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Old 16th Sep 2007, 12:13   #1 (permalink)
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Join Date: Sep 2007
Location: UK
Posts: 28
Overview of obtaining a Commercial Pilot Licence (UK)

A lengthy, but hopefully almost complete overview of what it takes to obtain a commercial pilot licence in the UK, with an emphasis on the financial aspect.

A few points before I start:

This aim of this guide is not to deal with the merits of a particular training route over another. The intention is that this can be used as a guide for estimating training costs, hopefully without leaving out any expensive but necessary steps or relying on someone else's conjured up figures!

So... it only takes a few minutes on Google to see that there are plenty of helicopter training schools all around the world who are only too eager to take your hard-earned cash in return for your ticket to untold wealth and fame as a commercial helicopter pilot. But beneath all the marketing and fancy three letter acronyms, what do you actually need to do?

Well, in general terms, if you wish to fly as a professional pilot in the UK or most of Europe you will need a licence issued by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). This is like the European club. In the UK, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issues a JAA licence in accordance with the Joint Aviation Regulations on Flight Crew Licensing (JAR-FCL).

Confused yet? You will be!

Outside of Europe (or more specifically, outside of the JAA) most countries are members of a bigger club called the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). The JAA licence is actually an ICAO licence, as is the American licence (FAA), the Australian (CASA), the South African (CAA) and so on.

However, unlike a JAA licence, there is not necessarily any automatic recognition of ICAO licences between contracting states. Quite simply, you can not get (for example) an American FAA licence and then fly as a professional pilot in Europe without first undergoing a rather lengthy conversion process.

What follows below is based on a pilot starting from scratch with the eventual aim of flying as a professional pilot in the UK.

You will need one of these fairly early on in your flying training, so most people opt for the one they will ultimately need as a professional pilot - the Class 1 medical. The initial issue of this certificate has to be done by the CAA at Gatwick, although subsequent revalidations can be done elsewhere.

  • Medical examination fee

Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
You will need one as a pre-requisite to starting your commercial pilot training. It does not have to be a JAA PPL, it can be a PPL issued by almost any country in the world provided they are an ICAO signatory. The particular requirements will vary depending on the authority.

In the UK, you need to budget for the following:
  • A minimum of 45 hours flying training
  • Fees for 7 multiple choice examinations, plus books and any tuition required
  • Equipment such as a kneeboard and stopwatch, aviation charts and pens, and a flight computer (note: for your later written exams you will require a particular flight computer made by Pooleys called the CRP-5. Unless you intend to build up a nice collection of different flight computers, this is the sensible buy despite it's price tag!)
  • Training for a radio licence
  • Examiner fees and aircraft rental for your flying skills test
  • CAA licence issue fees

Professional Pilot Theory Exams
These can be taken at either Commercial Pilot Licence level (CPL exams) or Airline Transport Pilot Licence level (ATPL exams).

There are nine CPL exams, and currently thirteen ATPL exams.

Although both sets of exams are suitable for the issue of a commercial pilot licence, the ATPL exams additionally cover the theory requirements of an Instrument Rating (IR) and the eventual grant of an ATPL (which allows you to be a commander of a multi-pilot helicopter), whilst the CPL exams do not.

Whichever set you choose to undertake, you must do so through an approved course provider on either a full-time taught basis or through home study.

  • Course Fees
  • CAA exam fees

Hour Building
(sensible time to do your theory exams)
There is a gap between completing your PPL and being able to start your flying training for the commercial pilot licence. This is often referred to as the hour building stage and how much this will cost will depend on a number of factors:
  • How many hours you have upon finishing the PPL
  • Where you fly - fancy a change of scenery?
  • What you fly - want to try a few different helicopter types whilst burning holes in the sky?
  • Whether you take additional training
However you go about it, you must ultimately end up with a minimum of 155 flying hours to progress to the next stage, along with passes in all the theory exams.

Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL)
Often you will find these courses being offered at a fixed price to cover the minimum amount of training required, with any additional training at extra cost. The minimum training is 30 flying hours plus test.

  • Course Fees, plus any additional training required
  • 5 hours night flying if not done during the hour building stage
  • Examiner fees and aircraft rental for your flying skills test
  • CAA fees for the issue of your licence, plus any additional helicopter types you have trained on
(Part 1 of 3)
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Old 17th Sep 2007, 07:59   #2 (permalink)
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Training Overseas
Even if your eventual goal is a licence that will allow you to fly in Europe, you do not necessarily have to do your training in Europe. As previously mentioned, you may wish to do your PPL overseas and/or some of your hour building.

