A career as a Pilot is a very interesting and varied career path to take. You will have the chance to travel around the world, and it is no wonder that this is a dream career for many people, but how do you get to become a Pilot? What qualifications do you need?
This article is here to explain just that. In any career, there are various steps which you can take to make it easier to move into the field. Whether you are choosing your GSCEs, A-Levels or degree, this article is here to guide you through the steps towards becoming a Pilot.
There are various different steps which you will be required to take in order to become a Pilot in terms of education and qualifications. You will need:
- A minimum of 5 GCSE passes, including passes and above in the core subjects (focusing on Maths and Science). Other subjects that you may want to consider include GCSE Geography, GCSE MFL, and GCSE P.E.
- 2-3 A-Level passes, preferably including A-Levels in Maths and Physics, though you may want to consider studying subjects such as A-Level Geography, A-Level MFL, or A-Level Chemistry.
- A degree in Air Transport or Aviation (or any other related subject such as Physics or Computer Science), or the completion of a training programme from an airline such as British Airways.
- An Airline Transport Pilot License and Class 1 Medical Certificate.
- Constant training and simulator tests to make sure that you are flying safely.
Table of Contents
1. What GCSEs Do You Need to Become a Pilot?
If you would like to become a Pilot, GCSEs should be an important part of your career plan. They are important for any career, and to be able to get on to a University course or flight programme, you will need to have a minimum of 5 GCSEs at pass grades and above, including GCSEs in Maths, English and Science. These are the minimum requirements, though you may find it useful to have GCSEs in a Modern Foreign Language and Geography as well in order to progress on to certain A-Level courses.
What GCSEs Do You Need to Study Flying Related A-Levels at Sixth Form?
The A-Levels that you are likely to find useful for a career as a Pilot are described in the section below, but tend to include A-Levels in Maths, Physics, Geography, Chemistry, and Modern Foreign Languages. Therefore, it is important that you are able to take some subjects from this list at Sixth Form, and GCSEs will contribute to your ability to do so.
The most important thing here is that you pass Science (either Triple or Combined), as well as Maths. Physics and Maths are often required A-Levels, and so it is important that you have a basis on which to expand your knowledge of these subjects during your time at Sixth Form. Obviously, these are core subjects and whether or not you take them is not up to you, but you must make sure to work hard to get the best grades you can in these subjects.
If you are interested in studying A-Level Geography, the GCSE will give you a great foundation knowledge of the subject. Although most Sixth Forms don’t require you to specifically have GCSE Geography to get on to their A-Level Geography courses, it is something which will no doubt be very useful for you if you choose to pursue Geography.
Finally, if a Modern Foreign Language (such as Spanish, French or German) is something which you would like to study at Sixth Form, you will find it very useful (and almost always essential!) to take the same foreign language at GCSE. Many A-Level language courses require you to have evidence of ability in the language which you are studying (either through GCSE grades or an interview).
Which GCSEs Will Help You Develop The Skills You Need To Become a Pilot?
If you would like to become a Pilot, there are a wide range of skills which you need to have and be able to develop. If you would like a list of some of the skills which you need to become a Pilot, you could take a look at this useful website, which lists 10 useful skills and traits of Pilots, and explains why they are important.
One example is communication. This can be developed throughout your academic career in a variety of ways. Clearly, this should be in a measured way (I don’t just mean talk to people through all of your lessons!), but you can take advantage of a number of opportunities to work on this skill at school. For example, you could use group work (which also helps you develop team work skills), and interaction with your peers about the things that you are learning as ways to improve your communication skills. Any presentations will also help you with this. GCSE English could specifically help you with this.
You could also consider taking GCSEs which will help you develop your problem-solving skills. Maths is great for this, but as I said before – this isn’t a subject you get to choose! Think about the skills that the core subjects can equip you with, and keep focused on developing those skills alongside the academic content of the courses.
You could also use subjects such as GCSE P.E. to develop your leadership skills. If you don’t want to take P.E., but enjoy sport and want the chance to practice leadership and teamwork, joining a sports club or team could also be useful – giving you a non-academic hobby as well as developing skills which will make you more employable.
What GCSEs Do You Need to Go to Flight School?
