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As the journey and experiences of cadet pilots vary widely from school to school and airline to airline, it would be impossible to cover all grounds. Hence, this guide will primarily focus on cadets who are obtaining their Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) with Singapore Flying College (SFC), the training school for pilots with Singapore Airlines and Scoot. Potential expansion to this guide may eventually include private cadets pursuing a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and also at other flying schools.
The typical cadet pilot journey at SFC lasts between 18 months and 21 months, depending on the pace of your progression during the training. A rough timeline of the journey is illustrated below:
Singapore Flying College (SFC)
Singapore Flying College (SFC) is a training flight school wholly-owned by Singapore Airlines and trains Cadet Pilots for the Singapore Airlines Group. It was founded in 1988 and with over 3,000 alumni, has a wide swath of experience in providing world class airline training.
Headquartered at SIA Training Centre in Singapore with a training facility at Jandakot Airport in Perth, cadets will be subjected to a holistic and comprehensive training across the two countries. SFC has its own pool of resources and instructors from SIA and Scoot and operates as an independent entity separate from the airlines.
(Source: Singapore Flying College)
Cadets sponsored by Singapore Airlines or co-sponsored by Scoot will be trained to obtain a Multi-Crew Pilot License (MPL) while private cadets will undergo training for a Commercial Pilot License (CPL). You may find out more about the difference in license types here. As for MPL cadets, SFC will cover the periods of training from Ground School to Phase 3, with the sponsoring airline taking over training duties from Phase 4 onwards, with private cadets following a separate training schedule.
Note: Subsequent content will focus specifically on MPL cadets
Covering 14 extremely content-heavy papers (and which are also new and foreign to certain cadets) within a period of 5 months is no easy feat. Cadets have to pour through textbooks which are in the hundreds of pages, alongside numerous videos and computer-based trainings (CBTs), to stay on their feet and follow closely with the fast-paced training. To ensure that cadets are well-prepared and well-versed, SFC will also subject the cadets to its own quizzes and tests before they take on the CAAS papers.
All Ground Examinations are held in a computer lab at SAA, in a Multiple-Choice Question (MCQ) format to be done on the computer. But if you think it is easy, think again. You have to get 75% or more of the questions correct within the set duration to constitute a pass, with none of the exams open book. Should you fail the test, you are allowed to re-book and re-take the test up to a maximum of three attempts, after which you will be barred from CAAS exams for a period of 6 months.
Airlines typically do not have the luxury of time to wait for cadets to 'unlock' the opportunity to attempt the examinations again after 6 months as they require pilots for their future plans and operations, and will expectedly release them from their positions should this happen. This is why airlines are often highly selective of cadets whom they choose to sponsor and expect nothing less than the best from them.
Upon successful completion of the 14 ATPL papers in Singapore, the cadets will move on to the next phase of training in Jandakot, Australia. If there is a backlog Down Under, the cadets are able to go on a short break for a few months while they await their turn.
Ground School Singapore
All cadets will start off with Ground School, which is completed in Singapore over a period of 5 to 6 months. Classroom lessons are conducted at SIA Training Centre on weekdays by SFC Ground School Instructors, with content covering the 14 Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) papers. After the conclusion of the teaching of each subject, cadets will head to Singapore Aviation Academy (SAA), which is the primary educational and training facility of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), to take the ground examinations.
Here are the 14 ATPL Papers required (arranged in numerical order), with the examination duration and total questions:
Flight Training Jandakot, Australia
The flying chunk of Phase 1 continues down in Western Australia, in a small suburb called Jandakot just South of Perth. SFC utilises Jandakot Airport, which is a major general aviation airport catered primarily for light aircraft and has grown to become one of Australia's busiest airports in aircraft movements. The area of Jandakot enjoys relatively stable weather and long hours of sunshine year long, proving an ideal place for pilot training.
SFC boasts its own accommodation facilities across the airport to house its cadet pilots, providing great ease and convenience to pilots training in Jandakot. Flight training is completed over an average period of 9 months, although there have been cadets who have finished the syllabus in as short as 7 months or as long as a year. MPL cadets must complete approximately 80 hours of sorties, in which 'sortie' means a short trip or journey.
Training duration may differ due to a variety of reasons:
Poor cadet performance
Should the cadet not perform up to the lesson or test standard, failure of the sortie will delay training progress.
Bad weather (i.e. rain, fog, low cloud base, strong winds) may lead to sortie cancellations, where the occasional persistent adverse weather lasting up to a week can potentially lead to long delays.
