Joining an Airline as a First Officer

In this article, the AirlinePrep team outline what you can expect when you join an airline for the first time.

Before You Join

Before you join your chosen airline, there will be a number of things you have to do from an administrative point of view. You will feel need to fill in a lot of paper work from employment contracts, to providing the airline with a Disclosure Scotland certificate, if you’re joining a UK based employer. This certificate proves to the airline that you have no criminal convictions, and allows you to be issued with an Airside ID pass - this is essential as you have to cross the UK Border each and every day that you go to work, and this pass allows you to do that. Throughout this process you will have to supply the airline with 5 years of employment and/or educational history, and provide references to that effect.
There is a good chance that you will be provided with information regarding your initial few weeks with an airline, have a good look through this and be under no illusion - your first few weeks will be hard work, and you won’t have time for much else! Your new airline will expect commitment and effort on your part, and you need to have planned your time such that external distractions are kept to a minimum. Use the time you have before you join to commence your study, perhaps starting to go through the technical manual or start getting your head around the new company Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), if you have this information.

The First Few Weeks

The first few weeks within your new airline will be extremely challenging, but you will enjoy them! Your airline will want you flying their planes as quickly, but as safely as possible. But before you can do that, you must partake in a series of courses and regulated training. From an administrative point of view, your documents will now have been checked, and work on giving you your airside ID will have been completed. You will collect this, along with your manuals, uniform once you have been fitted for it, and anything else the airline wishes you to have in your possession. You are likely to be given a brief tour of your airline’s training facilities and HQ, before your official training begins. Ensure you create a positive impression with everyone you meet, as you never know when you may see them again!
Once you have been through the first few days, often called an induction, your training will commence. This normally starts with the aircraft specific ground school. This is similar in style to your ATPL training, but will be specific to the aircraft type you will be operating. This training normally takes approximately two weeks, and will finish with a multiple choice exam. Ground school is normally taught via computer based training (CBT), where you sit and listen to a computer teach you everything, while you study the manuals alongside. In the evening, you will go over the topics you’ve covered in the day, preparing for the next day. Some airlines take you into a flat panel aircraft trainer too, to demonstrate the systems you have just learned about. A typical day would run from 0900-1700 in the classroom, with a couple of hours work each evening, too. You can expect some progress tests along the way, and an instructor will always be available to ask questions of, if you find anything complicated or difficult to understand. Nothing here is difficult, but like the ATPL subjects, quantity of information to be taken in over a short space of time is the challenge.
Once you have completed the ground school section, you will rapidly face the simulator phase where your knowledge will be put into practice. You can make this section much easier, if you have already committed the airline’s SOP’s to memory. You will be partnered with another new pilot, and it’s our advice to spend some time together practicing the SOP’s before you go into the simulator. This phase is extremely busy, and once in the simulator you will be expected to have prepared thoroughly beforehand. You can expect a number of sessions each lasting 4 hours, and this phase is as hard work as anything you will have experienced during your IR training. It’s important to ask for help if you are struggling - we all learn at a different rate and your airline will appreciate your honesty in asking for help if required. Just ensure that you have put the work in that will be expected of you. You will cover all the emergency procedures including engine failures both during take off and in the cruise, engine out landings, decompressions, fires and you will practice flying the variety of approaches you will be faced with on the line, and of course low visibility procedures, known as all weather operations.
Your final simulator session will be your LST - the Licence Skills Test. Successful completion of this allows your aircraft type to be issued on to your licence. Many skills will be tested and a raw data ILS will be required. Also, if this is your first commercial type, you will have to complete a number of circuits in the real aircraft without passengers on board, known as Base Training. This is great fun, and the only time you will ever fly touch and goes in a commercial aircraft type, so make the most of it! You will have to complete 6 take offs and landings to a successful standard, at airports such as Prestwick, Manston, Châteauroux, and Shannon, which are often used for this purpose.
After this process has been completed you will be given time to go to the Civil Aviation Authority to get your new aircraft type rating endorsed onto your licence, this is some achievement and you should be proud!
Before you fly passengers, there are a variety of further courses to successfully pass. These courses are:
  • Security and Dangerous Goods - you will learn about the latest security threats, and how aviation works to counter them. You will also look at the spectrum of dangerous goods that are permitted and of course forbidden to be carried on passenger aircraft.
  • AVMED - you will study aviation medicine and First Aid practices that are used on board an aircraft.
  • Safety and Emergency Procedures (SEP) - this is similar to the training that cabin crew undertake, and you will learn about putting out fires, the safety equipment on board, evacuating the aircraft, communications between the cabin crew and flight crew, opening and closing aircraft doors both normally and in emergencies, and everything else associated with cabin safety - including going down an evacuation slide! At some point during the training you will also have to go to a swimming pool, so that you can practice using lifejackets and boarding a life raft.

