How to Pass the ATPLs

To preface this, I’ve been in the unique and privileged position to experience studying for the ATPL exams on both a distance-learning course with Bristol Groundschool initially, and then on CTC’s (now L3) residential course. I can say that both are excellent courses, and you can succeed with either. Primarily your circumstances will dictate which type of course you choose, but you will not be disadvantaged by either. Your success will be determined by the amount of time and effort you put into studying the material and filling in gaps in knowledge.

Your new best friend.

At the bottom of this post, I have disclosed to you my ATPL exam scores. I passed them all first time, some with better marks than others. These are included solely so you can decide for yourselves whether you should attach any weight to my words.


There are 14 exams to take. Get 75% (ideally more) in each of them. Here are some abbreviations by which they’re commonly known:

AGK – Aircraft General Knowledge

PoF – Principles of Flight

Inst – Instruments

Met – Meteorology

VFR – VFR Communications

Law – Air Law

IFR – IFR Communications

M&B – Mass & Balance

Perf – Performance

FPL – Flight Planning & Monitoring

GNav – General Navigation

HPL – Human Performance & Limitations

RNav – Radio Navigation

Ops – Operational Procedures

Everyone seems to agree that studying for the ATPL exams involves learning an astounding number of facts and figures that will make you question whether this is the right job for you at all – but thankfully, most of the concepts and rules are not especially complex. By the end of your course, you will probably feel that you have learnt more in the preceding months than at any other time in your life. This will make some people miserable, and others will enjoy the challenge. Whichever it is, just remember that this is all an arduous means to an end.

First of all, decide whether a residential or distance-learning course is most appropriate for you. If you’re working, that decision’s already been made for you, however you don’t have to take a residential course if you’re not. If you have the self-discipline to prepare for these exams without the classroom environment or face-to-face interaction with instructors, a distance course will save you a significant amount of money – you will also typically be able to ask instructors questions online, as well as during pre-exam revision courses. (By law, 10% of your time studying towards the ATPLs must be spent in a classroom, so your FTO will account for this.) You can pretty much take it at your own pace, the main restriction being that you must complete the last exam within 18 months of taking the first. If you’re able to, I’d recommend studying intensively and getting this phase of your training out of the way, but not rushing through the subjects until you’re entirely comfortable with everything in the syllabus.

There are a myriad of different ATPL theory providers. I have only used two, but that’s twice as many as most. I can highly recommend both Bristol and CTC. This is not to say that others aren’t equally good, but these two come with my seal of approval.

Before you start any ATPL course, practise your basic maths and physics: phythagorean maths, electrical circuits, sine and cosine, etc. To help with this, refresher courses are now included in ATP Digital, the software developed by Bristol and used by many FTOs.

ATP Digital, produced by Bristol Groundschool.

Not all exams are equal, so plan your studies carefully if learning by distance. HPL, Ops, Law, and Comms are usually considered to be subjects for which you can rely almost entirely on regurgitating facts. Other subjects such as GNav and FPL are much more practical and therefore require you to actually learn the techniques involved, and you will soon learn to dread practising these exams and having to use those maps again – however studying these two subjects simultaneously may help. (You will also run out of time when practising these exams, while exams for easier database-based subjects can be completed in ten minutes.) AGK requires you to understand the concepts involved well, as do PoF and Perf. M&B can be mastered in a couple of days; RNav cannot.

Youtube is your friend.  It will make it much easier to understand some concepts in every subject. I have made playlists of useful videos I have found for AGKPoF, Inst, Met and even Law.

ICET, Tiger Woods, UNOS, Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, Very Lovely Maidens. You will know, love, and understand all of these acronyms by the end of your course. Learn to love acronyms.

Know where you stand. Knowledge of your strengths and weaknesses will not only in itself improve your exam performance, but also allow you to focus on what you need to. You will naturally develop this as you progress through your course, but you can also harness the power of statistics…

If not included in your course, invest in subscriptions to the two most popular question banks, and – practising real exam questions under realistic conditions will be invaluable for gauging your progress and areas of strength and weakness, as mentioned above (BGSonline is most useful for this). The other benefit of doing this is that for many subjects such as Human Performance, memorising their contents will all but guarantee a pass.

A good rule of thumb for when you’re ready to take an exam is when you’re consistently scoring around 90% in that subject, and are passing with a decent margin in every sub-topic. If you’re like me, you could even start an Excel spreadsheet, standard deviations and all – but this is a particularly geeky move (albeit based on sound scientific research) and although my scores did improve after I started doing this, it’s hard to say whether doing this was the cause of any improvement.

A typical RNav question, from ATPL Online.

Do not, however, rely too heavily on these as learning tools: aside from the question of whether you should be doing this instead of actually learning and understanding the material, new questions will come up in your exams. You will also come across many, many questions in these banks that appear to make no sense. Some of these will be down to poor translations from foreign ATPL exams, others will be inexplicable. This can be very frustrating, but all you can do is not rely too heavily on question banks. Treat them as what they are: a useful tool to aid learning, but not the holy grail.

Like any other series of exams you will have studied for, you should plan ahead your revision strategy. I won’t patronise you with easily-discoverable revision advice.

If you have doubts about your chosen answer, my advice would be to switch your answer if unsure. This might sound counter-intuitive, but there is a lot of research to back this up.

Ask questions. Use whatever means you have to clear up any confusion you might have – there are plenty of people out there, affiliated with your course or not, who are willing to help. If your instructor’s approach or teaching style doesn’t work very well for you, approach someone else. On a related note, if you’re in a classroom, take the opportunity whenever it arises to help others with material that you understand well: doing this not only helps you remember it, but makes you think about it in different ways that might help you understand some confusingly-worded questions later on.


Recommended reading

How to Pass L3 (CTC Wings) Selection: Abridged

Note: some of the information below is now out-of-date: specifically, the aptitude tests that L3 use have recently switched from PILAPT to CUT-E. The principles will be the same, but for those applying to L3 or anywhere else using these aptitude tests, I highly recommend practising their tests for free at

The website is still under development, so expect more functionality in the future (all pilot tests should be covered by mid-2020), but in the meantime, make the most of this excellent resource:

CUT-E tests (L3)

PILAPT tests (Others)



In November 2013, I went to a CTC Wings (now known as “L3 CTS integrated ATPL” – snappy) assessment day. I made it all the way through, and would like to share my experience for anyone else hoping to do the same.

Below is an abbreviated account of the experience; if you have any questions, feel free to contact me.


You’ll be expected to arrive at Dibden Manor by 08:30 – retrospectively, my advice would be to book a room there for the night. There will typically be eight of you in total – enough for two groups. The day starts with a presentation explaining how CTC operates as a company, the course structure, airline placement, and so on. If you’ve done your research, it’ll all be familiar to you.

Group interview

There are two tasks to complete in the morning: a group assessment, and a series of aptitude tests. One group does the aptitude tests first, as the other completes the group assessment. Top tip: it makes no difference which way around you do it.

L3 use a few different tasks for the group assessment, and you will be asked to complete two of them. The first that we had involved being given about 20 photographs of aviation-related events from history, and as a group we were to place them in chronological order. The task was fairly easy, and most people will be able to relax and focus on coming across as (or better yet, being) a good team member.

The second task we had was a “remote island” type of scenario – an interviewer’s staple. Many of you will already have experience of this sort of group task, and will appreciate that common sense is paramount here. You will be demonstrating to the interviewer your ability to prioritise certain tasks according to the situation’s demands, your ability to work with others to achieve a collective goal, and will be expected to show that you can adapt yourself as the scenario changes.

My approach to the second task was to start the group discussion by suggesting how the group might carry out the practicalities of the task, and making efforts to reach a consensus on any decisions the team must make. I would suggest seeking the opinions of everyone in your group before proceeding with anything, if they don’t offer it themselves. More generally, you should think about what an airline pilot should be – for instance, cooperative and decisive – and what you can do to demonstrate how you fulfil these criteria. Remember, they’re looking for well-rounded people who have shown to them that they possess the basic skills required to complete the training and perform the job well.

Most importantly, don’t worry – most of this will come across naturally, and everyone will have some areas of weakness. This is allowed, even in pilots. Just remember to relax and contribute.

After finishing the group interview, you’ll be asked to spend five minutes filling out a self-assessment form, including reflecting on what you contributed to the group. They say that you’re not assessed on your answers to these questions.

Aptitude tests

Here’s what I remember of it. My advice: save your money on expensive aptitude tests (except for GAPAN’s expensive aptitude test), and practise your mental arithmetic.

Maths test: easy

Fifteen questions in as many minutes; pen and paper, no calculators. The questions are mostly practical applications of long division and multiplication, for example currency conversion. I practised these for half an hour each day before the assessment, and got full marks. I recommend TecMath for revision.

