Qualifications Needed To Become A Pilot


Employers only let you take their large metallic airborne vehicles up into the sky if you have something a little bit more than the standard 20 meters swimming certificate you got when you were eight.

God Dammit.

God Dammit.

So what do you need, and what are good extras to help you learn to fly, and to improve your (currently steamrollered wafer thin) chances of getting employed at an aerially based organisation? Read on for more details on this truly exciting subject.

This is a general guide for what to do, as whether your ultimate goal is an airline pilot job or crop duster – they all need the same licence in order to get paid for it!

What qualifications will help for training?

This is a question that many students ask when choosing their A levels, and to a lessor extent when choosing a degree course. The ATPL Theory exams (about which we have written a whole electrifying section) are the part where there is the most book based learning on the twisty road to a commercial pilot licence.

These exams are not that hard, although there is a lot to learn. While A-levels and degrees in the murky worlds of physics, maths, engineering etc. are going to make life easier while studying for the ATPLs, they are certainly not required.

The most hardcore maths is in principles of flight, and is just trigonometry. GCSE level maths (mental maths, Pythagoras, graph reading etc.) is used alot in these exams across all of the subjects though, so while you may not need to know all the content of A-level maths (I have yet to find a use for poisson distribution or the equally arousing Cartesian coordinate system for the Euclidean plane in my airborne adventures for example) the confidence it will give you with numbers might be something to consider. Unless you are already Rain Man.

Physics is probably a more handy subject to get, as electro-magnetic waves, mechanics, electronics and a load of other stuff covered in both GCSE and A-level physics courses make their welcomed appearance across many of the 14 ATPL subjects. This will give you a more in depth understanding of what exactly is going on.

Again, you can still pass the ATPLs without these A-levels if you don’t want to do them/are crap at them. It would be better to get an A in needlework than an F in physics for example.

As Mrs Jenkins elected to do

Mrs Jenkins was bad at physics, but enjoyed sewing kittens onto cushions.

However, if that is the case, you need to think hard about whether this is the correct career for you, as you need to have a good grasp on physics and maths to do your job in a non crashy way. If you don’t enjoy them – you ain’t gonna enjoy that aspect of piloting too much.

Degree wise, you can pretty much do whatever you want. Maths or physics degree is well beyond requirements for piloting – the only thing that might help a little is an aeronautical engineering degree but only if you actually want to do this. Don’t just do a degree in that because you want to get away with falling asleep in a handful of principle of flight lessons.

Do a degree that you enjoy in whatever subject you want. It may even be a good idea to get a degree in a subject completely unrelated to aviation, as the industry at the moment is not exactly a peachy industry, and you will have something to fall back on. Perhaps get a degree in economics, they seem to be doing very well at the moment too.

What qualifications will help for getting a job?

Airline wise; you generally need at least two A-levels as a minimum. What subjects these are is up to you.
Again, maths and physics are good checks in the box, as it shows you have at least some aptitude at the skills that will be required of you every day. Assuming you get decent grades anyway – an A in Psychology is better than an E in Maths (perhaps if you would get an E in maths you should not do it. At least they then remain ignorant of your less than stellar number skills).

In job interviews, they are looking for a well rounded, confident individual who is future captain material. By well rounded I do not mean obese. Make sure you do plenty of extra-curricular activities throughout your time at school like joining Air Training Corps, doing Duke of Edinburgh award, joining the schools bands etc. This will look a lot better than simply handing in a blank CV with three A’s at A level printed in the middle. You also need to be somebody who you can sit next to for a five hour sector without driving the other pilot insane with tedium.

So all that can be summed up as:

  • Do Maths and Physics if you want to or if you will do well in them.
  • Otherwise do whatever you want!

That would have saved us all a lot of time.

