Some advice for ab-initio pilots

“The only school with a personal response to my enquiries, no pushing on the money side”


As we specialise in multi CPL/IR training, we do not offer PPL training or hours building, although we are willing to offer advice FOC for all stages of ground and flight training which are not supplied by PAT. In the meantime we can offer the following advice on obtaining a Frozen Airline Transport Pilots Licence.

In order to become a commercial airline pilot you need an Airline Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL).

You need to have a certain level of experience (gained by working for an airline) before you can get your ATPL issued. Initially therefore you will have a Commercial Pilots Licence with Instrument Rating (CPL/IR) which is known as a ‘Frozen’ ATPL.

You can work as a First Officer for an airline with a Frozen ATPL.

There are two routes to getting your frozen ATPL, the integrated route and the modular route.

Integrated v Modular Routes

The UK integrated route is currently only available from Oxford, CTC, Atlantic Flight Training, Flying Time and FTE in Jerez and will usually cost between £90,000 and £100,000.

It will take you about 14 months and is a continuous course of training, where the ground school and the flying is totally integrated. You end up with a frozen ATPL, but not with a Private Pilots Licence (PPL) or any of the subsidiary licences/ratings.

The UK modular route is available from about 20-30 schools in the UK (and the States) and will cost you between £40,000 and £50,000.

As the name suggests the training is split into modules:

  • PPL
  • ATPL Ground school
  • Hours building
  • CPL
  • Multi rating
  • IR
  • Multi Crew Co-operation course (MCC)

The modular route is much more flexible than the integrated route in that you can do it in your own timescale (although it can, like the integrated route, be achieved in 14 months if you do one module, immediately followed by the next, etc). In addition, there are other advantage such as being able to do the ground studies by distance learning, or doing the flying training on a part-time basis so that you do not have to give up your day job.

The only time restrictions are that you have 18 months from the date of passing your first ATPL ground exam to the date of passing the last one, and that you only have 36 months from the date of passing your last exam in which to get your CPL AND your IR issued.

The Modular Route

So, how do you go about getting your frozen ATPL through the modular route?

You start off by doing a PPL. This can be done in the UK or abroad; in fact it does not even have to be an EASA PPL (EASA - European Aviation Safety Agency, the Europe wide aviation governing body), it can be an ICAO PPL (ICAO - International Civil Aviation Organisation - available from most other countries in the world).

If you are planning to go to the States to do a PPL – beware of schools who offer you a guaranteed PPL in three weeks. The level of training is generally poor and the test tends to be just a ‘tick in the box’. This is a bad grounding for a career in aviation. In addition, if you have weather problems you may not finish your course so you will either have to stay on in the States (cost of changed air ticket, additional accommodation costs, more time off work etc), or have to come back to the UK and try and finish over here which, depending upon how bad the training was in the States, may mean having to do a complete course again.

Once your PPL has been issued, you have two parallel routes to follow:

  • your ATPL ground school (which you can do by distance learning or full time study). Distance learning gives you the benefit of being able to keep working but you have to be fairly disciplined, setting aside a specific number of hours per week, and not allowing distractions like going to the pub with your mates!
  • your hours building (see below).

Hours building:

For the CPL:

In order to start your CPL, you need to have 150 total hours.

In order to get your CPL issued you need to have the following:

  • 200 total hours including:
  • 100 Pilot in Command hours
  • 5 night hours including 5 solo full stop take-offs and landings at night 
  • a cross country flight of 300 nm with stops at two airfields other than the airfield of departure.

However, a recent Information Notice from the UK CAA states that you are required to have met all the requirements for CPL issue BEFORE YOU UNDERTAKE YOUR CPL SKILL TEST.  This new ruling applies from September 17th 2013.

This means that, if you want to do your CPL before your IR, you will really have to have a minimum of around 175 hours before you start your CPL training.  Can I suggest that, if most of your flying has been done abroad, you consider doing some of those hours in the UK, preferably in the Bournemouth area.

