Commercial Airline Pilot (Fixed Wing)

For many people who want to earn a living flying, a career as a commercial airline pilot is by far the most common choice. The job brings great opportunity but the varied working hours is very different to those used to working a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday job. The job requires significant personal financial commitments to training, often with no guarantee of a job at the end of that training. However, those that do go on to secure a First Officer position can see rapid progression through the industry which normally provides a secure personal financial future.

Training Costs: £70,000 to £110,000
Starting Salary: Junior First Officer £24,000 to £28,000pa
Potential Salary: Senior Captain = £120,000pa 

Trend: STABLE. Long-term pilot recruitment prospects are very good but the industry is still recovering from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many aircrew retired early in the industry downturn and large numbers of pilots were made redundant. The industry is recovering steadily however the jobs market remains challenging for new pilots as already qualified pilots return to work. With training taking a significant time, new starters now will likely see a positive job scene by the time they qualify.
Trend: neutral
For many people who want to earn a living flying, a career as a commercial airline pilot is by far the most common choice. The job brings great opportunity but the varied working hours is very different to those used to working a 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday job. The job requires significant personal financial commitments to training, often with no guarantee of a job at the end of that training. However, those that do go on to secure a First Officer position can see rapid progression through the industry which normally provides a secure personal financial future.

Training Costs: £70,000 to £110,000
Starting Salary: Junior First Officer £24,000 to £28,000pa
Potential Salary: Senior Captain = £120,000pa 

Trend: STABLE. Long-term pilot recruitment prospects are very good but the industry is still recovering from the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many aircrew retired early in the industry downturn and large numbers of pilots were made redundant. The industry is recovering steadily however the jobs market remains challenging for new pilots as already qualified pilots return to work. With training taking a significant time, new starters now will likely see a positive job scene by the time they qualify.
Salary: £24,000 - £120,000
Qualifications: GCSE

Video Presentation

Below is a short video highlighting the exciting career prospects that can await for those who wish to be an airline pilot.

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  • Significant global travel
  • A respected position of responsibility
  • High-paid career particularly at more senior levels


  • Unsociable working hours which can impact personal and family life significantly.
  • Lower job security at times of national and international financial crisis’
  • Continued employment in the role is dependent on retaining your medical certificate - lose your medical for any reason and your job is very much in the balance.

Routes to Job Role

GCSE - Passes in Mathematics, English, Science
A-Levels (Useful)
Obtain Licences - PPL, ATPL

Next Steps


Must be able to pass and hold a Class 1 Medical Certificate.

You must be capable with numbers, fast mental arithmetic and recording data accurately. Technical aptitude and good spacial awareness are essential as well as the ability to problem-solve and to remain calm under pressure. Team working, excellent communication skills, and the confidence to manage complex people situations are useful attributes.


There are two training options available to those wishing to qualify as a commercial airline pilot: a modular training course (spread over several years), or a fully integrated training course which takes around 18 months.

Modular training is a better way of spreading the costs of training around existing employment although you must obtain a Private Pilots Licence and build a minimum of 150Hrs of flying before embarking on a modular training course.

The fully integrated course takes you from no flying experience through to holding a ‘frozen ATPL’. A ‘frozen ATPL’ is a Commercial Pilots Licence with an additional instrument rating. You can apply for employment with an airline or operator as a First Officer with  ‘frozen ATPL’ but you have to build up 1500 hours before you can ‘unfreeze’ your licence.

You will need to hold a Type Rating for the aircraft you will fly in employment. Some airline operators will require you to contribute to the additional Type Training costs before you start employment. In some instances this may cost up to an additional £30,000 once your training is over.

Routes to the Flight Deck

  • As soon as possible from School or College undertake a Class 1 Medical Examination to see if you are medically able to hold a Licence.
  • Choose if you want to undertake a modular or integrated ATPL training course.
  • Choose your preferred training school(s)to carry out your training – you will need to have a clear way to fund your training.
  • Upon completion of training be prepared that it may take some time to gain employment – you may have to consider relocating where you live in order to obtain employment.

Industry News


31 Aug.
SGACP Editor
Summer 2022

According to the International Federation of Airline Pilots in January 2020 there were 185,143 airline pilots in the world. Of these 9,746 were women of whom 2,630 were captains. Age 29, Megan Bowden, an SGACP Trustee, is a qualified commercial pilot.