Crosshairs: easy

Keep the crosshair centred. It’s very responsive.

Patterns: medium

Your task is to spot abstract shapes in two images. I would suggest using all the time you have to make sure that you get it right.

Orientation: medium

There are three men holding a shape in each hand. You will enter the number of those men meeting the verbal criteria given through your headphones. Your response time available decreases, but most people develop methods of ensuring that they can interpret and respond as quickly as the task demands.

Concentration: medium

You’ll be looking for shapes of a certain colour within a grid; two will change every second, and when the criteria match, your job is to click on it. The criteria will change every so often, so memorisation won’t help in this task. This task may fatigue you after a while, so make the most of the breaks given to you. Again, there are ways of managing all of this information so you can quickly and correctly process it, and this should soon become apparent.

Countdown: easy

You start with a three-digit number, and a single-digit number, which is the rate at which the computer will count down. This rate will eventually change, and you’ll need to respond – the computer then carries on at this new rate. When it changes again, respond again. Keep on top of it and you’ll be fine.

Crosshairs + countdown: medium

Complete the crosshairs task from the beginning of the test while continuing to count down. You will need to keep the countdown rate at the forefront of your mind to successfully manage this one.

Crosshairs + countdown + shapes: hard

This is the one you’ll all be talking about at lunch. Fortunately, I know from experience that the raw scores for this task do not indicate whether you will pass or fail the aptitude test as a whole. If you have ever attended a Flight Training Exhibition and had a chance to try GAPAN’s free mini-aptitude test – something definitely worth queuing for – you will recognise elements of this task. My advice would be to avoid false positives, and to focus on what would be important if this were inside a cockpit – so fly the plane above other tasks.


After lunch, you’ll be separated once again – but this time, into the fortunate and unfortunate. Assuming that you have passed, you will then have a brief explanation of the remaining interview process, followed by an awkward re-grouping in which you offer platitudes to those not so lucky on this attempt.

The interview itself will typically last 45 minutes, and you will have an opportunity to ask any remaining questions. Speak slowly and clearly, as they’re writing down practically every word.

Most of the questions are competency-based, although you will also be expected to demonstrate a good understanding of the training programme, the airline industry, and so on. For specific potential questions, I compiled a list, but search for yourself too.

My strategy in preparation, aside from developing answers for individual questions, was to prepare several stories that showed core competencies they would be looking for: for example, one was about a time where I was responsible for the safety of a group of children who were being physically threatened. The way in which I told it was designed to provide the interviewer of evidence of my ability to lead, to deal with stress and resolve conflicts, and to adapt my behaviour appropriately when faced with difficult circumstances such as confrontation.

Life experience is obviously quite useful here, but if you’re straight out of school, for example, they will be understanding of this – so just reflect on any formative moments in your life, and your behaviour in the past in trying situations. Everyone has been a leader at some point in their lives.

At the end of the interview, you’ll have a chance to say any last words that you wish to have put on record – this is written down verbatim, so since you have a chance to prepare this, make it good.

Throughout the interview, L3 are looking for evidence that you will meet their standards through training, not just in terms of aptitude or intelligence but also – perhaps mainly – motivation to succeed. (Having now completed ATPL ground school, I can say that motivation may have been the principal determinant of our achievement so far.) Yes, CTC L3 is a large company owned by a private equity firm massive conglomerate, so they are naturally keen to see your money – but they also have a vested interest in seeing everyone on their courses succeed. If you show potential in your assessment day, then they will develop you into an airline pilot.

The next day, you’ll receive a life-changing phone call, and the adventure begins.


If you’re working or studying full-time, preparing fully can be a struggle. I was able to take two days’ holiday before my interview, which was invaluable, but the preparation started about a month before in my spare time.

As I said before, learn not to rely on calculators and practise arithmetic whenever you can. Not only is it going to make the day less stressful, but it will be very useful for checking gross errors, a vital task in this career.

Learn about the industry you’re joining. Know its history, particularly of the airlines you may be working for. You won’t be asked directly about this during a Wings interview, however you’ll need to demonstrate your knowledge in this area.

You’ll also need to determine what qualities an airline pilot should have, and how you can demonstrate them.

Don’t bother with PILAPT or other paid online aptitude tests – if you want a benchmark of your aptitude (a good idea), try a free equivalent, or if you have the money to spare, invest in the much more helpful GAPAN test.

Perfect your interview technique. Talk to yourself until you’ve stopped cringing and are comfortable with giving lengthy answers and telling your anecdotes – have a friend interview you and record yourself if you can. I got through this, you can too.

Recommended reading


Flybe Restructuring: Implications and Future

So Flybe have announced recently that, despite returning to profit, they will be laying off 20% of its workforce – coming to 176 pilots, and closing six bases, in what some consider to be necessary restructuring. Every base except Manchester will suffer job losses.

Following this news, the largest Flybe shareholder, Rosedale Aviation Holdings, sold its 48.1% stake in the airline.

Implications for Pilots

But on the other hand, easyJet announced record profits and a recruitment drive for 200 pilots! So everything will work out for the best, right?

Well…no. Here’s why:

  • easyJet use FlexiCrew – 200 jobs will probably go to those already in effect working for easyJet

  • Flybe are one of the few airlines that don’t treat integrated pilots preferentially, and are in many people’s opinion a great start to a career in the airlines.

So couldn’t easyJet just pledge to take on all of Flybe’s laid-off pilots, and still have 24 places for FlexiCrew to spare?

It remains to be seen whether EZY will actually take on 200 new pilots. But they are unlikely to exclusively hire pilots that Flybe decided they had to let go, nor will all Flybe pilots necessarily want to be at the bottom rung in easyJet, even in these desperate times.

It’s a fact of this industry that pilots who have taken the modular route will have a harder time of finding employment. As there is a huge surplus of low-hour pilots fighting for every seat, many airlines have decided it is to their advantage to “play it safe” and take all of their new recruits from schools with an established standard. This simplifies things for the airline, and is certainly beneficial for the FTO, but is a massive barrier for anyone who can’t afford the usurious price of their courses – and often having to pay for their own type rating afterwards. It’s easy to see why some airlines choose to do this, but it is clearly an insurmountable barrier for too many, based on money rather than merit.

To their credit, some airlines have – to an extent – wisened up to this problem, and have introduced sponsored training schemes, with British Airways leading the way. You still have a huge, six-figure financial commitment, but BA will offer to be the guarantor, and you’ll be set up for a very enviable position. Other airlines, including easyJet, Flybe, Qatar etc., don’t quite do the same but offer significant contributions and placement with that airline immediately after training – MPL courses offer more focused, entirely airline-specific training, with various benefits for the airline and the pilot, at the cost of having a non-transferable licence until hours are built. The barrier is broken down a little, and the airline’s workforce becomes a little more diverse, but they still maintain the guaranteed standard and also get to mold their future pilots from the very beginning of their training.

Flybe, for as long as I’ve been looking at this industry, have taken a different approach. They run these schemes, including MPL courses, but they will consider pilots with a fATPL, whatever school you’ve trained at. The caveat is that if you’ve taken the modular route, they like their candidates to have done all of their post-PPL training at one FTO. But you work your way up. A chance to do that is all that most aspiring airline pilots will ask for, but these opportunities are rare and only getting rarer.

The very first MPL course graduates (Nov 2010).

I should also mention West Atlantic, who have for a number of years run a sponsored scheme open to anyone with a PPL – the deal being that you basically work as their lackey while earning your licence, but they pay for it all (you pay half the cost back when employed by them). It’s a fantastic deal if you can get it, but anecdotally it’s very demanding work and you will very much have to earn your keep.

Watch this space.

Flybe’s Future

Some would argue that this was all caused by poor top- and middle-heavy management, which Hammad and new chairman Simon Laffin have appeared to begin to address. I for one hope they thrive.

Flybe are uniquely vital to the UK’s domestic market as they provide regional services that nobody else will. Their collapse would make regional travel within the UK much less competitive, and consumers would suffer, not to mention the low-hour pilot looking for a break. But their costs per available seat-mile (page 22) are unusually high compared to competitors. Flybe is impacted more than any other airline by air passenger duty, which will add £26 to the cost of a domestic flight. Page 24 of their half-year results presentation shows that Flybe pilots were flying an average of 374 hours per year in 2011 – easyJet pilots, by comparison, flew 813. In these terms, Flybe is absolutely an outlier, with far higher costs for comparable services, even when the shorter flight durations are taken into account. Too many routes – 61 out of 158 – are loss-making. So from a manager’s point of view, restructuring to improve the airline’s profitability, and to get more from fewer routes, pilots and aircraft – “optimise [Flybe’s] configuration,” to use their words – would seem a sensible option.

