View Full Version : Airline Pilot 'Apprenticeship'

30th Dec 2002, 10:29
Much has been said here and elsewhere about wannabes with new frozen ATPLs who aim straight for a jet job, but should be working some sort of apprenticeship through instructing, night freight, passenger turboprops before a jet job.

This has ranged from polite advice from Danny, Scroggs et al. that wannabes who miss out on this are missing out on an important and fun part of their career development, to some posters who imply that 250 hour wannabes are being arrogant to aim at a jet job and are somehow not worthy of this.

Contraction of the flight training industry

The UK PPL training industry seems to be suffering due the general economic downturn and the more onerous and costly JAR licensing requirements. I also have a theory that the PPL training market has been to a large extent supported by the IT boom, which is now well and truly over and shows no sign of returning. Currently the airlines are not hiring, causing the turnover in instructors to be much reduced. All in all this means that there are fewer opportunites here for newly-minted fATPLs getting an instructor rating and gaining experience by instructing.

Less airlines operating turboprops

Many regionals are moving to all regional jet fleets. Some turboprop operators have gone bust (Brit World, Gill), others are effectively closed to UK pilots (KLMuk). Some of the regionals' traffic has gone to the 737-operating low cost airlines. All this means that there are less opportunities for turboprop flying.

My question is, is the 'apprenticeship' becoming less relevant these days due to fewer opportunities in these career steps? Is this just due to cyclical factors, or is there a deeper change happening in the industry?


30th Dec 2002, 11:52

From another wannabe’s perspective, it would appear that many feel an ‘apprenticeship’ is less relevant, especially to the low hour pilot who is desperate to get the RHS of a 737 or similar.

In my own opinion and it is only that, there are a great number of people within this forum who feel that without any other prior experience, other than their training, they can expect to walk into a job with the likes of EZY, BA, Buzz et al flying a shiny jet. I’m not saying it’s impossible nor do I mean to be arrogant in my comment, it’s my view.

From listening to the various moderators within Pprune and at their seminars, experience is key to obtaining the ‘dream job’ (or maybe it’s just luck) and this is certainly reiterated in job advertisements in the likes of Flight International and various threads within this forum.

I work within the construction industry where experience is key and without it your name and worth are little. Although I have not completed an ‘apprenticeship’ as such, there is a learning curve like with any career when starting out and time when the necessary basic and underpinning knowledge must be obtained beyond training. I feel the same applies for pilots.

The points I feel that Danny, Scroggs and others are making, is that by chasing that ‘dream job’ and blatantly ignoring others, of which there are many, you will be missing out on some excellent experience and good times that are more likely to make you a more attractive employee on paper than a.n.other who has only just been issued their license.

Ultimately, I feel that every wannabe will have their own agenda and this will spread across the whole spectrum of possible flying jobs.

In direct answer to your question, Is the 'apprenticeship' becoming less relevant these days due to fewer opportunities in these career steps? My answer would be no. I would say that it’s crucial.

Any others………..


oh, have I opened a can 'o' worms......

30th Dec 2002, 12:03
I think that the 'apprenticeship' is still very relevant, it's just that so few new pilots want to undertake it having left their FTOs with visions of walking into a 737 the following Monday. Some do, and good luck to them.

I'm still waiting for my first airline job and fully expect to work my way up to a jet, learning my trade as i go.

I think that's what we might be in danger of missing out on as we aim too high to start with. Having said that, if I was offered a jet job, would I say "No thanks, I've got turboprop time to do"? No, of course not, who would!

So the next question is what kind of 'apprenticeship' should we do?
Should it be CPL/IR, then instruct? Or para drop/glider tow then on to air taxi or straight to turbo prop? And what time scale for all of these?

30th Dec 2002, 12:13
With the demise of turboprop fleets an added barrier to serving an "apprenticeship" in the UK, it is certainly the lack of air-taxi, bush flying, tourist flights etc that are available in other countries in the world, that makes it more difficult to gain experience. I do agree with Funkie when he says that SOME wannabees seem to think they have the automatic right to be considered for that RHS when fresh out of college. That is reserved for those fortunate enough to have gained a cadetship or other form of sponsorship, but IMHO I feel they are missing out by not climbing the ladder....... the same ladder that anyone has to climb, in ANY profession, to gain knowledge, seniority and experience. And most fun seems to be had in those early days in whatever career path you choose, even though the security and money come later on in your chosen career path.
It is also during this "apprenticeship" that you gain the respect, trust and confidence of your colleagues. I'm sure training captains must feel a similar way.

And the more competition there is out there, the more the ones who have done anything and everything to gain flying experience will have the competitive edge.

