So you’re thinking about getting your pilot’s licence. But which one is best if you want to make a career out of flying for a larger organization? PPL? CPL? ATPL? It’s important to know because your aviation future could be hiding behind one of these acronyms. So what are the differences between the ATPL and CPL and PPL? Your choice can determine the price, length or even success of your flying career.
A PPL or private pilot license is great if you just want to fly for your own personal needs or pleasure. Successfully completing the course will allow you to enjoy personal flights in a single-engine airplane. However, if you intend on making money from flying, the next step should be your CPL or Commercial Pilot License. A CPL is essentially a more advanced PPL, requiring greater accuracy in flying and a higher standard of airmanship. The holder of a CPL can act as pilot in command of a small piston aircraft that holds less than 9 passengers for commercial purposes.
That’s where the ATPL comes in. An ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot Licence) is the highest licence an individual can earn as a civil airplane pilot. Having your ATPL will allow you to conduct private and commercial operations and will authorize you to be the pilot-in-command or the co-pilot of any operation. However, you must hold the appropriate aircraft category rating on your ATPL and the class or type rating for the aircraft you want to fly.
While having a CPL will allow you to act as pilot in command of a small piston aircraft, an ATPL license is mandatory to operate any aircraft as a Captain/ PIC, which is over 5700 kgs (MTOW) max take-off weight. Therefore having an ATPL will open up many more opportunities because airlines will usually only accept holders of an ATPL and not a CPL. Put simply, an ATPL is the licence for you if have always wanted a career as the airline pilot, you’re ready to pursue a career from being the first officer to becoming a captain, and you want to fly larger aircraft such as Boeing, Airbus or similar commercial airliners.
There are 2 routes to get your ATPL: Integrated or Modular.
Integrated ATPL training is structured to provide cadets with all the required knowledge and skills in less than 2 years. But unlike the CPL, the integrated ATPL student has no flexibility and will need to study intensively during training, without any breaks. There are several requirements for getting your ATPL. You have to be a minimum of 21 years old and you will need to have a Class 1 medical certificate to sit the ATPL flight test. Also, If you are applying for an ATPL, you will need to already hold a multi-crew pilot licence a CPL and have completed instruction in multi-crew co-operation (MCC). You can also get this license by taking the modular route. This means you go at your own pace, choose different schools for different phases of training and take breaks between phases if you so wish.
🎧 To find out more about integrated vs modular ATPL training listen to CAE Pilot podcast
Don’t worry, it’s all part of the larger process. After finishing the course you will get an ATPL (frozen)*, which means you can start flying small commercial airliner up to 9 seats or start looking for a job as a first officer at airlines. To ‘un-frozen’ the licence you just need to build a required number of flight hours and do the last steps towards the dream job. Your ATPL will remain frozen until you have reached 1500 hours of flying time, which is made up of time in multi-pilot transport, cross country flights, instrument time and more.
Every pilot will have to go through the ATPL process at some point and will have to sit the exams to unfreeze their licence. Some pilots will do it as soon as they can and other pilots, who may have been in an airline since they were a cadet, may have not had to do so yet. Most airlines use ATPL exams results as a benchmark when hiring. No matter your current situation, the ATPL theoretical course and examinations are a crucial step for any aspiring airline pilot. For those of us who were born to fly, sitting ATPL exams are the proven way to rise to the next level of your career.
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