While concerns are mitigated by the fact that,  due to Flybe’s self-styled nature as a “stepping stone” airline, many pilots will be willing to accept offers of voluntary redundancy if they find work elsewhere, others will inevitably face compulsory redundancy. BALPA will be working with Flybe to decide how pilots will be chosen; it has been suggested that “last in first out” would be an unlawful approach, although there is only limited precedent for that interpretation.

Flybe, assuming this isn’t the beginning of the end for them, will emerge a different airline: it seems that Flybe tried to grow too quickly, but it’s now returning to profit. Rumours that Flybe will cancel its 175 orders and rely much more on the Q400 for the near future persist (45 of its fleet of 68 are Q400s). Meanwhile, Flybe Nordic are actually doing OK and are recruiting Embraer type-rated pilots, and a German regional called LGW are serendipitously recruiting for the Q400 (low hours, must speak German, no type rating required).

This can all be summed up by a post by someone with far more experience and expertise than myself: redundancy is a horrible and demoralising prospect; job insecurity does not make for an enjoyable working environment. There is a lot to gain, however, by accepting the inevitability of catastrophic events that you can’t control whilst keeping yourself motivated to do what you can to improve the situation. My thoughts are with anyone whose job is at threat – here’s hoping the situation improves soon.

Airline Profile: easyJet

Note: this was originally published on 12 October 2013.

Callsign: Easy

Ticker: EZJ

USP: The orange one. Europe’s largest no-frills airline. Increases efficiency by outsourcing where possible, cutting costs; short-haul, but serving destinations as far afield as Moscow.

Brief History:

Inspired by Southwest Airlines’ low-cost strategy, Stelios Haji-Ioannou established easyJet in 1995. Initially operating as “the ultimate virtual airline” with almost everyone aside from Stelios being a subcontractor and operating two wet-lease 737-200s from Luton to Glasgow and Edinburgh, easyJet grew exponentially. By the time easyJet floated on the LSE in late 2000, shares were six times oversubscribed.  and was soon large enough to take over rivals such as Go and GB Airways, making itself the largest low-cost airline in Europe.

In 2002, Stelios stepped down as Chairman, but continues to be involved as an owner of $2bn of shares, a lone but loud dissenting voice, most recently accusing managers’ plans to order new aircraft as a “vanity project”. His legacy lives on, however, in other ways (see Strategy).

Eighteen years on from easyJet’s beginning, low-cost carriers now make up 17.6% of the aviation market (full-service carriers comprising 59.3%).

Ray Webster was CEO/Managing Director for 10 years, with Andrew Harrison taking over from 2005 to 2010. Now, it’s Carolyn McCall.


Stelios stepped down as Chairman in 2002, but his management style heavily influenced easyJet’s so-called ‘orange culture’: employees are expected to be passionate about their work, eager to help, and to work well in teams. Pilots, for example, should not be averse to helping cabin crew clear planes of litter to improve punctuality. Again, this can be traced to Southwest Airlines’ model.Unlike competitors such as Ryanair, customer satisfaction was considered important.

easyJet targeted three cost-conscious customer segments: the traveller visiting relatives, the leisure traveller on a brief trip, and the entrepreneur/small firm manager.

easyJet heavily invested in marketing, creating enviable levels of brand awareness. They focused on punctuality, low cost,

Flexibility in their strategies is very important, allowing for the mitigation of risk in a volatile market with fluctuating external costs. It also means that they can stay ahead of the competition, including other low-cost carriers, for example by ensuring that they continue to get the highest returns: a recent example of this would be the agreement with Airbus for a three-digit number of A320neo aircraft, which allows for them in practice to take as many or as few aircraft as they happen to need over the next few years, according to demand.

Methods of increasing the airline’s efficiency included differentiating tactics such as direct sales, offering online discounts, no in-flight meals, first-come-first-served seating, and solely targeting “people who pay for travel from their own pockets.” Stelios and Webster also aimed to foster a culture of teamwork and cooperation like that of Southwest Airlines.

easyJet was first floated in November 2000, with FL Group being a major shareholder from 2004 to 2006. By March 2013, easyJet made it into the FTSE 100.

Values: safety, pioneering, one team, passion, integrity, simplicity.



Airbus A319-100 x 138 (+15 operated by easyJet Switzerland)

Airbus A320-200 x 57 (+7 operated by easyJet Switzerland; +69 orders)

Airbus A320neo x 0 (+100 orders; +100 options)

easyJet is the world’s largest A319 operator, and has always preferred to run a single type, however in a rare departure from Southwest’s philosophy, the airline prefers to run relatively newer aircraft to reduce operating and maintenance costs; accordingly, the A320s on order will replace easyJet’s current aircraft. This means that by 2022, easyJet’s fleet size is expected to be 276, but could be anywhere between 165 and 298.

easyJet currently leases 26% of its fleet, whilst its objective is to lease 30% – although this can be attributed to a number of leases being deferred until 2013-4.

For fleet size comparison, Flybe has 41 Dash-8 and 23 Embraer E175/195 aircraft; JetBlue has 127 A320 and 58 Embraer aircraft.


In 2007, easyJet announced plans to develop its own aircraft: the EcoJet. The proposed EcoJet would be a short-haul propfan narrowbody aircraft, holding 100-200 passengers. The intended design would significantly reduce emissions and noise pollution compared to the Boeing 737, and would be constructed mainly from carbon fibre composite material.

It is unlikely, however, that we will see any kind of brand new aircraft development before 2025-30 – whether like the EcoJet or not – as the major aircraft manufacturers are developing their airliners along more conventional lines. What’s more, easyJet have kept very quiet on this front since the 2007 press release.


Hamburg will become easyJet’s second base in Germany in 2014.

easyJet’s five largest bases are London Gatwick (LGW), Milan Malpensa (MXP), London Luton (LTN), Bristol (BRS), and London Stansted (STN) Headquarters are located at Hangar 89, London Luton Airport.

Stansted used to be their second-largest base, but its flights are now being moved to Gatwick and Southend (SEN).


Unlike Ryanair, easyJet prefer to serve cities’ major airports, whether they are closer to their respective city or not. All of easyJet’s services are direct flights.

easyJet will operate Flybe’s Gatwick slots from March 2014, and is considering operating flights from Gatwick to Guernsey.

While easyJet operates fewer flights to popular holiday destinations such as Kos or the Canary Islands than Ryanair, focusing heavily instead on business passengers, its destinations are often closer to where the passenger actually wants to go.

Ownership and Management

Board of Directors

Michael Rake – Non Executive Chairman (since Jan 2010). Has been or is Chairman or Director at various companies, including BT, Barclays, and McGraw Hill. He is currently a member of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Group.

Carolyn McCall – Chief Executive (since July 2010). Previously Chief Executive of Guardian Media Group, as well as Non Executive Director of Lloyds TSB, Tesco, and New Look. Awarded an OBE for services to women in business; Woman of the Year 2012. MA in Politics.

Chris Kennedy – Chief Financial Officer (since July 2010). Degree in Engineering & Electrical Sciences. Previously had a long career with EMI, progressing to International CFO. Lots of experience.

A bunch of Independent Non Executive Directors that I won’t include.

Executive Management

Alita Benson – People Director (since June 2011). Joined easyJet in February 2011 as Head of HR Central Services, before which she was in charge of HR Business Partners at T-Mobile and was involved in its merger with Orange. BA in English Lit., postgrad Diploma in Personnel Development.

Warwick Brady – Chief Operations Officer (since October 2010). Joined in May 2009 as Procurement Director. Extensive airline experience, including managing low-cost airlines, early start-ups, and restructuring. Previously CEO at Mandala Airlines, where he transformed it into a low-cost carrier; also previously Chief Operating Officer of Air Deccan/Kingfisher, India’s second-largest airline at the time. Deputy Operations Director at Ryanair from 2002 to 2005.

Mike Campbell – Europe Director. Joined in October 2005 as People Director. Worked at Wedgewood and Fujitsu across the world. His early career was in education and research. BSc in Mathematics, MSc in Fluid Dynamics.

Trevor Didcock – Chief Information Officer (since September 2010). Previously CIO at Homeserve, AA, RAC, with an earlier career in IT, finance, and engineering at companies such as Mars, J P Morgan, and Esso. BSc in Mechanical Engineering, MBA.

Peter Duffy – Marketing Director (since February 2011). Previously Marketing Director for Audi UK, Marketing Services Director at Barclays. BSc Economics, MBA.

Chris Kennedy again.

Cath Lynn – Group Commercial Director (since April 2012). Joined easyJet in 2002 following merger with Go. Cath has been in a number of senior positions in easyJet. Before her airline career, she spent 12 years in retail for Sainsbury’s. In 1998, however, Barbara Cassani headhunted her to manage cabin services, ground operations and customer service for Go. BA in Geography.

