How to Become a Pilot

In: Who we are
How to become a pilot with FlySafair

Many people dream of becoming a pilot, jetting all over the world in the pilot’s seat, but not many know how to accomplish this dream. Given the responsibility of safely flying thousands of passengers every week, the process of becoming a pilot is both rigorous and technical, but the reward of achieving your dream makes it all worth it.

A solid base of theory and practice

To become a pilot for an airline like FlySafair, you need to first complete a private pilot licence (PPL) before getting a commercial pilot’s licence (CPL) combined with an Instrument Rating and then go on to get an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATP). The CPL qualifies you as a professional pilot ready to transport passengers or cargo in return for payment, or to co-pilot a bigger aircraft. The ATP allows you to captain larger passenger aircraft.

In order to undertake commercial pilot training, you’ll need to meet the following requirements:

  • Hold a valid private pilot licence (PPL) and night rating.
  • Be 18 years of age or older.
  • Hold a Class I medical certificate which will show that you are mentally and physically fit to fly
  • Pass the general radio licence exam.
  • Have a minimum of 200 flying hours, of which 40 hours must be instrument flight training (so that you can fly an aircraft with your instruments alone); 20 hours may be done on an approved flight simulator; a minimum of 100 hours as pilot in command is required, of which at least 50 hours must be cross-country flight time.
  • Successfully pass eight online examinations at the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) (pass mark 75%). These examinations include flight planning, navigation, meteorology and air law.
  • Complete a CPL general flight test in an advanced type aircraft with a Grade I designated flight examiner. The instrument flight test is usually combined with the CPL flight test in one flight.

Once you have accumulated all the required flying hours in your logbook, completed your instrument rating and passed all examinations and tests, your training documentation will be checked and sent to the CAA. A fee must be paid for issuing your CPL Licence and finally have your PPL upgraded to a CPL.

Funding and timing

Most pilots in South Africa self-fund their training, and it is extremely pricey– costing around a million rand to reach the CPL level. Given this, very few people can afford to complete their qualification and required hours in one full-time slot. In theory, if you had the funding upfront and pass everything first time with – ahem – flying colours, you could arguably finish in around ten months. But Johan Schoeman, FlySafair’s Manager of Flight Safety, cautions that realistically you can expect training to that level to take you at least a year, while many people take several years to complete CPL. One funding alternative is to do your pilot’s training with a national air force, like the South African Air Force, before going on to commercial piloting. There will likely be a work-back period or similar ongoing commitments to honour if you go this route.

Taking it to the next level

To upgrade your qualifications to an ATP, you need to be at least 21 years old and have accumulated a further 1500 hours flight experience. The flight hours must include at least 250 hours as Pilot-in-Command (PIC), 200 hours cross-country PIC, 75 hours of Instrument Flying PIC, and 100 night hours PIC.

FlySafair generally only recruits pilots with an ATP licence. Aircraft type-specific training – which at FlySafair includes Boeing 737-400 and 737-800 training – will be given by the airline if your job application is successful.

A shortage of pilots

Given the large time and money commitment outlined above, South Africa is facing a shortage of qualified and experienced pilots. This situation has worsened because of the increased global competition for pilots, leading to an industry-specific “brain drain”. The silver-lining of this fact though is that if you do make it through the various qualifications, your services will be in high demand, and you will be able to look for employment in this exciting field locally or abroad.

Passion or bust

With such huge barriers to entry in the field, it is not surprising that the profession is filled with people who have a deep passion for flying. “It’s one of those industries, that if you are not passionate, the obstacles in your path will cure you of your ambition,” Schoeman says.

He continues: “And it’s all worth it in the end. As a pilot, you never stop learning, and no matter what is going on in your life – stress, family issues, and what not – when your wheels leave the tarmac, you leave all of that behind for the freedom of the sky. It’s a great feeling.”