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117 Responses to “Qualifications Needed To Become A Pilot”

  1. mike says:

    hi me again sorry forgot to mention i would much prefere to not go to college as i dont want to but what i really wanted to no is. do you NEED a-levels to be a commercial pilot or can you get employed with out them. because i really can make my mind up. thanks :)

  2. profpilot says:

    Hi Mike,

    You need to be at least 17 to get a PPL issued (although can do all the training leading up to it beforehand, you can’t get the turd brown book until you’re 17), and 18 to get a CPL issued. I don’t think I’ve come across any airlines who take on people without A-levels or their equivalents, but you might be able to get a job instructing, or bush piloting without them. However, you will be in competition with a lot of people who will all have 250 hours so anything you have to put yourself above them will be of benefit to you.

    It’s your decision, but I would go to college. You might want to get it all done as soon as possible but starting at 18 would mean you can still get it all done before 20. You can do your PPL in the Summer holidays between AS-levels and A-levels like I did to speed things up too. Having A-levels also stops you from putting all your eggs in one basket; if the pilot career doesn’t work out, you’ve got something to fall back on. A CPL/ME/IR/MCC may well be impressive, but it’s not going to get you temp work in an office. A-levels might (although for us young people it’s still difficult at the moment).

    Hope that helps,


  3. John MacChewse says:

    From speaking to loads of pilots and having pilots as mates, it’s not true that you ‘HAVE’ to have all these A-Levels and Degrees etc. There’s a mate of mine who currently got into BA through the direct entry programme and he isn’t a physics honours graduate and neither does he have really good A-Level grades. The secret is ‘money’ ! If you have wealthy parents or generous relatives who will provide the funds AND you’re not a total uncopath and can do basic maths, then you can certainly get into most flight training schools like Jerez in Spain and go all the way to CPL and ATPL ! I’m currently training to be a pilot and am more than half way with my PPL hours. At the end of the day, it can boil down to whom you know. It’s all about ‘connections’. There’s another mate of mine who has his ATPL and CPL and can’t find work anywhere. He recently got a crappy job flying turboprops for a Scottish airline. Another guy paid some foreign airline lordy sums to fly their boeing 737 jets , as he couldn’t even get an interview with any British carriers , despite having all the type ratings etc. So luck and who you know , makes a hell of a difference. But never give up your dream.. … That’s what I say! I don’t care even if I’m 50 , but I just want to be able to fly a jet for an airline one day as a job. I would do it for nothing, if they paid me my rent and food. lol.

  4. profpilot says:

    First of all if you say that flying turboprops for a Scottish airline is ‘crappy’, you might be in the wrong career field.

    To your other points: yes money will get you the pilot qualifications no problem, but getting you a job in this climate? No. You don’t NEED maths or physics, as I’ve made quite clear, but you do need to be able to get the job somehow. This is my opinion, but I think it largely comes down to how you perform in the interview – both as a person and in the simulator. Having good qualifications backs you up to a certain extent, but will not pass you through the competition membrane unless there is some actual substance.

    There are ways to pass through that membrane quite successfully though. As you have correctly identified, having contacts will. Having a bit of luck will too. All those people who have family members in the aviation game that I trained with in 2006-2008 have jobs. Most of those that didn’t, don’t.

    Money will get you the royal blue book telling everyone you’re a CPL/ME/IR holder, but it won’t get you a job.

  5. Daniel Phillips says:

    Thank you for all your advice on piloting and how to approach it. One day i hope to make it as a commercial pilot but i am concerned because i have absolutely no contacts with any pilots or people in that field of work.

    I have been looking on the internet recently hoping to find valuable information on how to become a pilot and this is one of the best websites for it. It has made me think about what i need and i am doing my best to do it all. I am part of the Air Training Corps at the moment and i am going into my second year of GCSE’s. I have already planned my A level route based on information from articles such as this one (i have decided on geography, maths and physics and as you have said i am doing it because i want to not because i feel i have to) and through air cadets i want to take part in things such as the duke of edinburgh and flying scholarships.

    I am hoping all these aspects will contribute a lot towards my career choice and as i am only 15 i hope that i have a lot of time to make this happen and that i am in a position to take on any advice that will help me before it is too late to take action.

    Could you give me any other advice that will help me on this path and give any tips on how well i am approaching it and what else i could do or take part in to increase my chances of becoming a pilot.

