Becoming a pilot: What do I do between PPL and CPL?

Becoming a pilot: What do I do between PPL and CPL?

If you aren’t on an integrated ATPL or MPL training course, to get your CPL issued, it’s a requirement to have 200hrs total time and 100hrs PIC. With most people finishing their PPL with around 50 hours, the question is often asked – what should I do to fill in the gap?
The obvious answer is to hire the cheapest aeroplane you can find to bore holes in the sky, perhaps under the guise of testing out how many airfield breakfasts it is possible to sample - but for most this won’t help develop you into a good commercial pilot. We asked our friends at Manchester-based flight school Lancashire Barnstormers to suggest some better value (and more fun) options.


Photo courtesy of Lancashire Barnstormers.
This is top of our list as all of our instructors have a passion for pulling some g. You can gain your EASA Aerobatic Rating (minimum 5 flight hours training), and from there the possibilities are endless.  Competition aerobatics teaches discipline, handling accuracy and stretches situational awareness by pushing you to position your figure perfectly in the box. Of course it’s also great fun!  If competition isn’t your thing, the AR will allow you to safely take your friends or family for a gentle Sunday afternoon session of loops and barrel rolls over the great English countryside – is there anything more rewarding?  We can also combine this course with tailwheel differences training – as any light aircraft worth flying is steered from the back!

You may ask how this could possibly prepare you for a life in the airlines?  It will give you a thorough understanding of principles of flight, energy management, polish your handling skills and allow you to get comfortable right at the edges of your aircraft’s flight envelope.  Your aerobatic background will make the newly mandated Upset Recovery and Prevention Training a breeze.

Formation Flying

Our other passion, often to be combined with aerobatics!  Formation flying is all about precision and finesse – flying five feet away from your friends demands very high levels of concentration and flying ability.  For those destined for the airlines, formation flying reinforces two hugely important skills – teamwork and workload management. You are literally trusting your life to the formation leader which is why formation flying should not be undertaken without proper training from a reputable school.

You will be taught in how to lead a formation, which has many shared skills with commanding a multi crew aircraft – two or more pilots under your direction, with you managing the high workload to ensure a safe flight for the whole formation.  Hugely satisfying, very addictive and serious fun!
Photo courtesy of Lancashire Barnstormers.

Flight Instructor Certificate 

Have a passion for helping people develop? This might be a good option for you, and is one of the few options available to a PPL holder for earning some pocket money. Average pay is around £20/flight hours. However you should be mindful t’s a long and relatively expensive course to complete, and it is very unlikely you will be able to break even in your ‘hour building’ phase. However, what you do gain are some highly desirable skills - communication, teamwork and some valuable experience at being ‘Pilot Monitoring’.

Parachute Dropping

This is a highly enjoyable way of spending time in the air and the aircraft types that drop pilots get to fly can be legendary - larger pistons and single turboprops are the norm in the UK. You can’t be paid as a PPL but the flying is fun - you will be working the aircraft hard yet sympathetically to achieve a high rate of jumping whilst gaining an all important insight into a commercial operation.  Surprisingly some drop zones are habitually short of pilots - pay your local one a visit and ask to speak to the chief pilot. Both aerobatic instructors at Lancashire Barnstormers are also qualified drop pilots. 

Glider Towing 

This is similar to parachute dropping in that PPLs cannot be paid,  however you will gain useful hours paid for by somebody else. Most gliding sites prefer their pilots to have some gliding experience, but it is no longer a necessity.  You will become the master of meteorology and stun your ATPL theory classmates by being able to explain and name pretty much every cloud formation in existence.

Instrument Rating (Restricted)

A UK peculiarity formerly known as the IMC rating, the IMCR can be described as a cut down IR (Instrument rating).  It teaches the holder to fly and navigate with sole reference to instruments, but to more lenient tolerances and more restrictive weather limitations than the full IR. The rating suits anybody that likes touring in the UK’s famous sunshine or likes the mental workout of procedural instrument navigation.  IR(R) hours can be credited towards the full IR at a later date.
Photo courtesy of Lancashire Barnstormers.
These are just some of the options available to a freshly minted PPL to venture out into the world of aviation.  Our advice is always to consider quality and value – some of our suggestions are a little more expensive than the VFR cross country bacon sarnie run but they will prepare you for the commercial world far better and the enjoyment factor will offset the hard work of the ATPL theory exams.
About our guest bloggers from Lancashire Barnstormers:
Lancashire Barnstormers is a UK DTO based at City Airport (Manchester Barton) delivering advanced flight training such as aerobatics, formation and tailwheel differences.  We can also revalidate your SEP rating in something a little more interesting than a Cessna. All of our instructors are airline Captains and Training Captains who can tailor training for those destined for the CPL.  You can find out more about us in the May ’19 issue of Flyer Magazine or at


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