Job prospects with a Frozen ATPL?

My licence sits in the drawer and that’s where it has been for almost a year now. It came out for a flying trip to Florida but it hasn’t moved since.

Like everybody else in the same situation as me, I have worked incredibly hard towards the issuance of my ATPL (airline transport pilot licence). It took around 18 months of training, 5 practical tests, 16 written papers, 3 medicals, a couple of hundred hours in the air and more. And it was in November 2010 that I took delivery of my shiny new licence.

Now, however, the novelty has well and truly worn off, and I am starting to wonder if any of us might have lucky breaks in the airline industry any time soon.

Right now, the ratio of pilots to pilot jobs is astounding, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that few of us are going to be employed as professional pilots in the near future. And even though the airline recruitment situation is apparently picking up, those as experienced as myself (not very), are probably in the worst situation right now. The airlines seem to be on the lookout for candidates at the opposite ends of the spectrum; the very experienced and the very inexperienced.

I was amazed that so many people had me in mind when British Airways announced a huge recruitment drive in August. Text messages and emails pointed me in the direction of the airline’s website, and I was quick to get on it to see what everybody was talking about. Somehow, I had managed to overlook one of the biggest news stories at the time – that British Airways were to recruit no less than 800 pilots between now and 2016. At last, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

My excitement was short lived, however, since half of the 800 required pilots were to be recruited straight from school or college and then assisted with their flight training fees thanks to a sponsorship scheme, where successful applicants pay back the exorbitant fees over the first 5-10 years of employment. Whilst this is a fantastic opportunity for those who want to fly but who might never have the chance to do so, it is of no help at all to those the no doubt thousands of us who already have the minimum required qualifications for the right seat.

The most frustrating part of job hunting with the airlines is that there are no application acknowledgements and no rejection letters. You just have to assume that your lengthy application form that took you days to complete has been received by the company. Similarly, when you haven’t heard back after months of waiting, you can work out for yourself that you haven’t been successful – on this occasion.

For anybody considering flight training with a view to one day working as a professional pilot (flying and getting paid for it), take a moment to seriously put things into perspective. Most importantly of all, flying is not cheap, and if you plan to go all the way and study for your ATPLs, the complete cost of training can easily reach £60,000 to £100,000, depending upon where in the world you train. And when the training is out of the way, you have to keep finding more and more money just to keep your currency. It really isn’t as simple as getting a licence and being qualified. In time, your experience and ability to handle an aircraft is going fade, so more time in the air (costing more money) is what you will need.

Consider multi-engine flight training for example, which is about as costly as flying gets. In the UK, a multi-engine aircraft (i.e. a Beechcraft Duchess or a Piper Seneca) can cost in the region of £400 to £450 per hour. On top of that, factor in any fuel surcharges, landings and approach fees and the cost of books and materials necessary to keep you clued up on everything aeronautical. And since instrument ratings and multi-engine ratings under JAA are only valid for 12 months, the cost of renewals can easily total a couple of thousand pounds. This is money that you will need to find on top of the money required for building hours whilst job hunting. Some airlines – such as Flybe – will only consider you as an applicant if you fly 50+ hours a year. Flying a single-engine aircraft, this bill alone can sit at around £8,000 a year.

So, if I were looking at to begin flight training now, would I bother? Probably not. It requires a lot of hard work, a lot of patience and a shed load of money. And as I’ve talked about, you certainly won’t be inundated with employment opportunities at the airlines!

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4 Responses

  1. Rob says:

    A very interesting read… Thanks!

  2. p.a says:

    The sixties seventies best time to be a pilot ( also best time as a passenger) Over rated career poorly paid and conditions, salary starting out as low as 25k. I even heard the regional airline owned by Iberia starting first officers on 18k!. Your costs 70k or 100k plus on top of this budget 35k for a type rating and line training. In the UK BA pay the most but only hire integrated students individuals who arnt cool ( no life experience) and who you wouldn’t allow or trust driving your own car. I know guys who fly with them horrible atmos between flight crews and attendants totally over board on P.C.-basically crap.I hate BA landings all crap try delta, American, they hire better pilots they dont hire integrated also Airfrance, that incident over the atlantic a330 crashyou guessed it integrated co-pilots straight out of the factory school no life experience or flight skills plus very low low hours. Majors in usa dont hire pilots like this. I am lucky I never paid for a type rating so thankful I stopped wasting money. People buy into the image I would rather have my own business. You know the old saying you pays your money you take your regrets. Avoid flight schools all of them they are over priced and promise bullshit. At least I only wasted 30k on jaa uk licence could have been worse. I know integrated students paid a lot more and who are not working, the whole industry is a scam plenty of frozen licenced pilots out there looking for a job, plenty with type ratings also going no where. you have been WARNED. Just get a ppl forget commercial.

  3. nick says:

    My licenses has been in the same place for more than 4 months now . It is hard work and lots of sleepless nights to go through ATPL theory . However no one cares what was your scores and what did you do to pass them , all they want to see is flying time . Unless you have good connections or a wealthy income or family than do not even bother to try to get in the right seat of the shinny jets . I sent hundreds and hundreds of CV’s and Cover letter but they don’t even bother to reply. Times have changed and industry too. What most low cost airlines are doing now is totally wrong but no one cares as long as they see the money .
    Most of us should understand the situation . i know who doesn’t want to sit on that seat but if things keep on going this way we will see less and more less “good” pilots .
    Simply never give up and keep on trying , improve yourself and try to invest the money in a flying instructor course or something that will give you flying time and a good hand flying experience, instead than paying for a bloody type rating . Do not listen to other saying that you wasted your money on your training , if that’s what you like doing than continue that path , you already are a holder of a commercial license and do not forget that.
    1500 hours can be build in 3-4 years and will make you more valuable to the market , and hopefully by then the industry will change.
    As for myself i have decided and will start my FI course in April and will focus totally on that and i am excited to learn more and have the right confidence .
    Wishing You All luck

  4. S.A says:

    Hi Michael,

    Are you flying now since your 2011 post?

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