Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has the ability to become a professional pilot. In fact, some people shouldn’t fly at all! Not because they can’t fly well – but because they can’t think well! Cocky, over-confident, egocentric pilots are not desirable and tend to be short lived in this job. The saying “there are old pilots and bold pilots – but no old bold pilots” is true. With the responsibilities and consequences involved, you naturally need to be supremely confident in your ability to do the job – but not to the point where ego exceeds ability. Mental attitude is everything. Throughout your career, confidence must be tempered with humility. One never stops learning in this game and you must have the ability to learn from others’ mistakes. You wont live long enough to make them all yourself.
Under-confidence is just as dangerous as overconfidence – so good self-esteem is essential. These are the reasons most companies require a psychometric evaluation before they’ll consider employing you. (Flight Training College offers an optional psychometric evaluation at the beginning of the course to help students determine their strong and weak points as well as a personality analysis for career guidance purposes.)
Medically, many impediments that were an immediate disqualification years ago are now acceptable, as long as they can be corrected. Eyesight for example.
The air force still has more stringent medical standards for their recruits but that’s because their financial investment and risk is greater. Should you lose your medical while employed as a professional pilot most company’s have a Loss of Licence Insurance to cover you until you’re fit to fly again, or even a lump sum payout if you’re permanently boarded. Several insurance companies are happy to insure individuals under a similar policy and it’s obviously advisable to have this cover if you’re self-employed.
Academically, it obviously helps to have Maths and Science to Matric (Senior) level but even if you haven’t, there’s nothing to stop you taking extra lessons to get up to scratch in these areas. Good English is obviously vital as it is the international aviation language. (Geography is another very useful subject although not mandatory.) In South African Airways the minimum requirement is a Matric with Maths and Science – that’s obviously in addition to your flying qualifications. Although only a Commercial Pilot Licence is required to be eligible for the interview, if you arrive without your ATP (Airline Pilot Licence) you are unlikely to be selected; given that most other candidates will already have theirs. Remember; you will be competing against the “cream of the crop” candidates for the top job, and the more attractive your qualifications and experience are, the better your chances of being selected. Airline selections are conducted on a point system and you will score points for experience and qualifications.Having an ATP, Instructors Rating, Multi crew, Multi engine, Turbine endorsement, all count for big points. Another factor is the age/experience ratio. Obviously the older you are, the more experience the airline expects to see you with.
One small tip – guard your reputation well! Airlines do their homework meticulously. Internationally this is a close knit community and if you are prone to slovenly behaviour or have a reputation as a heavy drinking Casanova or a flamboyant show-off, you can be assured the selection board will know about it before you arrive for the interview. Better have some answers ready!