Carolyn McCall again.

Paul Moore – Communications Director (since November 2010). Previously a Communications Director for FirstGroup, and Director of Corporate Affairs for Virgin Atlantic during several crises. Paul won the PR Week Award for Crisis Communications in 2002. Paul started his career as a civil servant within the Department for Transport.

Giles Pemberton – General Counsel and Group Company Secretary (since April 2006). Previously in a similar position at Cable & Wireless. LLB, and a qualified solicitor in England & Wales.


In  terms of shares, as of November 2012:

easyGroup Holdings Ltd (Stelios Haji-Ioannou) – 26.07%

Polys Haji-Ioannou – 11.11%

Standard Life Investments Ltd – 7%

Prudential Group of Companies (M&G) – 6%

Financial Health

easyJet is, based on a business model that has proven extraordinarily successful (cf. Ryanair, Wizz Air, Flybe… Laker*…). Its yield management system (extracting the most revenue possible from every flight) has worked well, and the airline has returned a significant net profit, year on year. They’ve now broken into the FTSE 100 and have coped well during the recession.

In 2011-2, easyJet took in a total revenue of £3.854bn, or £58.51 per seat. After tax, the profit on this was £255m, or £3.87 per seat.

According to ICAO figures, the (forecast) net profit margin for all airlines worldwide in 2013 is $12.7bn on $711bn revenue, or 1.8%, equating to airlines earning an average of £2.51 per seat.

easyJet’s core profitability has meant it’s been able to cope well with fluctuating external factors such as the price of oil and air passenger duty that have caused problems for airlines such as Flybe, and their Lean programme has ensured that they kept their structural cost advantage.

To go into the issue of fuel further: easyJet estimated that their fuel bill for 2013 would be £30m higher than last year, with non-fuel-related exchange rate movement costing the company another £50m. More generally, fuel prices are expected to stabilise at $127 per barrel – this is a 55% increase from 2006. Their cost advantage makes easyJet capable of absorbing this hit.

For the past five years, load factor, turnover, net profit, earnings per share, and sheer numbers of passengers flown have risen. We can expect statistics on 2012-3 very soon.

Since going public in 2000, easyJet experienced a solid boom for several years, though with some slightly bumpy stats between 2005 and 2008 – although they never stopped turning a considerable profit, and passenger numbers have increased in every year that figures are available. easyJet has more than recovered since. In 2011-2, basic earnings per share increased from 52.5p to 62.5p.

This is all great news for prospective easyJet pilots, as their financial success is leading to expansion, which means more destinations, more flights, more planes, more pilots.

*To be fair to Laker, they couldn’t survive during a recession characterised by double-digit inflation, as well as relying too heavily on a favourable Sterling-US Dollar exchange rate. That and a conspiracy involving several flag carriers’ predatory pricing.

Expansion Plans

Big: as I mentioned earlier, easyJet are buying 135 Airbus A320neo aircraft, with an option for another 100 – 85 of which are to replace older aircraft. O’Leary recently announced that Ryanair are almost doubling the size of their fleet with an order of 175 Boeing 737NGs (while simultaneously being predictably controversial by denying the existence of climate change), which hold nine more seats each than the A320neo, and plan to carry 110m passengers a year by 2019.

As I write this, easyJet have announced new flights from Bristol to Marrakech and Reykjavik; five days ago, they announced plans to expand their Berlin base and the opening of a Hamburg base in early 2014. The order for new A320neo aircraft is a huge deal.


Terms & Conditions

Depends on how long you’ve been around. Base pay for a Second Officer is £35,919 or £44,901 for a First Officer, with £17.23 per sector. You can expect to be promoted to SFO after flying over 2500 factored hours, and the minimum for the left-hand seat is 3000 factored hours.

FlexiCrew pilots – see below – are on temporary contracts, and while they may be offered permanent employment by easyJet themselves after flying 1250 factored hours, these may still not be full-time, and could be based at one of their European bases.

In February 2013 easyJet made a big deal of offering 330 of their 450 FlexiCrew pilots permanent (but 75%) contracts, but BALPA’s response is critical:

‘easyJet has been dragged kicking and screaming by BALPA into offering a permanent contract to some of its growing casual pilot workforce.  But, despite the spin in today’s easyJet announcement, this “take-it-or-leave-it” contract is being denounced by pilots across easyJet.

‘BALPA has been inundated with concerned young pilots, desperate for a job and experience, who will still have to put up with two years on a zero hours contract and uncertain lifestyle. And, because of their £100k loan repayments, these pilots will take home less than a McDonalds employee.

‘And this from a company that is knocking on the door of the FTSE 100 and is hugely successful with a management team rewarded as such.’

It’s worth noting, however, that easyJet now offers better terms to its pilots; details are below.

Do they take low-hour pilots?

Yes: easyJet run a MPL scholarship with CTC, CAE OAA and FTE Jerez, in which they cover the costs of base and type training, as well as an A320 type rating. Provided you satisfactorily complete your training, you would be employed as an easyJet First Officer.

The alternative route for integrated FTO cadets is through their zero-hour contract scheme known as FlexiCrew, in which pilots are employed by their FTO and utilised by easyJet when there is demand. BALPA and easyJet recently re-negotiated the terms of these contracts, which were typically offered for 24 months: benefits of the New Entrant Contract include contracts with agencies such as CTC or Parc being capped at 12 months, after which pilots will be employed by easyJet as a Second Officer on £38,000 per annum; new loan arrangements underwritten by easyJet are also included; this contract also means that pilots will be able to undertake collective bargaining.

Do say: What’s the deal with airline peanuts?

Don’t say:

Manager from easyjet just said I couldnt board flight because I criticised @easyJet on twitter before boarding the flight.

— Mark Leiser (@mleiser) September 24, 2013

Recommended Reading

easyJet (2013, 18 June). Making a strong business stronger.

Young, K. (2013, 6 October). Desert island discs: Carolyn McCall. BBC Radio 4.

Pate, J. & Beaumont, P. (2007). The low cost orange flying machine: The case of easyJet.

 Calder, S. (2006). No frills: The truth behind the low-cost revolution in the skies. Virgin Books.

Flying Abroad: My Flight

Note: this was originally published on 28 September 2013.

As it’s been a while since my last flight – nearly two months – the day before my flight was planned, I went for a couple of circuits with my instructor, and practised some forced landings and low-level circuits. With the extra 20 minutes in my logbook, I was ready to go the next day.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t looking quite as good the next day: cloud was overcast at a fairly low level, and strong winds prevailed in both Wales and Ireland, although visibility was still fine and pressure was high.

I decided to press ahead in case the weather improved, and planned my flight as normal. I’d taken care of the 24 hours’ notice the day before, chosen my alternates, and decided on my final foute. (Unfortunately this later had to change – I’ll come back to that later.)

Wind was 340/25 or very close at all relevant altitudes, but I’m confident with my crosswind landings, and the only remaining possibly-tricky landing I’d have – the grass runway at Newcastle – was 36/18, and Waterford was 03/21, so I decided to carry on.

My main concern was still the low-lying cloud base – as my first leg was over sea for so long, I knew that any sign of difficulty would mean I’d have to turn back. I would still be able to reach 2000ft, however – I also knew that if there was a break along the route, I could sneak through above the weather without infringing any controlled airspace.

I decided to write a short script of roughly what I’d need to transmit on my first leg – anything I could do to reduce my workload once I was airborne, basically.

I left later than I’d planned: I took off at 14:15, whereas I’d planned to be gone by 14:00. As I didn’t have time in the end to visit all of my three planned destinations, I decided to cut out the one that I hadn’t mentioned in any filed flight plan: Kilkenny. I’ll visit next time.

As I climbed out of the circuit at Caernarfon and headed out towards the horizon, I knew I had an important decision to make: taking off from 02, about 50 feet above the ground I immediately began to notice the crosswind. I knew that the next few minutes were the time to decide whether I would have to turn back or not – I would much rather have to pay for one tricky crosswind landing than have to turn back because of poor weather at a point with nothing but sea in sight. If things got really bad, I might not even be able to turn back.

The wind was strong, with low, overcast cloud. It looked like I would be able to make it, but if that crosswind component were too high, I might have trouble landing. Being a low-hours PPL with some knowledge of psychology, I know that my experience isn’t enough to take any chances; on the other hand, despite my lack of experience, I am qualified – and it is my responsibility – to make these kinds of decisions for myself, so this was the time to do so.

Considering this, the wind was pointing down the runway at Waterford at the time, and it’s a nice and large asphalt surface; my alternates were similarly suitable. Not only this, but I had practice of crosswind landings the day before. As for my second destination of Newcastle Airfield, it may be a grass runway but it’s one of the longest ones I’ve seen; besides, if the weather worsened over the next couple of hours, I could amend my plans.

