Learn to fly - The Ultimate Guide!

Written By: Gauranga Magriplis

Learning to fly, it is something that just about everyone thinks about at some point in life! So whether you are interested in becoming a pilot, having a great experience or starting an awesome hobby this is our complete guide to learning to fly and getting a pilots licence in Australia! We will outline the differences between all the various licences, medicals and avenues that one can take to learn to fly!

Where do I start?

There are a number of avenues that will allow you to gain a pilots licence. The main difference is whether you want to become a pilot as a career or if you want to learn for fun and a hobby. If you are looking to learn to fly for fun or as a hobby the best avenue to explore is Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus). So it is important to decide what suits your needs and then go from there!

The different licences are:

  • Recreational Pilot Certificate (RPC)
  • Recreational Pilot Licence (RPL)
  • Private Pilot Licence (PPL)
  • Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL)
  • Multi-Engine Command & Instrument Rating (MECIR - While this is not a licence but a rating it is an essential part of being able to get a job in the industry as it allows you to fly aircraft with more than one engine and in IFR conditions. More on this later.)
  • Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL)

At this point of the article if you are brand new to flying I think it is important to note that everything in aviation is competency-based. For example, learning to fly can take longer for some than it does for others. The average number of hours to achieve a CPL is 200. However, if you excel at your training you can complete it in less. On the other hand, if you fall behind a bit which can happen it may take a few more hours.

Recreational Pilot Certificate -

Learn to fly - The Ultimate Guide!
The Jabiru J230. The Typical Aircraft You would fly with a Recreational Pilot Certificate.

The RPC is an inexpensive and quick way to learn how to fly. Granted it does not afford the pilot many privileges. It does however provide you with an excellent way to become a recreational pilot.

How do you get a Recreational Pilot Certificate?

All it involves are a handful of exams, and if you nail all the flying component you can complete your certificate in only 20 hours.

How Much does it cost to get a RPC?

The RPC can very affordable and you can achieve one from only about $6000-$8000!

What does the RPC allow me to do?

Someone that holds an RPC is allowed to fly an aircraft that is RA Aus registered aircraft with 1 or 2 seats with a maximum takeoff weight no more than 600kg from an uncontrolled aerodrome in uncontrolled airspace no further than 25 nautical miles from the aerodrome. You are also not allowed to take passengers and you can only fly by day in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).

Optional Endorsements:

Passenger Carriage Endorsement - This allows you to take a passenger on a flight.

Cross Country Endorsement - This allows you to fly beyond the 25 nautical mile restriction and to fly to anywhere in Australia.

While there are plenty more endorsements like operating a radio and flying in and out of controlled airspace/aerodromes. You are likely to gain these during your training towards the RPC. It is important to research your flight school to see what is included in the initial RPC.

Recreational Pilots Licence (RPL) -

The RPL is more or less The Civil Aviation Safety Authority's (CASA) version of the RPC. While most of the limitations on the RPC are the same. The main difference is that someone that holds an RPL can fly an aircraft that is CASA registered with a Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW) of no more than 1500kg. Other than that all of the same limitations apply to the RPL as they do to the RPC. One will need the same endorsements to fly beyond these limitations.

Private Pilot Licence (PPL) -

Flying Lesson Brisbane
Flight Lesson in The Diamond 40 Aircraft

The next step up from the RPL is the PPL. This is generally where flying schools will skip over the other two (RPL and/or RPC) and start training students for the PPL. The private pilot licence under the regulations allows the holder to do a lot more than the RPL. As opposed the RPL where the holder must gain the core licence then the endorsements to operate in and out of controlled airspace etc most of this comes as standard. The holder of a PPL is allowed to fly in VFR conditions by day. They are allowed to fly any single-engine aircraft and act as the pilot in command, so long as the operation is PRIVATE. That is the main caveat here, someone that holds a PPL is not allowed to fly in any commercial operation. Under the PPL students are also allowed to act as pilot in command in a training situation.

Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) -

If you are wanting to earn money for your flying you will need to gain a CPL. This removes a lot of the limitations of the PPL and most importantly allows you to be employed as a pilot by a company that holds an Air Operators Certificate (AOC).

A commercial pilot licence allows you to fly private and commercial operations.

You can be the co-pilot in any operation and the pilot-in-command of any operation except the following:

  • multi-crew aircraft in charter or regular public transport operations
  • an aeroplane certified for single-pilot operations with a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of more than 5700kg in regular public transport operations
  • turbojet aeroplanes with a MTOW of more than 3500kg in regular public transport operations.

You must hold the appropriate aircraft category on your CPL and the class or type rating for the aircraft you want to fly.

If you want to fly as pilot-in-command or co-pilot in a multi-crew operation, as well as holding the appropriate aircraft rating, you must have completed an approved course of training in multi-crew cooperation.

Multi-Engine Command & Instrument Rating (MECIR) -

Diamond 42 twin engine aircraft
The Diamond 42 Twin Engine Aircraft.

The MERCIR is actually two ratings. One the Multi-Engine component and one the Instrument rating component. Generally speaking, a school will teach them together and you will receive both ratings at once.

As the name suggests the MECIR allows the holding to operate aircraft with more than one engine (provided they hold the appropriate aircraft category if needed) and it will allow a pilot to fly in conditions of poor visibility and low cloud base. It also allows you to conduct an instrument approach into an airport where one exists. For these reasons, the MECIR is an essential part of being able to progress and work as a pilot in the aviation industry.

Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) -

Learn to fly - The Ultimate Guide!
Air Asia A330 Take-Off From Gold Coast (YBCG) Airport Australia

Gaining an ATPL involves 7 theory exams and a flight test. The ATPL allows you to act as a captain in a regular public transport (RPT) or airline operation. Once you have completed your theory exams you will be issued with a frozen APTL. The frozen APTL becomes a Full APTL once you have completed the flight test. This flight test will normally be done for you by a check and training captain that works in the same organisation that you do.

Aviation Medicals

Learn to fly - The Ultimate Guide!

In aviation, there are really only 2 types of medicals that are required.

The Class One Medical is valid for 1 year and is a requirement of the CPL. So if you lose your Class One Medical you are no longer allowed to fly for a job.

The Class Two Medical is valid for 4 years and it is a requirement of the PPL to hold a Class Two Medical or better.

One of the key differences of the RPC is that if you have a drivers licence you do not need to get an aviation medical. As the medical component of the drivers licence (almost none) will allow you to hold the RPC.

At this point, you might be wondering how do you get an aviation medical? For a doctor to issue a medical they must be a Designated Aviation Medical Examiner (DAME) you can see a full list of approved DAMEs CLICK HERE.

From Zero to CPL -

Learn to fly - The Ultimate Guide!
CASA Flight Crew Licence

In this section, we are going to go through a kind of roadmap that will outline the steps and what to expect when you decide to become a student pilot and start training to get a CPL.

The first thing that a lot of pilots and flight schools will recommend you do before you start flight training is to do a Trial Introductory Flight (TIF). This is where an instructor will take you on a flight lesson and put you through some exercises to see if you are a good fit for flying. And most importantly to see if you like it and feel like you are a good fit!

So assuming that you complete a TIF and you loved it. It was challenging and incredible and you want to start flight training full time! Next, it is really important to do some research and see what flight schools are in your area and a good fit. Once you have found the flight school that works for you it is all systems GO!

PPL Training -

As mentioned earlier in this article working towards the PPL is where most training providers will start In order for you to gain a PPL you must meet a number of requirements. All of these aspects of training and lessons will be covered off by your training provider:

  • You must be at least 17 years old to hold a PPL
  • You must have passed the PPL theory exam
  • You must meet the minimum aeronautical experience requirements (35 hours)
  • You must hold a Class 2 Aviation Medical (Or better)
  • You must speak, read and understand English at a minimum of aviation level 4 English language proficiency
  • You must complete all your flight training at a Part 141 or Part 142 flight training organisation, And;
  • You must pass the PPL practical flight exam
Learn to fly - The Ultimate Guide!
Basic Aeronautical Knowledge (BAK) - During your training you will become very familiar with this book!

The road to PPL if you are studying full time should take you about 3-5 months. Your initial training will include a lot of theory where you will become very acquainted with the Basic Aeronautical Knowledge (BAK) book. The first flight lessons you will take will simply involve learning how to control and manipulate an aircraft in flight. You will embark on your first navigational exercise and learn how to fly circuits. All of this in preparation for your first, and most exciting milestone; FIRST SOLO.

First solo is when your flight instructor has deemed you capable and safe to fly 1 circuit of the airport. This involves taxiing that aircraft, all the radio work, take-off, flying the standard circuit pattern and safely landing the aircraft. From here the bulk of the training will be navigation exercises and command hour building (solo navigation exercises).

CPL Training -

Once you have attained your Private Pilot Licence and are wanting to continue your training in order to work as a pilot the CPL is your next step!

Gaining a CPL involves 7 theory exams:

  • Human Factors
  • Navigation
  • Performance
  • Air Law
  • Meteorology
  • Aerodynamics
  • Aircraft General Knowledge (AGK)

Each exam requires 70% to pass and if you fail 3 times you are barred from sitting the exam again for 3 months.

The flying component of your CPL involved getting your total flying hours to 150 for integrated courses or 200 hours for non-integrated. The hours gained during your PPL count towards your total. In order to gain a CPL you must meet the following hour requirements:

  • 150 hours of total flying experience
  • 70 hours of which must be as the pilot in command
  • 20 hours of that must be pilot in command cross-country flying ( At least 300 nautical miles during which a full-stop landing is made at each of two aerodromes not within the flight training area for the aerodrome from which the fight began)
  • 10 Hours of Instrument flying
  • 5 Hours of which must be in an aircraft

Once you have completed all the required exams and training you are allowed to attempt the CPL practical flight exam. The requirements of which are:

  • You must be 18 or older
  • Speak, read and understand English at a minimum of aviation level 4 English language proficiency
  • Meet the training requirements and possess the minimum aeronautical experience of 150 hours as per Part 61 (detailed above)
  • Pass the 7 CPL theory exams
  • Hold a Class 1 Aviation Medical
  • Have passed the CPL practical flight test
Shark Bank Scenic Flight
Shark Bay - Western Australia: Where you can only hope your first flying job will be!

Once you have completed that you are free to find work as a pilot or continue to gain more qualifications. While we have provided a simplified version of what you will have to achieve and know there are a lot of things that we have not even touched on. Such as Part 61 which is the licensing section of the regulations that you will need to know like the back of your hand among heaps of other things. And while it may only take you a year or two to complete your CPL training. The journey of learning, licencing and renewing licences in aviation never stops! So be prepared to always learn and never assume you know everything!

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