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Updated on January 9, 2016
Far from the rag and string structures of earlier days, many modern ultralight aircraft have speed economy and style, and are a joy to fly.
Far from the rag and string structures of earlier days, many modern ultralight aircraft have speed economy and style, and are a joy to fly. | Source
CASA flight crew licence
CASA flight crew licence
RA-Aus pilot card
RA-Aus pilot card

RA's simple and it's fun

IN OPTION TWO, your training is likely to be less structured and your theory training is usually a matter of personal study from material provided by RA-Aus. You're also considered to be medically fit for a licence if you're able to hold a drivers licence in your home state.

In many ways, RA-Aus is far more in tune with the needs of recreational pilots than CASA, whose rules and administration try to cover a much broader spectrum of aviation activity. our picture of the two licences, CASA and RAAus, explain the differences better than a thousand words.

With an RA-Aus license you may only fly single or two seat aircraft in the weight limited category covered by RA-Aus and described in various classification from powered hang gliders to modern light or ultralight aeroplanes. Current upper limit of maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) for RA -Aus aircraft is 544 kg.but the organisation will also be overseeing another category called "light sport aircraft," which although still limited to two-seaters, will have a higher weight limit of 600 kg, which will expand your aircraft choices your aircraft choices considerably.

Your progress will be roughly parallel to the sequences in GA licence training, and you'll first be issued with a certificate entitling you to fly aircraft of the category you've trained in, but not yet to carry passengers, which comes after a little more experience, or to fly cross-country until you've done a navigation check flight.

Some RA-Aus schools may be far more focused on smaller and older aircraft categories, which (depending on where you're heading) have limited relevance to learning in the more modern types now available in both GA and RA-Aus fleets; and some RA-Aus instructors may have limited experience in teaching students on more modern aircraft. In general, and certainly with exceptions, instructors who have undergone training in both environments - GA and RA - are likely to have a stronger training background that will contribute to the quality and depth of the training they impart. Again, if you're considering a RA school for all or part of your training, it's a good idea to check the background and total flying experience of your prospective instructors.

Another factor is that some schools operate both light recreational two-seaters and GA aircraft, so it's far easier to transition between the two to keep your costs down.

If you decide to make a switch at a later time and pursue a CASA licence, the flying you do under the RA-Aus banner can be credited to your experience; however you'll have to go through a few hoops with an instructor from your new school who will assess what extra training you need to meet GA standards.

How airline pilots spent their time in the air

 Dassault Falcon 50 trijet landing at San Antonio airport
Dassault Falcon 50 trijet landing at San Antonio airport | Source
simulator are now widely used in CPL training
simulator are now widely used in CPL training
Theory training is an essential part of our learning
Theory training is an essential part of our learning

Full-time airline pilot training


A GROWING number of schools are now offering straight-through CPL training, with courses that include everything from ab initio to a CPL with a multi-engined endorsement and a command instrument rating. Some also offer type ratings and co-pilot experience on more advanced twin-engined aircraft such as medium piston-engined twins or turboprop-powered aircraft like the Beech King Air or the Fairchild-Swearingen Metro. Also likely to be included in the courses are ground training for the theory subjects, and training in a multi-crew environment including "cockpit resource management," a human-factors study area that introduces the trainee to the kind of teamwork, crew interaction, communications and cooperation necessary to operate advanced modern aeroplanes effectively.


Some schools also offer the student, on gaining the CPL, a job as a junior instructor. This brings the opportunity (if adequately monitored) to accumulate another qualification that will enhance your employability in the short term, and which is well-regarded by airline recruiters because it may later advance your career into an airline's training and checking department.

Newly qualified CPLs now face an "experience gap," which means they are rarely offered flying jobs that require multi-engined or IFR pilots. VFR jobs that don't require that experience include scenic tourist flying, VFR charter in remote areas, livestock mustering and dropping recreational parachutists.

Airlines are now sponsoring newly-qualified cadets to join general aviation firms to build up their experience, and this means there is considerable competition for first-job employment between new CPL holders. Flying training however is expected to continue to be relatively buoyant. That is another good reason to consider continuing your CPL training by adding an instructor rating.

Another hint: If you're intent on following a professional flying career, or even if you're not, it's valuable to include some advanced flying training that will sharpen your skills and awareness. The most-often recommended way to do this is to undergo aerobatics training, which is not only fun, it's also challenging and stimulating, and can't fail to improve your general aircraft handling skills, and your abilities in emergency situations.


From the day you start to the day you have an ATPL, a multi-engine command instrument rating and all the other qualifications that you need to be considered by an airline, you'll have spent somewhere between $80,000 and $120,000.

