RSAF Fighter & Transport Pilots. Making the transition

As a follow up to our earlier article about the cost of making the transition to from an RSAF Fighter …

As a follow up to our earlier article about the cost of making the transition to from an RSAF Fighter Pilot or RSAF Transport Pilot to an Airline Pilot in Singapore, here’s a step by step guide for RSAF Fighter Pilots and RSAF Transport Pilots to making the transition to becoming an Airline Pilot.

RSAF Helicopter Pilots should read this article instead. RSAF WSO(Fighter) should read this article.

Getting a Pilot Licence

You can’t drive a car without a licence – Logic

Before you can start embarking on the transition, you’ll need a licence. The licence can either be a  Commercial Pilot License (CPL) or an Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL). As a minimum, you’ll only need a Commercial Pilot Licence from any ICAO participating nation, meaning you can either get the licence from Singapore, where you’ll get a CAAS CPL, or in the USA, where you’ll get an FAA CPL/ATPL. 

You can technically try your luck with licences from other countries such as Malaysia or Thailand, but since licence conversions are such a complicated process, and precedence from earlier licence convertors is such an essential factor in the success of your licence conversion, you’ll likely enjoy a more straightforward conversion if you got your FAA licence.


To be issued a CAAS CPL, you’ll need to do your flight training with any Flight Training Organisations based in Singapore. As compared to going to the USA for your FAA licence, flight training in Singapore are comparatively expensive. You’ll need to spend upward of SGD$150,000 for your CAAS licence. Also, as part of your training programme, you’ll need to complete and pass 14 CAAS ground examination papers. It takes about 6 months for most people to study and to complete these papers.

On the other hand, getting your FAA licence is a lot cheaper and faster. As detailed in an earlier article on our website, it’ll cost an RSAF Fighter (Multiengine) Pilot and an RSAF transport pilot just SGD $35,400 to get an FAA ATPL. It’ll cost you slightly less if you get the FAA CPL. Also, you’ll only need to complete 4 FAA papers for both the FAA ATPL and CPL. Studying for the 4 papers can take you just 2 weeks, and if you like (and if you can), complete all 4 papers in 2 hours.


For easy comparison, here’s a side by side comparison between an FAA CPL and ATP

Total Hours 250 1500
– Cross Country 500
– Night Hours 100
– Multi-Engine 50
– Powered aircraft 100 *
PIC 100 250
– PIC Airplanes 50 *
– PIC Crosscountry 50 100
– PIC Night 25
Instrument Training 10 75
– Instrument Training ME 5 *
Complex ME 10 *
Cross Country ME >100nm At least 1 flight, > 2 hours *
Cross Country ME, Night > 100nm At least 1 flight, > 2 hours *
Test Prep 3 hours, within 2 months from test *
Solo Flight 10 *
300 nm cross-country with 2 intermediate stops At least 1 *
Night VFR with 10 T/O and 10 Landings at airport with Tower At least 5 hours *

To summarise, I highly recommend you get the FAA ATPL if you meet the pre-requisites for the FAA ATPL. If you don’t meet the prerequisites for the FAA ATPL, you’ll do fine with just the FAA CPL (with the completion of the FAA ATP-CTP).

Flight Schools in the USA


As you might already know, 99% of RSAF pilots go to a particular school in the USA. But you’re not limited to just that school. There are a few other Pilots who are based in Mountain Home that went to another flights school that is closer to their home base.

Conversion pre-requisites

Regardless of whether you have an FAA ATPL or an FAA CPL, for your conversion to a CAAS licence, you’ll only convert to a CAAS CPL. The reason is that you’ll need at least 500 flying hours on a civil registered multi-engine transport aeroplane certified for operation with a minimum crew of 2 pilots” (i.e. A320 or B737). Because your, KC-135, G550 or even the F-15SG aren’t civil registered, you will not be able to convert directly to a CAAS ATPL. 

Here’s a summary of the prerequisites for a foreign licence conversion to a CAAS CPL and CAAS ATPL.

