What to know if you want to become a pilot

2020-01-08 20:45 -
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It's not easy, nor is it cheap - but it's possibly one of the most rewarding jobs around for those who love to travel the world. Becoming a pilot is a long road of commitment from both you mind and your bank balance - as pricing varies anything between R100k and R250k depending at which stage of the game you are. 

To begin you need to understand the different types of pilot licenses available.

  • Private Pilot Licence  - this satisfies any recreational passion for flying aircraft you might have 
  • Commercial Pilot Licence - this means you can earn money, flying small planes
  • Airline Transport Pilot Licence - what the folks in cockpit of your favourite airline have. 

According to CEO of Flight Training.co.za, Captain Walter Waldeck (Airbus A330/A340 Training Captain with South African Airway), not everybody can be a pilot. 

"The saying 'there are old pilots and bold pilots – but no old bold pilots is true. With the responsibilities and consequences involved, you naturally need to be supremely confident in your ability to do the job - but not to the point where ego exceeds ability. Mental attitude is everything. 

"Throughout your career, confidence must be tempered with humility. One never stops learning in this game and you must have the ability to learn from others’ mistakes. You wont live long enough to make them all yourself," says Waldeck. 

He says there are stringent medical standards, along with an obvious academic requirement in order to start this road to the skies above. 

Key are Maths and Science at Matric (Senior) level, "but even if you haven’t, there’s nothing to stop you taking extra lessons to get up to scratch in these areas".  

"Geography is another very useful subject although not mandatory."

READ: Pilot writes emotional letter, sharing what it's like working at SAA

The first step - a Student Pilot Licence

This is the first formal qualification required for the progression from dual flight (flying with an instructor) to flying solo, according to FlightTraining.co.za:

Requirements for the issue of a Student Pilot's Licence (SPL):

1. You must be at least 16 years old, and there is no upper age limit.

2. You must complete a formal medical examination (Class I or II).

3. You will take a basic air law and procedural written examination, the content of which will be simple to grasp after a few lessons with your flight instructor.

4. You will need two passport size photographs.

5. A complete Student Pilots Licence (SPL) application form.

5. Pay the prescribed licence fee to the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SA-CAA). You will then be issued with a licence that enables you to fly solo, all alone, and by yourself in an aircraft, under the trained supervision of your flight instructor.

"The 'flying bug'will either bite you or not," says Waldeck, "And don't be concerned if you're a little frightened of flying in the beginning - that's quite normal and has happened to most of us at some point during our training."

READ: Injured passenger humbled by pilot's kind act

Step two - Private Pilot License

The Private Pilot License (PPL) can only be attained after you've qualified for your SPL. According to Flight Training, most students take 3 - 5 months to complete this. 

"This licence is required even if your ultimate goal is to become a Commercial Pilot, as it allows you to accumulate the relevant experience that is essential for any advanced qualifications. It allows you to be Pilot in Command (PIC) of an aircraft and to carry passengers. This enables you to make all decisions pertaining to planning and executing a flight, during daylight hours, and in clear weather.

"Additional qualifications are required to fly at night and in cloudy conditions. You may not, however, receive remuneration for your flying activities."

Requirements for the issue of a Private Pilot's Licence (PPL):

1. You must hold a valid Student Pilot's Licence.

2. You will be required to accumulate a minimum of 45 hours of flight time, which must include a minimum of 15 hours solo flight and a minimum of 25 hours dual flight instruction (flying with your instructor). The 25 dual flight instruction hours in aeroplanes must include 5 hours of instrument flight instruction. These 5 hours may be completed in the aircraft. You will be required to accumulate at least 5 hours of solo cross-country flight time (flying from one airport to another).

3. You must successfully complete 7 written examinations, which will test your knowledge on Engines & Airframes, Meteorology, Air Law, Navigation, Human Performance, Flight Planning and Principles of Flight.

4. A Radio (Operators) Licence, which is referred to as a Restricted Radio Licence must be obtained before you are finally issued with your PPL. It is however a good idea to complete this requirement early on in your training, as the information covered assists greatly with all aspects of your flight training.

5. You will be required to successfully pass two practical flight skills tests.

The first being a General Flight Test (GFT), which must be conducted by a Grade One or Two flight instructor, and will focus on your ability to handle the aircraft in all normal, abnormal and emergency flight phases. These are aspects that you will have covered extensively during your training, and this is now your chance to demonstrate your competency.

The second flight test will examine your ability to safely conduct navigation procedures, and you will be required to fly yourself and your examiner on a pre-planned triangular route, with at least two "away" landings, and flight in controlled airspace.

This is when it all comes together as a pilot, and is immensely satisfying and enjoyable.

6. Once you have accumulated the required flight time in your logbook, and passed all the above mentioned tests, your paperwork will be checked. You can then send all the paperwork to the SA-CAA, with the required fee, and convert your Student Pilot's Licence to a Private Pilot's Licence.

It is essential to understand that the minimum hours prescribed by the SA-CAA are exactly that and you will need to most likely "complete more dual hours", which should "not be seen as a negative reflection on yourself or your flight school. The bottom line is Safety and Competency."

READ: These are the world's safest airlines for 2020 + the major ones that went bust in 2019 

Step three - Commercial Pilots Licence  

With the CPL "you can enter the commercial and airline world of aviation". As a commercial pilot you may fly as pilot in command, for remuneration, any aircraft certified for single pilot operations. 

However to operate as pilot in command on multi crew aircraft you must complete the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). Obtaining the CPL allows you to build the mandatory experience required for the ATPL - with type-specific training also required.

Requirements for the issue of a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL):

1. Be at least 18 years old.

2. Be the holder of a class 1 Medical Certificate.3. Hold a General Radio Telephony Certificate.

4. You must have completed a minimum of 200 hours, of which 20 may have been completed on approved simulators. This actually means that if you pursue a CPL with Instrument Rating, you will need 180 hours of flight time.

5. Of these flight hours, 100 must be as pilot in command (PIC), which must include 5 hours as pilot in command at night. These hours must consist of a minimum of 20 hours cross country flight time, with at least 1 flight of more than 300NM’s with 2 full stop landings at airfields other than the base. You must also complete a night cross country flight with a minimum of 3 legs with each leg being more than 50 NM’s. You must have completed at least 10 take offs and 10 landings at night.

6. You must have successfully completed the SA-CAA CPL theory examinations.

7. You must complete a CPL General Flight Test in a complex-type aircraft (one that has adjustable flaps, retractable undercarriage and a constant-speed propeller), conducted by a Grade I Designated Flight Examiner (DFE).8. Should an instrument rating be sought, the conditions listed under Instrument Rating must be met.9. Application must be made to the SA-CAA for the Commercial Pilots Licence. The applicable fee must be paid.

For the full list of course offered by Flight Training - see below or click here:

  • Night Rating
  • Instrument Rating
  • Multi Engine Rating
  • Instructors Rating 
  • Airline Transport Pilots Licence
  • Radio Telephony
  • English Proficency
  • Evaluations Renewals and Conversions

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Waldeck also adds one more small tip, "guard your reputation well!" 

"Airlines do their homework meticulously. Internationally this is a close knit community and if you are prone to slovenly behaviour or have a reputation as a heavy drinking Casanova or a flamboyant show-off, you can be assured the selection board will know about it before you arrive for the interview. Better have some answers ready!