An Introduction to General Aviation & Flying

So you want to learn how to fly? That’s great news. You’re about to embark on an exciting and challenging adventure. But before you get bogged down with all the aviation jargon, I’ll provide you with a simple (and much needed) ‘Introduction to General Aviation & Flying’, outlining every step from when you’re starting out right up to the highest possible level.

Why Learn To Fly?

► Career Prospects

When one imagines them self as a professional pilot they tend to think of the smart uniforms, fancy jets, high pay and exotic holidays. Although seeming rather glamorous, in reality it’s quite a stressful occupation. But the good news is that becoming a pilot is definitely not an impossible aspiration to have.

You may have grown up dreaming of becoming a pilot and want to finally make it a reality. Or you could be looking to break free from your day-to-day routine and create a totally new career path. Whatever your reason my advice is to go for it — aviation opens the door to many exciting & rewarding roles.

► A Great Hobby

And it is! In fact, that’s precisely the reason that I started to learn. I instantly loved the experience of flying and wanted to keep progressing. Nowadays I use my licence to visit places, to travel as far as I can, and to enjoy hour building. I’m at the stage where I can do what I like, visit where I like, and fly whoever I like whilst I log hours towards my building targets. 

Granted, one day I may just try to turn my hobby into a career…

Entry Requirements

One of the common myths about flying is that pilots need an array of academic qualifications. This is only partially true.

Technically speaking, to learn how to fly you do not need any qualifications at all.

However, if you’re looking to become a professional pilot in the future (with say an airline) then your other achievements will undoubtedly strengthen your application. If you have no other qualifications (e.g. A-levels) aside from your pilot licence then you’re unlikely to be the strongest candidate for the role. Most airlines seek qualified pilots with a spread of skills and achievements.

Where Can I Start Flying?

Fly GA assists in helping you find you a Flight School

Most prospective pilots start out at their local school — and you can find yours from our Flight School Finder. Locate the one that’s most practical for you and give them a call (or drop an email) to make an appointment to chat with an instructor or member of staff. Usually you’ll meet with someone that has already been through the ‘school’ process you’re about to begin.

Your First Licence (The PPL)

Every airline pilot starts out by firstly working towards the Private Pilot Licence (PPL):

In it's simplest form, the PPL consists of all the flying skills you need to pilot a light aircraft alone, anywhere in Europe during daylight and in fair weather conditions.

During the learning process you’ll need to perform your very first solo & cross-country flights, as well as pass your first flight exam.

Whilst studying and training towards your PPL there are a number of resources that Fly GA provides in order to assist you. We currently offer:

  • Flight Tools: an excellent range of tools specifically designed to help PPL students. All products are competitively priced and made exclusively by Fly GA.
  • PPL Examswe provide our very own AeroExam in-browser practice suite including a bank of over 4,000 current questions. 
  • Sky Blog: i share my flight experiences with you by providing videos & tutorials filmed directly from the sky. The blog is entirely FREE, and for your enjoyment.

Obtaining your PPL will be one of the most memorable moments in your life. But for some pilots it’s still just the beginning of their journey…

After The PPL

Once you have gained your Private Pilot Licence, you will need to complete at least 150 hours total time as well as a Night Qualification (NQ), entitling you to fly during night time. This phase is great because you’re essentially just spending your time practising different skills and doing what you enjoy the most — flying.

However, some people then proceed to the next step, which is the less interesting part of training. This is the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) Theory:

The ATPL is the qualification that allows the holder to act as the Pilot in Command (PIC), or Captain of a large transport aircraft. It is this licence the student pilot aspires to when embarking upon a career as a professional pilot.

The ATPL process involves you enrolling at a full-time ground school or part-time distance learning organisation. You need to study the theory of 14 different exam topics. You can find out about these topics here.

How long this takes varies. A full-time course can take 6 months whereas a part-time or distance learning course can take up to 9 or 12 months dependant on other commitments. Indeed the ATPL is much more intense than the PPL.

Professional Training

What follows is aimed at those who are serious about becoming a professional pilot.

This phase extends beyond the scope of what Fly GA currently guides you through — but it’s important that you understand the bigger picture.

Once the ATPL theory is completed you’re ready to move on to the ‘Professional Training’ part of the journey. This can start with either a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) or an Instrument Rating (IR). For more information on these, please follow the links provided.

My advice is that you complete the ‘Professional Training’ phase at one single Flight School, as airlines tend to prefer this. Usually you’ll do IR first, combined with a Multi-Engine Piston Rating or “MEP Rating” — which allows you to fly a multi engine aircraft. The training is then completed by either flying solely on a ‘multi’ engine, or combined with a ‘single’. This process takes over 55 hours.

Once you’ve completed this you will work towards the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL), which consists of 25 hours advanced training and another flight test. Once you have completed the IR, CPL and MEP Rating — which typically takes 3-4 months back to back — you will be within touching distance of holding a frozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence or “(f)ATPL”.

There’s just a few more steps left…

Next up is a Multi-Crew Cooperation (MCC) course, which is completed entirely on a simulator. It’s aimed at providing you with the experience and training needed to work within a multi-crew environment; such as how to delegate tasks and share responsibilities. The simulator is usually a jet but sometimes a twin-light aircraft. This course takes from 1-3 weeks and can be completed at a number of Flight Schools.

The final Jet Orientation Course is optional, but preferred by airlines. It doesn’t have to be combined with the MCC course but it provides you with experience in flying a jet engine aircraft apposed to flying a piston engine aircraft [throughout the training].

When this is completed you are granted a (f)ATPL, which will remain frozen until you complete a certain number of hours including several specified requirements. This is usually met within your first few years with an airline operation.

Don't panic: There's a lot of steps outlined here. It's confusing to begin with, but the next milestone on a pilot's agenda is made very clear by their flying school.

Fly GA — Your Journey Begins

Becoming a pilot requires a lot of time, dedication and persistence — especially if you’re aiming to do it professionally. Being up in the sky carries huge risk and responsibility; hence the need for stringent examinations and hour building.

But flying is also incredibly rewarding as both occupation and hobby. If you decide to pursue becoming a pilot, Fly GA is here to help get you started. We’ll set you on the right track and provide specialist resources to guide you through the PPL.

Best of luck.