2 May 2022
Howard Mustoe in The Telegraph reports that the world’s longest commercial flight has moved a step closer to reality after Qantas bought 12 Airbus jets that can travel from London or New York to Sydney in a single trip. It intends to add an extra fuel tank to the 12 Airbus A350-1000 long-haul jets in order to start operating the flights from 2025. The development brings the airline’s long-held ambition for the 11,000 mile route close to the finish line after it began working on the proposals in 2017.

26 May 2022
Oliver Gill in The Telegraph reports that Boris Johnson has opened the door for Heathrow to build its third runway as ministers commit to support necessary airport expansion. He goes on to write that in a move that risks angering opponents of Heathrow’s £14bn expansion, ministers are vowing to “support growth in airport capacity where justified” in a ten-point plan for aviation.

The programme will be unveiled by aviation minister Robert Courts at Heathrow today. Other commitments include the setting up of an aviation council designed to allow industry executives to influence Government policy. Mr Courts said: “By working closely with the sector to focus on sustainable growth, powered by the latest innovations, we can ensure aviation creates jobs and opportunities across all four nations of the UK.”
Airports treated the proposals with caution, however. A spokesman for Heathrow said: “We need the Government to bring pace to the policies that will allow the sector to fulfil the ambitions they are setting out today. Failure to do this, will only see this plan grounded.”

31 May 2022
Holidaymakers are once again suffering from chaos at Britain’s airports during school holidays, just weeks after a series of grovelling apologies by both airports and airlines that followed widespread disruption at Easter. Hours-long queues snaking their way from terminal buildings into car parks, long delays and cancellations at short notice have further blotted the copybook of aviation chiefs.
This time, however, the blame game is in full swing. Ministers are accusing bosses. Airport chiefs are blaming their counterparts at airlines, and airlines are blaming less well-known ground handling operators responsible for check-in staff and baggage handlers. Ground handling operators are, in turn, blaming airlines and airports.

14 June 2022
After the pain of the pandemic it’s a good time to be an airline worker, but not a traveller. So writes Tim Wallace and Louis Ashworth in The Telegraph. They go on to say that the travel industry is in chaos for one very big reason: airlines and airports cannot get enough staff.

17 June 2022
Faced with being overwhelmed during the crucial summer months, Gatwick took the unprecedented step of placing a restriction on flights in and out of the airport. With the airport its biggest base, the move would have a profound impact on easyJet’s summer, too. Under pressure from investors post-pandemic, this was the year for easyJet’s board to deliver. But amid severe sector-wide staffing shortages, plans have come crashing down.

25 June 2022
Since Easter, easyJet and its airline rivals have been bombarded with criticism over chaotic scenes at Britain’s airports. Queues snaking out of terminal buildings, last-minute cancellations and passengers stranded abroad have become commonplace, heaping misery on holiday makers starved of trips abroad for nearly two years.

28 June 2022
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have advised that the cap on landing fees charged per passenger at Heathrow Airport will fall from £30.19 to £26.31 by 2026, following a furious lobbying effort by the airport and airlines. Airlines have long argued that Heathrow is one of the most expensive airports in the world and urged the CAA to resist its demands to raise charges to more than £40 per passenger. Heathrow, meanwhile, has said that it needs to raise the fees to make sure the airport does not fall into disrepair.

Richard Moriarty, chief executive of the CAA, said: “Today’s announcement is about doing the right thing for consumers. We have listened very carefully to both Heathrow Airport and the airlines who have differing views to each other about the future level of charges. “Our independent and impartial analysis balances affordable charges for consumers, while allowing Heathrow to make the investment needed for the future.”

July 2022
In the July edition of AERO SPACE, Charlotte Bailey looks at the UK Government’s public commitments to protecting and stimulating Britain’s provincial general aviation airfields, and asks whether its deeds have matched its words.

1 July 2022
Oliver Gill, Gurpreet Narwan and Charles Hymas report in The Telegraph that Summer holiday plans are set to be thrown into chaos for tens of thousands of passengers as airlines prepare to announce a new wave of cancellations next week. The Telegraph can reveal that airlines using Heathrow, Britain’s busiest airport, are this weekend racing to rework their schedules. They have to tell officials which flights will no longer be running by Friday – just as schools begin breaking-up for the summer holidays.

