Classroom vs the Cockpit – Is learning to fly a realistic alternative to University when considering a career in aviation.

Classroom vs the Cockpit – Is learning to fly a realistic alternative to University when considering a career in aviation.

At this time of the year when everyone is getting their exam results and wondering what to do next, we thought it would be a good time to tackle the question of PPL(H) Vs University.

If you’re about to finish Sixth Form this year then you could be reaching a defining moment – apply for a degree course with many others or choose something a bit different?

Personally, at 18, with all my friends fired up to attend Uni I really felt that I should follow suit and choose a degree to study. I was all set, course picked, but I didn’t get the right grades. I chose to wait and reapply but I never got round to it because I had started to fly in between!

So why choose a PPL over Uni?

The pressure to choose the standard route from college to university can be huge and maybe you’re not really sure what it is you want to do. Perhaps all you know is spending your time in a lecture hall isn’t particularly appealing! Maybe you’re already thinking that you might want to take up a more unique challenge? Now could the time to make that jump! Many school leavers are now opting for flight training instead of a University degree if they are considering a career in aviation. Whilst University is a must for some, you may find that to progress in a piloting profession that a degree may not be the best path. Training to be a Pilot could save a small fortune and allow them to be earning long before their friends graduate! Student loans means that the average university leaver has a debt of around £45,000; training to be a helicopter pilot costs about half that at Flying Pig. Fees can be paid in manageable, pay-as-you-train rates to suit all budgets and they should have a Private Licence within two years.

How long would a PPL take?

Of course, gaining a PPL(H) is by no means the easy route; there will be classroom study and exams to sit.  To achieve a PPL(H) or private pilot’s license you will need a minimum of 45 hours in a helicopter. This is a minimum and because everybody is different it’s difficult to say how many you personally would need. Depending on your circumstances and how much time you can devote to learning to fly it can take anywhere between 3 months to a few years.

How much will it cost?

The price of gaining a PPL(H) starts from £16,000 vs the £45,000 you would spend on a degree. Again it depends on your abilities, how much consistency you can give to your training and how much time you can devote to studying.

Where could it lead?

With a PPL(H), you can take friends and family out flying with you while you hour build in preparation of starting a commercial course. With a Commercial Licence you can make flying your career.


Here’s a few suggestions of potential careers in aviation:

  • Instructing – Helicopter pilot instructors teach other budding would be pilots to gain their license, first a Private licence PPL and then potentially a commercial licence. Typical duties will include delivering board briefings and relevant ground training to groups of student pilots, maintaining a high standard of student reports, assessments and records, monitor and guide student progress through the training curriculum to ensure all course requirements are met. These pilots teach people how to fly because they want to share their passion for aviation!
  • Examining – The job of an Examiner is to assess students to ensure that they have had all the appropriate training and knowledge to gain their PPL (H) and continue to make sure high standards are achieved in the yearly Proficiency Check.
  • Commercial Pilot –Commercial pilots mayfly private customers; they may taxi corporate executives from city to city, transport professional sports teams to their next games or take celebrities to a movie shoot.  Working for smaller companies/private owners allows for greater career autonomy.
  • Police– In most metropolitan areas, helicopter police predominate because of their enhanced manoeuvrability. If you were to look at a career in this area you would assist in traffic control, fugitive pursuits and riot control. These units also provide additional security at major events and assist in the deployment of special units like SWAT and counter-terrorism.
  • Air ambulance – The air ambulance team operate life-saving missions across the UK’s most stunning, but often challenging terrain. These pilots have to be exceptionally disciplined only to fly when safe to do so; unfavourable conditions, where seconds could make the difference between life and death cannot be flown which makes it a pressured, but very rewarding job.
  • Military – Whilst there is a fair bit of competition to become a Military pilot, job opportunities include that of a fast-jet pilot- conducting air-to-air combat or ground attack missions, multi-engine transport pilots who fly military support and deliver humanitarian aid – helicopter duties range from ferrying troops into combat to delivering equipment and supplies
  • Search & rescue– In most areas search and rescue teams operate in a wide range of environments, from mountains to the sea, urban areas to combat zones. These pilots are highly trained to fly particularly powerful helicopters in e.g mountain , cave or maritime rescue. SAR operations are perhaps the ultimate test of professionalism and skill for helicopter pilots.


What inspired our pilots?

“For me, it was watching Airwolf (the 80s TV series) and seeing a helicopter for real take off and land at a country fair made me realise this was in fact a possibility and not just a fantasy.” Capt. Paul White

“When I was child, I always dreamed of becoming a helicopter pilot and if you ask my mum, she would say I always had an interest in flying.” Capt. Birgit Kreutzer

If you’re almost convinced on taking the unconventional route of a pilot’s license, then the best advice I can give you is to take a lesson in a helicopter and see if you like it. After your first flight, the decision will probably be an easier one to make! To find out more, book or have a chat with our Head of Training please email

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