Theory tests, courses, technical exams, medical examinations – the long process of becoming an executive pilot is full of challenges and doesn’t necessarily depend on one’s own ability to pilot an aircraft. In the below article I will present some of the key competencies necessary to becoming a real-life aviator, including your personal qualifications and mental discipline.
Before trying to venture in to this exciting career, I strongly recommend asking yourself the following questions:
- Is flying really one of the most pleasant activities I have experienced?
- Am I willing to sacrifice my time and money to get there?
- Can I sacrifice the time with my family and spend long periods of time away from home?
- Am I a people person?
Becoming a talented pilot is a derivative of several factors, including your personality, work dedication, and overall aircraft piloting knowledge. Socializing with the passengers and the crew (which with time becomes your second family) becomes a daily factor and hence, being a social person might be indispensable to your long-term success in the sector. Furthermore, you better have self-discipline in studying, since aviation requires you to always be up-to-date with the latest knowledge about your profession and technology. In other words, to be a pilot means to exercise a variety of functions simultaneously, from the controlling of an aircraft, to accompanying your co-pilot, to communicating with the passengers – and this means that your physical and psychological strengths have to remain in a proper balance.
Now let’s move towards the practical steps. The starting point to becoming a Private Pilot is to enroll in a well-rated pilot academy course. In my opinion, in the series of 4 necessary basic qualifications you need to acquire to fly an air taxi-certified vehicle, choosing the right school is the most important part. At the academy, you have a choice to enroll in the theory course for either an airplane pilot license (known as PPL(A)) or a helicopter pilot licence (PPL(H). During the course you will learn the basics of navigation, communication, and piloting the aircraft under the Visual Flight Rules (VFR), i.e. a set of weather conditions which allow the pilot to use the natural horizon as the reference. You will also learn about aviation regulation, meteorology, and medical standards.
Depending on the country, and once registered for the theory course, you will be allowed to request a code from your local civil aviation agency. This step is generally followed by the medical test, so as to obtain a second class medical certificate. Such an evaluation is necessary to early test your mental and physical ability to safely pilot an aircraft.
With the medical certificate in place (and theory course completed), you will now be allowed to take the civil aviation agency’s official exam. In my native country Brazil, for example, such a test is subdivided into 4 blocks: meteorology, regulations, navigation, and technical knowledge. Now, once approved, you can finally begin the practical course. Excited? I am!
Practical Flight Training
The Private Pilot practical course lasts approximately 45 hours and is divided into pre-solo flights, solo flights, practical knowledge, navigation, and night flying. The costs of the course (and of each flight hour) will vary in accordance with the selected airplane, the reputation of the school, the location, or even the price of fuel at a given period.
Once you complete the practical training, the instructor will evaluate your performance and, if graded positively, he will schedule a final flight with a designed flight examiner (DFE). That’s the term referring to the professionals in charge of evaluating the pilots’ performance during the flight, which itself varies between 1 to 2 hours. The evaluation will prove your proficiency in maneuvering the aircraft, communicating with the control towers, managing the control panel inside the cabin, managing emergency procedures, and finally – understanding the aircraft.
Your first Success!
Let’s now assume that the examiner has approved your record. This means that your achievement will be now communicated to the relevant local organ. Congratulations – your first pilot qualifications are about to be issued!
You will shortly receive your Private Pilot certification, enabling you to fly a single-engine aircraft, under visual conditions, and without commercial exploitation. You can now also start a theory course for the Commercial Pilot License (CPL), a qualification that will enable you to fly in a charter aircraft, as well as in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC). This means that even if the outside visual reference is not safe, you can use your knowledge and tools to navigate with the aid of instruments on board the airplane.
To apply for the CPL, you will need to pass a new medical exam and obtain a first class medical certificate. Once approved again by the local aviation authority, you are ready to start practical training.
