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How to become a First Officer pilot?


In this article, the team outlines what you can expect when you join an airline for the first time.

Before you join your chosen airline, there will be a number of things you have to do from an administrative point of view. You will feel need to fill in a lot of paper work from employment contracts, to providing the airline with a Disclosure Scotland certificate, if you’re joining a UK based employer. This certificate proves to the airline that you have no criminal convictions, and allows you to be issued with an Airside ID pass – this is essential as you have to cross the UK Border each and every day that you go to work, and this pass allows you to do that. Throughout this process you will have to supply the airline with five years of employment and/or educational history, and provide references to that effect.

There is a good chance that you will be provided with information regarding your initial few weeks with an airline, have a good look through this and be under no illusion – your first few weeks will be hard work, and you won’t have time for much else! Your new airline will expect commitment and effort on your part, and you need to have planned your time such that external distractions are kept to a minimum. Use the time you have before you join to commence your study, perhaps starting to go through the technical manual or start getting your head around the new company Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), if you have this information.

The first few weeks

The first few weeks within your new airline will be extremely challenging, but you will enjoy them! Your airline will want you flying their planes as quickly, but as safely as possible. But before you can do that, you must partake in a series of courses and regulated training. From an administrative point of view, your documents will now have been checked, and work on giving you your airside ID will have been completed. You will collect this, along with your manuals, uniform once you have been fitted for it, and anything else the airline wishes you to have in your possession. You are likely to be given a brief tour of your airline’s training facilities and HQ, before your official training begins. Ensure you create a positive impression with everyone you meet, as you never know when you may see them again!
Once you have been through the first few days, often called an induction, your training will commence. This normally starts with the aircraft specific ground school. This is similar in style to your ATPL training, but will be specific to the aircraft type you will be operating. This training normally takes approximately two weeks, and will finish with a multiple choice exam. Ground school is normally taught via computer based training (CBT), where you sit and listen to a computer teach you everything, while you study the manuals alongside. In the evening, you will go over the topics you’ve covered in the day, preparing for the next day. Some airlines take you into a flat panel aircraft trainer too, to demonstrate the systems you have just learned about. A typical day would run from 0900-1700 in the classroom, with a couple of hours work each evening, too. You can expect some progress tests along the way, and an instructor will always be available to ask questions of, if you find anything complicated or difficult to understand. Nothing here is difficult, but like the ATPL subjects, quantity of information to be taken in over a short space of time is the challenge.
Once you have completed the ground school section, you will rapidly face the simulator phase where your knowledge will be put into practice. You can make this section much easier, if you have already committed the airline’s SOPs to memory. You will be partnered with another new pilot, and it’s our advice to spend some time together practicing the SOPs before you go into the simulator. This phase is extremely busy, and once in the simulator you will be expected to have prepared thoroughly beforehand. You can expect a number of sessions each lasting four hours, and this phase is as hard work as anything you will have experienced during your IR training. It’s important to ask for help if you are struggling – we all learn at a different rate and your airline will appreciate your honesty in asking for help if required. Just ensure that you have put the work in that will be expected of you. You will cover all the emergency procedures including engine failures both during take off and in the cruise, engine out landings, decompressions, fires and you will practice flying the variety of approaches you will be faced with on the line, and of course low visibility procedures, known as all weather operations.

Your final simulator session will be your LST – the Licence Skills Test. Successful completion of this allows your aircraft type to be issued on to your licence. Many skills will be tested and a raw data ILS will be required. Also, if this is your first commercial type, you will have to complete a number of circuits in the real aircraft without passengers on board, known as Base Training. This is great fun, and the only time you will ever fly touch and goes in a commercial aircraft type, so make the most of it! You will have to complete six take-offs and landings to a successful standard, at airports such as Prestwick, Manston, Châteauroux, and Shannon, which are often used for this purpose.
After this process has been completed you will be given time to go to the Civil Aviation Authority to get your new aircraft type rating endorsed onto your licence, this is some achievement and you should be proud!
Before you fly passengers, there are a variety of further courses to successfully pass. These courses are:

  • Security and Dangerous Goods – you will learn about the latest security threats, and how aviation works to counter them. You will also look at the spectrum of dangerous goods that are permitted and of course forbidden to be carried on passenger aircraft.
  • AVMED – you will study aviation medicine and First Aid practices that are used on board an aircraft.
  • Safety and Emergency Procedures (SEP) – this is similar to the training that cabin crew undertake, and you will learn about putting out fires, the safety equipment on board, evacuating the aircraft, communications between the cabin crew and flight crew, opening and closing aircraft doors both normally and in emergencies, and everything else associated with cabin safety – including going down an evacuation slide! At some point during the training you will also have to go to a swimming pool, so that you can practice using lifejackets and boarding a life raft.

Line Training

Finally the time has come to fly passengers for the first time! A daunting experience, but one that you will remember for the rest of your life! Remember that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t good enough, so relax and try to enjoy it. There will be much that you won’t be prepared for – making PAs and briefing cabin crew for example. It will feel that everything is so different, and that there is still so much to learn, but rest assured the required knowledge will come quickly. Your Training Captain will put you at ease, so try to remember all of your training, what you’ve been through already, and remember to keep the operation safe – ultimately that is your role. You won’t get everything right on your first flight, so don’t be too harsh on yourself. Try and take things forward for your next flight, and constantly demonstrate improvement. You will be flying to airports everywhere, and each one will bring new challenges – and this will be the case for some time, especially if the airline has a considerable route network. You will enjoy every minute though, but don’t forget to keep working hard and most of all, LISTEN to the valuable knowledge your Training Captain is passing on to you.