Commercial Pilots licenses (CPL)

Sources: CAA, EASA PART-FCL

What is a CPL?

A commercial pilot’s license (CPL) is the next level of license above a PPL. A PPL permits its holder to ‘act as pilot in command (PIC) in non-commercial operations on aeroplanes or touring motor glider (TMGs).’ whereas a CPL provides the training required to meet the level of proficiency necessary to operate single-pilot multi-engine aeroplanes and obtain the EASA CPL/IR.  The CPL/IR is the initial license type required to become a first officer working towards a full airline transport pilot’s license (ATPL).

What can I do with a CPL?

Whilst a CPL is a form of commercial license it is important to remember that the holder does not possess the qualifications to operate as Captain (pilot in command) of any type of aircraft operating in a commercial environment other than those designed for single pilot operations.  Here is a short list of CPL privileges:

  1. To fly a single pilot aeroplane as pilot in command.
  2. To fly a multi-pilot aeroplane as pilot in command while the aeroplane other than a charter operation, or a regular public transport operation.
  3. To fly an aeroplane as co-pilot while the aeroplane.

A basic CPL allows its holder to fly in VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions in most airspace types, a full guide to VFR flying in the UK can be found here.  As VFR flying has many restrictions (such as being clear of cloud and in sight of the ground), pilots wishing to fly in more marginal weather conditions can upgrade their license to include a full Instrument Rating

What are the minimum requirements to get a CPL?

The CPL entry requirements are slightly advanced to those of a PPL:

  1. Hold a PPL (A) in accordance with ICAO annex 1.
  2. Completed 5 hours of night flight time (see Night rating under PPL).
  3. Completed 200 hours total flying time prior to skills test (100 hours of which must be pilot in command).
  4. Completed 20 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command.
  5. The cross-country flight time must include a qualifying 540km cross-country flight.
  6. Hold a valid EASA class 1 medical certificate.
  7. Passed a course of theoretical instruction as set out in EASA-FCL.  
  8. Be a minimum of 18 years of age.

Further information on CPL requirements can be found on the CAA website, these differe slightly if you are completing a modular or integrated course.

How much does a CPL cost?

The average cost of a CPL in the UK is usually at least £25,000, costs vary heavily depending on location (due to landing fees etc), type of aircraft used to train and amount of lessons taken.  Some training providers offer fast-track courses which can sometimes work out cheaper, see our list of training providers for more information (LINK).  Integrated flying colleges providing ab initio training from zero flying time to fully qualified CPL/IR can cost upwards of £80,000.

Where Can I get a CPL?

Click here to find a list of UK CPL training providers.

What does the Skills Test consist of?

The CPL skills test includes the following items:

  1. Pre-Flight Planning
  2. General Handling (Normal procedures)
  3. General Handling (Abnormal and Emergency procedures)
  4. Cross country flight using VFR navigation
  5. Use of radio aids (VOR/ILS/GNSS)
  6. Flight into controlled airspace and airfields

The whole process usually lasts around 3-4 hours with the flight test itself taking around 90 minutes.  The test can be taken in either a single engine or multi-engine aircraft (the test for which will include the shutting down of one engine and general handling, including landings with one engine inoperative.

How can I take the CPL to the next level?

The next logical step for a CPL holder is to start working towards the Instrument Rating (IR), this then allows the user to fly in very marginal weather conditions and is a prerequisite for the Airline Transport Pilot’s License (ATPL).

Commercial Pilots License (CPL)

What does the Ground School consist of?

The CPL ground school requires you to pass a total of 14 multiple-choice examinations on the following subjects:

Air Law – 75 questions – 1 hour 40 minutes – Topics covered range from ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) directives to the rules of the air.

Aircraft Performance – 34 questions – 1 hour – This exam covers topics such as calculations of take-off and landing distances, including aircraft behavioural characteristics under differing operating environments.

Mass and Balance – 22 questions – 1 hour – Topics covered range from general theory of weight and distribution to calculations of aircraft traffic load, maximum take-off weights and center of gravity location.

Meteorology – 90 questions – 2 hours 30 minutes – Topics covered range from basic weather theory including clouds, precipitation and winds to the practical application of this knowledge in a flying environment.

Airframe, Systems, Electrics, Powerplant – 76 questions – 2 hours – Topics covered range from Engines, Fuel and Airframes to Electrics and Hydraulics.

Instruments – 56 questions – 1 hour 30 minutes – Topics cover everything from GPS systems to conventional aircraft instrumentation.

General Navigation – 54 questions – 2 hours – Topics covered range from form of the earth and GPS to calculations of distances using coordinates.  This exam includes practical navigation elements using tools such as plotting devices.

Radio Navigation – 59 questions – 1 hour 30 minutes – Topics cover radio navigation aids such as ILS/ADF/VOR, their theoretical and practical usage.

Human Performance and Limitations – 47 questions – 1 hour – Topics covered range from psychology to physiology in the aviation environment.

Flight Planning and Monitoring – 56 questions – 3 hours – Topics include Fuel planning, Map/chart calculations and other mathematical calculations such as equal time point.  This practical exam requires the student to perform map and aircraft manual-based calculations as part of the test.

VFR Communications – 23 questions – 30 minutes – Topics covered include Radio Telephony (RT basic radio theory and aviation radio phraseology for use under VFR.  As part of your CPL you will also be required to complete a practical Radio Telephony License test, if you don’t already have one from a previous PPL.

IFR Communications –  23 questions – 30 minutes – This exam covers the differences between VFR and IFR (instrument flight rules) and their subtle differences in communication techniques.

Operational Procedures – 50 questions – 1 hour 30 minutes – Topics cover all authority-regulated procedures applicable to CPL holders.

Principles of Flight – 44 questions – 1 hour – Topics cover basic aerodynamic theory including lift, drag and thrust.

A full syllabus of CPL ground school topics can be found on Page 254 of the EASA PART-FCL. Students are given 18 months in which to complete all of the above examinations, this begins at the end of the calendar month in which the first examination attempt was completed.