Question

I wonder what education is required to become a pilot?


Answer

What education is required to become a pilot is actually a tricky question. This is why.

Most flight schools will not list what education is required to become a pilot and this is because from a regulatory point of view no requirements are specified to get your license. That said, it is always a splendid idea to have some sort of cultural capital in the form of any useful knowledge.

You could be a pilot ‘just’ with the ordinary elementary school in most countries. However you may find that getting a job as a pilot will become more difficult if you only have elementary school.

As with many things in aviation things are rarely black and white. That is why we cannot say you MUST have more than elementary school to work as a pilot. There could be some jobs where the employer will be more interested in your personality, customer service- and flying-experience. An example could be flying business jets for a private owner.

There could also be differences depending on where you are in the world in regards to what education is required to become a pilot. For example there is a higher chance that college or university will be required if you are looking to build a flying career in the US. But if you boil it down what education is required to BECOME a pilot (like “just” getting the commercial pilot license) – then our view is that you will always be able to find a flying school that will train you if your health is okay and you have the money. This is because most flying schools are privately run companies making money on training pilots. It is rare that a flying school is too bothered about if you can get a job as a pilot or not. They will generally downplay the importance of having some prior education as they would probably prefer you to start your pilot training without any delay. Getting a job and figuring out what the industry is truly like, is something most newly graduated pilots will have to take responsibility for themselves.

Our advice in regards to education before you become a pilot

We would recommend you to have more than just elementary school.

In regards to helping you to go through your flight training a basic understanding of math, English and physics will be good. We often get asked how good your math skills need to be and we like to explain it this way. When talking about math skills to become a pilot, it is more about what is called MDR (mental dead reckoning). MDR described in an easy way is like having some kind of flair for numbers. Imagine that you have just done some shopping in a supermarket and your cart is full of goods. How much is it going to be? Is it like 20 USD or 100 USD? If you come up to the checkout and the amount you are asked to pay is significantly off from what you expected it to be, you will probably stop up and start checking using some quick calculations. When flying MDR is often about being able to complete an error check of your equipment or being able to do a quick rough calculation while you are doing something else (flying). Most flight decks will have computers doing most calculations but generally “shit in, shit out”. This means that if you have programmed the computers incorrectly they are likely to give you an incorrect answer. This is where your math skills (MDR) will be handy so you can say – hang on a minute, that does not seem right – and then fix or investigate the error.

The physics part is more to do with understanding some of the mandatory subjects like “aircraft general knowledge, performance or instrumentation”. Again you do not need to be extremely skilled at physics but some understanding for physics will just help you to get through the exams more smoothly.

If you are reading this and you have a stronger interest in languages than in math or physics do not panic. Being good at languages can be a really good skill to have too and as long as you are prepared to study hard, we see no reason why you will not be able to pass the pilot theory exams. Once the theory exams are passed you will start building practical knowledge about flying, which tends to be more a product of exposure to different situations and willingness to learn.

If you look towards a premium airline (an airline that pays well and where you can have a career) you will probably find that the hours you have from the flying school is far from enough. This means you will need to find somewhere where you can build your flight experience. With your first job as a pilot you will probably find that you will not be asked about your non-flying education and if you have gone to college or university will not make a big difference. It is usually not until you try to get into the premium airlines that your non-flying education matters.

Premium airlines in Europe such as SAS, Lufthansa, KLM may have particular requirements to your non-flying educational background. Again the requirements vary from airline to airline and they may change with short notice. Historically there has been a language requirement (speaking the local language as well as English) and a high school requirement (in Scandinavia Gymnasium, HH, HHX, HTX or equivalent). Airlines in the Middle East and Far East have historically also been asking for a university degree and some extremely thorough medical checks, but again that will depend on supply and demand of pilots.

So what is right for you?

Going through high school and maybe college and/ or university may give you a better insight, knowledge and discipline to become a pilot. We would highly recommend that you attend at least high school or the equivalent in your country before becoming a commercial pilot. Of course you can always return to studying after you have got your commercial pilot license, but for most people becoming a pilot means taking out a huge loan and it may be difficult to both repay your loan and study. Also you need to consider that if you do not maintain your piloting skills, then over time you can expect to become rusty which will make it more difficult to get a job. So that is why we generally recommend you to complete your non-flying education before you become a commercial pilot.

Furthermore when you are debating if you should go to college or university, maybe look at it from a job security view. As you cannot control if and when a pilot job is available it is always good to have some kind of plan B (a non flying job until you can get a flying job). If you are looking for a non-flying job you will probably have more options the higher degree you hold. Of course it would also matter what kind of non-flying education you have taken and if there is a shortage of people with your skills.

At the end of the day, the skill that is most likely going to help you to get a job (non-flying or flying) is probably networking and how you are able to “sell/ present yourself”. Strangely enough that is not something many flying schools will teach you so this is something that we typically focus on during the coaching we offer to pilots.

In regards to your timing to become a pilot, make sure you read this post Is now a good time to become a pilot?

If you need one to one advice on any aspects of becoming we would love to hear from you and help. We have also written a book to help anyone who is dreaming of becoming a pilot – take a look here Book to help you become a pilot

We hope that you have found reading this useful and that you would like to support our work by following us on:

Instagram – ask.a.pilot

Facebook – ask a pilot

Youtube – Our youtube channel

Happy landings

Ask A Pilot