Your objective is to become a commercial pilot. To be employed as a commercial pilot you need a licence and to get a licence you’ll need training. We know that the training and the licence are merely the routes to your objective; steps on the way. In this section we will explain the sometimes bewildering world of pilot training and licensing.

Each nation has its own requirements for commercial pilot training and licensing. The Wings Alliance is a coalition of flight schools specialising in preparing pilots to gain employment in Europe. In Europe there is a harmonised pilot licensing system, governed by the European Aviation Safety Agency, or EASA.

EASA explained

EASA is a rulemaking European Community body which is responsible for Airworthiness Directives, Aircraft Certification Specifications and licensing standards. In each EU State there is also a ‘Responsible Authority’ such as the UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the French DGAC. The Responsible Authorities act as agents of EASA, issuing pilot and engineer licences and approving the schools (called Approved Training Organisations, or ATOs) who are allowed to conduct training, normally within their national boundaries.

The three types of pilot’s licence are:

  • A Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) which allows you to fly for fun
  • A Commercial Pilot’s Licence (CPL) for low hours multi-crew and single-pilot operation
  • An Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence (ATPL) for experienced multi-crew commercial pilots.

Licence names can be suffixed (A) for fixed wing aircraft or (H) for helicopters. There are slightly different licensing rules for fixed wing and helicopter pilots.

There is a fourth licence type, the Multi-Pilot Licence (MPL). This allows the holder to act as co-pilot on a specific multi-crew type of aircraft but is restricted to that purpose only.

The EASA ATPL, CPL and PPL are European pilot’s licences, and are accepted at face value in all EU states.
the training choices

There are two routes to airline employment for professional pilots. There are large schools that will take you from the start right the way through to licence issue, these are called ‘integrated’ schools. The alternative is to use two or three smaller specialist schools, each offering a particular element of training; these are the ‘modular’ schools. Wings Alliance members are modular schools.

Each route has its advantages and disadvantages and different licensing criteria apply to the two routes in terms of the specific training elements required and flying hours achieved. Although the routes are different the end licence is exactly the same.



  • Reduced cost, and therefore less burden of debt – generally 25% more training time at, typically, 70% of the cost
  • Flexibility in training choices
  • Staged payments throughout the training sequence
  • A choice of high quality flight schools
  • The ability to work whilst qualifying


  • The perceived lack of employment opportunities
  • The difficulties of identifying the best choice of flight school
  • The potential lack of complete training records to offer prospective employers



  • The perceived better employment opportunities
  • Everything is done with one company, only one choice is required


  • The cost of integrated training is substantially higher than modular training
  • The level of debt carried forward into employment and the repayments required are significant
  • Integrated courses are often associated with zero hours airline contracts

The flight time requirement for integrated courses is 195 hours, of which 55 hours can be done in a simulator. The requirement for the equivalent modular students is 255 hours.

Why do airlines like modular students?

An increasing number of recruiting pilots are, themselves, modular trained and they therefore recognise the advantages of this route. This generally means the graduates have more flying experience and more variety of flying. They have also often developed better life skills, as generally they continue to work while they are training and many have transferable skills developed in their previous careers.

Why don’t airlines like modular students?

The answer to this has always been that the airlines themselves do not have the resources to thoroughly filter through applicants and to sort the well trained from the badly trained. Integrated schools overcome this by overseeing the training at every stage and focusing the last stages of training specifically at airline employment so that the candidates are as prepared as they can be for airline employment.

Modular training explained