British Airways is expected to bear the brunt of the cancellations, triggered by an amnesty on take-off and landing slots. It previously planned to carry 1.8 million passengers across more than 9,000 flights from Heathrow during July alone.

4 July 2022
Three days later Charles Hymas writes that British Airways is axing flights for up to 105,000 holidaymakers this month. Britain’s biggest airline has told airport slot authorities that it is cancelling more than 650 flights from Heathrow and Gatwick in order to avoid a repeat of last month’s travel chaos. More than 76,000 seats are being axed from Heathrow and 29,400 from Gatwick on flights to more than 70 destinations including Malaga, Ibiza, Palma, Faro and Athens. This comes ahead of a further series of cancellations to summer flights, due to be announced this week and aimed at minimising disruption in the peak holiday season. A Government “amnesty” on the rules on airport slots is in place until Friday, allowing airlines to change schedules without facing a potential penalty. Ministers told carriers to review their plans after chaos in May was blamed on a shortage of airline and airport staff and an overselling of seats to meet demand.

Monday saw the first major casualty of the growing anger over flight disruption when Peter Bellew, easyJet’s chief operating officer, resigned from his post. The airline has been one of the worst hit by cancellations in recent months and has axed thousands of flights, many on the day they had been due to depart. EasyJet cancelled 742 departures in June compared to 295 axed by BA, according to airline industry data. The 650 cancelled BA flights notified to the slot authorities last week for July represent 14 per cent of those scheduled from Gatwick and nearly seven per cent from Heathrow.

5 July 2022
Furthermore, BA, easyJet, Ryanair, Lufthansa and SAS are now advising possible strike action by ground staff during the peak holiday period.

7 July 2022
Plans for around 700 British Airways check in staff to walk off the job have been dropped after BA improved its wage offer in talks with unions. It is understood the new pay deal largely meets demands for a reversal of a 10pc pay cut imposed during the pandemic.

21 July 2022
Flight Daily News at the Farnborough Airshow included an article entitled ‘The giant is back’ which advised that British Airways has reinstated four of its A380s. Other airlines that had furloughed their A380s, but not retired them, and are bringing them back to service, are Lufthansa, Qantas, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, Korean Air and Asiana.

25 July 2022
Oliver Gill also reports that “British Airways pilots are clamouring for a ballot on strike action after airline chiefs rejected demands for a new pay deal. Under growing pressure from members, the pilots union Balpa is preparing to threaten industrial action after a wave of ballots secured wage increases for check-in and baggage staff. A walkout could come as soon as this summer in a further blow for thousands of holidaymakers who have already endured waves of cancelled flights, as well as traffic jams at Dover”.

27 July 2022
European airlines need to hire more than 6,000 new pilots a year to meet an industry shortfall, warns Boeing. The US plane maker said resurgent demand for flying means 122,000 new pilots need to be found between now and 2041. The figures are similar to a projected shortfall across North America of 128,000 and 126,000 in China.


1 Apr.
SGACP Editor
Spring 2022

5 March 2022
Oliver Gill, Chief Business Correspondent of The Telegraph, writes that: “Carriers are scrambling to recover their planes [from Ukraine] as insurers prepare to foot the bill.”

11 March 2022
And this day Mr Gill explains that the Russian President’s threat to seize 500 foreign-owned planes could cost Lloyd’s, the insurer, $10B.

13 March 2022
Continuing with Oliver Gill, he comments that Virgin Atlantic has locked-in fuel prices for 2022 (at $90 a barrel) saving millions of pounds “thereby enabling the airline to reignite its decades-long dogfight with British Airways after a fortuitous bet that oil prices would rocket following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

And the following day he reports that Aeroflot chief executive, Mikhail Poluboyarinov, a key political ally of Vladimir Putin, has been forced off the Board of IATA, the global trade body for airlines, after being sanctioned by the West.

16 March 2022
British Airways jets in South Africa have been grounded “indefinitely” by the country’s aviation regulator over fears of engine failures and landing gear malfunctions. Comair, which runs British Airways-branded services across southern Africa, has been suspended from flying since Saturday. The South African Civil Aviation Authority extended a temporary ban to an indefinite one a day later.
The regulator said: “Comair operations experienced occurrences ranging from engine failures and malfunctions to landing gear malfunctions, amongst others.” In the “interests of safety” officials had to investigate the problems and give Comair the chance to respond to questions. The airline said it had responded to the queries. The chief executive, Glenn Orsmond, said: “We have since received an acknowledgment that the information has been received, but no other formal communication has been received to date.”

