How to prepare for ATPL Exams

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Virgin Australia A330

What you need to know about the different options available to prepare for your ATPL Exams.

For many new Australian pilots, becoming an airline pilot is a medium to long term goal. They know that after obtaining their Commercial Pilots License, they will have to spend between 3 and 10 years gaining experience (and experiences) in General Aviation.

Some pilots complete their seven ATPL exams right out of flight school or whilst in their first job. Others will wait several years and get the exams done once they require them to apply for an airline.

How do I choose my theory provider?

You can attend a full-time course and get the exams out of the way quickly, or spend months home studying, which saves on cost. Regardless of your preference, there are two very well known names in ATPL theory:

Offers both distance learning (paper) text books with practice exams, and full time in-class courses in the Sunshine Coast, that people flock to from all over Australia.

Offers a complete distance learning (online) system, but also offers sporadic classroom courses in Sydney (SFC, Bankstown) and Melbourne (MFS, Moorabbin) a few times per year.

Fokker 50

Interestingly, in these times of COVID-19 travel restrictions, some companies have quickly come up to the task by offering remote ATPL tuition options. This allows students to interact with a trainer and other trainees in a virtual classroom at set times, but still with the flexibility to self-study from the provided workbooks. See for example Flight Standards, who offer a course remotely from Perth.

Other ATPL theory providers are Aviation Theory Centre, ATPL Theory, Aviation Theory Services, and UNSW.

Choose your theory provider wisely. A pass certificate may get you an interview, but only the knowledge will get you the job.

How long does it take?

As each one of the seven exams is very different, the method and time of preparation will vary. A brief description follows:

ATPL search and rescue

AHUF (Human factors): Is almost exactly the same exam as CHUF, which an ATPL candidate will have already passed, therefore it is usually prepared with full-time home study during three to four days or part-time home study during one to two weeks. Theory providers usually don’t offer classroom courses for AHUF.

HMET (Meteorology): Is 90% the same exam as CMET, with an added component of high level meteorology. Similarly to AHUF, theory providers usually don’t offer classroom courses for this subject, so individual candidates prepare for the exam at home for a few days.

AALW (Air Law): To prepare for this exam, the candidate will use a checklist from the ATPL theory provider to go through the law books and read the different relevant paragraphs. Note that this is an open-book exam and the candidate may incur extra costs in purchasing (or borrowing) up-to-date law books (required materials). Theory providers usually don’t offer classroom courses for AALW.

AASA (Aerodynamics and Aircraft Systems): There is a lot to cover for this subject and classroom courses normally take 8- 10 days to complete preparation for this exam. It could take a candidate several weeks to study it at home.

ANAV (Navigation): This course usually takes 6-7 days in a classroom environment, whilst it will take a candidate several weeks to study the subject at home. Note that for this exam the candidate may incur extra costs in purchasing or borrowing aeronautical charts (required materials).

APLA (Performance & Loading): Although not the most difficult one, this is the first exam where the difficulty can vary depending on the candidate’s mathematical abilities. In a classroom environment, the material can be covered in as little as 4-5 days.

AFPA (Flight Planning): Being by far the most difficult of the seven exams, it’s common for some people to leave this one for last, whilst other people will get it out of the way first! A mathematical juggle with time pressure, this subject takes around 10-12 classroom days to cover. At home, you could be preparing for this exam for as much as two or three months!

How much does it cost?

A distance learning course will cost around $3000 and a full-time classroom course will cost around $5000. Don’t forget to account for the exam fees themselves, which are around $170 for each of the seven exams, and the extra materials mentioned (air law documents and aeronautical charts).

Is home study a plausible option?

ATPL airplane

When you sign up with any of the theory providers, you not only have access to their most recent versions of text books (AFT usually on paper, AvFacts usually online), but also online practice exams and email/phone support if you get stuck.

Hand-me-downs are not always a good option for some subjects, as CASA occasionally changes the exam layout somewhat. Due to this, theory providers are constantly adapting, and updating their materials to help candidates prepare better.

I completed all my ATPL exams with home study. Since I was working full time 6 days a week it took me about 1.5 years to complete them, but I saved on cost and did not have to take any annual leave for this purpose. At the time I had minimal social distractions and could consistently commit to study 2 hours a night, 6 days a week. For anyone who has the willpower, the time, and sound mathematical ability (ie. finished year 12, etc) home study is not a problem.

For anyone with a family or busy social life, taking the time off to attend a classroom course might be the only option to ensure they have enough motivation and time available.

This article was written by David Roses. This content is not sponsored.