So another factor is your available funding, but watch this space. There's already a recognition that if the quality of trained airline pilots is to be sustained, highly suitable people will have to identified and adequately funded. You might be one of them. If you qualify (for example) for a Qantas cadetship, you will probably also qualify for financial assistance under the government's "Fee-Help" scheme. To do so will need to study at a university whose aviation degrees are approved by the government, and which contracts your flight training to a flying school approved by CASA and the airline. Similarly if you have access to loan funding, it's far more beneficial to do all of your training at a full-time training organisation, than to do just a little flying at a time, because this means a lot of time will probably be spent in bringing you back up to speed before the next lesson, which will ultimately translate into a higher total number of flying hours and a higher cost.

Other airlines, including Regional Express, are now looking at partially funding straight-through training, and it's likely that airlines will begin attaching a "training bond" to the deal, meaning that if you don't remain with the sponsoring airline for a specified time, you'll be legally committed to repaying some or all of the funds the airline has provided.

"Keep an eye on the issue of government involvement in funding flight training because it's a moving target."

You also need to keep an eye on the issue of government involvement in funding flight training because it's a moving target. Both political parties are becoming increasingly aware of the imminent shortage of airline pilots, and it is likely that any future government will discern that Fee-Help type funding need not be directly linked to a university degree. If that policy is developed fully, it's also likely that government loans will become available to any Australian

citizen who can demonstrate acceptance by an airline provided that they survive the training course. Airlines other than Qantas are now showing interest in this possibility, and at least one is also developing a loan funding arrangement. Any such plan would obviously include a "return of service" commitment, which is 'usually secured by a trainee agreeing to , stay with the sponsoring airline for a specified period, with the alternative of paying out the loan if they decide to accept other employment within the term of the agreement.

A Commercial Pilot License (CPL) & The Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) are major requirement for airline pilot careers
A Commercial Pilot License (CPL) & The Air Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) are major requirement for airline pilot careers
Continental Airlines 737 taxing to runway
Continental Airlines 737 taxing to runway | Source

A new look at airline


AIRLINES which have never had to worry about a steady supply of pilots, are having second thoughts and looking at new strategies to ensure there will be enough pilots to fly all the new aeroplanes they keep ordering. As a rule of thumb, one additional aeroplane on the fleet needs five to six crews - 10 to 12 pilots - to fly at the most efficient annual utilisation

For many years, Australia's airlines have enjoyed an increasing over-supply of commercial pilots to the point where they stopped funding cadet schemes, and later, some began accepting only pilots who had paid for training and type ratings on jets out of their own pockets. But current and expected domestic growth as well as surging demand in China, India and the Middle East, and particularly the global growth of new low-cost domestic and international airlines, are now also creating offshore opportunities for Australian pilots, and many qualified people are disappearing off the Australian market.

If this growth continues - and there's no reason to believe it won't - something has to be done, because traditional commercial pilot sources, the military, general aviation and current ab initio training programs, simply cannot produce the projected numbers of suitably qualified pilots.

One strategy that is gathering momentum, is the concept of the multi-crew pilot licence (MPL), which planners expect will shorten the time it takes for a pilot to gain the necessary training and qualifications by creating an intensive straight-through training course that will replace the years of charter or instructional flying with an airline-focused, modern training environment from the minute you step into your first aeroplane. Experienced airline check and training captains have long stated that chalking up hours in a light GA aircraft to meet a nominal hours requirement, established before modern simulation was even developed, is no guarantee of competence as a co-pilot in a heavy transport aircraft.

So, in October 2002, an ICAO panel of member states' airlines and aviation authorities set out to design a new innovative method of training turbojet first officers, who would be qualified to start airline flying immediately their training was finished. This means that once the airline had trained them on their designated aircraft type, they would have sufficient training and experience to be fully-functioning first officers (co­pilots) in normal operations, but also with the capability, systems knowledge and flying skills, to assume command of an airliner in an emergency.

The MPL program developed by the panel has been described as "a seamless, rigorous ab initio program that takes a zero-time pilot candidate to airline first officer in less time, and at less cost, than traditional methods." This is achieved by training the candidate realistically in a multi-crew, glass-cockpit environment, and the first batch of pilots to be trained under this scheme are now nearing the end of their course in a Boeing-sponsored program in Brisbane.

Of course there has been a quite predictable barrage of protest from conservatives who have followed the traditional paths and gained their minimum experience qualifications in more conventional ways. But proponents argue that MPL trainees, learning from Dav One in a full-on multi-crew training environment, supported by modern simulation techniques and using the same highly automated flight management sstems and glass-cockpit displays as any modern airliner, will receive far more effective and meaningful training than they can hope to gain by accumulating unsupervised solo hours flying on charter in light single-engined aircraft under visual flight rules.

"The quality and capability of the simulation will have a big effect on the development of individual programs."

