Pilot - Airline

co-pilot captain first officer
Transport, distribution and logistics

Career outlook for pilot - airline

UK Salary Ranges





Currently employed in Scotland


Salary information is provided by the "National Careers Service". "Oxford Economics" supplies job forecasts and employment figures. Due to COVID-19 the jobs market is constantly changing. Some of the information may not reflect the current situation.

What's it like?

You would fly people and cargoes thousands of miles around the world. Everyone on board would rely on you to make sure the plane leaves and arrives safely and on schedule.

You'd direct the work of the aircraft crew during the flight and take charge to lead the team calmly in an emergency.

You would:

  • Carry out pre-flight checks of instruments, engines and fuel
  • Make sure that all safety systems are working properly
  • Work out the best route based on weather reports and other information from air traffic control
  • Follow airport approach and landing instructions from air traffic control
  • Check flight data and make adjustments to suit weather changes
  • Keep passengers and crew informed about journey progress
  • Write flight reports after landing, including about any aircraft or flight path problems

If you pilot a small plane you might help to load and unload luggage or cargo.

On flights taking a short amount of time - short haul flights - you would normally work in a two-person team with a pilot (captain) and co-pilot (first officer).

On long haul flights, you would often also have a flight engineer on board, who would check the instruments. You'd need to be able to read maps and 3D displays.

You might also work in other areas of aviation, such as crop spraying, flight testing and flight training.

Working conditions


Your working hours would be linked to flight destinations and could include nights, weekends and public holidays. Working hours are strictly regulated for safety reasons


You would spend most of your time on a plane.


The amount of time you spend away from home would vary. On UK and European routes, you may be able to return home each day. Flights further afield would often involve overnight stays or longer. Where this happens, your employer would provide you with accommodation.

UK employment status





Self employed


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  • Working with technology
  • Problem solving
  • Observation
  • Attention to detail
  • Concentrating
  • Taking initiative
  • Reliable

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Getting in

Entry requirements for courses can change. Always contact the college, university or training provider to check exactly what you'll need.


Many people who find work as commercial pilots are educated to undergraduate level (SCQF level 9/10). Competition is very fierce in this industry.

To become a professional airline pilot you will need to obtain an Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL).

You would usually start your career as a first officer after gaining at least ‘frozen ATPL’. When you have completed enough flying hours you can apply for a full ATPL and qualify as an airline captain. There are no minimum qualification requirements to enrol for a professional pilot training courses, however many routes into this job require qualifications at SCQF level 5 or above.

There are different routes to becoming a pilot:

  • Private training - you can train at a civil aviation authority (CAA) approved school. An APTL course typically costs around £90,000. Entry to a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved training school normally requires a minimum of five subjects at National 5 (SCQF level 5), including English, Maths and a science. However, entry to training sponsored by an airline normally requires at least three Highers, preferably including Maths and Physics, and also subjects at National 5 (SCQF level 5). Many entrants to these training routes are graduates. Any degree subject is acceptable, but mathematics, physics, computing and engineering may be particularly useful.
  • Armed forces experience - If you qualified as a pilot in the armed forces, you can take a conversion course to gain a commercial pilot's licence. Competition is strong for pilot training in the armed forces and you would also need to serve a minimum term before leaving.
  • University route - some universities offer courses that combine pilot studies and training with a related degree, e.g. aviation engineering or air transport. You may have to pay for the flight training yourself. Several universities offer relevant courses including the BSc (Hons) Professional Aviation Pilot Practice which requires 3 or 4 Highers (SCQF Level 6) with some universities requiring B+ grades in Maths and Physics. This is also very similar to  the requirements for entry into the both the Royal Air force and Army pilot training scheme.
  • Company training schemes - several passenger airlines such as Virgin and British Airways offer pilot training schemes. These allow you to train with the company to gain your licence. Some of these schemes pay your training costs and you then pay them back once qualified. Others may require you to pay a bond upfront which is then repaid to you over a number of years once you are flying with them. If you obtain a private pilot's licence you can go on to take separate training modules for the CPL, the Instrument rating (IR), followed by the APTL. This cost around £45,000, although you will still to be pay for your private flying lessons.

Useful subjects

  • Maths (required by many courses and employers) 
  • English (required by many courses and employers) 
  • Science subjects particularly physics (required by many courses and employers) 
  • Geography
  • Modern languages
  • Technologies subjects such as ICT or engineering 

You will also need

You must be at least 21 years old to have a full ATPL. You can begin private flying lessons from the age of 14, but can't fly solo until the age of 16.

Once you are 17 or over and have complete the training you can have your private pilot's licence (PPL).The PPL does not allow you to fly commercially or become an airline pilot. 

You will need to pass a medical check and obtain a class one medical certificate to apply for and hold the ATPL. Some may ask for you to hold this before you start your training .

You should be physically fit, have good hearing and eyesight and normal colour vision.

Some airlines have height and weight restrictions.