In order to go to Flight School, you will generally need a minimum of 5 GCSEs, at pass grades and above. These qualifications should include Maths, English and Science. This is the baseline University requirement, but it is important that you aim higher than this in your exams.
You want to demonstrate your academic abilities, not only to Universities, but also to Sixth Forms. Some A-Level courses in Maths and Sciences require you to have Grade 6 (B) or above in Science and Maths GCSEs. This is important to consider because you will need Physics and Maths A-Levels in order to put yourself in a good position when applying to University.
Additionally, the core subjects give you a great range of skills, but there are many more chances for you to develop your skills further in other subjects. You should aim to pass every subject that you take at GCSE, and they should hopefully be at the highest grades which you can achieve.
The message here is, although University courses require you to only have a minimum of 5 GCSEs at passes and above, you must make sure that you have the GCSE grades required by Sixth Forms in order to get on to the A-Level courses which you need to get into Flight School. Make sure that you do your research about what exactly the entry requirements are for Sixth Form courses which you are interested in, as these can vary slightly depending on the Sixth Form itself.
What GCSE Grades Do You Need to Pursue a Flying Career?
If you want to become a Pilot, you should aim for the highest GCSE grades that you can achieve in your exams. However, as I have said, the minimum requirements made by Universities are 5 GCSE passes in Science, English and Maths.
You should also consider that on competitive courses, your GCSEs will be considered. Try to achieve the best grades that you can, particularly focusing on the Science subjects and Maths. These subjects are the most relevant to the field, and will also mean that you can get on to the A-Level courses which you need for Flight School.
However, you shouldn’t look at GCSEs as just a requirement for Flight School. The more you engage in the material and the harder you work, generally the higher the grades you will achieve. This is not only useful in terms of the grades you achieve allowing you to progress, but think about all of the knowledge that you have learned along the way! Particularly scientific and mathematical skills will be useful for you to build upon, but having a wide range of knowledge will be very useful to you.
If you are having doubts about your abilities at GCSE, there are lots of resources and techniques out there which you can use to revise. One example of a useful article which will explain 7 ways to revise effectively can be found here, and I would recommend that you have a read to help develop your effective revision techniques.
2. What A-Levels Do You Need to Become a Pilot?
To become a Pilot, you will need 2 – 3 A-Levels at pass grades (C) and above. Some University courses will require you to have A-Levels in Maths and Physics, and so these are good A-Levels to choose to study at Sixth Form. You may also want to consider taking A-Level Geography, Chemistry, and a Modern Foreign Language (such as Spanish, French or German) – although these are not essential, they could give you some useful skills which you can apply to a career as a Pilot.
Required A-Level: Maths
A-Level Maths is a requirement for some University courses which will enable you to become a Pilot. However, Maths is not only useful in terms of getting on to a degree course – it can also be applied to a career as a Pilot.
Maths is useful in a career as a Pilot because of the problem-solving nature of it, as well as the need to be able to use basic mathematical principles to work out a variety of different information.
You may need maths to work out how much the plane weighs, how much fuel is needed for the journey, and when the plane should start the landing process. You could have a read of this short article about one pilot’s experience of Maths in her job.
The ability to do maths is also something which is essential for a degree in Aviation or Air Transport, as you will need to be able to use and apply equations throughout your degree and career. If you want to find out more about how hard A-Level Maths is, take a look at this useful article, which compares it to GSCE in terms of content. You can use this to prepare you for the course, but remember that you do often need this subject to progress into a career as a Pilot.
Required A-Level: Physics
A-Level Physics is another essential subject for those who want to become Pilots. There are a number of areas which you can apply to Physics to in a career as a Pilot, and so it is important that you understand the basic principles of Physics.
If you would like to consider the ways that Physics is related to being a Pilot, you could start by thinking about these ideas:
- Meteorology: Pressure, weather, and temperature.
- The Principles of Flight: Forces acting on the aircraft and how it flies
It is also important to consider that you can’t be totally reliant on technology to calculate and understand these concepts. There are sometimes mistakes made by technology, and it is important that these are avoided because of the nature of the career, and the danger that mistakes could cause.
