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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What it Takes to Become A Pilot

"Perspective and Brilliance”
Alex Wood, a 16-year-old student wants to become a pilot and will be attending a University in the UK soon. He recently sent me an update and said that when completing the program, he will receive a fATPL… frozen ATPL. He tells me a frozen ATPL enables the student a guaranteed job with an airline. I asked how they choose who gets this honor, as they can’t award it to everyone. His response concerning college, flying, and the future of aviation is amazing. 
Remember, he is just 16-years-old. 

“The University prepares for the theoretical exams, and provides the fATPL if the student passes all 14 exams on their first attempt. You are 100% right, they can't take everyone.

Perhaps those who want to be pilots are very passionate to aviation, but this may "generate" a false illusion due to the fact that many of them don't even think about how complex this subject is, and, consequently, they think Aviation is just flying beautiful iron birds with normal flying procedures and say: Hey, I'm a B777 captain.

It goes beyond that. It's more than simple navigation calculations and basic technical knowledge. You need to be the soul of the aircraft, take care of it as if it's a member of your family, and know how it's brain works, all the systems, be the leader, the headmaster of the airplane. So that's why it's not everyone that will make it, because it requires more than you as a person, it requires your eagle vision (it's not everybody that has one), your competence, hard work, ambition & humble, strength psychologically/physically. 

 A good pilot is the one who was born to fly...    

I don't want to be selfish with them, but if our future pilots do not attend to all of those elements mentioned above, for sure they may put the future in grave danger.
The reason?
Iron Birds aren't just Iron Birds anymore, they are Thinking Iron Birds. Nowadays airplanes are getting more and more complex (B787 is an example). Most of the schools are forgetting the word: Safety. Those who aren't capable of taking control, especially in case of emergency, will put flight on the black list. I'm pretty sure I did not exaggerate, it's the reality! 
A College degree is one of the keys for the difference and success. It will take me to the big airlines and to the most elegant, glorious and complex super jets. To be honest, the 1500 hour requirement for ATPL is more than a right decision, it even makes sense. We are in the XXI century, globalized world! The cue words for Globalization is capitalism and connections! Obviously you know what I mean! Connecting cultures and countries requires a high standard version of yourself, that's why you are in the market Karlene!


So I believe that I can do it and I will do my best... It's just sometimes it is still far away, but looking with another perspective, it's just behind me and it will, for sure, be a super fun ride! But like you said, one step at a time because good things takes time... 


Do you think this young man will go far with his studies and career? I do. Not only the thought process, but his ability to convey his words so eloquently is amazing. I see a future pilot, and more. I have no doubt he will find success wherever the wind blows.

Thank you Alex for your words of wisdom. I know you can do it.
You can follow Alex on Twitter @CenterAviation.

Enjoy the Journey!
XOX Karlene


  1. Best of luck to Alex. It sounds like he has the heart it takes to see it through!

  2. This sounds like a well thought out educational system Alex is going to attend, and he sounds like someone who will have tremendous success because of his awareness and determination and intelligence, not just his passion for flying. It's very encouraging to see this kind of understanding in a future pilot!

    1. Thank you so much Linda for the kind words! I appreciate :) Have a lovely week!

    2. A bit behind life, but yes... it does. He's going to be a brilliant pilot, or wherever his path takes him.

  3. Having been around in Aviation for quite a bit of time in Europe, now First Officer on the 737, I would like to add a few things here.

    "He tells me a frozen ATPL enables the student a guaranteed job with an airline."
    Unfortunately, there is no school/training organization in Europe that guarantees a job. Nor there is any kind of qualification and experience that will also guarantee employment.
    Any student in Europe who completes a CPL/IR course with ATPL theoretical exams will be awarded a fATPL (frozen ATPL). fATPL means just that : CPL with an Instrument Rating, and all 14 theoretical exams passed.

    Some schools do have better employment rates that others but on average in Western Europe (including the UK), more than three in four graduate pilots do not get any kind of flying job. That's the reality of it and a lot of people do not realize that when they look through the shiny schools adverts.

    In Europe, recruitements do work quite differently from the way it is run in the US.
    Experience (both university background and flying experience) doesn't matter a lot. Most airlines that are recruiting are actually looking for low houred pilots (Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, Ryanair, easyJet, WizzAir, all the major airlines in Europe will hire you with 200 hours). Instructing, then flying turboprops, then flying for the regionals and finally moving onto the majors? Well, this just doesn't work like that in Europe (unfortunately).
    University Degree? Once again, most don't have one and it makes no difference to the airlines, although I highly recommend going to college and getting a degree before starting a pilot training. Not only will this secure a fallback job but it also diversifies the background of the pilot (and in most countries in Europe, college tuitons are free, it just doesn't cost anything).

