Categories: CAASFAA

The FAA way to becoming an Airline Pilot in Singapore

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Singapore Airlines has traditionally been the only way for Singaporeans to be an Airline Pilot. While getting your S$200,000 aviation training sponsored by SIA is too good an offer to turn down, the career progression in SIA is infamous for its lengthy upgrade processes, taking a First Officer 15 years to be upgraded to an aircraft Captain.

However in recent years, due to the rapidly expanding fleets in the Low-Cost Carriers and hence the increased demand for Captains, capable First Officers in these airlines have been given the opportunities to a promotion to Captain in under 5 years. This is why the Low-Cost Carriers have become the preferred employers for many.

The problem with joining a Low-Cost Carrier is that they do not sponsor cadets in getting their Commercial Pilot Licence training. To get a CAAS CPL, students would need to fork out at least S$150,000 for flight training. The high cost of getting the CAAS CPL has forced many Singaporeans to get their FAA CPL in the USA instead, costing significantly less, about USD $50,000. Read about the differences between the FAA CPL and the CAAS CPL.

While getting the FAA CPL is a lot cheaper than getting the CAAS CPL, there are many intricacies when converting it to a CAAS CPL. As such, this guide was written to help Pilots in getting the FAA CPL, and the conversion process from the FAA CPL to the CAAS CPL.

Finding a flight school

Getting your FAA Commercial Pilot Licence begins with finding a flight school. First, Google “FAA Flight Schools”, shortlist a few of them and email/call to ask them questions get some quotes. Some questions you should ask before deciding on your flight school.

  1. Cost of getting an FAA CPL MEL/IR. In general, FAA CPL MEL/IR training will cost about USD$50,000 to $75,000.
  2. How many flights does the package include, and what’s the hourly rate if I need more flights. Flight schools usually quote packages that will get most students ready for their Flight test. However, should you require more flights before you are test ready, you should know how much these extra flights will cost.
  3. How long will training take? A very self-motivated student with an above average aptitude can finish training in 3-6 months. On average, it takes 6-9 months.
  4. What kind of ground school training will I get? Self-study, computer-aided instruction or classroom lectures. Really depends on what kind of learner you are. Computer-aided training might cost less, and hence your overall cost will be lower, but not everyone is built for self-directed learning in a computer-aided environment.
  5. Does the package include accommodations? Many flight schools provides accommodations right next to the hangers. Having the convenience of the hangers next to you will save you the need to rent a car, and save you time in commuting.
  6. How many Singaporeans pass through your school successfully and are there any Singaporeans I can contact to get testimonials. Reaching out to real people for recommendations can help you decide on a school so you can choose the school with your eyes wide open.

For most FAA schools, you can start your flying training immediately as they generally provide personal 1:1 instruction. This compared to the training organisations in Singapore that will only begin after forming a large enough cohort. To get started, most of the schools will require you to send a deposit before they secure your training slots. To protect yourself, it is vital to engage only reputable Flight Schools.

Studying for the exams

Once you have decided on the flight school, I recommend that you start preparing for the 3 FAA examinations. While many of the flight schools in the USA will provide ground school to prepare you for the papers, you’ll be wasting a lot of time (and living overseas is expensive). If you ready for your 3 papers before arriving, you have the option of getting your papers done on day 1 of your trip to the USA, thereby fast-tracking yourself to flight training.

The 3 exams that you need to pass are the (1) PPL, (2) Instrument Rating and (3) CPL. You don’t need a teacher to help you study. There are many study guides available to help you study. You can consider using Dauntless. I prepared for all my exams (I did the PPL, IR, CPL and ATPL papers) using the Dauntless App, and I would highly recommend the app to anyone who is about to get their FAA licence.

Flying Training

Once you’ve chosen your school and agreed on a start date, you can fly over to the USA. As mentioned above, if you studied and are ready for the exams, you can get them done as quickly as you like. The validity of the papers is 3 years. Since you will likely be spending less than 9 months in the USA, it is likely you will not hit the limit of the papers’ validity.

