One of the key questions when deciding to start your pilot training is the choice and differences between the ATPL Integrated vs modular pilot training paths: which one is best, more affordable, or faster, and how to choose the best flight school accordingly.
There is not a unique one-size-fits-all answer, and the best option might depend on your availability, time constraints and personal preferences.
Plenty of posts on the web cover this topic, but few discuss the latest regulatory changes and their implications, such as APS MCC, KSA, and the possibility to complete the Integrated via live distant training, which you can learn in this article.
What is an integrated ATPL?
- An Integrated ATPL course takes you from being an absolute beginner to having your Frozen ATPL, which allows you to fly for an airline as well as exercise the privileges of a holder of a CPL, PPL and LAPL.
- You start off by studying all 14 EASA subjects and can commence your flight instruction after attending a minimum amount of hours of the theoretical part.
- The final stage of your training will be an MCC course (Multi Crew Cooperation), which will prepare you for your airline training.
- You have to complete at least 205 h of flight instruction, but many courses offer additional hours, including UPRT, PBN or KSA courses.
- In an integrated course you will be more involved, being surrounded by an aviation environment every day.
- It is usually a full-time commitment allowing you to obtain your license in as low as 14 months, although some schools offer part-time 24 months programs in which theory is completed in the first phase, to focus on flights afterwards.
- The short timeframe of 14 months is possible due to a higher possibility of a combination of theory and flight, as ATPL theory is started without having to complete the flight hours of the PPL (first modular course taking usually 5 months) and IFR flights can be started before having completed the ATPL theory.
- The integrated route is usually the choice of those who want to obtain their ATPL within a limited period of time, within a standard procedure and level of quality in one school and without the need to change location or look for new schools.
What is modular training?
- In a modular course, you take it one step at a time.
- First, you get your PPL licence, which includes 100 hours of theory, 9 theoretical exams, and a minimum of 45 hours of flight instruction and a skill test. This course can take between 4 to 6 months, depending on weather and aircraft availability.
- Then you must complete your ATPL Theory training (either onsite or online), study and pass the 14 ATPL subjects, which usually takes between 10 to 16 months, in a period that is used to continue flying in order to complete your hour building.
- Following the completion of the ATPL theory exams and having done enough flying hours you can start your ME, IR, PBN and CPL training. Once you have your CPL licence you can extend your training by completing additional courses such as the Advanced UPRT and MCC or APS MCC.
- A modular course is perfect for those who want to work full time while they are studying, and do not mind taking between 24 to 36 months to complete their training.
Integrated vs modular: Quality of training
The quality of training is probably more dependent on the flight school, fleet and instructors rather than on the chosen path. However, some factors affect very often the quality of modular and integrated programs:
- It is far more difficult for a school to obtain a certification for an integrated programme, as the academy must be a complex ATO (Airline Training Organization) subject to a high level of requirements and audits by the authorities, ensuring a very high level of quality and standardization. In contrast, a DTO (Declared Training Organization) has a less complex structure and is more limited in the courses they can offer. As an example, out of the almost 500 flight schools that exist in the UK as of 2021 (both ATOs and DTOs), only 6 offer integrated ATPL airplane courses. The best flying schools usually offer also integrated courses.
- The easier requirements to obtain a modular licence causes that there are far more aviation schools, often very small, offering PPLs and other modular courses, which causes often a huge competition in prices, and affects sometimes the quality of the fleet, instructors and even maintenance.
- Within the integrated route, there is a higher level of follow-up and assistance by instructors through the full process, including the hours of solo flight in which the instructors are preparing the flight with the student and setting the manoeuvres to practice.
- Within the modular route, the pilot must complete the “time building hours” on his or her own, often without assistance and with a certain risk of “burning gas”, although also obliging the pilot to get experience organising the flights as Pilot In Command.
Integrated vs modular: Price of training
The cost of both modular and integrated training varies widely between schools and countries, but some trends are observed across a high percentage of centres:
- Modular schools offer often the lowest costs, in particular schools of small size and ageing fleet, but the price advantage vanishes when seeking higher-quality schools with a newer fleet.
- It is important to identify a few hidden costs within the modular training, such as material, airport fees on time building flights, licence request fees per course, exam flights and examiner fees, which are included in “all-inclusive” integrated courses.
- Competitive integrated courses have similar price levels to modular courses, or even cheaper when considering all costs.
- Payment is another factor that many consider in their path choice. Modular training implies by default a “pay as you go” in each module, while integrated training in some school implies a huge sum upfront. This advantage however disappears with integrated programs that require smaller booking fees and progressive instalments.
Integrated vs modular: Employability
- Cadet programs are nearly always done with integrated courses, as the limited time of training is an essential factor.
- Collaboration frameworks between airlines and pilot schools can be found more easily in schools with integrated programs, often bigger, with more resources, and ensuring a higher level of standardization.
- A higher number of airlines are increasingly valuing modular pilots as well, as a higher level of proactivity, problem-solving and even tenacity might have been required for the often harder and longer modular path.
Integrated vs modular in 2021
The regulation has changed in a very important manner over the last years, with improvements such as APS MCC, Area 100 KSA, PBN and UPRT. These additions can be completed in both modular and integrated programs, but some differences can be identified, in particular within the APS MCC and the Area 100 KSA:
- APS MCC is included in some integrated programmes with:
- a less abrupt transition with glass cockpit in the preliminary flights to avoid difficulties, and
- more limited additional costs than the price of the APS MCC when done as a standalone course.
- Elements as Area 100 KSA should be practiced in both theory and flight. While in the modular route KSA is included only in the ATPL Theory module, some integrated schools apply KSA principles throughout the course in both theory and flight training.
- Online training has been approved by the regulators and is now possible via live distant training, as a consequence of the 2020 pandemic.
Can I become a pilot for free?
There are some scholarships around in certain countries and airlines, but they are quite hard to get into. For those who want to spend as little as possible, it is important to do as much research as possible. Sometimes a course that seems very cheap does not fulfil all the requirements to be able to fly for an airline and you will have to invest more money in extra courses. Evaluating the balance between the cost and what is included in a course is key in saving as much money and time as possible.