Avenues to Kickstart Flying in Singapore
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Have you ever wondered how to kickstart your flying career in Singapore from a young age? In this section, we will provide a comprehensive and detailed list of avenues where you can pursue and eventually earn your licence to become a pilot in Singapore.
Most Singaporeans generally have the impression that a pilot must start their flying journey with the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF); This is a misconception that needs to be addressed. Choosing and starting a potential aviation career can be a huge decision point in life. Pilot Kaki will help explore the various paths you can potentially take to fulfil your pilot dream and hopefully, your career!
Disclaimer: We are not in any way related to, or promoting the organisation(s) that we have listed in this guide.
1. Singapore Youth Flying College (SYFC)
Singapore Youth Flying College (SYFC) is a flying club that is formed by and affiliated to the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF). The purpose of the club is to promote aviation to students in both secondary and high schools as well as polytechnics, in a bid to boost recruitment for the RSAF. Aeromodelling courses are catered for secondary school students, while flight training are provided for high school and polytechnics students.
(Source: Singapore Youth Flying Club)
Naturally, the opportunity to engage in flight training for pre-tertiary students is the one which stands out, especially when the training cost is absorbed by the organisation. This proves to be a good chance for students to discover whether flying is a suitable path and career for them to pursue in the future. With our focus on actual flight training, this segment will focus primarily on the SYFC Flying Course for high school and polytechnic students.
As an affiliate of the RSAF, the SYFC Flying Course is only eligible for Singapore citizens who are at least 16 years old in age. Here are the following pre-requisites as indicated:
Students in Junior College, or IP / IB schools who are at least 16 years old
Healthy and no major illnesses
Height - 1.62m to 1.90m and healthy BMI
Myopia - Below 600 degrees for each eye
Astigmatism - Below 200 degrees for each eye
Normal colour vision
No other eye deficiencies
Medical pre-requisites are highly similar to those set by both the RSAF, Singapore Airlines and Scoot.
Students are able to apply for the SYFC Flying Course once they reach the age of 16. Students who are in the midst of preparing for their GCE 'O' Level examinations may use their Preliminary examination results in the application while students in the IB / IP programme may use their school's internal examinations instead.
There are options to complete the course on a part-time or full-time basis, with the latter option only available for select polytechnic students who are able to take the course as an internship during the third year of their studies. At present, only two diplomas support this initiative, namely:
Students in high schools or who are taking other courses in polytechnics will have to complete the course on a part-time basis. With that being said, while that may seem like a tall order, there are still many instances where students ace both their studies and flight training.
The SYFC Flying Course is divided into 3 phases:
Not all students will have the opportunity to advance to the subsequent phases and complete the entire programme as there are limited vacancies within each phase. Since SYFC's purpose as a club is to promote aviation to as many students as possible, this would have already been made possible through Phase 1. Students who demonstrate good potential and competence will be recommended to progress through the course and eventually obtain a CAAS Restricted PPL Licence.
Attainment of the PPL through the completion of the SYFC Flying Course will lead to several advantages when opting to pursue a career as a pilot in the RSAF. More will be shared in the subsequent RSAF segment of this guide. However, completion of the SYFC Flying Course will not have a material impact on one's pilot application with Singapore Airlines and Scoot.
Signing up for the SYFC Flying Course is definitely one way to fuel your interest and kickstart your flying journey. Coupled with it being fully sponsored, budding pilots can seriously consider joining this programme.
2. Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF)
Pursuing a flying career in the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) may seem rather self-explanatory, but it may not be as straightforward as it most people make it out to be. There is more to it than the life panned out by the Top Gun movies - life in the air force is more than just fighter jets.
Pilots in the RSAF are generally grouped into three primary categories, based on the type of equipment they fly:
(Source: Republic of Singapore Air Force)
Cadets are generally not permitted to choose what type of aircraft they want to pilot and are streamed to the respective categories based on operational requirements and cadet performance. As pilots in the RSAF generally stick to one specific category during their entire career in the force, which category they are streamed to during their training phase may differ from their personal expectations.
