is typically not mandatory. However, some aspiring pilots choose to pursue a degree in aviation or a related field as part of their education, which can enhance their understanding of aviation principles and potentially provide a broader knowledge base.

On the other hand, becoming an airline transport pilot (ATPL), especially for those aiming to fly for major commercial airlines, may involve additional requirements, and some airlines prefer or require candidates to have a university degree. Airlines often value candidates with a strong educational background as it demonstrates a certain level of academic discipline and the ability to handle complex information.

Is being a pilot stressful?

Being a pilot is undoubtedly a profession that comes with its fair share of stress. Pilots shoulder immense responsibility for the safety of passengers and crew, navigating through high-stakes situations that demand quick and accurate decision-making. The irregular schedules, frequent time zone changes, and long duty hours, particularly in commercial aviation, contribute to physical and mental fatigue. Meeting tight operational schedules, adhering to strict regulatory standards, and undergoing recurrent training evaluations add to the professional pressure. 

Additionally, concerns about job security, influenced by economic factors and industry dynamics, can be a source of stress. Despite these challenges, many pilots find the rewards of the profession, including the thrill of flying and the sense of accomplishment, to outweigh the stressors. Successful stress management strategies, including prioritising self-care and seeking support, are crucial for pilots to navigate the demands of their profession effectively.

Pilot retirement age

As of 2022, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) sets a maximum age limit for airline pilots at 65 years. However, individual countries may have their own regulations that differ from this standard.

Some countries have implemented a gradual phase-out approach, allowing pilots to continue flying under certain conditions beyond the age of 65. These conditions may include serving as part of a multi-pilot crew or undergoing more frequent medical examinations.

Who is BALPA and what do they mean for UK pilots?

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) is a prominent professional association and registered trade union dedicated to advocating for the interests of over 10,000 UK pilots. BALPA holds recognition in 20 different companies, representing more than 85% of all commercial pilots flying in the UK. This association boasts the largest collective pool of commercial pilot qualifications and experience in the country, with its members having collectively flown over 50 million hours.

Frequently Asked Questions

To become a pilot in the UK, you typically need to be at least 18 years old, hold a Class 1 Medical Certificate, and obtain the necessary educational qualifications, including passes in maths and physics.

The UK offers various pilot licenses, including the Private Pilot License (PPL), Commercial Pilot License (CPL), and Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). Each license corresponds to different levels of training and qualifications.

The duration to become a pilot varies, but it generally takes around 18 to 24 months to obtain a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). Factors such as training frequency, weather conditions, and individual progress can influence the timeline.

The cost of pilot training in the UK can vary widely depending on the type of license and the flight school. On average, the total cost for obtaining a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) can range from £60,000 to £100,000.

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