As with commercial aircraft, training aircrafts are utilised to the maximum (if possible). Every additional minute on ground is money lost. Hence, in a bid to maximise aircraft utilisation and take into account externalities like inclement weather where sorties may be cancelled, a higher number of cadets may continue to be rostered on an aircraft even as it's maintenance hours or due date are approaching the limits. It is not uncommon for one's flight to be cancelled should more sorties go ahead as planned than expected and that the aircraft's limits have been reached.
Instructors may go on annual or medical leave, whereby cadets under their tutelage may face re-scheduling or cancellation of their sortie, leading to slower training progression.
The SFC fleet over at Jandakot consists of the following aircraft:
The Cessna 172R and Cessna 172S are single-engine, high wing, fixed-wing propeller aircrafts, equipped with the Garmin G1000 electronic flight instrument system (EFIS) to give a glass cockpit environment. The latter C172S is a slightly more powerful variant and is equipped with a higher performance engine. Having been built more than any other aircraft, the Cessna 172 is highly popular and is commonly used in the initial training of budding pilots. SFC MPL cadets will use the Cessna 172 solely for their syllabus, while CPL cadets will also utilise the aircraft for the bulk of their training.
Meanwhile, the Piper PA-44 Seminole is a twin-engine, low wing, fixed-wing propeller aircraft, also equipped with the G1000 EFIS. These aircrafts are used in the continuation of training for CPL cadets, who will progress from single-engine to twin-engine aircrafts to obtain a Multi-Engine rating. MPL cadets are not required to be trained on the Seminoles, as their multi-engine training is now conduct in simulators back home at SIA Training Centre.
Jandakot is the place where the bulk of cadets have their very first taste of flight and is a key stage where core flying skills are taught and also serves as an important platform to inculcate good airmanship habits. The comprehensive training, starting from basics such as the effects of aircraft control and general handling skills to the more stimulating navigation flights, are rigorously conducted and geared towards airline flying to prepare cadets for their eventual careers with their sponsor airlines.
The MPL syllabus covers both Visual Flight Rules (VFR) and Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), with the former taking up the significant majority of training hours. VFR are a set of regulations that govern the operation of aircraft in weather conditions clear enough such that the pilot can visually see where the aircraft is flying. IFR, meanwhile, are a set of regulations that govern and permit the operation of aircraft even when weather conditions are not as desirable, where flight plans and higher accuracy of instruments are required, with procedures and training being typically more complex.
The VFR portion includes the training segments of General Handling, Circuits, Area Navigation. Night rating certification will also be obtained through night circuits. The IFR stage commences after the cadet has passed all VFR flights, and will be conducted through IFR navigation since all the other aforementioned components require visual references.
A significant milestone of all cadet pilots is when they go for their 'First Solo'. First Solo is the first instance when the cadet is cleared to pilot the aircraft alone without the instructor on board and represents a key achievement in a pilot's career. First Solos are conducted during the circuits phase and the cadets will fly two to three circuits on their own. A circuit pattern is illustrated in the diagram below:
After fulfilling the minimum number of required hours and passing all the sorties, Phase 1 is completed and the cadet will be awarded with a CAAS Private Pilot License (PPL) with Night Rating.
Phase 2 and 3
Phase 2 Singapore
Upon returning to Singapore, training for Phase 2 and 3 will commence, with both classroom lessons and simulator trainings being conducted at SIA Training Centre. Phase 2 will focus on primarily Multi-Crew Co-operation (MCC), which emphasises on working in a two-men cockpit crew environment, along with the introduction of Pilot Flying (PF) and Pilot Monitoring (PM) roles. Jet aircraft training will also be introduced, representing a significant change in flying dynamics and aircraft handling.
Although the duration of Phase 2 training is only about 2 months long, coupled with jet aircraft requiring different skillsets in aircraft handling, cadets may find the learning curve steep but with the basics already reinforced in Jandakot, they generally do not struggle and often show the ability to adapt quickly to their new roles in the multi-crew environment.
Training is still conducted on the left-hand seat as the emphasis of the training is more on the multi-crew co-operation of the PF and PM roles and not on the Captain and First Officer positions.
Phase 3 Singapore
Phase 3 is a continuation of training from Phase 2, with the core topic and emphasis now directed towards non-normal and emergency procedures both on-ground and in-flight. Examples of procedures introduced to cadets during this phase include display unit failure, APU failure, instrument failure, engine failure after take-off (EFATO) and many more.
However, as Phase 3 training is very short at 1 month long, only the common non-normal and emergency procedures are introduced and comprehensive training in this area will only begin in Phase 4 during the type-rating training.
Training is similarly conducted on the left-hand seat in this phase, with the training emphasis still on multi-crew co-operation of the PF and PM roles when facing non-normal and emergency situations.