12 April 2022
The Telegraph reports that British Airways is trying to lure cabin crew with security clearances from rivals with a £1,000 “welcome bonus” amid ferocious competition for staff. With airlines struggling to fill staff vacancies, the flag carrier has raised the stakes by advertising for cabin crew “with attestation and holding a current Heathrow or Stansted airside ID”. The job description states: “For candidates who are successfully offered a role through this campaign, we’re offering a welcome bonus of £1,000 – paid in two instalments – £500 after your first three months, £500 after six months in role.”

18th April 2022
Lucy Burton writes that “The great travel comeback has been marred by the biggest number of flight cancellations in a decade.” She goes on to say that airlines have completely failed to plan for a recovery in demand. The industry has welcomed flyers back to the skies by putting them on a giant Easter Egg hunt of their own – find the prize via cancellations, staff shortages and lengthy queues. Blaming the chaos on Covid absences is nonsense. The sector fired too many staff during the pandemic and failed to leave enough wiggle-room to deal with hiccups as passengers came back.

Heathrow and Rolls-Royce are working on a plan to supply hydrogen to airports under a Government- backed initiative codenamed “Project Napkin”. The companies, alongside fellow aerospace giant GKN, are on a special committee that is considering how hydrogen-powered aircraft will be refuelled in years to come. Airlines and airports have been targeted by so-called “flight-shaming” activists in recent years. Environmental campaigners such as Greta Thunberg have led calls to deter flying, which contributes between 2pc to 3pc of the world’s CO2 emissions.

24 April 2022
Last week, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said he wants to develop ways for families to fly “guilt-free”. Members of Project Napkin, which also includes representatives from London City Airport and Cranfield Aerospace Solutions, are believed to have held discussions with US giant Air Products and Chemicals, one of the world’s largest hydrogen producers, in recent weeks.

The committee, part-funded by the Business Department agency, Innovate UK, is finalising its conclusions into the practicalities of zero-emission flights in the UK. The final report will set out how zero emissions flying can be integrated across the UK domestic aviation market between 2025 and 2035. Expected to be published this summer, it will also outline the commercial considerations for airports and airlines, and identify policies that the Government must expedite to ensure the country is ready when zero emissions aircraft become a reality.


31 Dec.
SGACP Editor
Winter 2021

November 2021
The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced the creation of an international industry consortium that will focus on safety aspects of the fast-growing eVTOL sector. The group, the eVTOL Safety Leadership Group, includes manufacturers, operators and regulators.

30 November 2021
Hanna Boland writes today that Shai Weiss, the boss of Virgin Atlantic, was feeling bullish. “I personally don’t see the UK and US reverting to the shutting down of borders, because cases are no longer the determining factor,” he told a conference last week. “It’s really about variants of concern that are new and dominant beyond the delta variant, and we haven’t seen one. It’s not the same playbook.”
It seems Weiss may have spoken too soon, just a few days later omicron was added to the World Health Organisation’s variants of concern list, and a flurry of travel restrictions were quick to follow.

14 December 2021
British Airways will launch a new assault on easyJet at Gatwick by starting budget flights after winning union support with a promise to pay competitive salaries. It will fly to 35 destinations under the British Airways brand, but the operation will be a separate entity that will ultimately operate under the BA Euroflyer name. The agreement follows months of negotiations with unions. BA’s prospects at Gatwick looked particularly bleak in September when pilots refused to back a deal. The airline then suspended almost all short-haul flights from the hub, its second-biggest after Heathrow. But with support from pilots’ union Balpa, and Unite which represents ground and cabin crew, it will begin flying in March.

And with the omicron variant in mind, Matthew Field, Matt Oliver and Giulia Bottaro report in The Telegraph that Sir Richard Branson has handed a lifeline to beleaguered Virgin Atlantic as airlines grapple with the impact of the omicron variant. Virgin Group and Delta Airlines said they would pump a further £400m into Virgin Atlantic to provide it with a “strong financial position, ready to capitalise on market opportunities as demand for travel returns”. This comes on top of a £1.2bn rescue package from lenders and investors last year, which included £200m from Sir Richard. Virgin Atlantic lost more than £650m in 2020.

