Airline Pilot Careers

How to become an airline pilot

So what does an airline pilot do?

Airline pilots fly people to destinations all around the world for commercial, business and leisure purposes. It is an exciting job, with lots of travel, but it is also very demanding.

A typical 'shift' for a pilot begins at least an hour before take-off. Prior to the flight, the pilot will check details of the route, flying altitude and weather; calculate the amount of fuel needed, and check all the instruments are working properly; brief the cabin crew and contact air traffic control for instructions to take off.

Throughout the flight, the pilot will:

  • check data on the plane’s instruments and make adjustments

  • respond to instructions from air traffic control

  • maintain contact with the cabin crew

  • make announcements to the passengers

  • bring the plane in to land with the help of air traffic control

  • write a report, including any problems experienced.

On short-haul flights, there is usually a pilot and a co-pilot. On long- haul flights, there may be up to two pilots and two co- pilots; they also work with cabin crew.


What's the working environment like working as an airline pilot?

Flying planes is a serious business and pilots have a huge responsiblity for their passengers safety. Airline pilots' working hours are strictly controlled for safety reasons. Hours will include nights, weekends and public holidays.

Pilots spend long hours sitting in flight decks, which are usually very confined spaces.

The amount of time away from home varies. On domestic routes, pilots could make four flights without leaving the aircraft but return home every evening. Longer flights can entail overnight or longer stays in other countries.

Flights may cross several time zones, so jetlag can be a problem. Working in a pressurised plane can sometimes cause health problems. Bad weather can also make flying conditions sometimes stressful and uncomfortable.

What does it take to become an airline pilot?

To be a pilot, you should:

  • be calm and able to take charge in a crisis - you could have to deal with emergencies

  • be able to give clear, confident instructions to crew members and passengers

  • be a good team worker

  • be confident using technology

  • have good hand-to-eye co- ordination

  • be able to interpret maps and 3D displays

  • have good written and spoken communication skills

  • be able to follow spoken instructions from air traffic control.


Watch our video

Jade and Oscar discuss what education is needed to become a pilot...

Further information

If you would like to know anything about being an airline pilot that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA)
81 New Road

Royal Aeronautical Society (RAS)
4 Hamilton Place
Tel: 020 7670 4300

Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
Personnel Licensing
Aviation House
Gatwick Airport South
West Sussex

Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators (GAPAN)
Cobham House
9 Warwick Court
Gray's Inn

Concorde House
Trinity Park
B37 7UQ
Tel: 0121 635 5520

Information on becoming a pilot in the Armed Forces can be obtained from Armed Forces Careers Offices or on

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