    What's really important however is the ability to relocate (anywhere), have a plan to build hours while earning money elsewhere (instructing and glider towing are usually unpaid jobs in Europe), and more important than anything else : get to meet the right people.
    Looking around me, most of my friends got their first pilot job through a contact (networking).
    Some will say this is unfair, and others will act to meet the right persons and be in the right place at the right time.

    There's no secret on how this works in practice. Meeting the right people happens on airfields/airports, and those who are not into Aviation from their young childhood will usually have no interest in spending their days off on airfields (the vast majority of people training to be commercial pilots in Europe are not doing it for the love of flying or Aviation itself).

    I wrote a bit more about that on my blog:

    Good luck Alex, you're on the right path.
    Nothing is impossible if you really do what it takes. Motivation and Love for Aviation are the keys here.

    1. Alex, if you want to be a pilot for life you will be...

      And listen to what Golfcharlie232 has to say, it could help you!

    2. Thank you so much for the advice and for correcting me! This is still a polemic subject indeed, some students in Europe earned a fATPL and because of that they were able to secure a job with an airline. But thank you for warning me! Have a great week!

    3. Thank you so much for the detailed information! I really appreciate your comment as I know Alex does too.

  4. Great post Alex and Karlene!

    I have to somewhat agree with GolfCharlie232, on how it works in Europe. You are right, GC232, tuition is non-existing in many countries, or at least very low compared to the universities in the US. With that being said, I think a degree from a European university will be beneficial when applying for jobs with the airlines. Those skills described by Alex in this post can be gained from a vast selection of sources, including universities, vocational schools and even other jobs as well.

    Most airlines in Europe does not require a degree, but a degree will not hurt you, it will only be beneficial. So it's good to have, but it's not crucial in most instances.

    I want to obtain a degree because I want it to help me with my career. I'm starting a 3 year Bachelor of Education this fall at a university here in Norway. My ultimate goal for my career, once I have a foot inside with the airlines, would be to work as a flight instructor for that airline. I find teaching very rewarding. But that's way into my future. For now I'm focusing on getting my Bachelor Degree, finishing up CPL and fATPL, then we'll see!

    1. Cecilie, Thank you for sharing your thoughts and the reason you are getting a degree. I think many forget about the big picture. Teaching is very rewarding... and builds a better person. You are going to do great in your life!!!

  5. From those words above, I am rest assured that not only will he find success but that no matter what, he will be a safe flyer. Whoever granted him the fATPL, definitely knew what they were doing. The criteria above truly state the pre-reqs for becoming not only a pilot, but an excellent one. The term "feel of the airplane" can not be stressed enough as yes, planes are getting more advanced. We have to remember that planes are just that machines and that we have to be intelligent, thinking human beings that will override any aircraft error. It's one thing to have an aircraft error, but a pilot error? No airline and no passenger will accept that. To be a pilot is taking on more and more pre-reqs as the equipment becomes more complicated.

    1. Jeremy, you could not have said this better! And I feel so bad taking so long to respond. We do have to be the intelligent part of the equation. This is an interesting thought and we will have this discussion again. Thank you for the great comment and inspiration, as always.

  6. I definitely enjoying every little bit of it. It is a great website and nice share. I want to thank you. Good job! You guys do a great blog, and have some great contents. Keep up the good work. anthony

    1. Anthony... I just checked out your writing. Nice. Thank you for your comment and joining us on the journey. Anytime you want to write... email me and we can give you a page.

  7. Thank you for this insightful and inspiring article. I am a Japanese movie blogger and after searching for articles about becoming a pilot, I read this awesome article and also was able to read a lot more of your insights into the joys and challenges of flying and becoming a pilot.

    There is a current Japanese drama entitled Miss Pilot and I quoted from your blog in my review of an episode that deals with the trials of becoming a pilot. There are some technical terms and a lot of scenes that the drama focus on, which appears that being a cadet pilot is not a glamorous job, but requires a lot of patience, teamwork and grace under pressure. This may only be a drama, but it really put the spotlight on a career that is believed to be quite challenging. As a result, I am here making a comment and really enjoying your writings.

    I am really looking forward to reading more from you!

    1. Jed, Thank you so for the lovely comment. I am glad this post could help you.

      As you said, this job does take a lot of patience, teamwork and grace under pressure. If we know that... we can give it all, and be proud of what we have accomplished.

      The intrinsic rewards will be so much more powerful than what we think we might get. Pilots should be proud of what they have accomplished and their abilities to fly.

      Thank you so much for the comment.


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