fbpx Skip to content

How to become a commercial airline pilot

Flying an airliner is a job with the best office views in the world. It’s exhilarating and challenging, and the ultimate dream for many of us. So, if you want a career as an airline pilot, how do you get there?

This blog post will give you a quick introduction to the main facts you need to know about becoming a commercial pilot.

The first thing to say is that there are actually several ways you can become a commercial pilot. That’s why it can seem confusing when you start to research the options. Most professions only have one route to becoming qualified, but commercial flying has several. Each is slightly different, but all result in a qualification that enables you to apply for a job as an airline First Officer.

At Leading Edge we offer two professional training courses: integrated and modular, which both result in a ‘frozen’ ATPL (the qualification you’ll need to apply for a First Officer role).

Getting Ready: Pre-entry qualifications & choosing your training provider

To become an airline pilot, you will have to complete both academic (ground) and practical (flight) training at an approved training organisation before you can apply for a job. It may be surprising to know that you are not usually required to have a degree, or any particular A level subjects, before embarking on a pilot training programme, in fact on our integrated (LEAP®) course, you can achieve a BSc at the same time as your pilot training.

Studying relevant A Level subjects (such as STEM subjects) and a degree can bring benefits though; you’ll have really useful background knowledge and will know how to study efficiently. Like most pilot training schools, at Leading Edge Aviation, we require prospective students to have five GCSEs (or equivalent) including Maths and English, and preferably Physics, as well as an English Language Proficiency qualification.

Before you embark on either course, you also need to obtain a Class 1 medical from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). A Class 1 medical is conducted by an approved AME (Aeromedical Examiner) and takes around four hours. You’ll have an extensive physical check-up which will include testing your heart, lungs, blood, eyesight and hearing. Every pilot must renew their Class 1 medical yearly, for as long as they are flying commercially. (Yearly renewals are less costly than the initial medical and usually take about an hour).

It’s also important to carefully research your options when choosing your training provider. Usually, aspiring pilots attend an careers events and academy open days first, to find out more before booking onto a Skills Assessment.

Pilot Selection: skills assessment

Most approved training organisations (ATOs) will conduct their own comprehensive assessment before you can enrol. This step is crucial as not everyone has the aptitude to become a pilot, and you need to know you have the potential to succeed before investing in a training programme.

The assessment itself usually involves some computer-based testing, a group exercise, plus an interview. Our Skills Assessment is usually a full day at our London Oxford Airport base, which allows you to see our instructors and students at work, chat with the team, ask all your questions and take the assessments. However, at the moment, due to Covid-19, we are conducting Virtual Skills Assessments. They are very similar to the normal assessments, but are conducted online and are valid for a year.  Whether in person or online, during a Skills Assessment we will be looking for technical ability and an aptitude for flying, as well as some of the non-technical skills the role will demand, such as communication, resilience and decision-making. Airlines look for potential Captains, and we will be too.

Successful completion of our Skills Assessment earns you a place on LEAP®, the Leading Edge Airline Preparation course, along with a training guarantee, or, if you prefer a part-time, step by step training option: our Commercial Modular course. 

Airline Pilot Training

At Leading Edge, we offer two EASA approved airline pilot training programmes: LEAP®, our full-time integrated course, and a flexible, modular option. Both result in a ‘frozen’ Airline Transport Pilot Licence. The fATPL is ‘unfrozen’ and upgraded to a full ATPL once you have a significant amount of flying experience.

LEAP®, the Leading Edge Airline Preparation course, is designed to take you from no aviation experience (ab-initio) to holder of a ‘frozen’ ATPL in the shortest time possible. Created in consultation with airlines, this full-time programme covers the rigorous technical requirements of pilot training, plus comprehensive personal and professional development at every stage of the process. It also includes a BSc degree. You’ll graduate a highly-skilled, knowledgeable and employable pilot.

If you need a more flexible approach to career training, our Modular Pilot Training course is ideal. Modular training is conducted in stages, allowing your studies to fit in with existing commitments. This programme will enable you to ‘earn as you learn’ and includes the same high level of training as our LEAP® students receive.

The following infographic shows the different phases of training each student pilot goes through to become airline-ready. Details of what’s included in each course is available here.

Employment Support

Once you have completed each phase of the course, and have your commercial pilot qualification (your fATPL), you are ready to start applying for a job in the right-hand seat of a commercial aircraft. Our dedicated team will give you ongoing support and to ensure you’re fully ready for airline recruitment success. However, your success will be largely down to your drive and enthusiasm!


Type Rating

A pilot’s training doesn’t end when they graduate from flight school. Once you’ve secured an airline First Officer position, you’ll undertake further training with your new employer. This will include a Type Rating, where you’ll learn to fly a particular ‘type’ of aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, according to company SOPs (standard operating procedures). After you’ve passed type training, you will operate your first flight as an airline First Officer, and all the hard work will have been worth it.


Get in touch

We love talking about flying, and how to become a pilot. So, if you’d like more information about anything you’ve read here, please get in touch.

We will be restarting Open Days when we can, but for now, our team are working from home and ready to chat. You can also take a look at some of the videos we’ve recently produced? Our welcome video shows you a little of academy life at Leading Edge, or why not take a look at the interview our CEO Andy conducted with Ian at Flyer magazine?

 We look forward to hearing from you!

Share This Post

Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on twitter
Share on email

More news

Important Announcement
Please take a minute to read our announcement