Pilot training, and the regulations surrounding aviation, can get confusing very quickly for the uninitiated; especially for those that don’t have a close friend or family member to guide them through it all. So, here’s a quick start guide to explain how you can take to the skies – for fun or professionally!
I’ve written a brief, generalized summary of the various stages that you may go through during your flight training. If you aren’t familiar with acronyms such as PPL, ATPL, and CFI, I’d recommend reading this article first: Flight Training Stages
Before you decide to start down one of the paths below, I’d strongly recommend you do your research and speak to current pilots to clear any questions you have. One8Right is a great place to ask your questions and have them answered by instructors, cadet pilots, captains, and other knowledgeable people in the industry.
If possible, I’d also highly recommend paying for a Discovery Flight (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Joyrides”) to see if a career in flying is right for you. Just reach out to a flight school and ask them for a discovery flight.
Let’s get started!
You can earn your wings one of 3 ways (primarily):
- Cadet Pilot Program (CPP)
This is one of the cheapest ways to earn your wings. The government will cover all expenses while you learn to fly, then assign you to one of their aircrafts. The aircraft you are assigned depends on which branch of the military you join, and your overall performance throughout their selection & training process. I would recommend this route only to those that first & foremost, want to serve their nation, and earn their wings along the way. In commercial aviation, you’ll find many ex-air force / ex-navy pilots that have transferred to the airlines after their service in the military.
In the conventional route, you have complete control over all aspects of your training. This is the route that most commercial pilots choose to take and is also the only option you have, if you want to fly for fun instead of a professional career. Here, you would look at various schools (both, within the country & abroad), gather information about their programs and then plan your journey to the cockpit.
Here’s a basic checklist to help guide your research:
- Decide if flight training abroad is an option
- Create a list of top 5 flight schools you are interested in
(These can be schools that you’ve heard about, has been recommended to you by fellow aviators, or schools that are present at a location of your choosing - eg: Miami, Florida)
- Visit their website or reach out to them to find out the following:
(Most reputable flight schools will have information about their programs readily available on their website)
- Program cost
- Training facilities
- What’s included / offered
- What’s not included / costs extra
- Cost of living near the flight school
- Total & breakup of flight hours included in the program
- Speak to a current (or recently graduated) pilot from the flight school
(Remember, you can always ask the flight school to put you in touch with one of their current students so you can speak to someone who’s already in the process. Personally, any flight school that disallows this would not be worth considering)
- Rate their customer service during your interactions with them (prompt responses, etc.)
- Create an excel sheet in order of preference and total cost of training
(inclusive of everything from travel & accommodation to medical expenses and entertainment)
- Look at finances (self or through a loan) to see if it is affordable
- Look at job prospects after your training (working as CFI, joining an airline, etc.)
- Share your plan with someone who’s already a pilot to see if you’ve missed something
- Take the leap!
This is probably the most expensive route. However, the benefit to this route is a training program that’s managed by the airline and a guaranteed job at the end. The eligibility for these CPPs vary from airline to airline, so I would recommend you visit their respective websites or speak to one of their cadets to get more information. In India, Indigo & SpiceJet have CPPs that are actively recruiting.
How much will it cost you?
Becoming a pilot requires, among other things, a significant monetary investment. This is one of the biggest hurdles that prevents people from achieving their dream to fly. As such, taking a close look at the finances is the first step to becoming a pilot. Depending on which route you take, the cost of earning your wings can range anywhere from ₹ 0 to ₹ 1,00,00,000+ (that’s 1+ crores!). There’s no fixed number that anyone can give you, as the total cost will depend on your ability to grasp the concepts & skills.
Is it better to train in India or go abroad?
Everyone has their own opinion on whether it is “better” to complete flight training in India or go abroad. See/ask in the comments below for people’s personal opinions.
Should you work towards a degree before/during your flight training?
While it is not a pre-requisite (yet!), I strongly encourage everyone to consider getting at least a bachelor’s degree before starting flight training – unless the program you are applying for includes a bachelor’s/master’s degree. The reason for this is because it is always advantageous to think ahead and have a fallback option. For example,
- What if the airline you are working for collapses?
- What if a Covid-19 like pandemic causes airlines to lay off staff?
- What if you get a temporary/permanent unfit medical assessment?
As always – if you have questions, a different opinion, or find an error, please feel free to comment below!