With a duration of approximately 110 hours, the Commercial Pilot’s course constitutes the longest episode of your professional training. At this stage, you will be allowed to fly a considerable amount of time without the instructor’s physical presence (once you already have your Private Pilot’s qualification, of course). Maintain constant focus on the aircraft’s performance and the control panel. After having accrued the required hours under the visual flight regime, the time has come for you to apply your practical knowledge of instrument flying.
Earning a Multi-Engine Rating
While at this stage, it might be recommended to take a separate course regarding the operation of twin-engine aircraft (IR ME or MLTE). At the end of such training, you can earn an extra rating along with the main Commercial Pilot’s certification. Here again, you’ll pass an extra evaluation by an examiner who will rate your proficiency in the instrument flying procedures, navigation, and communication.
Once approved, you’ll finally gain the basic certification allowing you to be contracted as a professional air taxi pilot. However, some of the best companies might also require the following additional qualifications:
- Higher education
- Proficiency in technical English (ICAO 4 or superior)
- Previous flight experience (minimum number of hours already flown)
- Specific certification / experience related to the given aircraft
- Jet training (if you intend to fly jets, not only turbo-props)
Before entering the crowded air taxi job market, remember that there are a number of activities that an aviator like you can pursue to aggregate necessary experience. This refers not just to the command of the aircraft itself, but also communication with other stakeholders. Those are particularly useful for better preparing to work in a multi-pilot mode, in which you accompany a more experienced pilot. A recent pilot-graduate can work as:
- A flight instructor in a school (once passing an additional instructor’s course (INVA, in Brazil)), or;
- A private pilot (working with a private owner, also under two-pilots regimes);
With more experience, you will be better prepared to successfully apply for a job at some of the best air taxi companies out there.
My (subjective) list of the ten best-rated pilot academies in Brazil:
- EJ – Aeronáutica (Jundiaí – SP)
- Aeroclube de São Paulo – ACSP (São Paulo – SP)
- Aeroclube de Pará de Minas (Pará de Minas – MG)
- Velair Aviação (Belo Horizonte – MG)
- Aeroclube de Jundiaí (Jundiaí – SP)
- Aeroclube de Bauru (Bauru – SP)
- Goair (São Paulo – SP)
- EPA – Escola Paranaense de Aviação (Curitiba – PR)
- Aeroclube de Maringá (Maringá – PR)
- Aeroclube de Campinas (Campinas – SP)
- CMA 2a class: ca R$350,00
- Registration fees: ca R$100,00
- Theory course and exam: ca R$1500,00
- ANAC’s PP evaluation: ca R$450,00
- Pilot ground school course: ca R$50,00
- Practical course (around 45 flight hours): ca R$20.000,00
- Examination taxes for emission of the license: R$400,00
Total 1st stage: between R$22.850,00 – R$30.000,00 (around US$ 9.000,00)
- CMA 1st class: ca R$350,00
- Theoretical test PC / IFR: ca R$1800,00
- Civil Authority exam: ca R$450,00
- Theoretical training (Ground School) * *: ca R$50,00
- Practical PC / IFR (more or less 100 flight hours): ca R$45.000,00
- Exam taxes to issue the certification: ca R$400,00
Total 2nd stage: R$48.050,00 up to R$55.000,00 (around US$ 14.000,00)
- Theoretical MLTE (twin-engine operations): ca R$800,00
- Practical MLTE * * : ca R$16.000,00
Total 3rd stage: between R$16.800,00 and R$20.000,00 (around US$ 6.000,00)
*payment required for the examination, accompanied by the instructor; *** Can be included in the practical training of PC / IFR.
The values used in this article are based on the average academy fees as of March 2019 and are subject to change. The total costs of becoming a pilot in Brazil amount to approximately R$100.000,00, including fees, taxes, and other bureaucracy costs. Please consult the current prices at the nearest academy.
About the Author
Alison Basso is pilot and the crew member of A32F. In the pilot profession since 2015.