A Visit to Local Airfields and Clubs

Some questions and answers on what it takes to become a pilot

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Saturday 6th June 2015

Inspired by Jason Smart’s book Take Your Wings and Fly - A Journey Through a Private Pilot’s Licence which I reviewed in my previous blog post, I decided I wanted to learn more about the flying clubs and schools near me.

After some research I discovered several options near my hometown of Bristol. The most obvious airfield as fas as proximity is concerned is Bristol International Airport (EGGD), but both Cotswold Airport, formerly RAF Kemble (EGBP) and Gloucestershire Airport (EGBJ) are within commuting distance.

After a few emails and phone calls I whittled my list down to The Bristol and Wessex Aeroplane Club at Bristol International Airport and Bristol Aero Club at Kemble (although officially called Cotswold Airport, I now realise everyone in the aviation industry refers to it as Kemble!)

I went and visited both clubs and met some of the instructors and staff. I was very impressed with what they had to offer, everyone was friendly and talked me through what would be involved. I had lots of questions, here are some of them along with a summary of what I was told:

  • How long does it take to learn to fly?

    That depends on what licence you want to gain and your own proficiency. There are legal minimums that you must reach regardless of your abilities, the Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL) requires a minimum of 30 hours flying training and the Private Pilot Licence (PPL) requires 45 hours.

    However, it may take longer than this before you are proficient enough to pass the skill test. It will also depend on how often you can fly which may be dictated by aircraft availability, weather and your own commitments. Many people take more than 55 hours to pass their PPL, with the average closer to 65 hours.

    If you can fly at least once a week and can get through the syllabus and exams then you should be able to get your licence in a year to 18 months.

  • What about the NPPL?

    The National Private Pilot Licence (NPPL) allows pilots to fly as a hobby in the UK in light aircraft on an unpaid and non-commercial basis. You can’t use it to fly abroad and can’t carry more than 3 passengers. The NPPL is still being issued today but it is being phased out in favour of the LAPL, which although also limited to unpaid, non-commercial flying, can be used in Europe as well as the UK.

  • What counts as a flying hour?

    Once the engine is running you can start the clock. So if you spend 10 minutes taxiing and 50 minutes flying, this counts as a full hour as far as your flight log is concerned. If you have to hold short while other aircraft take off and land, this all counts towards your flying hours.

  • Is there a time limit on getting your licence once you start training?

    No, you can take as long as you like. An hour logged today will still count in several years time. However, there is an 18 month limit on passing your skill test once you take the first theory exam. If you take longer than 18 months then you’ll have to re-take any theory tests that have lapsed.

  • Are there any prerequisites to flying solo?

    Both the PPL and the LAPL require that you log a certain amount of solo flight time before you can pass the skill test. It is a legal requirement that you hold a suitable medical certificate before you can fly solo. Some clubs also require that you pass the Air Law theory exam, but this isn’t a legal requirement.

  • What if I move away from the club, or just don’t get on with my instructor?

    No problem, a record of your progress will be kept in your log book as well as your Student Record of Training and the club will keep a record of your progress as well. If you want to change clubs you just need to give the new club this record along with your log book and they’ll be able to pick up where you left off. Clubs also understand that not everyone will get on with each other and that learning to fly is an expensive hobby, so if you want to change your instructor this is usually very easy and no hard feelings will be held by your existing instructor or the club.

  • Can I gain additional ratings after passing my licence?

    Your initial LAPL or PPL will only allow you to fly light aircraft in good weather during the day with no more than 3 passengers and in an aeroplane with fixed landing gear. However, after you’ve got your licence you can do additional “differences training” which you can add to your licence, for example this might allow you to fly in planes that have retractable landing gear. You can also do additional “ratings” to allow you to fly at night, or in the case of the PPL to fly in inclement weather, or in planes with multiple engines, or even train as a comercial pilot and start making a living as a pilot for hire.

  • Once I qualify can I hire a plane and fly away for the day/overnight?

    Absolutely! And you won’t have to pay the training rate, you can pay the cheaper self-hire rate. You usually only have to pay for the time you are actually flying, so if you want to go away for the day you won’t have to pay for the time you are parked up in the other airfield. You may have to come to some sort of arrangement with the club if you will be away for a long time but only flying for a few hours, or if you stay overnight. The rates you agree will be up to the club but may well be waived if you put in a certain number of flying hours.

Time to Decide

With all those questions answered I now feel ready to commit to learning to fly. I need to check I have enough money saved away as the hourly rate is really quite expensive. I also need to decide which licence I want to train for, check I can pass the medical examination and of course decide which club I want to train with. Hopefully I’ll be posting about my first lesson soon…