What it takes to be a pilot
(The Philippine Star) - December 19, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The good news is a college degree is not that important these days to train to become a pilot.

But you need to invest to learn how to fly in a basic flying school to get your commercial pilot license before getting your Airbus type-rating to become an Airbus first officer (or co-pilot). After clocking more flying hours, further training and upgrading, one can finally be promoted as an Airbus Captain. 

Many who train to fly a plane were exposed to flying since they are offspring or relatives of pilots. But for some, flying has been a (literally) lofty dream since their childhood days.

Picking the right flying school — first the basic flying school where trainees are made to fly small planes like Cessna — is a tough choice to make considering that there are so many to choose from. The guidepost though is to pick which school has the best track record, credibility, curriculum and instructors. Be careful not to enroll in diploma mills which will just give you a certificate. The cost of flying schools is basically standard among all.

After taking the basic flying course, in order to become an Airbus pilot, one has to get further training in an Airbus type-rating training center like the Philippine Academy for Aviation Training(PAAT) in Clark Freeport Zone for an intensive  ground schooling and flight simulator training. PAAT is jointly owned by Cebu Pacific and CAE of Canada, the leading manufacturer of flight simulators and with the biggest network of pilot training centers worldwide. PAAT is the CAE training center in the Philippines. It is the only training center in the Philippines whose instructors have been standardized by Airbus flight instructors who flew in from Toulouse, France.

In the early seventies, when there was just Philippine Airlines as the country’s flag carrier, pilots were supplied by the Philippine Air Force or some like retired Capt. Angelito Cristobal, were trainees of PAL who were integrated into the company upon completion of their training. Back then, Cristobal said, we were full scholars of the company. But now, PAL still holds the training but trainees have to pay for the schooling and with no guarantees of being hired by PAL, he added.

Would-be trainees at PAAT can  avail of loans from Maybank and Robinsons Bank. The  loans can be paid when the trainee is hired as co- pilot by Cebu Pacific or any other local carrier.

For many young people, being a pilot is the chance to travel around the world—experience different cultures and climates, expand network and meet people—and the prestige of the job not to mention that the pay is absolutely high compared to other jobs.  Thus, the money invested in training to be an Airbus pilot can be easily recovered after a few years.

After retirement, there are other jobs awaiting a pilot such as teaching in training schools like PAAT or get employed as an inspector by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines, tasked with overseeing the aviation industry and certifying the pilot training schools and trainees. Since Cristobal retired as pilot flying only the Boeing 737, he had to retrain for the Airbus 320 to be able to qualify as teacher in PAAT.

He said the advantage of training now is that the Airbus aircraft  is fully computerized—trainees need not memorize or compute every detail of a flight—while before at PAL they needed the help of a flight navigator and flight engineer to help them in such calculations and decision making. “I would say they are pampered with the high technology of Airbus,” he said. “What is important now with high tech planes is situational awareness and decision making.” he added.

Cristobal said plane passengers  should be assured that flying by air is safer than land or water because the training of pilots is definitely very intensive and rigorous physically and mentally. The pilot’s license is renewed every six months with the required simulator and medical tests while the first officer’s license is renewed every year also with the required written and simulated tests and physical exams every year. No shortcuts, he said.

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