Once flight training begins, the flight school will ensure you meet the flight prerequisites before sending you for your flight tests. However, there are some prerequisites that you must meet for the CAAS CPL conversion later, and you’ll need to make sure you get it done. You can read about the pre-requisites here. To get your CPL, there are 3 flight tests. They are the (1) PPL, (2) Instrument Rating and the (3) CPL.

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The day you pass the CPL flight test, you will be issued the FAA Commercial Pilot Licence. The tester will issue a temporary Airmen Certificate. Your permanent Airmen Certificate (or licence) will be mailed to you (to Singapore) a few weeks later.

Finding a job

Getting your FAA CPL might seem hard, but depending on the job market, finding a job in an Airline in Singapore could be a lot harder. With the FAA CPL (a temporary Airmen Certificate is good enough, you do not need to wait for the per name to licence to be mailed to you), you can apply for jobs in Airlines in Singapore. Send your application to ALL of the airlines. Singapore Airlines, SilkAir, Scoot and Jetstar Asia (who is hiring). This is not the time to get choosy. As a low hour CPL holder, it will be tough to get a job, and you could potentially be out of a job for the next 2 years. Never turn down an opportunity for an interview, even if it means cancelling your holiday plans, cause you will never know when they will offer you another interview! They might never call you again!

It is worthwhile to note that while the FAA CPL is sufficient to give you privileges to work in Airlines in Singapore, the same FAA CPL doesn’t allow you the opportunity of working in an Airline in the USA. You’ll be able to work for FAA registered private charter services, but not airlines like Delta or United. Those are reserved for the big boys with an FAA ATPL.

Be ready for the licence conversion

While there are many prerequisites before you can convert your licence, here are 2 significant mentions.
Firstly, you can’t convert your licence without a job offer in Singapore, meaning you will need to wait for one of the airlines to hire you before you can submit the Licence Conversion forms (starting with the FC02).

Secondly, there are ground examination requirements. These ground examination can and should be done while waiting for your interview. For Licence Conversions for pilots with <700 total hours, you are required to complete all 14 CAAS paper examinations. As a new CPL holder, it is likely you’ll have <700 total hours. Unless you’re an RSAF Pilot or RSAF WSO(Fighter) or if you’ve worked in other places as a pilot before, you’ll likely have <700 hours. There is the option of paying for additional hours in your flight school in the USA so that you have >700 hours, which will exempt you from 12 of the papers, but you’ll end up paying more than you would in a CAAS CPL training. That would defeat the purpose of getting an FAA CPL in the first place.

To study for the ground examinations, you could pay for ground training in a Singapore Training Organisation, or you could get the papers done as a private candidate. You can read about how to book your test slots as an individual candidate here.

It’s worthwhile to note that the validity of these papers is 3 years, and if you do not convert your licence within 3 years, you’ll need to re-do all of them.

Converting your licence

Once you completed your 14 CAAS examinations and secured your airline pilot job in Singapore, you can begin the process of getting your licence converted. This can be done before your Type Rating, as long as the airline is able to issue you a Letter of Offer. With this Letter of Offer, CAAS will be able to process your licence conversion.

No one said piloting is easy! The certification process certainly isn’t! Good luck! If you like, you can read about the career of an Airline Pilot!

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Captain Ong

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  • Captain, is the app that you are recommending suitable for someone who has absolutely no experience in flying?

    There is a Singapore based flight school called flightschool.sg. They seem to provide FAA PPL preparation course. What do you think of such arrangements? Is it possible to even self study and go straight for the theory examination without simulator experience?

    Possible to provide the name of the flight school that you went to?

    • Hi Yang, the apps are definitely suitable for someone with no experience in flying. The learning curve is definitely going to be steep but it’s possible. Whether or not to go for a preparatory course, it really depends on the kind of student you are. A self driven, self directed student can use apps and books and do well, but a student the is used to being guided down a structured syllabus should consider going for some kind of preparation course. I got my FAA ATPL from Pray Aviation in USA

  • why dont u recommend the FAA ATPL instead of CPL? since all airline cadets in Singapore are equipped with ATPL upon graduation from the flight schools.