There is even the option of doing all of your JAA training outside Europe from start to finish. However, this is only offered by Bristow Academy in Florida (formerly Helicopter Adventures Inc)

If you complete a CPL abroad other than through Bristow Academy, you can undergo a conversion process to have a JAA licence issued on the basis of your ICAO licence:

  • Class 1 Medical at Gatwick at a reduced rate
  • Theory exams as outlined above
  • CPL flying course and test as above, although it will be training as required rather than 30 hours
Note: You must have completed all the training that you would have done had you undertook JAA training. For example, you must have a minimum of 185 hours when you apply for your licence even if you could potentially get your ICAO licence and conversion training completed in less hours.
Integrated Course
What has been outlined above describes the modular route of training. There is another method called the integrated course which is offered by a limited number of training providers (Cabair and Bristow Academy).

Other Considerations
  • When getting prices watch out for any hidden charges such as landing fees and additional charges for pre- and post- flight briefings, or compulsory flying club membership
  • You will also need to budget for any lost earning whilst training, plus all your usual day-to-day living expenses along with any extraordinary expenses such as accommodation during your written exams and so on
  • Have a chat with your accountant to investigate any money saving options that may be available to you, such as reclaiming VAT
  • All the above is based on minimum requirements. If you like your books or want all the fancy pilot paraphernalia that is obviously going to cost more. You may also elect to undertake training in more expensive helicopters or in different locations for the experience or because you feel it will have a beneficial effect on your flying or employment prospects. Remember to feature those costs in
  • Don't underestimate the emotional strain it can have both on yourself and those around you!

What Next?
So you have a CPL. What about job prospects? Well, not particularly rosy yet. You will almost certainly need to complete additional training in order to make a living out of flying in the UK. The two options are:
  1. Instructor Rating. This will allow you to gain a foothold on the onshore industry. You must once again hour build, this time to 250 hours. Following successful completion of a pre-course assessment for suitability, you will undertake a 30 hour course followed by an examination. Like the CPL flying course, many schools offer this at a fixed price for the minimum training required. Scholarships are available through GAPAN
  2. Instrument Rating. This is the route to offshore flying in the multi-pilot environment, but comes with a hefty price tag. From time to time offshore companies will pay for this training in return for a commitment of service or gradual repayment over time.

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Old 17th Sep 2007, 08:25   #3 (permalink)
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Location: UK
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Costing Example

What it is based on
  • Figures from a flying school and groundschool provider both of whom happened to have their prices on their website
  • All training done in the UK
  • Minimum hours on everything
  • Cheapest helicopter
  • No optional additional training
  • ATPL theory exams

What it does not include
  • Normal day-to-day expenses
  • Any additional expenditure such as accommodation during training, medical revalidations, chart replacements and so on

Why it is unrealistic
  • It would be unusual to do every bit of training in minimum hours, and even more so to budget on doing that!
  • Most people would want to experiment with different helicopters or schools, or take additional training at some point

Why your training costs will not necessarily be the same

I could do ten more of these and come up with totally different prices
  • You might buy different PPL theory books
  • You might choose a different school, or negotiate a better price
  • You might want to do CPL exams rather than ATPL exams
  • You might want to fly a different helicopter
  • You might go abroad for part of your training
  • You will have other expenses unique to your own situation to factor in
  • I might have missed something out

This is not a price target, and I am not suggesting that this is the best way to do your training. It was merely a snapshop after 10 minutes on the internet.

-- 310.00 -- Initial Class 1 Medical

11,473.88 -- 45 hours training (prepaid discount)
---205.63 -- 7 x Written Exams
---123.00 -- Books for written exams
---146.88 -- Training for the Radio licence
- - 33.48 -- 2 x charts + pens
- - 18.80 -- Kneeboard
- - 73.50 -- CRP-5
- - 290.81 -- 1.5 hour aircraft rental for test
- -199.75 -- Examiner Fee
-- 164.00 -- CAA Licence Issue Fee

2,100.00 ---ATPL Distance Learning Groundschool
- 806.00 ---13 x CAA theory exam fees

Hour Building
18,849.94---103.5 hours of Self Fly Hire

9,781.88 -- 35 hour CPL course including night
--290.81 -- 1.5 hour aircraft rental for test
--712.00 -- Examiner Fee
--216.00 -- CAA Licence Issue Fee

Total Cost 45,796.36 inc VAT where appropriate

Remember the ultimate responsibility for ensuring you have sufficiently budgeted for your training lies with yourself, not with a post on the internet!
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Old 18th Sep 2007, 04:50   #4 (permalink)
Join Date: May 2006
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Posts: 18
Excellent post. Your going to save me a lot of hassle trying to explain to people the diferrent ways in which one can obtain different licences

As you have said this is just one way in which you can obtain all your licences (up as far as ATPL (H)).
I am currently doing a JAA combined course in Florida, having already obtained my FAA PPL on a previous trip to Florida it is enabling me to log all my hours as P.I.C. I am also doing my FAA IR ontop of the JAA combined course, which will mean, when i return home to Europe, the hours which are required to complete the JAA IR are cut in half! The combined course here gives me the theoretical knowledge for the JAA IR exam so i will reciveve credits for the exam when I return home.