Line Training

Finally the time has come to fly passengers for the first time! A daunting experience, but one that you will remember for the rest of your life! Remember that you wouldn’t be here if you weren’t good enough, so relax and try to enjoy it. There will be much that you won’t be prepared for - making PA’s and briefing cabin crew for example. It will feel that everything is so different, and that there is still so much to learn, but rest assured the required knowledge will come quickly. Your Training Captain will put you at ease, so try to remember all of your training, what you’ve been through already, and remember to keep the operation safe - ultimately that is your role. You won’t get everything right on your first flight, so don’t be too harsh on yourself. Try and take things forward for your next flight, and constantly demonstrate improvement. You will be flying to airports everywhere, and each one will bring new challenges - and this will be the case for some time, especially if the airline has a considerable route network. You will enjoy every minute though, but don’t forget to keep working hard and most of all, LISTEN to the valuable knowledge your Training Captain is passing on to you.
After your initial flight, will come a series of flights with a line training captain, one who is specially trained to help new pilots. You will be given lots of help at the start, and this help will reduce progressively throughout your training allowing you to demonstrate what you have learnt. Throughout you will be given a series of subjects to revise, and learn about from incapacitation to terrain awareness and emergency procedures. You will have to discuss these with your trainer. Once you have completed the required amount of sectors, and have reached a suitable standard, your final flight will be a Line Check. This is just a normal flight, with no planned surprises, and you will just have to demonstrate that you are dependent, trustworthy, capable and SAFE. Once you have passed, you will be rostered like any other Airline First Officer, flying everywhere and enjoying the experience!

A Day In The Life

This section details two flights - one from London Gatwick and the other from London Heathrow. Both give you an insight into the kind of life an airline pilot leads. Of course every day is different - that’s what makes this job special - but these two examples should give you some idea.

London Gatwick - Dalaman - London Gatwick

0800
Arrive at the crew car park, and make way to the crew report building.
0840
Rostered report time, meet with the Captain, print off all the required paperwork, discuss fuel load, routing, weather, meet with and brief the cabin crew.
0900
Clear security and arrive at the aircraft side at;
0910
Arrive on aircraft and complete security checks, pre flight checks, external walk around, brief each other, call for clearance and aim to push on time at;
0940
Push back, start engines and taxi towards the take off runway.
0950
Take off for Dalaman.
DURING CRUISE
Flight time to Dalaman is approximately 4 hours, so in the cruise contingency planning takes place including MSA, diversion airports, weather, completing the flight log and the brief for the arrival.
1345
Land at Dalaman, and taxi toward the gate. Turn aircraft around within 1 hour, disembarking the passengers, deciding upon a return fuel load, clean cabin, complete an external walk around, complete the aircraft maintenance log, board passengers and push back and start engines.
1445
Take off for London Gatwick and complete the aforementioned cruise items.
1845
Land, shut down the aircraft, complete the aircraft maintenance log and disembark.
1915
Off duty - head towards the crew car park and go home!

