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What are the Licences?

What licences are there?

To get into the right-hand seat of a commercial airliner, you will need an Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) or a Multi-Pilot Licence (MPL). For smaller operations, you may only need a Commercial Pilot’s Licence with a Multi-engine Instrument Rating.

An Air Transport Pilot’s Licence is at first ‘frozen’, and allows you to act as a co-pilot on commercial operations. At 1,500 hours, it becomes ‘unfrozen’ and legally you may operate an aircraft as commander, although in practice this will become subject to an airline giving you a rank of captain. A Multi-Pilot Licence offers the same, although is restricted insofar as the training is tailored towards a specific airline, and you may not use the MPL at any airline other than the one it is affiliated with – there is no ‘generic’ MPL. At 1,500 hours it becomes an unfrozen ATPL.

For other commercial flying jobs, such as instructing, surveying, or parachute dropping, only a CPL may be needed. It is worth considering that there is a wide range of aviation careers beyond flying airliners, which is itself a unique lifestyle. At selection your motivation will be challenged, so proving you have researched the career field thoroughly will be advantageous. 

But how do I achieve one of these licences?

You need to decide what licence you are going to get before you start training, as it affects how you will train. Two key types of training are available, integrated and modular. Regarding the ATPL, integrated and modular routes follow the same syllabus of exams and practical flying, although the modular route requires more hours. The modular route can be done on a timeline tailored to the cadet, separate elements of the course can be interspersed with jobs or other life demands. The integrated route requires less minimum hours as it is based on a full-time, ‘zero-to-hero’ style model of training that is often residential and can be completed within one to two years.

The MPL is only available for airline affiliated courses, and you will need to pass selection for an airline’s own MPL scheme before being accepted. Only integrated-style training is available for MPL schemes. These tend to be very competitive, with the number of applicants outstripping the number of places available, so multiple tries at selection may be required.

There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to both licences. As mentioned, a MPL is restricted for use at a single airline before 1,500 hours are obtained, so if you were to lose your job before that time you would be in a very tough position. An ATPL is less competitive to get onto, although typically all integrated courses require selection. Deciding which route is best for you will be a key part of your research. 

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