Journey To Being A Pilot

Ku Pao Jung (the author) conducting aerobatics

The air transport sector makes a major contribution to Singapore’s economy. Air transport facilitates the flows of goods, investment and people and connects Singapore to cities around the world. However, the aviation scene here is not as bustling with activities as many other countries like Australia and the United States. There are not many flight schools around, and education in aviation is still lacking in options. The pressure from our parents and even our society who wish for us to study hard and get into professions such as doctor, lawyer and engineer certainly did not help.

As a result, many are clueless as to the different ways to becoming a pilot – I was definitely one of them. I grew up wanting to be a pilot, but there was no one in my family or around me who had journeyed down that career path. I had to figure my way around, step by step, and it is my dream to be able to guide aspiring aviators through their journey by sharing my experiences – the main reason why we started Aircademy in the first place.

Republic of Singapore Air Force Pilot

The most well-known route to becoming a pilot will be to join the Airforce, where you get to learn how to handle advanced aircrafts in a myriad of challenging situations. Training is fully sponsored, but you have to serve a 10-year bond. To qualify, candidates have to pass a rigorous selection process before undergoing one of the most challenging flight training in the world. Being an Airforce pilot is also more than just flying – you are also a military officer, thus there will be secondary duties and responsibilities that come with your rank. Training lasts about 2 to 3 years, depending on which aircraft type trainees get sorted into (i.e. fighter, transport or helicopter). Most of the training takes place overseas at various air bases around the world, and you also get a chance to train with other Airforces. Furthermore, once you become operational, there will also be many opportunities to be deployed at our overseas airbases. At the end of your 10-year bond, you will also have a chance to transfer to civil aviation and join the airlines.

Professional Pilot Programme in UNSW (Aus). Ku Pao Jung studied Bachelor of Aviation there.

Another well-known route will be to join various airlines’ cadet programmes. Candidates will have to undergo several rounds of assessments to qualify. Airlines like Singapore Airlines will fully sponsor your training and pay you some allowance during your training – but you will have to pay the fees back through a small deduction in your monthly salaries once you start flying on the line. Other airlines like Scoot require you to self-sponsor. The training usually starts with an intensive ground school to obtain a frozen Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL). A frozen ATPL means you have all the theory credits and to unfreeze it you will have to clock up a specific number of flying hours. ATPL allows you to act as a pilot-in-command of a multi-crew aircraft. After ATPL comes the practical flying training – most airlines in the world are going for the Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL), which is a lot shorter and cheaper to obtain. As the name suggests, the training emphasises a lot on multi-crew operations in the specific airline setting. You get a lot less command hours and less visual navigation training, but you will get to start training on the big jets a lot sooner. MPL however ties you to the airline until you unlock your ATPL – i.e. you cannot easily switch airlines before that!

Ku Pao Jung with the Baron BE55

Lastly, you can also obtain a pilot license yourself. This route is a lot less well known as it is relatively more expensive and there is only a small handful of flight schools in Singapore where you can take your license. Singapore Flying College is one of them. Most people opt to attend flight schools overseas in popular countries like Australia and the United States. There are many options so you have to do a thorough research before making a decision.

However, no matter which country you decide on, the progression follows roughly the same path. You have to obtain a Private Pilot License (PPL) first, which allows you to carry passengers, but not for commercial gains. Besides general handling of an aircraft, you have to learn and be adept at visual navigation. Next, you have to clock up more command hours and fine tune your visual navigation skills to obtain a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). With a CPL, you can basically get paid for flying. There are many options in the General Aviation (GA) sector in countries like Australia and the United States, such as ferry pilots, jump pilots, scenic flights, etc. You can also opt to further your training by going for an Instructor Rating, which will allow you to teach others how to fly. Being a flight instructor is one of the best and fastest ways to earn enough hours for you to proceed to joining the airlines. If you wish to walk down the airline path, you will have to continue your flight training to obtain a Multi-Engine Class Rating (allows you to pilot a multi-engine aircraft) and a Command Instrument Rating (allows you to fly in poor weather/visibility conditions with reference to only your instruments). There are some airlines that take in fresh CPL graduates through their direct entry Second Officer programme, where once selected, candidates will go through further training such as Multi-Crew Cooperation and type rating for specific jets.

Ku Pao Jung with his instructors after Multi-Crew Coordination Course

All in all, the journey to being a pilot, no matter which path you choose to embark on, requires hard work, determination and perseverance. There will be many obstacles, and you will feel like giving up at many points in your training – but always remember why you started on this journey in the first place. You are always welcome to approach any one of us should you have further doubts and queries or if you need any advice on embarking on this tough but exciting and rewarding journey!

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Credits: MINDEF Singapore (Photo)

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