Becoming a pilot

Cherishing a dream is admirable and important for young people who want to become pilots, but education and training is vital for this career. And doing well at school is the most important requirement for a future in the world of aviation. Nature has designed humans to live and move on the ground and we have developed a set of characteristics suitable for this purpose. Flying is not a natural condition for humans. Learning to fly therefore means adapting to "unnatural" situations, which often go against our instincts and the way of reasoning that make us human. To succeed, you need particularly strong and enduring passion and determination throughout a journey that starts in the flying school classroom and continues in your professional life, flight after flight.

Are we humans or superheroes?

The image of the "superman" pilot must be relegated to the pioneering age of aviation when courage was valued over knowledge and flying was about exploration and discovery. Today, flying primarily means being able to accept iron discipline and follow certain rules strictly, constantly and without exceptions. These rules have implications not only in your working life but also often in your private life too.

In the classroom

I would not recommend one school to attend over another: during my career I have met thousands and thousands of pilots, each with their own experience and own cultural baggage, some coming from a military background, others from civilian life with an infinite range of academic qualifications from universities and higher education institutions in Italy and around the world. But they all had one thing in common: an unshakable passion for flying.

Personally, I think that your attitude while you are there is more important than the school you attend. Determination in studying, desire, curiosity and delight in learning new and different subjects come from the individual and not the school attended.

Perfect sight is (not) needed

The pilot's profession is governed by international regulations known as JAR FCL 3 (medical part of a pilot's license), which can easily be found online.

Generally speaking, for civilian pilots some tolerance is allowed regarding sight, provided that it can be corrected with lenses. Basically, the sight requirements are: sight no worse than 7/10 for each eye provided that you reach 10/10 with both eyes with corrections. The myopic component cannot be more than -3 diopters. These figures are, however, approximate because the values change according to the type of medical certification you wish to obtain (first class, second class, etc.), but, in any case, you will find all the characteristics needed in JAR FCL 3.

A career as a pilot

In cabinA career as a civilian pilot in Italy starts with enrolling in a flying school (Aeroclub); the minimum age for enrollment is 16, but you need to have passed your 17th birthday to obtain your first license. To enroll on a flying course, you need to pass a medical examination at one of the three Air Force Istituti di Medicina Legale (forensic medicine institutions) in Italy (Milan, Rome and Naples).

At flying school, you start off with a theory course, generally lasting 6 to 8 months, with around 180 hours in total of teaching on the following subjects: principles of flight, aerodynamics, general principles of aircraft, human performance and its limits, meteorology, navigation, aviation regulations, operating procedures and communications. At the end of this first period, students take a theory exam to assess their learning.

After passing these first theory exams, the practical instruction phase begins, leading to exams involving various flying tests. To take the practical exam, the regulations require students to have flown for at least 45 hours, 25 of which with dual controls with the instructor on board, 10 solo hours (without instructor) and 10 at the instructor's discretion. After the first 10 hours of flying with dual controls (with the instructor), you get the student pilot certificate. The certificate allows you to fly solo, without passengers, when authorized by the instructor who must, however, be present at the airport.

License to fly

Having passed the exams, you start preparing for licenses and qualifications, which are awarded through government exams organized by the Ente Nazionale Aviazione Civile (ENAC — the Italian Civil Aviation Authority). Generally, the theory exams are written multiple-choice tests whereas the practical exams involve flying with an examiner authorized by ENAC.

  • PPL — Private Pilot License: license that allows you to fly in Italy and abroad on a not-for-profit basis. It is intended for those who wish to fly for pleasure, who need to travel quickly from one place to another or for sport or tourism purposes. 
  • CPL — Commercial Pilot License: This license can be obtained with additional training, after the private pilot license, and allows pilots to be paid for their flying activities. This is the license that allows pilots to fly for payment as a captain or co-pilot on civil aircraft. The license immediately below it qualifies you exclusively to pilot aircraft with non-paying passengers. To obtain the CPL, as well as holding the PPL license, you need to speak English (which is not necessary for the PPL) and to have flown for at least 150 hours. In addition, the flight rules change from VFR to IFR, with the resulting qualification for instrument flying. The advantages of this license range from the possibility of flying, as a captain or co-pilot, an IFR aircraft with two or more engines, working as a commercial pilot, and being able to fly outside of Italian territory. To get this aviation license and enjoy the benefits, you need to be passed as fit in "1st class medical examinations" by one of the Italian Air Force medical centers. These medical examinations have to be passed annually. 
  • ATPL — Airline Transport Pilot License: this is the flying license that qualifies you to fly as an airline pilot. After the ATPL there is a further course known as Type Rating that involves pilots specializing on a specific aircraft (you need the ATPL for this). Normally, after they have gained around 1000 hours of flying experience and have got their ATPL, pilots are hired by an airline which funds the Type Rating. Having passed this last course, holders of this license can handle aircraft used to transport passengers on scheduled or charter services. 

Having obtained the various licenses and qualifications, a civilian pilot can work in general aviation or for an airline.