The aims of MPL programs are to reduce the total amount of hands-on flying for a commercial pilot licence (CPL) from about 160 hours to about 80, the time span to full qualification from 18-26 months to 45 weeks, and the cost from (typically) AU$90,000-180,000 to about $75,000. This will be achieved by replacing much of the conventional training with time in advanced simulators. Other training organisations have embraced these concepts and have already begun to put together plans for integrated training courses. Typical of these are the concept of installing exactly the same instrumentation and avionics in the ab initio trainer, the piston-powered light twin-engined aeroplane of choice, a light twinjet, and the simulator, which will replicate the flight deck of a Boeing 777 or similar.

Although various compliant plans vary in detail, MPL students will be working in a simulator-rich environment, and will thus receive 200-240 hours total in training, including 60-80 hours in actual flight, and 120-160 hr simulator time. As the military has always done, MPL candidates will be training in a highly disciplined, military-style training environment, and apart from flying training, will study three major areas of competency in parallel — leadership and communication skills, aeronautical knowledge, and flight performance. As well, candidates will train as a crew, with one member playing captain and the other first officer. Crew resource and threat and error management are integrated throughout.

In a program defined by simulator manufacturer CAE, the trainee progresses through three more phases of study. In basic training, the candidate must demonstrate proficiency to private pilot level. In the intermediate phase, he or she learns the "300 knot environment" - typically in a light jet supported by simulator flying and aligned with the high-speed, high-altitude world of airline operations. In the advanced stage, the trainee completes a standard airline type-rating course.

The quality and capability of the simulation will have a big effect on the development of individual programs, and even some simulators in current airline use, may not meet the minimum requirements.

An interesting aspect of the MPL program is that if a B747 captain trained in this way wants to fly a Cessna solo for some weekend fun, he/she will have to meet considerable extra training and experience requirements, and gain a separate qualification to fly solo.

The MPL allows training organisations to offer substantially improved competency-based training to a pilot at the start of his or her career, in a way that has not been possible in a framework designed in another era for another purpose. And it has to work, or we'll run out of pilots.

Flight Training Adelaide, Australia

How to find your best flying school

Cessna 172 parked at flight training school ramp
Cessna 172 parked at flight training school ramp
Sign post showing flight school ahead
Sign post showing flight school ahead
Flight instructor sits at right seat, giving student to fly as pilot in command.
Flight instructor sits at right seat, giving student to fly as pilot in command.

Choosing your flying school


THIS DECISION is one of the most important steps in ensuring that you get the most out of the very considerable time, money and effort you put into your training.

Flying schools come in all shapes and sizes from super-large with vast hangar and office complexes, study facilities, sometimes with live-in facilities and an impressive range of aircraft, to others that are small, more intimate organisations with just a few aircraft and a small number of staff. Some have an air of businesslike efficiency, conduct full-time flying training courses, and even provide accommodation, including meals, library, and studying and sport facilities. Others are more relaxed, with club-style atmospheres, and some are small but well structured operations offering both class and individual training.

No particular type of school is necessarily better than any other. You will find some of them more appealing than others depending on who you are, what you're looking for in the learning environment, and in the type of licence you want to obtain. The best approach is to investigate them all from the largest to the smallest before you commit to one school.

While most flying schools will have the capacity to take you right through to your commercial rating and beyond, if that's where you want to go, it's fair to say that some are more geared to training 'career pilots' than others. This may be reflected in the aircraft fleet, the range of equipment and resources offered to students for ground training and theory studies, and the qualifications and experience of the instructors on staff.

However this may not be what you're looking for. Lots of people who commence their training have no intention of flying commercially, being happy instead to pursue flying as a hobby. If you're this type of person you may be happier in a smaller, club-based flying organisation.

It's also possible to accumulate some of your basic training hours in an ultralight aircraft at a school approved by RA-Aus, and then to complete your more advanced training at a GA school. However that may or may not provide a cheaper accumulation of flying hours, because the GA school will assess your general flying ability and may decide that you require extra catch-up training.

In the initial stages of your training, the aircraft you fly will more than likely fall into the 'basic trainer' category, with characteristics such as a fixed undercarriage, fixed pitch propeller, and probably only two seats. These aircraft will generally be pilot-friendly and forgiving in their handling characteristics, in recognition of your student licence and minimum experience at the controls

"Lots of people commence their training with no intention of flying commercially, being happy instead to pursue flying as a hobby."

Most of the schools that are set up to train career pilots will also have some larger twin engine types on line and, in some cases, turboprop and even jet aircraft. This will enable you to pick up further ratings and endorsements without having to switch schools. These operations are more often located in the larger metropolitan centres where there is a sizeable customer base.