16 December 2021
Willie Walsh, the former British Airways Chief Executive who is now head of airline trade body IATA, has urged Grant Shapps, the UK Transport Secretary, to intervene after Heathrow won an increase in landing charges of seven times the rate of inflation. Passengers will pay £30.19 each in 2022, up from £22, or a 37pc increase compared with inflation running at 5.1pc, the aviation regulator announced on Thursday. The rise will apply for the first six months of next year. It is an interim agreement as airlines and the airport argue over another deal covering the following five years.
Mr Walsh went on to say: “This decision also raises significant concerns about the wider process the Civil Aviation Authority is conducting for deciding Heathrow’s charges in the longer term. We are not confident that the CAA is prioritising the needs of consumers, nor is it considering the wider implications of Heathrow’s growing uncompetitive position as a global air hub. It is essential that the Transport Secretary intervenes to remind the CAA of its obligations.” IAG, the owner of British Airways, said the CAA’s decision would encourage passengers to travel to airports on the Continent instead of Heathrow.

22 December 2021
Wizz Air, the Budapest-based budget airline, has acquired 15 take-off and landing slot pairs at Gatwick from Norwegian Air Shuttle which abandoned its long-haul flights and retreated to Europe when the pandemic struck. The deal means Wizz Air will base another four Airbus A321neo aircraft at Gatwick, taking the total to five from spring next year. The Hungarian carrier will use the slots to launch a string of new short-haul routes as part of its growth plans.

18 January 2022
Ben Woods reports in The Telegraph that US airlines have warned of looming travel chaos as 5G mobile networks due to go live on Wednesday threaten to cause significant disruption across America. The chief executives of its biggest carriers have called for immediate action to halt the upgrade to prevent large numbers of planes being “indefinitely grounded”. A letter signed by ten airlines including United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta called on the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigeg, to create a two-mile exclusion zone around airport runways to prevent upheaval for passengers, freight, supply chains and vaccine distribution. United said “5G would cause disruption affecting 1.25m passengers and 15,000 flights a year if the mobile operators are allowed to turn on the 5G signals.”

Mobile giants Verizon and AT&T are poised to press the button after a series of delays due to fears the C-Band wireless spectrum could interfere with aircraft equipment. They had vowed to conduct the upgrade regardless before bowing to pressure from US authorities to delay it until January 19.
However, the airlines’ letter said: “Unless our major hubs are cleared to fly, the vast majority of the travelling and shipping public will essentially be grounded. This means that on a day like yesterday, more than 1,100 flights and 100,000 passengers would be subjected to cancellations, diversions or delays.”

Calls for a further halt come after a one-month delay from the original December 5 launch date to avoid potential flight disruption. Last month, Airbus and Boeing also called on the Biden administration for a delay so they could better understand potential 5G interference with their radio altimeters which measure the height of a plane. The world’s largest passenger jet manufacturers share concerns held by aviation officials over C-band WiFi frequencies between 2.4GHz and 5GHz.
Because the frequencies are close to those used by altimeters, there are fears 5G could make readings unreliable at a time when precise data is needed by pilots to land planes in bad weather. The Federal Aviation Administration has previously said such problems could lead to flight diversions. It added that other nations are using 5G bands that are unlikely to cause significant issues. The Civil Aviation Authority, its UK counterpart, said in November there was no evidence 5G would affect flights in Britain as operators do not use the same C-Band spectrum.

25 January 2022
Airbus is capitalising on the explosion in demand for air freight by renting out the huge planes it uses to transport wings between its factories. The BelugaST transporters are 184ft (56 metres) long, 56ft (17 metres) high and carry a payload of 47 tonnes. They are based on the bodies of the A300 widebody aircraft but have greatly expanded cargo space, giving them an ungainly, whale-like appearance.

The move increases the options for customers wanting to move very large and/or heavy objects by air. The six-engine Ukranian-made Antonov An-225 and its smaller cousin the An-124 are able to fly heavier payloads than the Beluga, but the Airbus plane is both higher and considerably wider. The Airbus fleet is being replaced by an even larger plane, dubbed the BelugaXL, capable of accommodating payloads up to 8 metres wide, leaving five older planes with 20 years of service life remaining.