Those that languish in self-pity and sit believing that they have the right to fly RHS in a shiny jet fresh out of training will be the ones that are added to the list of statistics of unemployed fATPL holders.

My apologies for those that have done all the above and are yet to earn that RHS

Private jet
30th Dec 2002, 15:39
just to add my 2p's worth...
An apprenticeship is an important phase of training as it allows the development of experience with minimal risk. However the experience needs to be relevent...500 hours or whatever instructing on light aircraft, glider towing, para dropping etc I would argue bears little relevence to the skills required on the flightdeck of a modern airliner. It must also be remembered that a lot of "new starters" are under the burden of large financial debt these days, and the "traditional" positions, including flying night freight for niche carriers hardly pay enough to basically live on, let alone start loan repayments.
In times past many airlines had the rank of second officer for newly qualified recruits with limited experience. This allowed for the safe accumulation of relevent experience, and earning a reasonable salary to boot. This fell out of fashion with many airlines, but I believe it should now be looked at again.
I started out in aviation as an aircraft engineer, did a three year apprenticeship, and I worked on B747's from day one. Obviously new airline pilots cannot go straight to this, but are those advocating the light aircraft/turboprop route suggesting that I perhaps should have spent my apprenticeship fixing Ceesnas?
This is not a perfect analogy I know, but I just put it in to emphasise a point. I would venture that many advocates of the "slave trade" instructing/night freight route are only so keen to perpetuate it because that is the way they had to do it.
Professional piloting needs a professional, integrated training structure which I believe is sadly lacking at the moment.

G-SPOTs Lost
30th Dec 2002, 23:48
First off......Good Post.


Where are all the TP's going???, there seems to be more 146's parked up around the country than anything else. Just look at the North side of Exeter - Wall to Wall!

I would suggest that its the likes of Eastern, Flykeen, and all the other feeder outfits that will signal the recovery first. Fledgling airlines can't afford the lease repayments on lumpy a/c its as simple as that. The TP's arn't here because the pax numbers aren't there. As soon as the pax come back Im confident that the sky will be full of J31's F50's and ATP's and EMB 110's

Why....because given half decent passenger numbers THEY MAKE MORE MONEY THAN JETS.

Im also confident that when these aircraft do re-emerge there will need to be a period of hiring. Personally the thought of a few years TP flying floats my boat of course I'd rather be flying EZY73's to sunny Spain and I will given the opportunity.

I'm willing to make a bold prediction and say that these kind of operators will look favourably at the self-improver/Instructor type because historically this is the area thay have got there crews from and they know what they are getting regardless of the superior LOFT training you get at Oxford, which unfortunately counts for nothing hauling newspapers and pools coupons from Belfast to Liverpool - At night - with a dodgy Radar - in Crap w/x - with no autopilot - in a thirty year old ex south american HS748 !

I may be wrong and probably am, but Ive said before on the forums if you all want to fly is 737's for Ezy or Ryanair and you have just qualified then right now must be a very frustrating time.

Learn your craft, even if its just a matter of personal pride to say that you can do it.

Just for the record Im PRO apprenticeship......

Pilot Pete
31st Dec 2002, 00:31
I'm not pro or anti any route to flying jets. What I try to do on here is show newer CPL/ATPL holders who are looking to break into this incredibly competitive market a realistic view of how it really is.

I would however disagree with Private jet who wrote;
However the experience needs to be relevent...500 hours or whatever instructing on light aircraft, glider towing, para dropping etc I would argue bears little relevence to the skills required on the flightdeck of a modern airliner.

I see where you are coming from in that it is not a complex modern twinjet or bigger, but it's not the a/c type which dictates the relevance, it's the exposure to problems and decision making process which is entirely relevent. With 150-200hrs TT and a frozen ATPL it's quite likely that you have never experienced a real problem where you have had to confront the issue and make judgements on courses of action open to you. With 1000hrs, even if it's only in single engined machines, you have probably had to make decisions whilst airborne that got you thinking (and the sphincter palputating!)

I'll say again what I have posted before on this type of topic and that is the quality of your hours is important too. If you have 1000hrs, 800 twin and 700 of those are real IFR take it from me, you will be better off in the twin jet sim for your assessment, purely because you will have more capacity to spend on getting to grips with the machine, whereas the 1000hr VFR single pilot will be spending an awful lot of time trying to remember his instrument flying skillls on top of handling. When I did my 75 type rating course at CTC alongside the ATP cadets the difference was very noticeable. I had more experience than them and found the transition easier (that's no disrespect to them, it's just they didn't start on a level playing field compared to me). We both passed the course which is after all what counts, but my partner struggled in places which was purely down to the workload and his capacity.