    • Thanks for your question. All airline cadets in Singapore are only equipped with a CAAS CPL. They have a “frozen ATPL”, which isn’t the same thing as an ATPL. To get a FAA ATPL, you’ll need 1500 hours, and that’s expensive, as compared to 100-200+ hours for an FAA CPL. And even if you have 1500 hours from a FAA Cessna 172, coming back to SG and converting your FAA ATPL to a CAAS licence, you will likely not meet the requirements to get a CAAS ATPL, and hence your FAA ATPL will be converted to a CAAS CPL. Hence, no point.

      • thank you for your reply. so even with a FAA CPL, the person still can be a captain with a local sg airline?

        • With a CPL, you can only be a first officer or second officer. Through your flying as a first officer or second officer, you will gain the requirements for a CAAS ATPL, and your Cpl will be converted to a ATPL. Once you have an atpl, you meet CAAS’s requirement to be a Pilot in Command, or a Captain.

  • thank you for your reply. so even with a FAA CPL, the person still can be a captain with a local sg airline?

    • I think you mis-understand. With the FAA CPL, you will convert to a CAAS CPL. With the CAAS CPL, through your work as a first officer/second officer, you will gain the prerequisites to get the CAAS ATPL. With the CAAS ATPL, you can become a captain in a local sg airline.

  • The lowest estimation of 3 months... meaning completing the papers on day 1 and then finish flight training in 3 months right? That sounds crazy fast! It was 1.5 years with STAA....

    With a finance limit.. do you recommend to minimize bank loan in case of not finding a job? Would FAA CPL be considered any lesser than CAAS CPL?

    • Yup, 3 months is fast but it can be done, hour building can be done with flying 12 hours a day hoping around USA. Thats how quick it can be.

      Bank loan is really subjective. But definitely, if you can afford it, i don't recommend taking too much loan. The interest rate is really high.

      FAA CPL would not be considered lesser. In fact its faster and cheaper, and with more FAA registered aircraft around in the world than any other regulators, i dare say FAA CPL is above all other licences.

  • Is it disadvantageous to get an interview with SIA with FAA CPL? I understand that it needs to be converted and such... but... would they even consider you to be on equal standing as those who did the CAAS CPL like the course offered by STAA?

    • In general, SIA wouldn't take low hour pilots who have gotten their own licence. They generally prefer pilots from their own cadet programme. But no harm trying to apply. You'll stand a better chance applying to JSA or Scoot, or even airlines in Vietnam.

  • Captain, I read in your comments that you got your FAA ATPL from Pray Aviation.
    Would this be the same as their accelerated CPL program. I am trying to read up more about their program but I cant seem to find much reviews. Could you share more about it?

    • Hi there. many singaporeans went thru their programme. You should contact them for more information.

  • Captain,
    I would like to check if a FAA CPL from a part 61 flight school such as pray aviation or others, would be able to convert to CAAS CPL without any issues?
    I read from Caas website that for foreign CPL license conversion would require the pilot to show evidence of flight training course that are approved by the civil aviation authorities. If you would kindly assist. Thank you.

    • Hi. It is wrong to say Part 61 schools aren't regulated. Part 61 in itself is a regulation and any flight school conforming to Part 61 is regulated under those rules.

  • Hi Captain Ong,

    My question is regarding the employment opportunity after obtaining the FAA CPL.
    I have read through most of ur articles, and they are written with the goal of ultimately looking for employment with Singaporean Airlines.
    Therefore i would like to inquire about whether Asean airlines would generally hire FAA CPL as well.

    This is because i thought that i could always work in say a Vietnam airlines to increase my flight hours to stand a better chance when i ultimately apply for the SIA direct Second Officer entry.

    Is this method feasible?

    • Hi there. Occasionally, airlines in vietnam (vietjet etc) do hire fresh FAA CPL holders. If you are able to get a job as a FO at Vietjet, yes, it is possible to come back to SIA via a direct FO or SO entry.

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Captain Ong

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