London Heathrow - New York - London Heathrow

1600
Arrive at the crew car park, and make way to the crew report building.
1630
Rostered report time, meet with the captain, print off all the required paperwork, discuss fuel load, routing, weather, meet with and brief the cabin crew.
1650
Clear security and walk through the terminal, arriving at the aircraft.
1715
Arrive on aircraft and complete security checks, pre flight checks, external walk around, brief each other, call for clearance and aim to push on time at;
1800
Push back, start engines and taxi towards the take off runway.
1825
Take off for New York.
DURING CRUISE
Flight Time to New York is approximately 7hrs 10 mins, so in the cruise contingency planning takes place including MSA, diversion airports, weather, completing the flight log and the brief for the arrival. On long oceanic sectors, clearance to cross this airspace needs to be obtained.
0135
Land in New York, shut down the aircraft, complete the aircraft maintenance log and disembark. Walk towards passport control, pass through immigration, collect your bag, and head towards the transport which will take you to the crew hotel.
0300
Arrive at the crew hotel. Local time in New York is 2200. Enjoy the sights and sounds of New York for less than 24 hours, ensuring you are fully rested and prepared for the flight home. Crew transport leaves the hotel at 1845 the following day, which is 2345 UK time.
Day 2: 1845 local time (2345 GMT)
Crew transport arrives at hotel to take you to the airport.
Day 2: 1945 local time (0045 GMT)
Arrive at the airport, and complete pre flight preparations to depart at;
Day 2: 2045 local time (0145 GMT)
Take off for London.
Day 3: 0845 GMT
Pull on to stand in London Heathrow, shut down the aircraft, complete the aircraft maintenance log, and disembark the aircraft.
Day 3: 0915 GMT
Off duty - make way to crew car park, and drive home!

What next?

If you’re lucky enough to join your dream airline as your first job, then well done! This sadly doesn't represent most pilots career paths. Most pilots will join one airline, then look to move on after a few years before settling at another airline and progressing their career there.
Whatever happens, you can expect twice yearly simulator checks, yearly medicals, and yearly line checks (this sometimes can be done once every other year, depending upon the airline). Each year you fly, you will progress closer and closer to the role of Captain. A significant step in your career, and one which will feel a considerable distance away when you first join your airline. However, as each year passes your experience will build, and you will improve more and more with the training the airline will give you.
You might fancy a change, or you may wish to fly for an airline that flies different routes, or operates different aircraft types. You might want to start a career in a different country, potentially enjoying a tax free existence in the Middle East for example. Whatever you choose, ensure that it’s the right decision for you and make sure you prepare thoroughly for whatever recruitment process is in front of you.
We can help you.
Don’t forget that we can help you here, so please get in touch with us. We can help you be successful at your next airline assessment day or interview and we are always here to answer your questions. If you think of any, or have any feedback for us, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
ARTICLES IN THIS CAREER GUIDE SECTION:
  • How To Become A Pilot
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team give details on the steps necessary to achieve your dream job as an airline pilot.
  • Joining an Airline as a First Officer
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team outline what you can expect when you join an airline for the first time.
  • Life as a Short-Haul Pilot
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team describe how life might be for you as a short-haul pilot.
  • Living and Working in the Middle East
    In this article, the AirlinePrep team offer thoughts and considerations for those thinking of a flying career with a Middle Eastern airline.
  • Professionalism
    A mini-blog article from the AirlinePrep team describing the pilot attribute of professionalism.
  • Leadership v Management
    A mini-blog article from the AirlinePrep team discussing the differences between leading and managing a team.
  • Emotional Intelligence

    A mini-blog article from a retired TWA Captain discussing the benefits of emotional intelligence and understanding how it can make you a safer and more understanding pilot. 

  • Joining the RAF
    A mini-blog article from our in house Military expert on the tough RAF selection process, and your journey once you've been successful.
  • Making the Transition from Military to Commercial Aviation
    A mini-blog article from our in house Military expert on making the journey from Military to Commercial life and how best to make that transition as simple as possible.