Making the transition from Military to Commercial aviation


The aim of this blog article is to offer support and information specifically to pilots within the armed forces considering leaving and joining a commercial airline.  At AirlinePrep, we have team members who have done just this and can help make this complex process as simple as possible!

The military to civilian pilot transition is, for most pilots, an inevitable and eventually very rewarding experience, but it’s fraught with hurdles along the way.

The first bit of advice, start preparing early, even before you have decided to leave.  If you’re within 3 years of an option point, we would suggest you start getting ready, because when the industry opens the door, it's often for a short period of rapid recruitment, and if there’s one lesson to take away, it’s that they won’t wait while you obtain your licences etc. to be processed by the CAA, which can, believe it or not, take over 10 weeks.

The first hurdle to cross is the ATPL ground school exams.  For rotary pilots to be able to commence these you must have the requisite PPL i.e PPL(A) for fixed wing exams. Fast Jet and Multi-Engine pilots, do not require the PPL(A) to be able to commence the training for the ATPL exams. We recommend service pilots to complete their ground school with Bristol Ground School.  They’re an exceptionally well run school that will provide you with the preparation you need, not just to pass the exams, but to attain high marks.  They’re also well set up for service personnel and are ELCAS friendly, so the process will cost you a fraction of the course price.  Ideally, complete the exams with 2 years to exit, but at the very least, you really want them completed before you take your option/PVR.  If you don’t manage this, then don’t worry, but it will mean that you’ll be working rather frantically during those final months when your energy should be focused on job applications.

With the exams complete, start applying for jobs and book a course with a flying school to complete the practical training: CPL, MEP, MEIR.  Look for courses that are tailored to individual needs and always use every available credit, which in turn keeps the cost down and the duration short.  The credits can vary widely as there are a number of dispensations that you may be entitled to take advantage of depending on where you were awarded your wings and your operational type.  

With the licences complete, the job search starts in earnest.  Ideally, start the process before you even do the practical training.  Most airlines tend to recruit for short periods, so take the opportunity whilst the doors are open.  The application process is very different to joining the military and it does vary throughout the industry. The consistent aspect throughout all airlines is that you will sit some form of maths test/aptitude test, a competency based interview, group exercise and simulator assessment.  

The competency based interview is really quite challenging and very different to anything that you are likely to have experienced before.  As with anything, practice is the key, and with the experience gained whilst flying in the armed forces, you’ll have plenty of examples to explore. That said, drawing on those experiences and high-lighting the core competencies they are looking for, in relation to the specific question, is not particularly straight forward.  Airlines will take it as a given that you can fly an aeroplane well, but want they will be assessing is how well you translate and make relavant your military experience into commerical experience.

Here is an example for you to consider. A previous military client of ours was asked about an example of team work, but the example he gave was a very operational experience with a lot of military terminology that didn't deliver any core team skills and demonstrated too much risk, with a lot risky shift. When asked if he had another example, he relayed the experience of taking ownership of his Squadron's social fund that was running into debt. He explained how he assembled a group of people to each take on a role to return the fund to profit at the same time as benefitting all staff and their families at the base.  The example he gave was a lot safer in terms of meeting the requirements of the HR and Pilot assessors who were assessing him. Finding the balance between operational and non-operational examples is key to your success!

Likewise with group exercises. In the military team work is subtly different to the way it works within the airlines. The military is extremely heirarchical whereas in the airlines the authority gradient is less steep.  

The above is where an investment in a session with AirlinePrep will help you succeed!  We suggest booking a course as soon as you have submitted your CV/airline application or even when considering whether to leave the service.  Our Airline Pilot recruitment instructors have a wide range of experience preparing people for airline assessments and we can provide guidance on everything from getting your licence, writing your CV and cover letter and how best to prepare for the assessment process, with a particular focus on the competency based interview and group exercise. 

As stated at the beginning, it can be a fairly long process and will require a great deal of time and energy. Anything you can do to make the process easier is well worth the investment. 

At AirlinePrep our interview, assessment and simulator preparation courses can be tailored specifically for those considering leaving the Military and joining an Airline.  We can work alongside you for the entire process from creating your CV and cover letter, helping you choose the correct flight school, to preparing for an airline interview and assessment.  We provide a complete solution!  
If you would like to know more about how we can support and help you with your Military to Airline transition then please feel free to contact us.