When the time comes to get your ATP, and it will, you need to choose your ATP flight school wisely.
Well, you thought landing a commercial pilot certificate would be the ticket to glory and every aircraft operator would be leaving messages for you to call them back. Instead, the phone never rang and when a prospective employer would accede to see you the first question was always, “How close are you to having an ATP?” Doesn’t that bite? You bet.
Let’s talk about finding the right ATP flight school, what the Airline Transport Pilot certificate is and why it sits on the pedestal that it does.
The ATP certificate’s roots were originally not as a certificate at all but an add-on rating called the Air Transport Rating (ATR). In fact, there was no such thing as an ATR until 1932 when the Civil Aeronautics Authority told pilots who flew passengers engaged in interstate transportation that they had until January 1, 1933 to obtain the ATR. The check-ride consisted of demonstrating skills in airway navigation and controlling an airplane by reference to instruments.1 The maneuvers being required by the examiners of the day for an ATR were not consistent so by 1965 the FAA changed things around, beefing-up the test with more comprehensive requirements to be applied equally to all applicants and standardizing check-ride requirements. Eventually, they replaced the Air Transport rating and made it a license instead of a rating although it served the same purpose, permitting a pilot to fly passengers in airline transportation. They called the Airline Transport Pilot certificate. Originally a pilot had to log 1,200 hours to get an ATP but in 1969 the FAA upped it to 1,500.2 By the way, the ATP technically is not a “license.” Even though most ICAO countries call the ATP a license the FAA prefers to call it a “certificate.” The ICAO designation for an ATP is “ATPL” which stands for Airline Transport Pilot License; but not when using FAA-speak.
A person holding an ATP possesses the gold standard of pilot licenses…or certificates…or whatever…and it’s often equated to being aviation’s “Doctorate degree.” The Internet is full of websites proclaiming that a person having an ATP may use that suffix after his or her name (i.e. Homer Simpson, ATP).3 It never occurred to me to do this but maybe if I did I would start being invited to a lot of cocktail parties where I could rub elbows with M.Ds, J.Ds, and P.H.Ds.
In the United States, an ATP is required for all FAA Part 121 operations and some Part 135 operations. Increasingly in the last 25 years, insurance companies have been able to wield a bigger and bigger stick and even Part 91 flight departments are forced to using only ATPs in order to get less expensive insurance rates. Helicopter pilots can also obtain an ATP certificate in rotorcraft although the vast majority of operations do not require one by regulation except for some Part 91K and 135 operations.
FAA safety audits, dubious hiring minimums by bottom-feeder airlines that hired 250 hour pilots, tragic fatal crashes, and Congress created a turning-point for pilots seeking a multi-engine ATP certificate after 2013. In July of that year, new FAA rules for taking the ATP written examination (“knowledge test”) went into effect. It has been necessary for years for pilots to drag their logbooks to the FAA FSDO or Air Carrier Office (wherever written exams were administered for them) so a no nonsense scrutinizer would make sure they contained 1,500 hours. But after July, 2014 you now need not only the 1,500 hours verified in your logbooks, you must also complete an ATP Certification Training Program (ATP CTP) given by an FAA Part 121, 135, 141 or 142 approved training center.4 This training program consists of 30 hours of ground school and 10 hours of simulator training. Of the 10 hours of simulator training 6 hours must be in a level C or D full motion simulator. The specificity of this law in the FAA’s ATP requirements precludes Part 61 flight schools from training you, beginning to end, for your ATP check-ride in any multi-engine airplane. The notice does include a grace period enabling some to complete ATP training under the old Part 61 rules by July 31, 2016, but this applies only to those who passed the written exam before July 31, 2014. Obviously, this requirement doesn’t prohibit you from all training and you can still get instruction on ATP maneuvers from a Part 61 school. However, you must fulfill the requirements of the FAA’s ATP Certification Training Program conducted at a Part 121/135/141/142 training facility.
Up until now we’ve been talking about the written examination but once all those requirements have been met you still have the practical portion (the check ride) to knock out. It doesn’t matter whether you do this in a Piper Seminole or use a type rating check ride in a bizjet to accomplish the multi-engine practical test. Just a suggestion…a type rating in a turbine aircraft might benefit you more even if you land a job at a company that does not fly that particular type. Type ratings give pilot applicants more Brownie points.
Even with the new ATP CTP rules, ATP training doesn’t take that long so it’s a good idea to be within spitting distance of having 1,500 hours before you start training. It would be frustrating to be ready for the written examination and then have to wait to log several hundred more hours before you can proceed.
It should not be ignored that you may still get an ATP without the need of completing the Certification Training Program. The new rules do not apply to those seeking a single-engine airplane ATP. Believe it or not, there are scheduled air carriers that do fly single engine airplanes!5 Other than that and maybe a break on insurance premiums, a single engine ATP is probably good for little else than just keeping your ATP written from dissolving after 24-months.
When I passed my ATP check-ride the examiner said to me, “I’m going to give you your ATP but I am going to take away your instrument rating.” He was having a little fun with me, and fortunately, I had heard that the instrument rating is removed when obtaining an ATP certificate or otherwise my response would have been, “Arghhh!!” Indeed, when you get an ATP you “lose” your instrument rating because in order to get an ATP you must first have a commercial license with instrument rating. Hence, an instrument rating is implicit to an ATP certificate. This was not the case in the days of the ATR. Back then an airline captain was required to hold an Air Transport rating and an Instrument rating.6 This all changed when the ATP certificate… or license… or whatever was born.
If you want to get an eye-full of reasons why you should set the ATP as your primary goal take a look at FAR Part 61.7 The FARs are very explicit about what an ATP certificated pilot can do. The first, of course, is that an ATP can do anything that a commercial pilot with instrument rating can do.
An ATP who is rated and qualified as PIC under Parts 121, 125 and some 135 operations but does not have a CFI certificate is permitted to instruct with some conditions. The instruction may only be in the category, class and type of aircraft in which the ATP is current as PIC and both the ATP and the student are part of an air carrier’s own training program. In other words, an ATP can’t hang out at the local airport and give instruction to all comers. It must be within the confines of the air carrier’s own training program. This applies to giving simulator instruction as well. In addition, the ATP is authorized to endorse training records and the logbook of students to whom instruction has been given as well.
The most effective and quickest road to success is to get your training at a well-respected, high volume ATP flight school or training facility that does a lot of ATP training. The Feds have forced upon the pilot community this new requirement for getting a multi-engine ATP. So which of the ATP flight schools should you choose after the CTP? Talk to pilots, or call the FAA FSDOs and ask them recommendations for high-quality schools. They know which are the good ones and which aren’t and which have their Part 141 or 142 blessing. The cost of training is certainly important but the decision of which ATP flight school to use should not be predicated on cost alone. No doubt this aviation stuff is expensive. And challenging. If it was otherwise, anybody and everybody could do it. But remember you are preparing for a career that will likely provide you with a retirement fund in excess of seven figures and a good income until then. If you look at it that way, your training expense is just peanuts and worth the sweat equity you invest in it.
Sources and Footnotes:
2 – Ibid
4 – Federal Aviation Administration National Policy Notice 8900.225 Pilot Certification and Qualification Requirements for Air Carrier Operations
5 – Air Choice One in St. Louis is one such airline flying Cessna 208 Caravans on scheduled passenger routes.
6 – Federal Aviation Administration Office of Aviation Education Document Resume, GA 300 122 “Pilots and Flight Engineers” by Walter Zaharevitz
7 – Specifically 14 CFR §61.167 Airline transport pilot privileges and limitations