As I climbed past 1000ft in the circuit, however, things seemed absolutely fine – as the weather at this height was fine, the only concern remaining was the weather further ahead. After the first few minutes of flying and gentle climbing past the coast and into the unknown, everything was just completely serene. The difference between the hectic planning, scheduling, and revision on the ground and the absolute tranquility up in the sky was unbelievable – after so long since I last flew solo, I had almost forgotten just what it felt like. For all of the talk of workload management and stress in my previous posts, none of it mattered one bit once I got up there. I had the licence, I knew exactly what I was doing, and I was really enjoying doing it. The fact that I was now heading out away from this island into this vast expanse of water and cloud – to top it all off, under my own control – made it all feel even more surreal.

It’s been a week now since I carried out this flight, and I still can’t get over how it felt to do that flight. I’d never felt that calm and excited at the same time before, especially in an aircraft.

This isn’t to say that I was getting complacent: I was all on top aircraft management, RT, and so on. It’s just that when planning, you don’t appreciate just how much time you actually have to do everything on a leg like that. For instance, it took me 40 minutes to reach the coast, and before that all I had to do navigation-wise was stay on course, and switch frequencies near the FIR boundary. There were long stretches of time when I was able to sit back, scan the instruments, and appreciate the unique view I had.

What I could do was also limited by this view: until I could see the coast, the only way I could really check my position was dead reckoning. Luckily, however, once I could see the coast, I realised (to my celebration – it meant a lot to me that I got this part right) that I was dead on course. If anything, I’d be slightly south of the very centre of the windfarm that was my turning point.

Once I reached land, I changed course and reconfirmed my position. Luckily for me, there were a few rivers and bays that made perfect visual reference points. I was predominantly just happy to have made it all the way to land again without any problems, however. All I had to worry about after that was continuing keeping track of my position, and a small bit of RT. Shannon passed me over to Waterford Tower, I gave them what they asked, etc.

The airport was easy to spot – not for lack of trying anyway – so I joined the widest circuit I’ve ever flown on deadside, and ten minutes later, at 15:45, I was on the ground again.

Waterford, despite being a destination regularly served by Flybe, was all but closed that day: everything but the reception desk where I paid my landing fees, the tower, and security were shut; the only other plane that landed during my short stay was another private flight. Anyway, I spent my time there planning out my route for my next flight to Newcastle, and by 16:40 I was off again.

Leaving Waterford, I was hoping the weather might have improved – a little – and I noticed a gap in the clouds. This was my chance, I thought: if I could get through there, I’d have near-perfect weather to enjoy by comparison; the next-highest cloud base after this initial one was above any level I needed to consider.

Feeling adventurous (but with all due respect for height clearance limits), that’s exactly what I did. I climbed to nearly 6000ft, and leaned the mixture. I was clear of any dull weather below, and the view was fantastic.

The only problem was not being able to see land features, although this was certainly mitigated by the fact that I was only aiming for the coast, and I had some very recent practice of my dead reckoning skills, so I was confident in my abilities. There were also gaps in the cloud – so I could still periodically check my position anyway – but looking back, it was still an unnecessary risk. I would still have had the terrain clearance if I stayed below the cloud base, and the reduction in performance that went with my altitude wasn’t entirely desirable, if still well within limits. Regardless, I did what I did, and it was safe.

Once I reached the coast just beneath Wicklow, my plan was to follow the coast for around 10 miles, at which point Newcastle Airfield would be right in front of me. Correcting for wind, this would end up taking longer – it certainly felt it, as I was keeping a vigilant eye out for the grass runway hidden in amongst fields somewhere along the shore. This significant diversion of my attention may have affected the quality of my RT.

Photo courtesy of

Eventually I spotted Newcastle, flew a standard overhead join, and managed to land on 36. I had anticipated landing on a grass runway to be difficult, but in the end it was fine – not my smoothest, but OK: the grass was short and dry, and the runway was in generally good condition (although you have to be aware that it’s not entirely smooth or level). Nine-hundred and thirty metres’ length was more than plenty. I kept the nose light as I touched the ground, and eventually found my way to the club.

One indisputable fact about Newcastle is that it’s one of the friendliest places you can fly to. As soon as I shut down the engine, the owner, John Nugent, was there to greet me. He showed me the way to the cafe, I met the guys working there, and even got some advice on where to fly next from Ben Duffy, one of their instructors. Aside from the landing, it was even more like a sideways Caernarfon than I had thought. While I love landing at larger airports too, I honestly could have just flown to Newcastle and back that day and been happy – but I guess what’s really important is the journey rather than the destination.

Unfortunately, this stop-over didn’t go quite as smoothly as the previous: while I was outside having a coffee, a search-and-rescue helicopter flew overhead, apparently on the lookout for an aircraft that had set off an ELT. There was a brief moment where I thought I could have accidentally set off one which I didn’t know about, possibly hidden in my lifejacket or dinghy – but after checking we managed to establish I didn’t have one. Crisis averted – but I will have a definite answer before I leave next time.

When it came time to finally leave Ireland, I took off from 36, headed straight out to sea, and faced a substantially similar trip to that on the way there. The sun was setting behind me, with hardly any wind, a ceiling of around 3000ft, and around 90 minutes’ fuel endurance compared to 4 hours’ on the way there. Just like the first leg of my trip earlier, it was all pretty uneventful aside from a loss of radio contact for a short while. Spotting Caernarfon was relatively easy – just look out for the peninsula like on the way out – although this time I got a much better view of wonderful Anglesey. From coast to coast, it only took 35 minutes – which I’m sure everyone at the airport was pleased with by the time I landed (19:05). Needless to say, by this time I was the last order of the day.

So, learning points: first of all, allow for delays and setbacks. Like calculating take-off distance required, add a significant safety margin – especially if what you’re doing is unfamiliar, in which case you should definitely be taking your time. I thought I had accounted for this enough before, but I got it wrong, which added unnecessary pressures later on.

Spotting a grass runway is notoriously difficult – so if you’re going to use one, do everything you can before you set off to make it easier to spot it later on. Use Google Earth’s built-in flight simulator to fly an approach, closely examine nearby landmarks and their relative distances, any potentials for false positives when verifying your position, and so on.

As a VFR pilot, I don’t like clouds. But since I have to put up with them every time I go flying in this part of the world, it’s best to learn to live with them. I considered the conditions that day to be safe to fly in, and thankfully for me they were, but it is possible that my plan between Waterford and Newcastle to climb above the weather may not have been the best course of action. While maintaining cloud clearance wasn’t a problem and it may have been broken if not overcast underneath, turbulence was mild at worst and weather didn’t pose a real problem.

Last of all, find out for certain whether or not you have an ELT in your emergency equipment. Aside from giving some peace of mind in the event of ditching, it might be good to know so you can actively avoid doing anything that might unintentionally set it off.

I was, and I still am, really just amazed that you can in principle just fly wherever you like, so long as you let the right people know – it’s a sense of freedom that comes with the licence that I couldn’t really appreciate until I took advantage of it.

I should give my thanks in no small part to everyone at Caernarfon for their help, especially Ed’s in briefing me. I also have to acknowledge the huge part that Bristol Groundschool has played in making me a better pilot since starting my ATPL studies, making this trip much easier to pull off. It took a fair amount of preparation, planning and research this first time, but now that I’ve achieved it and had the experience, the second time will be a hell of a lot easier. Next stop, Donegal.

Flying Abroad: Update

Note: this was originally published on 6 September 2013.

Since last time I updated you, I’ve decided to change my plans slightly: I’m no longer going to Dublin, but Waterford, followed by a couple of smaller airfields in uncontrolled airspace.   The reason for this change of heart is that since I’m spending so much time and money planning these hour-building flights, it makes some sense to get the most out of it by visiting as many different places and airfields as reasonably possible – also, rather than just travelling from one island’s coast to another, my new plan gives me a chance to actually see a decent amount of Ireland, if only from the air, and make good use of the map I bought, poorly-designed as it is.

<<close-up of Eire map, where it’s particularly cluttered – near Dublin Intl>>

So, new plan:

1. Caernarfon  – Waterford (EIWF) (114.5nm) – requires 24h PPR

2. Waterford – Kilkenny (EIKK) (28.9nm)

3. Kilkenny – Newcastle (EINC) (52.0nm)

4. Newcastle – Caernarfon (EGCK) (61.8nm) Total distance: 257.3nm

<<picture of Eire map with route>>

The September issue of FLYER, unknown to me when I first started planning, not only has a number of free landing vouchers  – including for Newcastle – but also a rather useful article recounting a trip across Ireland. If you’re planning a trip like this, you’d do well to read it.