Cost: JAA combined course, FAA IR, and CFI = $62,000 (not including any exam/examiner fees)

Time: JAA combined 1year, IR 1month, CFI 2months (all approx)

Cost:FAA IR= $13,500

Time: can vary greatly pending on school, I had my licence within 6weeks, some schools can take 3months+

This is just another one of many different ways in which one can obtain a licence.Hope it has been of some benefit
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Old 18th Sep 2007, 08:19   #5 (permalink)
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Longtime Lurker - fantastic post, very helpful.

Thanks very much indeed!

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Old 18th Sep 2007, 09:50   #6 (permalink)
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longtime lurker

An excellent overview which I'm sure aspiring professional pilots will find extremely helpful.

I'll add it to our list of reference threads for wannabees.

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Old 18th Sep 2007, 13:29   #7 (permalink)
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Excellent post - something this organised and thoughtful will be of great help to people starting out.

Just one minor point, the 2007 LASORs G3.3 states that an ATPL(H) needs to take 14 written exams, not 13. The only reason I add this is because it caused a heated discussion with a potential customer, who was adamant it was 13 as this was how many exams he had taken, however less than a minute thumbing the pages made an unhappy man.
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Old 18th Sep 2007, 15:11   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks for the positive feedback everybody.

Highfinal You are absolutely correct that Section G 3.3 indicates that there are 14 written exams.

However, if you flick to the section on JAR-FCL Theoretical Knowledge Examination Requirements, Section J 1.2 it reads (I've added the numbers and the emphasis):

*Currently the Helicopter Learning objectives have not been formalised by the JAA, and the Central Question Bank contains insufficient questions both in number and topic distribution in some subjects. Consequently, the CAA has decided not to proceed with the introduction of the JAR-FCL 2 examinations as previously intended. Until such time as the JAR-FCL helicopter examinations are introduced, the CAA have authorised interim arrangements using a combination of equivalent JAR-FCL aeroplane and JAR-FCL helicopter examinations as detailed below:

Instead of sitting the normal range of ATPL(H) as detailed previously, candidates may sit the following combination of JAR-FCL ATPL(H) and ATPL(A) papers. These interim arrangements for helicopter examinations will continue until further notice:-

ATPL(H) Papers
1. Airframes/Systems (subject to an agreement with the CAA), FTOs may substitute the ATPL(A) paper for this subject.
2. Principles of Flight (H)

ATPL(A) Papers
3. Air Law
4. Instruments/electronics
5. Mass and Balance
6. Flight Planning and Monitoring
7. Human Performance & Limitations
8. Meteorology
9. General Navigation
10. Radio Navigation
11. Operational Procedures
12. VFR Communications
13. IFR Communications

Candidates taking the exams under the interim arrangements should check their booking confirmation for exam start and finish times as they may differ from above.
(It is Performance that is missing)

I hope that clears up any confusion
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Old 20th Sep 2007, 16:43   #9 (permalink)
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Southport, uk
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Great post Longtime!
I would just like to add, (IMHO) that for those who are taking it one step at a time (like me) just to get over the first hurdle of PPLH it's worth budgeting for more hours than the minimum 45.
I'm aiming to get mine in around 65 hours, (part time, whilst working full time, over a 12 month period) and then reviewing my finances!!!!
I am led to believe averages vary between 55-65 hours.
If you decide you can't go further than this at least you can have the pleasure of enjoying one of the best hobbies in the universe!
I'm presuming your cost's have been estimated on flying the R22.
Granted if you do it all in one go you will probably take less time...
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Old 14th Nov 2007, 01:03   #10 (permalink)
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ATPL-H starting with PPL-A??

Excellent up-to-date and clear thread. A question- if you start your ATPL theory exams with a PPL-A can you do a PPL-H at ANY time within the normal 18 month window allowed for all exams and do the Principles of Flight(Helicopters) and get Theory for both ATPL-A and H OR do you have to have the PPL-H before you start or are there any other time or other restrictions at doing this??
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Old 25th Mar 2014, 13:22   #11 (permalink)
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Where did u get those prices from???
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Old 26th Mar 2014, 10:41   #12 (permalink)
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I would add a little more to the prices.....and some change of regulation.....you've asked a question on a thread that is 7 years out of date.
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Old 26th Mar 2014, 11:17   #13 (permalink)

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And the CPL(H) now has 13 exams

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