A conceptual knowledge of Physics is required, and it is important that you can apply concepts to your flights, and you will need to be able to understand the theoretical side in order to get to a point where it is safe for you to fly an aircraft.
If you would like to find out more about how hard Physics is to study at A-Level, you can read this helpful article, which could give you some more insight into what you may be studying and how tricky it is. This is something that can be useful in preparing you for the A-Level course. Though remember that even if it is hard, it is necessary for a career as a Pilot.
Helpful A-Level: Modern Foreign Language (MFL)
Having an A-Level in a second language is not essential for Pilots, but it is an A-Level course that I would recommend that you seriously consider if you would like to have a career as a Pilot.
A-Levels in Modern Foreign Languages (such as French, Spanish or German) are incredibly useful in any career. However, it goes without saying that in a career where you will be travelling all over the world, a second language is invaluable.
Not only will an A-Level in a MFL enable you to improve your communication skills (and communication is essential for Pilots!), but it will also make learning more than one language a lot easier. If you are travelling to a wide range of different places, being able to pick up the basics of a number of different languages will be incredibly useful.
A language A-Level will also give you some insight into the culture of a different country, and this could be useful when you are travelling around the world. An experience of a different language could enable you to make deeper connections with people who you meet while working, which will no doubt make your working life a lot more enjoyable!
Helpful A-Level: Geography
Geography may feel like an obvious choice for this list, but it is not actually a required A-Level which Universities demand. Regardless, if you have an interest in Geography, this could be a great choice for the 3rd subject which you will study at Sixth Form (the first 2 being Maths and Physics).
Geography is useful for a number of reasons. Primarily, it is useful because of the need for Pilots to be able to read maps. This is a skill which is developed in A-Level Geography, and will come in useful for prospective Pilots.
Additionally, A-Level Geography gives you a good overview of the world, and locations of different places. As a Pilot, it is essential that you have some prior knowledge of this, and it can be used in route planning too. You can’t always just rely on your GPS! It is also important to know what kind of terrain you are flying over, so that it can be accounted for (for example when you are identifying the lowest altitude which you can fly at).
A knowledge of Geography could also make your career as a Pilot more interesting – if you know the landscapes which you are flying over, as well as their formation and structures, and importance, your flying experience could be a lot more interesting in terms of observation. It is interesting to know how the landscapes all over the world have formed and how they are changing now.
You can find out a bit more about A-Level Geography in this useful article, which ranks the easiest A-Levels. It may allow you to make a more informed decision about the course. However, remember that just because it is ranked on this list, it doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t have to revise and work still!
Helpful A-Level: Chemistry
Chemistry as a subject is not so specifically related to becoming a Pilot, but a knowledge of it could be useful in a career in other areas related to Pilots, such as Air Traffic Control. This is because often, meteorology is related to both Chemistry and Physics.
However, despite the lack of a direct link between being a Pilot and doing Chemistry A-Level, Chemistry is still a good choice for those looking to become Pilots. A scientific background will be useful, and Chemistry may also aid you Physics abilities.
You can also find many Chemistry-related aspects of flying. Pilots have to measure and deal with weather while flying, and this is important for safety on board the plane. They could also use some knowledge of the aircraft that they are flying, and this can be gained from a knowledge of Chemistry, and the principles of certain materials.
If you would like to find out more about how difficult A-Level Chemistry is before you decide to study it for another 2 years, you may want to look at this useful article, which compares its difficulty with GCSE Chemistry.
What A-Level Grades Do You Need to Pursue a Flying Career?
In terms of the minimum grades required at A-Level to become a Pilot, you will only technically need between 2-3 A-Level qualifications in order to be considered for a place on a course. These should be at pass grades (C) and above.
However, you should keep in mind that you want to be in the best position moving forward into your career as a Pilot, and therefore getting the best A-Levels you can is important.
Additionally, as with entry requirements for most University courses, the actual A-Level grades needed to get you on to the course which you would like to be on can vary hugely depending on the University. This is why it is important to know what grades you need to get on to the courses at University which are of interest to you.
You can start your research as early as you like, and it is something which will be helpful to give you a sense of what you are aiming for in your A-Level subjects. If the entry requirements for Universities are provided on University websites as UCAS Points, you can use this UCAS Point Calculator to find out how many points you have. You could also take a look at this helpful article about how to earn UCAS Points if you want to top up your UCAS Point score.
