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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 2019 was £30,378
(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 4% more Airline pilot jobs in 2026.
In your local area

Day to day tasks

Generally, working with a co-pilot you'll:

  • take turns to fly the plane or communicate with air traffic control
  • work out the best route using weather reports and air traffic control data
  • create a flight plan including details of fuel needed and the height you'll need to fly
  • carry out pre-flight checks of instruments, engines, fuel and safety systems
  • brief the cabin crew
  • take instructions from air traffic control
  • follow procedures during take off and landing to cut down noise pollution
  • check data during the flight and adjust the route where necessary
  • tell passengers and crew about journey progress
  • write reports about in-flight issues

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, which includes commercial pilot training with an approved flight training organisation.

To start a course, you'll need:A levels or equivalent qualifications; a minimum of a Class 2 medical certificate; to be over 18

You'll need to apply for the higher level Class 1 medical certificate during your course to get your Commercial Pilot's Licence. If you wish, you can apply for the Class 1 certificate before your course starts.

University courses lead to a 'frozen' Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). This allows you to apply to airlines to work as a co-pilot and build up the necessary flying hours to become an airline captain.

As well as standard university fees, you will need to fund the flight training part of your course. Universities 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 may be able to 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 can apply for a place on a pilot training programme with a passenger airline.

You can also train with a private flying school to get your Commercial Pilot's Licence. Courses can take at least 18 months of full-time study. Part-time or modular courses will take longer. The Civil Aviation Authority has details of flight training schools.

Requirements and restrictions

You'll need to:

More information

Career tips

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

English is the international language of flying, so airlines will expect you to have a good GCSE pass, or equivalent, in the subject. Skills in another language can also give you an advantage, for example if you want to work for an overseas airline. It may also help you to stand out from other applicants, as competition for jobs is strong.

Further information

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

You can find out more about current employment prospects 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 1500 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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