Here are the following pre-requisites to join the RSAF as a pilot, which are similar to those at SYFC:
Singapore Citizen or Singapore Permanent Resident
Physical Employment Status (PES) A or B1
Eyesight: < 600 degrees per eye
Astigmatism: < 200 degrees per eye
Height: 1.62m to 1.90m
Education: Relevant degree / diploma or 'A' Level / IB
Recruitment and Selection Process
The RSAF performs recruitment through various target groups.
As aforementioned, the first target group are those who have already underwent and completed the SYFC Flying Course. This bunch of aviators are naturally the default group to which the RSAF will want to recruit as they already have a proven track record and who meet the RSAF's own expectations and standards.
The next target group will be enlistees who are currently undergoing the Basic Military Training (BMT) phase. The different branches of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will carry out recruitment talks during this training phase to entice the recruits to pick up a career in the force, with the vocation of a pilot in the RSAF undoubtedly one of, if not the most attractive and popular consideration.
Should they opt to sign up with the RSAF as a pilot and get selected for the first round of tests, these recruits will be shuttled to Central Manpower Base (CMPB) to complete a Computerised Pilot Aptitude Screening System test, also known as the COMPASS test. Applicants from the SYFC route will be exempted from the COMPASS test as they have already completed a similar test during the application to join the Flying Course.
The COMPASS test consists of multiple sections, with a short break between each section. The tasks within each section will be performed under a time sensitive environment and the entire test may take up to three to four hours, putting the candidates through a grueling assessment of their psychomotor and multi-tasking skills.
For a brief understanding of what a compass test may encompass, you may refer to the Computer Aptitude Test section in our guide to the Singapore Airlines Cadet Pilot Interview. However, do take note that the tests are not identical and differs to a certain extent.
Upon completion and passing of the compass test, the candidate will be scheduled for a Board Interview at CMPB. The panel will consist of three to four senior officers from the RSAF, along with one military psychologist, although this combination may differ at times. As with all interviews, it is necessary to prepare in advance and equip oneself with the relevant aviation knowledge, the type of aircrafts in the RSAF along with the organisation's core values and history.
Finally, a medical must also be completed where the candidate will be assessed for their medical fitness. The medical is very thorough and although it may differ to a certain extent as compared to the medical assessment for commercial airlines in Singapore, by and large they are similar in standards. The only exception would lie primarily in the individual's tolerance in experiencing high G-forces, due to the demanding nature of military flying. A specialised equipment mimicking high G-forces will be used to test this tolerance through observing whether a candidate experiences a G-force induced lost of consciousness (G-LOC). Unfortunately for many, this may prove to be a huge stumbling block to pursuing a flying career in the military.
On the other hand, the compass test and interview stage of the RSAF is known to be way easier to pass than those of Singapore Airlines and Scoot. This is because the main assessment for the air force takes place primarily during the stages that involve actual flying, namely the Air Grading Course (AGC) and Basic Wing Course (BWC) stages.
In order to expedite the application to become a pilot trainee and minimise adminstrative delays, it is possible to apply and complete the compass test, interview and medical before enlistment into the SAF. This will give the recruit a higher chance to receive his posting as a pilot trainee before the completion of his Basic Military Training (BMT).
The training journey in the military is a long process, and is significantly longer than those training in commercial aviation. Officer cadets (OCTs) in the RSAF undergoing pilot training typically follow the training journey mapped out above, with a potential training time of up to 35 months.
This duration and location of the training changes depending on the category that the cadet is streamed to. Streaming to the respective aircraft types typically happen after passing the Basic Wing Course (BWC) in Australia, and the cadet will be assigned to various air force bases across the globe based on their assignment. Traditionally, it is common for transport pilots to complete the training journey within the shortest time, as a significant portion of their training is held locally in Singapore.
There exists a huge advantage to those who have already completed the SYFC Flying Programme. Instead of starting with the Air Grading Course (AGC) after their BMT, they will begin their RSAF passage with the Common Leadership Module instead, representing a significant head start compared to their counterparts. However, there represents no significant differentiation or favouritism aside from this benefit. All officer cadets must be of standard, capable and professional in their duties and responsibilities.
