Please, assign a menu

Go Modular, fly a Spitfire

OK, so that title might not be 100% accurate or guaranteed, but, when setting out on your journey of learning to fly, you can progress an awful lot further in that direction that you might think, by going modular. And here’s why… 

If you want to become a (professional) pilot, then you need to learn to fly. Obviously. But how to obtain that magical bit of paper, the frozen Airline Transport Pilot Licence (fATPL) can be a bit of a minefield. The large training organisations will tell you than you have to go down the Integrated route if you want to be sure of a job. I’m going to explain to you why that is not necessarily the case. If you want to learn to fly and give yourself the best possible start, as well as save a tonne of cash, you should go Modular.  

First, what’s the difference between Integrated and Modular? Well, it’s as their names suggest. 

Integrated flying training is completed in one integrated package; you start, then around two years or more later you finish with the piece of licence paper in your hand. It consists, broadly, of ATPL ground school and then the flying phase, culminating with a skills test, or tests, at the end, for licence issue. Integrated training is sold in a nice shiny bundle that requires you to turn up on day one, then graduate some months later. That is not to say it won’t require effort on your behalf, because it will and it is not easy, but the administration of the flying training, bookings, where the courses are and so on, is all taken care of for you. You even get a swanky uniform, rank slides and maybe even a set of aviator sunglasses… The Integrated training courses are almost always full time.

The Modular route is completed in modules. Firstly, you train for your Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL), then you build hours to allow you to commence a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) course, and then a Multi Engine Instrument Rating (ME/IR). The ME/IR can be done before the CPL in some cases, and you will need to do your ATPL theory exams, most people do those whilst hour building. Along the way you will need to do a Night Rating too and your CPL Qualifying Cross Country, again, most people do that during the hour building phase. As a Modular student, you plan your own training, you decide when and where you’re going to do your training and studies, you organise all the separate entities and you can fit it in around your work. Some people don’t have the luxury of committing to a full time residential course and need to keep working around the flying training, this is where the Modular route comes into its own, because you can do just that if you need to. Although there is nothing to stop you doing a Modular course full time. I did, after the Integrated school I trusted went bust…

At the end of an Integrated course you will have in the region of 180 hours, if you started from zero, and with the Modular course more like 200 – 220 hours but with more Pilot In Command time (PIC/P1). You will have exactly the same licence, a CPL and ME/IR which is known as a fATPL. An Integrated provider will “include” a Multi Crew Cooperation and Jet Orientation Course (MCC/JOC) and an Advanced Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (A-UPRT) course as well as claiming to assist with preparing for job applications and the selection processes, whereas for a Modular student you will need to factor in for these courses as well. 

Then there is the cost to think about. Integrated training will cost you significantly more than Modular. Why? Because of the promise of it being the only way to lead to a job. That is the only justification for it costing so much more. And when I say more, it really is more. The leading training organisations will cost you £120,000+ for an Integrated fATPL whereas the same piece of paper can be obtained for £50,000 – £70,000 or so by going down the Modular route and being sensible with your expenditure. That is quite some difference for a bit of admin and some rank slides. As a Modular pilot there are also a multitude of scholarships to apply for that can and will save you a fortune with your flying training if you’re successful in obtaining one or more, this is not something that can help on an Integrated course.

I have a job, I fly for TUI on the 737NG. I have soloed the Spitfire seven years after my first solo as a Modular pilot. I also spent six seasons as a Flying Instructor, flying vintage aircraft as well as modern trainers, and was the first Non Qualified Service Pilot to be selected to fly for Ultimate High. All of this was only possible, including getting my “day job” in 2018, because I trained as a Modular pilot. If I had gone Integrated, it wouldn’t have happened. Period.

Flying with Ultimate High as an instructor would not have happened if I had gone Integrated, nor would almost all of the other things in my aviation career, not so soon anyway. Image credit Jamie Hunter.