Phase 4 Singapore
After the completion of Phase 2 and 3, cadets will be streamed into their respective aircraft fleet and begin type-rating training, which is Phase 4 of training. Due to the unique and specific nature in terms of flight operations across different aircraft types, pilots are trained to operate only one specific type, and will not be able to operate across different aircraft types (unlike cabin crew). However, pilots will be required to operate different variants across one aircraft type.
An example of an aircraft type would be the Boeing 777, while variants across the type would include the Boeing 777-200ER, Boeing 777-300, Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 777F. Future variants will include the Boeing 777-9, poised for deliveries beginning 2025. Hence, a pilot in the Boeing 777 fleet would be trained to operate across the different variants in the 777 family.
Although Airbus and Boeing offer common type ratings across different aircraft types (e.g. pilots operating both Boeing 777 and 787), carriers in Singapore generally do not adopt this practice.
Potential aircraft types which Singapore Airlines cadets may be streamed to include the Airbus A350, Boeing 737, Boeing 777 and Boeing 787 fleet. Scoot cadets on the other hand, only have the option of the Airbus A320 and Boeing 787, and they are typically assigned to a fleet before Phase 1 training even commences.
Cadets are not given any options to choose which fleet they desire to be in, as it depends on factors such as the operational requirements of the company. Some factors may include the following:
Aircraft type designated as training fleet
The airline may designate one or more aircraft type(s) as the training fleet. This particular aircraft type usually forms the backbone of the airline's fleet and operates short to medium-haul flights, providing the perfect environment for flight training in terms of flight frequencies and duration.
Delivery of aircraft
With every aircraft added to the fleet, additional pilots will be required to be trained on that particular type. On certain occasions, cadets may be assigned to the fleet to make up the numbers. This is especially so when there is short notice for the airline to arrange the appropriate fleet movement within their existing pool of pilots. This has become more evident in recent times, with numerous deliveries of the Boeing 737 MAX and Boeing 787, having been plagued by prolonged delays in aircraft deliveries the past few years.
Seniority: With seniority come certain privileges, and the more senior pilots will eventually have the opportunity to move to the more senior fleets, for instance the Airbus A380. This will make available slots in their previous fleet, which may be replaced by incoming cadets.
Command training: As with Second Officer training, one or more aircraft type may be assigned as the training fleet, and Senior First Officers eligible for command upgrade will be transferred out from the senior fleet to the training fleet. This continual cycle of fleet movement may impact the fleet to which cadets may be streamed to.
Cadets training in Phase 4 will attend classroom lessons and simulators trainings on how to operate their respective fleet type in great detail - with content ranging from the basics to the most advanced to which all pilots must master both in theory and practical. They will be brought to shape and trained in such a manner where they are capable of operating the aircraft in the capacity of a co-pilot (i.e. First Officer) in all phases and scenarios of flight.
To successfully complete Phase 4, the pilot must be adept in flying the aircraft type and show competence in executing all required emergency procedures. They will be rigorously put to the test in the simulators by pilots from the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), who themselves are certified examiners of that aircraft type. Also, they will be subjected to circuits training on actual jet aircrafts either at Changi Airport in Singapore or at neighbouring countries. Upon passing these tests and flights, they will graduate from being Cadet Pilots with Singapore Flying College and will begin their Initial Operating Experience (IOE) as Second Officers or Junior First Officers with their respective sponsor airline.
Initial Operating Experience (IOE)
Second Officer / Junior First Officer International
Initial Operating Experience (IOE) training will be conducted on actual revenue flights, with the aircraft occupied by both cargo and paying passengers. Such flights will typically be operated by 3 pilots, with the flight deck helmed by a Captain who is an instructor pilot, a First Officer, and finally the training Second Officer.
The first phase of the IOE will focus on PM duties, where the Second Officer will replace the First Officer in the right-hand seat initially from 10,000ft after take-off to 10,000ft before landing. This will eventually increase to the duration of the entire flight, where the Second Officer will be able to operate in the same capacity as that of a First Officer in PM duties.
The next phase of the IOE will focus on PF duties, where similarly, the Second Officer will replace the First Officer in the right-hand seat initially from 10,000ft after take-off to 10,000ft before landing. This will also eventually increase to the duration of the entire flight, where the Second Officer will be able to operate in the same capacity as that of a First Officer in PF duties.
In between such training flights, Second Officers are still subjected to occasional simulators back at home in Singapore to double down on both their normal and emergency procedures, thus providing a very credible and holistic training programme for all future co-pilots. After the successful completion of such training flights and simulators across a period of around 6 months, these Second Officers will check-out as First Officers and will now be allowed to assume full flying duties as a productive pilot.