    Thanks again for all the information and I’m sorry to bore you with the lengthiness of the comment, more like an essay really!

  6. profpilot says:

    Hi Daniel,

    Glad you’re finding the sporadic information interspersed with weeping baby photoshops useful! Those A-levels sound fine, although like I say, I’m not sure if A-level subjects/results are all that major. And don’t worry about the length of your comment, my articles and comments are generally of the drivelly variety.

    To your questions: certainly having contacts within the industry will help; many people I trained with who knew people have jobs despite the recession we’re coming out of. Quite a lot also comes down to luck. Luck as to when you finish training, and whether or not it is a good time to be employed, luck as to who sees your CV, luck as to how they’re feeling at that moment. If you’re in ATC and doing other things to bolster your CV, there is not a lot else you can do at your age. Bonus of that as well is that it looks good for ANY CV, not just a pilot one, so you have a backup and you’re not just wasting your time.

    I don’t have that much more info than I have already written on this site (there are 13,000 words…) – I’ve been out of the game too long to be able to give you any kind of up to the minute advice on the jobs front, but I do know that a couple of my groundschool classmates from over three years ago have just been hired by airlines. Make of that what you will…

    Oh look, my reply is longer than your question. Apologies. Drivel over.

  7. Daniel Phillips says:

    Thank you, that has put a smile on my face!

  8. sean matthews says:

    I was just wondering if I was doing my leaving cert in Ireland how many points do I need and is there any specific subjects you need.if I done my training in the army would I also need any specific subjects or points

  9. profpilot says:

    Hi Sean,

    Most airlines (if that’s the kind of flying you’re after) specify two A-level or their equivalents. Which, following a brief but intense visit to Wikipedia would mean three Leaving Certificates (Higher) for you guys across the Irish sea. Very much like A-levels, I doubt there are subject you have to have – do ones you enjoy and do well in. That way, at least you have qualifications in an area you like working in, and can hopefully go into a related field if the whole pilot thing goes nipple up.

    I am just some random guy who has authored a tedious flight training info site though (not a pilot anymore) – so you can take any advice I make with a pinch of caution if you want!


  10. ebenezer says:

    i just completed high school but did not offer maths and physics but did geography.am now planning to go to the university to have a degree in geography i want to be a commerial pilot in future pls advice me on what to do cos i’m confused

  11. Daniyal says:

    I’m just wondering would my qualifications be alright to go into this field?
    Gcse grades
    Eng lit-B

    I’m currently in year 12 and for A levels I’m studying Physics, Chem, Bio, economics and ict. Would these be okay seeing as I’m not studying maths?
    Also do you know any universities that specialise in the aircraft industry? Would I be able to become a pilot if I study physics at university?

    Any help would be appreciated

    Thank you

  12. profpilot says:

    Have a look at the How to Become a Pilot article.

    Should answer most of your questions. I hope.

  13. profpilot says:

    Hi Daniyal,

    Like it says, it doesn’t really matter what subjects you have – and that would include having a physics degree. I don’t know much about the university side of things, but I think that buckinghamshire university has an air transport management program which also gives you your license.

  14. natasha says:

    plzzzzzzzzz reply! i just need some quality advice that can help me from this age

  15. profpilot says:

    Yo! Try reading this and the other articles under the ’starting out questions’ tab. http://www.profpilot.co.uk/articles/starting-out-questions/how-to-become-a-pilot/. Any other questions, give me a shout in the forum – don’t check these comments all that often anymore (as you can tell…)

  16. natasha says:

    thanx profpilot, i will!

  17. Princess says:

    Hi prof pilot,
    I have B’s in my GSCE qualifications and I want to be a pilot but I have no slightest idea on where I should start from my parents are always busy so there’s no one to put me through at all, but they are always telling me that A levels is compulsory. I’m just 17, but I’m confused on maybe I should go for A levels first or I should just apply to a flight school. Moreover if I’m to go for my A levels first I will choose Maths, Geography, Physics, French. Please I will be soooo happy if u can put me through.
    Thank you.

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