It was possible because on a Modular course you can make your training fit what you want to get out of it. Provided you obtain your PPL in 45hrs, with your 10hrs PIC included, you then have 105hrs with which to do WHATEVER YOU WANT to achieve the 150hrs, of which 100hrs must be PIC, required to commence your CPL course. Because you only require another 90hrs PIC, of that 105hrs, you will then have 15hrs “spare” PIC time that you can utilise as dual for extra courses and still enable you to hit the 100hrs PIC. Some people say do an IMC rating, or an IR(R) as it is now. Don’t. Honestly, don’t. You’ll do plenty of IR training on your IR course, that’s what it’s for. Your hour building should be about building capacity. Capacity gives you thinking time, it is the aviation equivalent of being able to slow down time and is one of, if not the most, important attributes of a pilot. You build capacity by expanding your envelope, and at this stage in your flying career, that is done with more advanced flying and handling. Do the hard things, and then the simple things will become easier. Don’t just fly around in straight lines burning holes in the sky and chipping away at the hours, it’s pointless and a complete waste of money, time and most importantly, you will learn very little.

My two absolute top tips for any aspiring (commercial) pilot, whether you want to continue these things in the future or not are to fly aerobatics and fly taildraggers. By doing that, and getting competent in that wider envelope, your IR will be a doddle. Almost anyone who has struggled on an IR course, will have struggled due to a lack of capacity – the ability to think whilst flying. The flying on an IR is not difficult, it’s rate one turns and three degree approaches. By the time you get there you should be able to do that with your eyes shut. But, it requires capacity and that’s what many people arriving for the course lack, because they’ve just flown around in straight lines for 150hrs. Fly aerobatics and taildraggers and you’ll have increased your capacity, because you’ll be comfortable upside down and inside out, so a rate one turn onto a radial on instruments as you calculate your top of descent point will seem like a day out at the park sipping on a cold beer.

Flying aerobatics will drastically expand your envelope, so those things nearer the centre of it (rate one turns etc) will seem even more straight forward.

As soon as I completed my PPL, I completed my aerobatic rating and shortly afterwards my tailwheel conversion on a vintage biplane. I then spent almost every hour of my hour building, bar my night rating, going upside down or flying taildraggers. I took friends and family up when I could and some of them chipped in for the cost of the fuel, thus saving cost. On an Integrated course none of that is possible, because you do not have a licence, and therefore cannot carry passengers, until you complete the course. Even then, most don’t issue you with a Single Engine Piston rating, unless you pay them some more money, as if £120k+ was not enough…

Times are changing, the airlines don’t necessarily want someone who is fresh out of training with 180hrs to their name and little or no life experience. They are starting to look for more rounded and varied individuals who have a story to tell as to how they’ve got there. When I went for my selection day with TUI, the overriding feeling, and the advice I got given before attending, was that they were looking for someone who they can sit next to for 12hrs and have an enjoyable day out and decent conversation with. I wouldn’t have been eligible for the role I applied for if I did not have 1000hrs+, which I only gained by being an instructor, which only happened because I went Modular. They’re also looking for dedication and someone who really wants to be there to fly, not someone who is only doing it for a career to pay the bills. When you complete your training on the Modular route, perhaps taking two, three or more years fitting it in around work, you are demonstrating that dedication and you will have stories of how you overcame hardship to talk about in your interview. The handful of Integrated students on my Type Rating course were a bit older, and were coming to flying as a second career, so they had that life experience and were more mature people. Of course they could fly to a set standard, they had the same bit of paper as everyone else, but it wasn’t about that. It was more than that. Very few of those who were selected and ultimately joined the company were from the typical Integrated background. Times are changing.

None of this is to take away from anyone who has studied and trained on an Integrated course, indeed I started out doing that after having been made redundant from the RAF, believing it was the only way. Luckily, that school went bust. Completing flying training on any course, Integrated or Modular, is a huge achievement and not easy either way. Anyone who passes has done incredibly well. Nor is it to say than anyone who learns to fly on an Integrated course can’t go on to fly warbirds or other more varied aircraft in the future, because they can and do. The point is, you can get more training options, open yourself up to more varied future possibilities, as well as getting a job, more hours in the process and greater flexibility of training by going Modular. Not to mention saving a bucket load of cash.

I was asked to fly the Spitfire because of the experience I built up, which started during my hour building days as a modular student. Had I not gone modular, it wouldn’t have happened, nor would my day job.

If you are starting from the beginning, or considering it, go modular, you won’t regret it. I don’t.

Header image credit: Huw Hopkins, Vintage Aviation Echo.