The most important thing that you should remember is that the higher the grades you earn at A-Level, the wider your University options are, and therefore the more straightforward your journey to becoming a Pilot is. Don’t aim to only achieve the minimum grades – strive to achieve your absolute best!
3. What Degree Do You Need to Become a Pilot?
If you want to become a Pilot, a degree is surprisingly not actually a necessity. This section of the article will go into the different routes that you may be able to take to become a Pilot after you have done your A-Levels. Your options are as follows: you can become a Pilot by doing a degree in a variation of different subjects, or you can apply directly to airline training programmes.
What University Degree Do You Need to Acquire to Become a Pilot?
Although a university degree is not necessary for prospective pilots, you may find that if you have a degree in a related field, you are more desirable to airlines. There are a number of different degrees that you could do if this is the pathway that you would like to follow.
You could do a degree in Air Transport or Aviation. These seem like the obvious choices, as they are very related to being a Pilot, but there are other subjects that may be useful in your career which are slightly more general, and keep your career options open.
One example of a different subject that you could do is Computer Science. Although this would not be directly used in your day-to-day career, a firm understanding of how technology works could make it easier for you to understand the computer systems that are used to keep planes in the air! This is just one example, and if you would like to find out more about degrees which are related to becoming a Pilot, you should take a look at this useful article.
One of the benefits of doing a degree is that you usually cannot get a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) or an Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) until you are 21 years old. A degree is a valuable, productive way to spend the time between leaving sixth form and becoming a Pilot.
Can You Become a Pilot Without a Degree?
Alternatively, if you don’t want to do a degree, there are other options which are available to you. Some airlines offer training courses which you can do without having a separate degree. Some examples can be found listed below:
- British Airways
- Virgin Atlantic (more information about a specific Virgin course can be found linked here).
Unfortunately, training as a Pilot can be very costly, as you will see when you start doing your research. Currently, in the UK, there are unfortunately no airlines who will completely fund your training, and so you have to find the money yourself (though some airlines may act as a guarantor if you take out a loan).
Often, the only thing that you may be able to secure funding from airlines for is your type rating qualification, which is further training that allows you to fly the specific type of aircraft that the airline you are training with uses. You should check with any potential airlines whether or not they cover this cost, so that you don’t have any further surprise expenses!
4. What Other Qualifications Do You Need to Complete to Become a Pilot?
There are many different things that you must have in order to become a Pilot. You must have undergone a detailed background check, have a Class 1 Medical Certificate, and hold a valid Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL).
Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL)
This is a qualification which you can earn after you hold your Commercial Pilot License (which allows you to work as a Pilot in Command), after you have done the required number of hours of flying, as well as completed a theory exam. The minimum age at which you can get this qualification is 21. An ATPL is the highest type of qualification that you can get as a Pilot.
Class 1 Medical Certificate
A Class 1 Medical Certificate is a requirement for getting an Airline Transport Pilot License. It is the most detailed medical certificate that you can get, and includes testing of the eyes, ears, lungs, heart, and blood (for haemoglobin etc).
All of these tests are required to ensure that you have the physical capacity to work safely as an airline Pilot, and you will not be able to work without one! You can find more information about the Class 1 Medical Certificate here.
5. What On-Going Training Are Pilots Required to Complete?
If you would like to be a Pilot, you will receive constant ongoing training to ensure that you and all of the passengers on your flights are in safe hands. Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is incredibly important for Pilots. This section will give you some more insight into the training that a Pilot has to do all the way through their career.
Continuing Professional Development (CPD)
Pilots have constant communication with their airlines so that they are able to receive current, up to date information about any important changes that have been made.
Additionally, airlines have to provide training when it is required, so that Pilots can continue to do their jobs to a high, safe standard. This means that training is not something that you have to find for yourself.
Finally, you will also be required to have a test in a simulator roughly every 6 months, to ensure that you are able to do your job in a safe manner.
If you would like to find out more about being a Pilot, and what the career is like, you could take a look at this useful article, which describes one person’s journey to becoming a Pilot.