Do take note that there is a 10 year bond when signing on with the RSAF, and which starts only upon completion of the approximately 3 year long flight training and after being presented with the RSAF wings. This represents a minimal commitment duration of 13 years with the RSAF, which is no small number. You should consider carefully if you would like to take this long and beaten albeit potentially rewarding path when kickstarting your flying career.
3. Cadet Pilot Programmes
Another less familiar option to kickstart your flying would be to join one of the cadet pilot programmes offered by commercial airlines in Singapore. All three airlines based in Changi - Singapore Airlines, Scoot and Jetstar Asia - have set up their own cadet pilot programmes. This offers the perfect opportunity for pilot wannabes to learn to fly from scratch with the prospect of employment at one of these airlines.
The pre-requisites, selection criteria, along with the programme structure and cost may differ across the three airlines. Should you wish to find out more about the cadet pilot programmes, you may visit the respective guides compiled by Pilot Kaki:
Pilot Kaki has also illustrated life as a cadet pilot in our Cadet Experience guide, along with the Career Progression that you can expect upon joining an airline. As the bulk of cadet hires are from airlines under the Singapore Airlines Group, these guides are primarily catered to potential applicants for Singapore Airlines and Scoot, although certain parts and sections will still be highly applicable to Jetstar Asia.
4. Private Route
The last method would be to go private and fund your own pilot licence. There exist many different types of pilot licences that varies across different countries. Pilot Kaki is currently in a midst of compiling a separate guide depicting the significance alongside differences between the different pilot licences. However, for simplicity sake in this guide, we will narrow down the options of licences to that of a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) and Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL).
For a layman, a PPL is a licence which allows the pilot to fly a light aircraft (which typically seats a maximum of 4 people) in general aviation for recreational purposes and is not allowed to fly for money or salary. On the other hand, a CPL is a licence that, as the name suggests, gears the pilot towards flying an aircraft for the purpose of operating them commercially and for money or salary. The aircraft can range from single-engine light aircraft to potentially multi-engine heavy aircrafts.
The timeframe, effort and costs needed to obtain a PPL is significantly shorter and lesser than that required to obtain a CPL. Also, due to the lack of available air space for training in Singapore, it is only possible to obtain a PPL locally here, with the need to stay abroad for a period of time when training for your CPL, which further adds to the cost in obtaining a CPL. However, the internationally recognised CPL offers significant tailwind in the pursuit of a career in an airline as it provides opportunities in applying for a Direct-Entry Second Officer (DESO) position across airlines, whereas a PPL will not add value in that aspect.
The costs to get a PPL and CPL can start from $50,000 and $200,000 respectively. Due to the significantly higher cost, the route towards obtaining a CPL is only recommended for individuals who truly have the interest in pursuing a career in commercial aviation (or if they have significant cash and time to spare). Choosing to obtain a PPL instead would offer a much more realistic option for those who are still undecided and sitting on the fence for a potential flying career, but who would still like to get an initial taste of flying.
The country and school to which the cadet undergoes the training and where the licence is issued may affect the attractiveness of employment, depending on the reputation and prestige of the school. Australia, New Zealand and the United States tend to be the more popular countries where potential pilots seek to obtain their flight licence. Naturally, both Singapore Airlines and Scoot exhibit a preference in hiring private cadets who graduated from Singapore Flying College (SFC), which is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines. However in exchange, the price and duration of training to obtain a CPL in SFC is generally higher and longer than other flight schools.
There are many options one can choose to kickstart their flying career in Singapore. There is no hard and fast rule as to which age you can begin your flying journey, but there are naturally more alternatives to select from at a younger age. Ranging from the sponsored programmes like the SYFC Flying Course and the SIA Ab-Initio Cadet Pilot Programme to the self-funded cadet pilot programmes and private pilot licences, there are many possibilities on offer. Should you have missed the train or failed at certain stages across some of the programmes, do not despair and do not give up. Ultimately, hook or by crook, there will be paths to take should you wish to fulfil your pilot dream.
Note: This guide will be constantly updated should certain information or details change and Pilot Kaki hopes that it will spur on those who have had questions or roadblocks in how to pursue flying in Singapore.