I’ve now also booked G-CGHM for the afternoon of  10 September – this won’t leave me with much time to explore Ireland on the ground, unfortunately.

A closer look at my destinations:

Waterford Airport (EIWF)

A regional airport in the south-east, operating Flybe charter flights but also home to general and business aviation. The now-defunct PTC Waterford was based here. €15 landing fee for what I’m flying, with a €3/hr parking fee.

Technical information

One concrete runway – 03/21; TORA 1433m; elevation of 119ft. Limited hangar space, Jet A1 & avgas available. PAPIs for both approaches. Waterford CTR is Class C, but at some hours becomes Class G. Radio and Mode C transponder are required.

Latest weather information and the VFR chart are available.

NDB WTD 368; DME WTD 110.9

Waterford TWR: 129.85 Waterford ATIS: 121.15

Waterford require 24h PPR; call, fax, or email.

Contact: Tel: +353-51-846600. Fax (Ops): +353-51-875623. Email (Ops):

Kilkenny Airfield (EIKK)

A private, licensed grass strip 3km west of the city of Kilkenny, operating in uncontrolled airspace. No landing fees! Technical information

One grass runway – 09/27; 930m x 23m; elevation of 300ft. Significant downslope on 27. No fuel or lighting available. PPR required; call 087-1255241.

Arrival procedures are standard VFR (2000ft QNH overhead, descend deadside, join left crosswind at 1000ft QFE); left-hand circuits for both runways. Follow their noise abatement procedures.

Kilkenny A/G: 122.9

Contact: Tel: +353-87-1255241 or +353-86-8130643

Newcastle Airfield (EINC)

A licensed airfield on the coast, east of the Wicklow mountains (like a sideways Caernarfon), with no obstacles on the approach to the 690m grass runway. Below Dublin’s airspace, so Class G. No landing fees, but FLYER still give you a voucher anyway. Avgas available, low parking rates, shower facilities available if that’s what you’re into.

Technical information

One grass runway – 18/36; 690m x 30m; elevation 1ft. All circuits out to sea (e.g. right-hand for Rwy36). At least 24 hours’ PPR and customs notice required. Non-radio aircraft aren’t accepted.

Latest weather information; closest METAR is for Dublin Intl. (EIDW). Call ahead for local weather information.

Newcastle A/G: 122.55

Contact: Tel: +353-86-2394417. Email:

Now that I’ve decided where I’m going, and I know all the details of each destination, I can get on with the detailed planning.

Here’s my train of thought for the first section of my plan, Caernarfon to Waterford:

As we established in my last post, my route – no matter where in Ireland I go – is going to involve a substantial amount of time spent over sea. It’s therefore in my interests to keep myself high up, out of the way of it and giving myself the greatest chances in the event of an engine failure. I’ll go for an initial planned height of 4,000ft but this might have to change dependent on weather.

My route will initially take me almost parallel to the Gwynedd peninsula, with my last visible Welsh landmark almost certainly going to be Bardsey Island. From there on, it’s unlikely I’ll see the coast of Ireland for a while, so I’ll have to be particularly vigilant for the time I’ll have in which my only visual reference point will be the horizon. I’ll also have to consider the danger area I’ll have to cross – D201 – for which I can get a DACS from Aberporth 119.65.

At the same time as all of this, I’ll need to keep an accurate ETA for the point at which I cross the FIR boundary (13 miles north of Vatry) based on my calculations alone. I’ll then switch to Shannon FIR, and stay with them until I get much closer to Waterford.

Once I do have the coast of Ireland in sight, I’ll be looking out for two windfarms that create a fortunate segue from one map to the other: one on land, at Cahore Point, and another several miles off the coast of Arklow. Once I have these two reference points established and the coast corresponds with my chart (ground-to-map, of course), I’ll switch to my new chart which I’m sure by then I will have learnt to love.

So this next part will involve a slight change in direction – all of 3°. It will also involve flying over land, which I’m sure will be a huge relief. The route itself is relatively flat, with lots of decent landmarks (near the coast, with several bays, roads, railways and two rivers). As Waterford’s a fairly large airport it’s very unlikely I’d miss it, but if somehow I did while still heading in a straight line, I’d know I’m off-course as soon as I start heading out to sea again. With all this in mind, my main concern will be speaking to Waterford and not infringing airspace.

As for my next route from Waterford to Kilkenny, it’s fairly straightforward, although I’ll be heading inland, a rarity for me considering where I’m based. It’s a short route, all of 20 minutes, and it’s straight through a valley between two hills of under 1100ft at their peaks, with a motorway and two small towns directly beneath my path. The only challenge might be the grass landing strip – something which I haven’t yet experienced – but it shouldn’t be that difficult.

Kilkenny to Newcastle might prove slightly more challenging: at a travelling time of around 40 minutes, I might not be able to see the coast at first; I also have a military operation area (MOA3) to contend with, not to mention the Wicklow mountains just south of Dublin, with a peak of over 3000ft just a few miles off my route and 2200ft directly beneath it. Nearing the coast, I’ll also need to avoid Dublin’s airspace at 4500ft. After this, however, I just have to identify Wicklow and cruise along the coastline to another grass strip nestled just under Dublin’s 2500ft CTA: Newcastle.

My final leg from Newcastle to Caernarfon is as straightforward as it gets: head out to sea, and fly at almost exactly 90° until I spot Anglesey and the peninsula again, then head for the all-too-familiar middle part. As for the non-navigation side, I’ll just repeat what I already ran through on the first leg, but in reverse. Couldn’t be simpler.

They always say to end on a lighter note, so here’s some more information about paperwork.

All airfields in Ireland require prior permission (‘PPR’) – 24 hours for all those I checked. Customs is an issue as well, but (a) calling the airport to check will save you lots of hassle, (b) Waterford’s a large airport anyway.   As for radio, FISs available are: within Dublin CTA, Dublin FIS 118.5; if no response, Dublin North 129.175/Dublin South 124.65. Elsewhere, below FL75, Shannon 127.5.

While I could file my FPL with the parent ATSU for the area I’m in, my plan is to reduce my workload and get all of the paperwork sorted before I start my trip, so that I only have to open and close them on the day. Prior to departure, I’ll get someone responsible to call the Flight Briefing Unit once I’m airborne. Shannon Low Level (to close FPL) can be contacted on +353-61-471233. Lastly, I’ll need to familiarise myself with the Irish AIP. NOTAMS and weather can wait until I actually go next week – until then, here’s a documentary on Concorde.

Flying Abroad

Note: this was originally published on 24 August 2013.

This might just be me, but I’m still having trouble getting my head around the idea that I can, in principle at least, just head on down to the airport, take off, and fly wherever I like. I could, for example, get from my local airport to Dublin in the same amount of time it takes me to drive to the airport. This might be because I’m only too aware that if you want to land somewhere different, a lot of paperwork comes into play. You have to file a flight plan, phone Special Branch… it sounds like a logistical nightmare. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been doing it enough.
Before you start planning anything, take a read of the following websites:

AOPA – Flying Abroad. While I’ve tried to be comprehensive in this post, AOPA do this kind of thing particularly well.

Aide Memoire (for crossing the Channel). If you’re going to France, this is for you.

Flying in Ireland. To my astonishment, someone has actually had this thought before, so the fact that they were generous enough to share their experiences was immensely valuable when I started writing this article.

Those websites provide you with the majority of the information you’ll need to fly yourself to another country. The reason that this isn’t the last sentence of my post is that I’m going to go a step further and walk through each and every step involved, and share my own experiences afterwards.

Once you’ve mastered the regulations surrounding flight planning, customs, and so on, you are (for all intents and purposes) free to fly anywhere, and that’s really what I’m aiming for. With that in mind, this week I’ll walk you through everything you need to take care of before you fly abroad, not only legally but safely (hint: respect the sea), using a straightforward flight from Caernarfon to Dublin as my example.

Because of the particular flight I’ll be doing, I’ll make some assumptions that might not be the case in many flights abroad: firstly, it’ll be a VFR flight that’s all I’m allowed to do; secondly, I don’t have to worry about anything being lost in translation, whereas those of you crossing the Channel might be expected to speak French when visiting smaller airports; finally, I’ll be crossing water – granted, for an island nation this could be a fair assumption, but obviously it isn’t necessarily if you’re in Northern Ireland.

First of all, draw a line from where your plane is to where you want it to go. (Forgive me if I seem condescending, but this is for me as much as it is you.) If you’re going to be further than gliding distance from land at any point, then you’ll be wearing a lifejacket for arguably the most dangerous part of your journey. My route takes me over the Irish Sea for almost my entire journey, so I’ll be taking a life raft with me, too. (Personal locator beacons are highly recommended, as are immersion suits if the sea temperature is 15°c or less.)