You should note that if you do your IR after your CPL, in order to get the 10 hours dispensation on the course hours (making it 45 hours rather than 55 hours), you need to have either be the holder of an EASA/JAA CPL, or of a BIFM certificate before starting your IR.

For the IR:

There are no minimum hours required to start your IR, although you must have a night rating, but we advise you to have some experience, other than your PPL, as it is a fairly difficult course.

In order to get you IR issued you need to have 50 hours Pilot in Command cross country flying.

Structured hours building

Hours building can be done in the UK or abroad. It can be done in any single engine piston or multi engine piston aircraft.

We would like to make a couple of recommendations about your hours building:

  • Don’t just fly around the same airfield time after time. Try and vary your flying. Go away for the weekend. Land at grass airstrips as well as concrete ones. Land at airfields within control zones as well as your little local strip. One of our students did his 300 nm cross country by flying from Scotland to Le Mans.
  • Perhaps do some hours building abroad. In the States, South Africa, Australia. If you are just hours building in the States (i.e. not training) you do not need to use a JAA approved school. In fact, their aircraft availability is sometimes not too good and they tend to be more expensive than an FAA school.
  • Try and fly different types of aircraft if you can afford it. Why not try a tail-dragger? Perhaps do some flying in a complex single, or possibly even a multi engined aircraft?
  • Fly with an instructor every 15 or 20 hours. Get hold of a copy of the Applicants Guide to the CPL Skill Test *. There is a table on the back page giving the tolerances within which you will need to fly to pass your CPL Skill Test. Show the instructor that and tell him that is what you are trying to achieve. The idea is that you should be flying within these tolerances BEFORE you start your CPL course, not learning to do it whilst you are on your course.

* (, Personnel Licensing, Standards Document 3, Applicants Guide for the CPL Skill Test)

Training for your Multi CPL/IR

This is the training which we provide at PAT. The total cost of this training is between £26,380 and £29,620 (depending upon how you do your training), split roughly into just over £14,250 for the CPL and Multi Rating and just over £15,350 for the Multi IR.

We offer 5 options on how you can do this training. These are detailed on our website ( under ‘Selecting Your Course’.

MCC course

In order to get your frozen ATPL and to be able to apply for a job as a First Officer you have to do a Multi Crew Co-operation course. This can be done on a turboprop or a jet simulator and will cost between £2,000 and £4,000.

Getting that first job

The integrated schools claim that a job is much more guaranteed if you go that route but this is not exactly true. There is no guarantee of a job, even from an integrated school, whilst a large percentage of graduates from modular schools are working for airlines (have a look at the ‘Where are They Now?’ section on this website).

Getting a job can be difficult. You may be lucky and walk into a job after a couple of weeks; you may have to wait a year or more. One option to keep yourself current is to become a flying instructor. You will have to do an instructor course which will cost you around £5-6,000 and flying instructors are notoriously badly paid (at least in the early days). However, you could just instruct at the weekends and do your normal job during the week.

One thing we do recommend is that you start networking now. If you meet anyone who could be remotely connected to an airline get to know him/her and keep in touch, particularly when you are attending your ground school courses. There will be other people on your course who will be experienced pilots (e.g. foreign licence conversion/military pilots). They are the ones who are likely to walk into jobs as soon as they have achieved their frozen ATPL. They are the ones to cultivate!

When you choose your advanced flight training school ask them if they have any relationships with airlines. For example, as soon as the job market picks up we expect to renew our relationship with Flybe, where we were able to recommend suitable students to them on a monthly basis.  Of the students we previously recommended to Flybe, all but three were accepted as pilots with the airline.


You are about to embark on a career which will involve a lot of money and time and which will have its up days and its down days. Enjoy the good days and work through the bad days. Keep thinking about your goal – sitting in a shiny jet at 35,000 ft on a nice sunny day!