We're building a new service – your feedback will help us to improve it.

Airline pilot Aircraft pilot, co-pilot, first officer, captain

Airline pilots fly passengers and cargo to destinations around the world.

Salary, a pound sign Salary: £20,000 to £140,000 average per year
Hours, a clock face Hours: Variable per week

1. Entry requirements

You'll need to take a course to get an Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) or 'frozen ATPL'. It will take at least 18 months to get this on a full-time course. Part-time or modular courses will take longer.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a list of approved training schools. 

You could also do a degree in aviation that includes pilot training. UCAS has information on degree courses and entry requirements.

Before you take a pilot training course, you'll need to pass the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Class 1 Medical before you can take a course. This means you’ll need to have:

  • physical fitness
  • good hearing
  • good eyesight and colour-normal vision

To get onto a course, you’ll also need:

ATPL training usually costs between £60,000 and £90,000.

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

You may be able to get into this role by taking a higher level apprenticeship in professional aviation pilot practice.

Some passenger airlines, have pilot training schemes where you can train with the company to get your licence.

Flying Start and the Air League have information about routes into this career, airline sponsorships, bursaries and scholarships.

Careers that Move has information and advice about jobs in the passenger transport and travel industries.

2. Skills required

You'll need:

  • excellent hand-to-eye co-ordination
  • excellent communication skills
  • leadership skills
  • problem-solving skills
  • the ability to remain calm and focused under pressure

3. What you'll do

Your day-to-day tasks could include:

  • carrying out pre-flight checks of instruments, engines, fuel and safety systems
  • working out the best route using weather reports and information from air traffic control
  • following instructions from air traffic control
  • checking data during the flight and adjusting the route where necessary
  • telling passengers and crew about journey progress
  • writing reports about in-flight issues

On flights taking a short amount of time (short haul flights), you'll usually work in a two-person team, as pilot (captain) or co-pilot (first officer).

On long haul flights, you'll often have a flight engineer on board, to check the instruments.

You might also work in crop spraying, flight testing and flight training.

4. Salary

Starter: £20,000 to £30,000

Experienced: £38,000 to £90,000 (experienced co-pilot and captain)

Highly Experienced: £140,000 (experienced captain)

You could get benefits like bonuses or health insurance.

These figures are a guide.

5. Working hours, patterns and environment

Your working hours will depend on the flying time for each destination.

On UK and European flights, you’ll usually be able to return home each day. Longer flights may mean that you’ll need to spend a 1 or 2 nights away from home. Your employer will provide you with accommodation.

Working hours are strictly regulated for safety reasons.

You'll need to wear a uniform and carry identification at all times.

6. Career path and progression

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 ATPL and qualify as an airline captain. This will usually take 3 to 5 years after you get your full ATPL.

You must be at least 21 years old to have a full ATPL.

With experience, you could become a flight training instructor or an operations manager.

Related careers

You may be interested in:

Last updated: 18 August 2017