Second Officer positions would be great, but only longhaul could possibly have a use for them and it all comes down to money, money, money. Just about every operator is looking at reducing costs during this downturn so don't hold your breath.

A professional integrated training program for pilots again comes down to money. The trend has been set that airlines can find people with suitable experience levels which they have not had to pay for and so will continue to recruit these people. If the market justifies sponsorships (and cost) then airlines will do this. Sponsored schemes provide this integrated training, if it is to be advocated for all pilots in training who will pick up the tab?

As far as the original question goes, no, an apprenticeship is no less relevant now, probably more relevant in the current climate. Where to get it? The usual places. Yes, you're right, these places are contracting and there is more competition for each opportunity. That's all part of a downturn. There is no magic solution, all I would say is be flexible. Be very flexible. I have a friend who's gone all the way to Africa for his first job (networked his way out there) and will get a job back in Blighty based on his now considerable experience, he's certainly got himself higher in the cv pile with his twin turbo-prop time. So, consider all options and get yourself in the best position for when it all picks up, which it will eventually.

Good luck


Wee Weasley Welshman
31st Dec 2002, 00:53
Hours is hours at the end of the day. Doing something silly in a C152 and getting away with it vowing never to get in that position again is very much the same experience as in a B737 - and I've done both.

There is always a hierarchy of merit in hours. However, grab whatever ones you can how you can where you can for whatever money and hassle you have to accept.

A good portion of luck is also an important factor, as every airline pilots career story will attest.

Good luck,


1st Jan 2003, 17:04
Pilot Pete and WWW are both right: there is still much to be said for the traditional 'apprenticeship' route to an airliner flight deck, and I would always rather fly with a pilot who's done his time on twins and TPs, or in the military, than one who's only experience is his CPL course then a modern jet.

However, we all have to accept that the industry is changing. Not that long ago, air travel was rare and expensive. The airliner pilot was the pinnacle of the industry, was held in very high esteem and was paid accordingly. Now, the traveller wants air travel to be as ubiquitous and cheap as bus travel - and he will get that. To achieve this, all operators have had to cut margins, increase frequencies and drop many of the extras that made air travel special - and expensive.

The upside, from a wannabe's point of view, is that there are many, many more airliner flight decks to fill now than there were 20 years ago. This expansion has largely killed off the little turbo-prop operators who were so important in that apprenticship ladder. It's also destroyed forever the illusion of the pilot as some kind of special being, who deserved a vast salary in recognition of the risks he was exposed to, and the responsibility he held. The inevitable result of this is that more pilots will be employed straight from training, and that they will be paid less than those that went before them.

There is, however, still the requirement for that new pilot to gain experience before he can be considered suitable to command an airliner with, say, 170 people on board. Thus we are now seeing contracts for ab-initio pilots which restrict their pay for some years; in other words, the airline is aying that they are not yet fully useful pilots for the period of reduced pay. That period is spookily similar to the length of time the old self-improver would have spent working his way up. Swings and roundabouts!

So, there are fewer opportunities to gain that experience before getting an airline seat, but there is more opportunity for getting one soon after training in exchange for an extended probation. That's just the way it is, and neither you nor I can change it.

Virgin/Wannabes Moderator
[email protected]<hidden>

Mister Geezer
2nd Jan 2003, 01:49
There is a lot of fun and especially experience that you can get from instructing, air taxi or flying a turboprop. Those are (in my view) the 3 best areas in commercial aviation! If the money in PPL instructing was on a par with airline salaries then you would see quite a few airline guys swap their jet for a piston! I have had quite a few guys tell me that which is quite interesting! Flying a Boeing or an Airbus can be very rewarding but I feel that a lot of the fun and mystery has been removed when compared to a 707 or a Bac 1-11 (for example), which do not have EFIS or an FMC. As one heavy Boeing driver who I know, once said to me 'Even a trained monkey can follow a flight director!'. Non-precision approaches into remote airfields and thinking on your feet while in the middle of nowhere are all part and parcel of Air Taxi ops. Many people who flew Air Taxi aircraft feel that it was a good grounding for their command later on in their career, on larger aircraft. A medical emergency on a jet into an airfield that you have never been to before, which has very little support (handling, ops etc) will be an experience that the average former Air Taxi pilot will be able to relate to and deal with, without even thinking about it. That avenue of flying is sadly locked unless you have more then 700 hrs TT due to JAR OPS. Personally if I was offered a job on a turboprop, then I would ideally like to stay and move into the left seat. Ask me a few years ago and I would have merely seen a turboprop as a 'stepping stone'!

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