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  • Dyfrig Gibbs

Skinning cats - Integrated vs Modular


If you happen to get caught in the vice like grip that is the "become a commercial pilot" obsession you immediately have a choice to make. To coin a phrase from the good ol cat skinning days of the 1850's - "there's more than 1 way to skin a cat." Actually that's a terrible analogy, gaining an ATPL is surely far more fun than skinning cats. Here's a better one, it's like AA route planner - you enter your destination (the front right seat of a flying Aluminium tube filled with fares) and you're instantly given 3 routes. Route 1, the most direct, Integrated training - the super highway (with tolls) to pilotdom. Route 2, the slightly more scenic Modular route - quality A roads for those who love the drive (and have a little more time). Route 3, the alternative route, the I will be in that place one day route - first i'm joining the RAF to have an obscene amount of fun in ridiculous aircraft!

As a tiny kid I was obsessed with planes but petrified of fast jets, I hated the noise of them. By my teens though I remember thinking that there's surely no greater buzz on earth than commanding a high performance military fast jet. I stand by this today. Unfortunately in my teens I didn't believe it was something that I could do. I have to be honest too about who I was, and in my young adulthood I probably wasn't cut out for military life. Ironically, now I have grown up a bit and actually know who I am, I realise I'm a pretty good fit for the RAF. As it is though, we have long since passed the moment in spacetime that marked my 27th birthday and the last exit to that future. It is not for everybody, and that's fair, but there's no denying it's a good way to qualify as a pilot.

So let's say the military is out. You're left with the big question in pilot training - Integrated or Modular.

Integrated Is how I wanted to do it originally, it looks a blast. For those who don't know, integrated training is a live in, intensive, fully immersed course run by a single school or organisation. It's boarding school for pilots. It'll take roughly 18months and you qualify with just over 200 hours in your logbook. If you train at the right place too you are hot property in the current pilot market. Integrated schools produce a homogenous product sculpted to fit exactly into a 737 or A320 seat. The schools have clout and connections with airlines who during a busy recruitment drive have no time to screen hundreds of applicants. They go to their favourite shop and buy the product that they know is good. This obviously adds value to the course and it's reflected in the cost of training. The 3 best schools in Europe run exceptional courses, with state of the art equipment and aircraft and they have incredible employment records post completion.

Modular training, typically costs 70% of integrated, and you qualify with 25% more flying hours in your log book. You hold the exact same license too. Taking this route allows you a great deal of freedom and flexibility with regards to location, aircraft type, cost and timescale. It is possible to complete the training in as little as 15months but 2 years is about the average - this accounts for the fact that you can continue to work if you need to. Modular training has suffered in years gone by due to the perceived variation in the quality of pilot produced, but this advent appears to be dwindling as airlines recognise the maturity and level of motivation and experience found in most modular students.

The reality is that both have their pros and cons, but the kicker is less and less weighted towards job prospects. When I first embarked on this journey I felt I had to do integrated training, purely because I am responsible for a family, I would therefor need to maximise my chances of finding employment immediately after qualifying. It was also the only route that supported a secured loan, seemingly making financing easier - turns out I couldn't get it anyway. Balpa surveyed 500 of their members and found that 46% of pilots fund their training with a loan, 42% have help from their folks and just 12% have had any kind of sponsorship. I think that how your choice affects your financing should hold more weight today than your earning potential immediately after qualifying.

I think too that when making this choice, a balance should be found between being pragmatic and finding the route that you are most excited by. Most pilots cite their training as the best part of their career, so you'd be crazy to deny yourself the journey you most desire. If you are young, or even just fairly unrooted, I can imagine the camaraderie of integrated school would be awesome and an obvious choice - like uni, seasonnaire life or military training but better. Personally, having experienced Uni and life as a seasonnaire, I am tearing myself apart with excitement at the thought of being in command of my own training, of being entirely responsible for it and at the thought of planning my own flights around the UK to build hours. But most of all, and I'm smiling uncontrollably at this thought, I cannot wait to get my PPL and take Bella and my plane obsessed not quite 3 year old up! And Bear - I reckon he'll love it too, and he's not even 4 months!


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