Job type

Airline pilot

£35k - £140k

Typical salary

39 – 41

Hours per week

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

More info

  • Learn to fly aeroplanes around the world
  • Expensive training, but well paid once you're qualified
  • High levels of responsibility and status

As an airline pilot, you'll fly passengers or cargo on long or short-haul flights for leisure, business or commercial purposes. The pilot has responsibility for the safe and efficient operation of the aircraft and the safety of any crew and passengers.

You have to pass stringent training courses, followed by recurrent training in order to maintain the relevant licence required for the job.


  • Carry out pre-flight checks of instruments, engines, fuel and safety systems
  • Work out the best route using weather reports and information from air traffic control
  • Follow instructions from air traffic control
  • Fly the aircraft
  • Check data during the flight and adjusting the route where necessary
  • Tell passengers and crew about journey progress
  • Write 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 also have a flight engineer on board to check the instruments. You could also work in crop spraying, flight testing or flight training. 

Your working hours will depend on the flying time for each destination; this is not a 9am-5pm job. 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 some 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. 

You'll need

This role would suit you if you have good hand-eye coordination, you're calm under pressure and you have strong leadership skills. If you're not sure, the Honourable Company of Air Pilots has a test for people with little or no flying experience. Pilot training is expensive and this could help you decide whether you're suited to this career before you spend money on training.

You'll get started by training as a co-pilot. 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.

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.

Routes to your licence include:

Applying for a place on a pilot training programme with a passenger airline.

Training with a private flying school to get your commercial pilot's licence. Courses can take at least 18 months of full-time study. Part-time or modular courses will take longer. The Civil Aviation Authority has details of flight training schools.

Doing a Professional Aviation Pilot Practice degree awarded by Middlesex University. To apply, you'll need to be 18 or over, have previous flying experience and a private pilot's licence, and have a medical certificate. Training takes 3 years and is done in partnership with a flying school.

You may be able to apply directly to the Civil Aviation Authority's Military Accreditation Scheme to become a commercial pilot, if you have flying experience in the armed forces.

GCSEs and A levels in subjects like maths, English, science and a second language will be useful. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has a list of approved training schools. ATPL training usually costs between £60,000 and £90,000. 

Some passenger airlines, have pilot training schemes where you can train with the company to get your licence. Flying Start, The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA), and the Air League have information about routes into this career, airline sponsorships, bursaries and scholarships.


You'll usually start with an airline as a first officer, where you'll be second-in-command on the aircraft. The captain has the overall responsibility for the flight and safety of the passengers and crew, but shares tasks with the first officer.

After gaining further substantial experience, senior first officers can apply for positions as a captain. In order to do this, you need to complete an intensive training course.

With experience, you could become a flight training instructor, operations manager or move into specialist roles such as air accident investigation.