Remember that the age of an aircraft is not as important as its condition. A one year old aircraft may well have been put through its paces by a succession of ham-fisted students and may have suffered as a result. In contrast, a twenty five year old Cessna may have been treated carefully and fastidiously maintained over time and may be in comparatively better shape. There are no rules here, so shop around, discuss these things with other people, take a good look at the fleet, and judge for yourself.

Whatever your intention is in terms of tour future in aviation, there's one factor which you need to keep in mind when choosing a school. You are the customer. You're about to invest a lot of time and money in learning to fly, so you need to assess your choices carefully. Don't make a hasty decision, don't be persuaded by any hard sell, and be very careful if asked to pay anything in advance.

Once you determine how far you want to go with your training, you may assess a range of schools in terms of a checklist as follows.

Aircraft: Inspect the range of aircraft each school has in its stable. Are they in good condition? Do they appear neglected? Are they appropriate to the type of training you want to pursue? If vou want to complete a commercial license, are there advanced training aircraft available for cross-country, multi- . engine and instrument flight training?

Atmosphere: Assess the atmosphere within each school as you visit and ask around. Take note of your own impressions of what you see and hear around you. Does the place seem friendly and welcoming? Is it a location where your could happily spend many hours at a time as you complete your licence? Is it busy and engaging, or does it remind you of a graveyard? Do the staff members appear energetic, attentive and occupied?

Customer service: As you're about to invest a considerable sum of money in the school of your choice, perhaps as much as twice the price of a family car -you should expect to be taken notice of by staff in the schools you inspect. After all, your business is their livelihood. So, are you ignored or attended to when you make your visit? How much time are staff members prepared to spend with you to show you around the aircraft and facilitiys? What printed material is available for you to take away and read to help you make your decision? How comprehensive are the answers to questions you ask?

Pricing: Whilst you shouldn't allow cost to be the only consideration in making your decision, a cost comparison between schools is important. What is the hourly rate of primary training? Are the aircraft good enough for the money? Is there a discount for block payments (e.g.. Lump sum periodic payments to cover your flying hours?) Unless you have unlimited funds available, it's very important to cost your whole project accurately, so that you know exactly what total costs to expect at every stage of your training.

Facilities: The flying school is a learning environment so it stands to reason that the facilities a school provides for its students should be conducive to tuition, research, and study. Are there study areas and briefing rooms on site? Are there training aids such as a library with text books, videos, interactive training aids or computer-based briefings or theory courses? Are the facilities in good condition, or are they run down and disorganised? (and some schools are.) This kind of assessment will help you make a clear choice and enable you to decide which school is right for you. When you visit some schools you may well encounter some degree of hard sell and even some wildly ambitious promises about your career future if you express an intention to pursue a commercial licence. It's important not to let this influence your decision. Instead, stick to your checklist and keep in the forefront of your mind exactly what it is you want from a flying school and from your training.



A new dimension
Discovering the pleasures of flying.

What's it all about
Why do people learn to fly, and what are their training options?

Licence categories
Tailoring your flying qualifications to your needs and preferences.

Training in the GA environment
The traditional training path in a general aviation school.


RA's simple and its fun
Recreational aviation has come of age, and is an increasingly popular option.

Full-time airline pilot training
If you're seeking an airline flying career, this is the way to go.

New technologies and training philosophies
Training as a team member from Day One.

Choosing your flying school
Tricks and traps n how to evaluate a training facility.


Different by design
The design features that make aeroplanes different.

Trying your hand
What happens on your first flight.


The training aircraft fleet
Some of the more popular training aircraft in the current fleet.

The walk-around
A guide to the main components of a modern light aircraft.

At the controls
Everything on the instrument panel' is important to enjoyable and safe flight.

The 21st Century instrument panel
New technologies bring easier flying and navigation.

Airports and circuits
A guide to the typical airfield and the sky above it.


A flying start
What you'll lear and how you'll learn it.

One foot on the ground
Learning all you need to know about aircraft, systems, engines, navigation, weather, flight planning and the rules.

Your first test
The first of a series of tests that will culminate in licence issue.

Finding your way
Learning to navigate visually is a skill you'll need to acquire.


Career options
Many and varied options that may become your career or part of it.

An airline flying career
A satisfying and challenging but rewarding career choice.

The helicopter alternative
Rotary wing training and careers

Flying the forces
The armed forces provide excellent training, an amazingly diverse fleet, and real adventure.

CASA approved flying schools
A directory of all Australian schools available to the general public.

RA-Aus approved flying schools
A directory of recreational schools.


Flying gear
A guide to essential and optional flying equipment.

Aviation terms and acronyms
Guiding you through the maze of experssions you'll encounter.

Back to the stone age
You never stop learning. A now-accomplished pilot flies us through some early and character-building experiences.


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