A quick note about landing in water: although it’s not ideal, and you should always adequately prepare yourself, chances of survival are nevertheless high (one NTSB study found a survival rate of 88%). If you’re spending any significant period of time flying over water, however, take a minute to read about some myths about ditching. Also, bear in mind that the majority of ditchings are down to pilot error: the major culprit behind ditching is fuel mismanagement.

Outside of the UK, you should be particularly mindful about closing your flight plan – this can result in SAR being deployed, accompanied by expensive fines.


Make a note of where you cross over to your foreign airspace – in my case, Shannon FIR – as you may well be asked for an ETA. For ease of reference there are even reporting points along the borders. My track should take me between Lipgo and Dexen.

It also wouldn’t be a bad idea to stay close to a busy shipping route, such as Holyhead-Dublin or Llyd- Touquet; ships use the 121.5 D&D frequency too.

My Southern England & Wales chart ends just east of Dublin International, so I’ve ordered an ICAO chart of Ireland (other products and retailers are available). Luckily, SkyVector allows me to get a rough idea of any landmarks and points of interest along my planned route.

SkyVector tells me that a straight line from EGCK-EIDW will be 72.2nm at 289°M, which will take 39 minutes at 90kts – which matches what I’ve drawn on my chart. Almost all of it will be across sea – sea that I’ve only gone about 5nm into before – so I’ll be sure to prepare myself.


Now that I have a rough idea of what my route will look like, I can start planning what happens if it goes wrong: for most of the flight, if something goes wrong I’m going to get wet. An emergency landing in Ireland, however, could turn out differently: I don’t have the ICAO chart yet, but a cursory look on Google Maps shows that (a) most of the land around Dublin is green, which is a good omen; (b) Dublin’s right on the coast; (c) there are lots of decent-sized golf clubs (some with more trees than others) on the outskirts of the city, which could prove useful. There also appear to be some mountains just south of Dublin, which is good to know.

As for alternates, there’s Weston, as well as a number of grass airfields in uncontrolled airspace – again, this is something I’ll revisit when I have the map.

My Southern England & Wales chart tells me that approaching the FIR boundary is a danger area (D201B), active on weekdays – but there’s a Danger Area Crossing Service available by contacting Swanwick Military 135.15 or Aberporth Information 119.65.

Outside the UK, the semi-circular rule for flight levels is usually adhered to – so odd +500 for 0-179°, even +500 for 180-359°. It’s unlikely I’ll get a chance to reach the transition altitude, though.

Ireland only has three airspace classifications: A, C, and G. Dublin’s surrounded by Class C airspace, which I’ll enter just west of Liffy VRP, so VFR and IFR flights are separated; I’ll also get traffic information about other VFR flights. As for limitations, my speed’s got to be below 250kts indicated – shouldn’t be a problem; at the altitudes I’ll be using, I’ll need 5km visibility, with 1500m horizontal and 1000ft vertical clearance from cloud. provides copies of the aerodrome, visual approach, and ground movement charts. (Note: these were published in 2010, so I’ll have to check that nothing’s changed since then before relying on their information.)

 VFR Chart


Aeronautical Information Publications (AIPs)

AIS for other European countries can be found on the AOPA website – the Irish Aviation Authority provide the AIP for Ireland, which contains the aerodrome chart, among other charts, for EIDW Dublin Airport.


Weather, TAF/METARs

The first thing I usually do is check AeroWeather. For a more comprehensive weather report, a quick Google shows that Met Eireann provides all the weather information a visiting pilot needs for Ireland, however their Self Briefing (MSB) system requires registration – but while I email them for a username, plenty of other websites can provide the TAFs and METARs to get a general feel for the weather over the past few days. A quick look at the changes in weather over the days before you plan to fly may help give you an idea of how you can expect the weather to change – and since I’m a low-hours PPL, I’m going to take all the help I can get.


Caernarfon A/G – 122.25

Valley Radar – 125.225

London FIS – 124.75

Northern FIS – 125.475

Dublin ATIS – 124.525

Dublin Approach – 121.1

Dublin Ground – 121.8

Dublin Tower – 118.6/129.175/124.65

Try to keep in touch with someone with radar whenever possible, especially over water. This might require a bit of planning: for example, in my case, I have Valley to hold my hand on weekdays – however London FIS 124.75 can’t be picked up west of Holyhead, thanks to those pesky mountains I showed you in my last post – so I may be speaking to Northern on 125.475 instead.


Flight Plan

If you’re leaving the UK, there’s no getting around it: you’ll have to file a flight plan. (It’s also strongly recommended if flying over water, e.g. from the mainland to Northern Ireland). In case it’s not fresh in your memory, the CAA have a leaflet detailing the process from beginning to end.

You’ll need to detail any zone entries you plan to make on your journey – in my case, I know that I’ll only be entering Dublin’s CTR.

We’re spoilt in the UK, in that we don’t have to bother closing flight plans routinely. Overseas, that habit can suddenly become very expensive, so you’re advised to close your flight plan either by radio (just before landing) or by phone (I suggest after landing) – even if your arrival airport has an ATSU, it’s worth confirming they’ve closed your FPL in case.

Fuel duty drawback can be claimed by filling in the HO60 form and sending it to HMRC – this allows you to recover the UK excise duty paid on any fuel in your tanks when you left your last UK departure point.

GAR (General Aviation Report)

Depending on your destination, you may need to complete a GAR (General Aviation Report) form. The following table, courtesy of AOPA UK, shows that I’ll need to send one to the police for the departing flight, but before returning I’ll have to send it to the police and the UK NCU (National Co-ordination Unit) for Customs and Immigration.

Here’s how I’ll do that: As I’m leaving from Caernarfon, which isn’t a designated port – it only has a Certificate of Agreement – I’ll need to notify the nearest Special Branch (Holyhead) at least 12 hours before my planned departure.

As there seems to be some confusion around the subject of Special Branch notification, here’s the text from the Terrorism Act 2000 itself:

Terrorism Act 2000 – Chapter 11 Schedule 8 Section 12/3

(3) Where an aircraft is employed on a journey to which this paragraph applies otherwise than to carry passengers for reward, the captain of the aircraft shall not permit it to call at or leave a port in Great Britain or Northern Ireland unless-

(a) the port is a designated port, or
(b) he gives at least 12 hours’ notice in writing to a constable for the police area in which the port is situated (or, where the port is in Northern Ireland, to a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary).

As Caernarfon Airport doesn’t have a police designation, it means that when returning, I’ll have to either submit a GAR via an approved website at least 12 hours before arrival, or submit a GAR directly to North Wales Police (12 hours before arrival) and Border Force via the NCU (4 hours before arrival).

The simplest way of submitting a GAR is online, where once again AOPA have come to the rescue – you can even download apps that will submit GARs. Doing so online will spare you the hassle of figuring out to whom you need to submit the form. The GAR itself is pretty straightforward, so I’ll spare you the walkthrough.


NOTAMs for all airports in Ireland can be downloaded from the IAA website as a single PDF. The latest tells me that several taxiways are temporarily closed over the summer, but otherwise everything’s fine.

Air Law

There are likely to be some small but important differences in aviation law in each country you visit. As I said before, the quadrantal rule is pretty much exclusive to the UK; there can also be variations in RT and other procedures. For Ireland, the GAM 05-10 details variations from ICAO standard. I already mentioned the Class C airspace surrounding Dublin and its restrictions, so as far as I can tell at this stage, there isn’t much else to worry about.

Last of all, don’t forget your passport.

In fact, here’s a list of what you shouldn’t forget:


  • PPL
  • Passport
  • EHIC card (optional; good idea)


  • Cert. of Registration
  • Cert. of Airworthiness
  • Technical Log
  • Aircraft Radio Licence
  • Insurance Certificate
  • Interception Procedures
  • Load Sheet


  • Maps & flight guides
  • Lifejackets
  • Tie Downs
  • Liferaft (optional)
  • Immersion suit (optional)
  • Personal Locator Beacon (optional)
  • Emergency Locator Transmitter (optional – compulsory in France)

Once I’ve got my map in the post, I’ll start some more detailed planning, and of course keep you updated. In the meantime, here’s the wonderful Jason Schappert, also known as M0A, sharing his advice on ditching in water.

The EASA ATPL Explained

Note: this was originally published on 26 July 2013.

’ve just finished my PPL training, so I’ve been looking in detail at what’s involved in the next two steps I’ll need to take: hour building, and ATPL theory. Having only just begun my studies with Bristol, I think that now would be a good time to disseminate what I’ve found out about the ATPL exams, and any advice I’ve come across.

(N.B. This only covers the regulations for fixed-wing aircraft; the ATPL(H) has a slightly different syllabus for obvious reasons, and requires fewer flying hours.)