Foreign Licence Conversion to CAAS CPL CAAS ATPL
Total Hours 200 3000
Cross Country 200
– PIC 50
– PIC or PIC(US) 100
PIC 100 250
– PIC (US) <150
– Cross Country 50 As above
– 300 nm cross-country with 2 intermediate stops At least 1 At least 1
Night Flying 15 100
– Cross Country PIC/PIC U/S 25
– PIC 5 5
– P U/T 10
– Take-offs and landings 10 take offs and 10 landings 10 take offs and 10 landings
– 65 nm night cross coutry 2
Instrument Flying 40 75
– PUT 10 10
– Multiengine Instrument 20 20
Multi Engine 35
Civil Registered Multi Engine Multi Crew Aircraft 500

Thinking long term, since you will need to convert your foreign licence converted CAAS CPL to a CAAS ATPL, you’ll also need to meet the above requirements for the CAAS ATPL licence conversion. As there are items that you are unlikely to get done during your career in the RSAF, such as items like the 300nm cross country with at least 2 intermediate aerodromes or the 65nm night cross country, I recommend you get those done while you are in the USA doing your FAA licence. 

If you only get the FAA CPL

An applicant for a Singapore CPL who has passed the theoretical knowledge examinations prescribed by the foreign licensing authority at the CPL level will be restricted to single-pilot operations. Such applicants, if intending to operate in a multi-crew environment, will need to pass the theoretical knowledge examinations at the ATPL level to have the restriction lifted. – CAAS SASP

To explain the above paragraph from the CAAS SASP, if you only have an FAA CPL, you’ll only be allowed to operate in single-pilot operations in Singapore, meaning you can’t work for any airlines in Singapore since airlines in Singapore only flies multi-crew jets such as the A320 and B737. 

However, there is an easy way around this. You just need to “pass the theoretical knowledge examinations at the ATPL level”, and in the case of an FAA licence, you need to pass the FAA ATP Airman Exam. As a prerequisite to attempt the FAA ATP Airman Exam, you’ll need to complete the FAA ATP-CTP. The FAA ATP-CTP comprises of 30 hours of academic training and 10 hours on a Full-Motion Simulator. 

While not all flight schools are able to do the FAA ATP-CTP course, they should be able to refer you to an FAA ATP-CTP training provider.

Converting your license

The applicant shall demonstrate the need to hold a Singapore professional pilot licence – CAAS SASP

Not any Tom Dick or Harry can get their licences converted.

While you can’t immediately convert your FAA CPL or ATPL to a CAAS CPL immediately after returning back to Singapore, as licence conversion can only happen after you secure a job in Singapore, you don’t have to waste your time in the meantime. You can start getting your ground examinations done.

Ground Examination Requirements

According to the CAAS SASP, if you meet the following requirements, you’ll be exempted from 12 of the 14 ground examination. 

  1. 700 Total hours – because you’ve flown in the RSAF for 10 years, you should meet this requirement easily. If you don’t, go back to fly in Squadron more, or clock the hours while doing your FAA CPL. 
  2. 200 hours as PIC of aeroplanes of which up to a maximum of 100 hours may be (PIC U/S) – again, should be an easy thing to achieve as a RSAF pilot.
  3. At least 10 hours of cross-country PIC instrument hours – once again, easy. Cross-Country by definition also include all sorties from Singapore to South China Sea. 

As an RSAF Pilot flying for at least 10 years, you’ll likely meet all the above requirements, and hence you’ll only need to do the Ops Procedure and Air Law papers. Read about how to prepare and how to register for these papers. 

Keeping the FAA CPL Licence current

One of the pre-requisites in the FAA-CAAS license conversion is that the FAA CPL must be valid at the time of conversion. For the FAA CPL or ATPL, your instrument rating, bi-annual proficiency check and the FAA Class 1 Medical must all be current at the time of conversion. Read about how to keep your instrument current in Singapore.

Note: For the FAA CPL medical requirement, while the FAA doesn’t require the licence holder to hold a Class 1 Medical to exercise some of the CPL privileges, meaning the validity of the medical is 5 years, based on precedence, CAAS usually insists on Class 1 medical at the time of conversion, so just keep keep with the Medical every year, together with the RSAF’s annual medical.

Getting a Job in Singapore

Send out your application to all airlines in Singapore! Now is not the time to be choosy with the employer. Get the links to the HR websites here.

Licence Conversion

Only after securing the job do you kick off the documentation requirements such as the FC02 and the other forms. 

Take note, if you completed the FAA ATP-CTP since your FAA CTP ATP includes multi-crew training, you should be exempted from doing the Multi-Crew Coordination course in Singapore during your type rating. This could potentially save you USD$5,000 to USD $15,000. Check with CAAS or your airline’s training department for more details!

Good luck!

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