Once you’ve got your PPL, there are two things you’ll need to do next: hour building, which I’ll talk about in a later blog, and ATPLs.

An excellent summary of other licence requirements to work as an airline pilot can be found at

An excellent summary of other licence requirements to work as an airline pilot can be found at

Firstly: what’s it for?

The EASA Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) is required to command aircraft over 5700kg or with over nine passenger seats. If you’ve only just finished your PPL, you’ll doubtless be aware that you’re a long way from fulfilling the flying hours requirements for an ATPL (1500 in total). The theoretical exams, however, are well within your reach, and once you have those you can build the hours while working as a commercial pilot.

Firstly, the exams themselves. There are 14 exams:

• Aviation Law
• Aircraft General Knowledge – Airframe/Systems/Power Plant
Aircraft General Knowledge – Instrumentation
• Mass and Balance
• Performance
Flight Planning and Monitoring
• Human Performance
• Meteorology
• General Navigation
• Radio Navigation
• Operational Procedures
• Principles of Flight
VFR Communications
• IFR Communications

Each exam lasts 1-2 hours, and like the PPL exams, they’re all multiple-choice.

Although I can’t yet speak from experience, I am told that ATPL theory subjects are not so much difficult or complex as they are never-ending. Six months of full-time study is generally considered the minimum in which you can realistically complete all of the exams, at a relatively small cost in the world of aviation. So, for fellow aviators out there who are still living on baked beans after finishing your PPL, ATPLs with the occasional flight in between to remind you of why you’re bothering memorising the Chicago Convention (or whatever) can be the most sensible next step.

You must hold a PPL before you can start ground school and taking exams unless you’re doing an integrated course (as they skip PPL theoretical exams entirely).
You’re going to need a Class 1 medical to use all you’ll have learnt, so if you don’t already have one, you know what to do.

You have 18 months from sitting the first ATPL exam to take the rest. When it comes to the ATPLs, if you’re able to study full-time you won’t have any problem with this limit – even with a full-time job, 18 months between the first and second modules will be plenty. If, however, you have any doubts, the best thing you can do is get in touch with your ground school. The CAA, unfortunately, do not have much of a reputation for bending their rules to accommodate personal circumstances, so it’s always best to ensure that you know exactly how long you have left to complete, renew, or keep various things current.

The CAA lets you take the exams in any order you like, although Bristol divides the subjects into two modules for convenience, and students at Bristol take the exams for each module in a single sitting. Exams in blue above comprise Module 1.

Ground schools provide brush-up courses for groups of exams organised into modules, held just before the exams themselves. (There is a requirement that 10% of your ground training is classroom-based, anyway.) In the case of Bristol, the brush-up courses for both modules last two weeks, finishing on a Friday – then on the next Monday, you’ll take the exams. The exams themselves are taken in sittings: while the CAA in their benevolence give a choice of venue (Gatwick, Oxford, Bedford, or Glasgow*), there are set dates. Over 4 days in each month, 3 or 4 exams per day are held, and you’ll take half of them.

The CAA charge a £69 exam fee per subject – according to my calculations, that comes to £966. Worth thinking about in advance.

In the unlikely event that you don’t pass an exam, you have three more attempts – after that, you’d have to re-take all of the exams. (You must also pass all of your exams in six sittings.) This is extremely rare – Bristol’s pass rate is around 92%, while the rest of the UK’s is 88% – but it’s something that you should know.

If you can’t start studying for your ATPL just yet, you can still prepare for it: YouTube is a very good resource for ATPL study; I also hear that there are online databases of multiple-choice ATPL questions – some of which are free. ATP Forum is a useful resource. Here’s a cheat sheet that a former student made.

Once you’ve passed your ATPLs, and you’ve accumulated 150 flying hours (100 PIC), you can start training for the CPL skills test. You’ll need 25 hours of training before you can take the test itself. Once you have that and a Multi-Engine Instrument Rating, you’ll have a “frozen ATPL”, i.e. all of the requirements to be issued an ATPL aside from the hours. Once you have 1500 of those, you’ll be able to send off for a real ATPL. (Bear in mind that without a Multi-Crew Cooperation course, you’ll have trouble getting an airline job – unless you somehow have more than 500 hours operating multi-pilot aircraft.)

*For our students overseas, the UK CAA has licensed examination centres in Perth, Australia; Florida, USA; Jordan; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and Jerez, Spain. Exam fees, unfortunately, will be higher outside of the UK.

Getting back into flying

Note: this was originally published on 23 July 2013.

First of all, you’ll be glad to know that my licence arrived, so I can now stop boring you with collated self-appointed experts’ advice and start preaching at you from my own hour-building experience. Naturally, I called Caernarfon as soon as it arrived and booked the Cherokee I trained in for an hour.
Flight PlanningThis Saturday happened to be the Aviation Museum’s open day, so the airfield was packed. We’re still experiencing the heatwave from when I wrote my last post, and the weather was almost perfect, aside from a few clouds placed directly in my planned path at around 3000 feet. The QNH was 1025, visibility was >10km, though with some haze south of Snowdonia – so all I needed to do was keep myself in good visibility and a good distance away from the mountains, and everything would be fine.

One confounding factor: I had a passenger, my girlfriend no less, acting as photographer. So for the first time while flying, I had sole responsibility for a passenger’s safety. This threw me off my normal routine a bit, as I had the extra tasks of briefing someone with no flying experience and making sure she was comfortable (she was initially a bit nervous, and remembering the first time I saw the types of planes I’d learn to fly in I can see why), but it was all good fun.

Neck hair

After a break of just under two months since I last flew, and nearly four since my PPL skills test, I was naturally wary about flying straight away without considering how my knowledge and skills might have deteriorated. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, as I had a couple of short check-rides in the intermediary months while I was waiting for my licence to arrive – during my PPL course I’d had a couple of long breaks in training too, so it wasn’t such an unfamiliar feeling, and I knew how to anticipate which skills would deteriorate faster than others. While Bristol’s excellent ATPL study package has helped keep the theory in the forefront of my mind, my main concern initially was stick-and-rudder skills, particularly acting decisively and making quick, correct judgements during PFLs (although I’d rehearsed these in my mind plenty of times before we flew, to compensate for the lack of recent practice) – so I certainly wasn’t over-confident. As it turned out I didn’t need to use that skill, but I was still thinking about it.

So, onto the flying. Pre-flight checks were all fine, as they tend to be when you have a checklist with you. I filled up, made sure my passenger was OK, and got the RT out of the way. Being an open day, there was more air traffic than usual, but this didn’t really delay us at any point; it just meant I stayed vigilant for traffic for the whole trip – which isn’t necessarily a bad idea, as there’s no radar service from Valley at the weekend. (I only ever got to speak to Caernarfon Radio, and after leaving the circuit I didn’t see any traffic for another hour, but the point stands.)


I had to make some adjustments to my planned route pretty early on – about 5 minutes in – because of cloud, so I climbed to 4000ft to avoid the mountains.


This would probably be a good point at which to mention that I picked up navigation pretty easily during my PPL (as challenging as it is), so it hasn’t been something I considered a weak point – but then I didn’t have to make any last-minute in-flight changes during the exam, or have any other simultaneous pressures to deal with (e.g. avoiding mountains while doing mental arithmetic). On this flight I didn’t get lost, but I did get confused between a couple of similar-looking features, which later snowballed into other false assumptions when I had to change my route due to weather – so I probably should have spent more time during flight planning familiarising myself with visual reference points along my planned route, in case I had to divert like I ultimately did. So while it’s easy to get lost around mid Wales, keeping a constant and accurate track of your position (and assessing it quickly) is something I’ll need to spend time working on in the coming months.

I can only imagine how much more difficult I would have found that workload if I’d had to deal with ATC or anything above Class G airspace in that time.


As this was my first ever passenger flight, I suddenly had a lot more responsibility to deal with: in the case of an accident before, it would have either been with my instructor – in which case I could always blame him, or by myself – in which case it would all be my own stupid fault and I’d only be putting my life at risk if I do it right. Now, for the first time, I was responsible for someone else’s safety – which is kind of heavy, but something I’ll have to get used to.

Mid Wales

As we came back up along the west coast towards Caernarfon, I made the call and joined on the crosswind leg for runway 25. My final approach was a bit steep – although I think this is partly due to a recent tragic accident on the approach to the very same runway was still on my mind, which I over-compensated for on my approach – but my speed and everything else was well within limits, with only a 180/07kt crosswind, and the landing was one of the smoothest I’ve done. My passenger seemed happy with it, so mission accomplished.

Conclusion: still got it. Need to work on nav, though. Exposing myself to busier airspace couldn’t hurt either.