Pilot: Civilian

Pilots are highly trained professionals who fly aircraft, performing a multitude of tasks. Most pilots are employed in the commercial and military aviation fields. Civilian or private pilots may not offer flying services in exchange for reward but fly merely for pleasure or may apply their flying abilities in their own businesses. They usually only have a private pilot's licence.

Professional pilots work within the commercial field. They hold either a commercial pilot’s licence or an airline transport pilot’s licence. The work may involve transporting passengers and cargo to and from airports or performing tasks such as crop dusting, inspecting pipelines, conducting sightseeing trips or helping with rescue operations. There are usually two pilots on board during commercial airline operations but there may be more depending on the type of aircraft and specific requirements.

The captain is the pilot-in-command and the first officer is the co-pilot. The captain is responsible for the safety of the aircraft, passengers, crew and cargo. The captain supervises the crew, gives instructions and makes all decisions.

It is the captain’s job to check the aircraft, route, weather and an alternative destination before take-off, then fly the aircraft over the planned route, land it and file the flight report. The co-pilot assists or relieves the captain operating the aircraft, monitoring flight instruments and air traffic control channels.

The working life of an airline pilot is highly regulated by flight duties. A pilot is only allowed to fly a specific number of hours in a month. Evaluations and medical examinations continue throughout career.

Personal Requirements

  • pass compulsory aviation medical examination
  • must be at least 17 years old
  • excellent health and stamina
  • good hearing, eyesight and good colour discrimination
  • no organic or nervous disease, mental disorders, drug addiction or alcoholism
  • responsible
  • above-average intelligence
  • able to work well under stress
  • emotionally stable and mature
  • able to work in a team

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

National Senior Certificate

What to Study

Private Pilot: The training for a private pilot can be done at numerous licensed flying clubs or schools:

  • Theoretical training
  • Practical training
  • At least 40 flying hours

After completion of the course, a Private Pilot Licence (PPL) is obtained which entitles the pilot to fly for recreational purposes but not for money or any reward.

Professional Pilot: qualified private pilots may enrol at certain advanced flying schools to receive training as a commercial pilot and qualified commercial pilots may receive training toward obtaining an Airline Transport Pilot’s Licence.

Commercial Pilot: Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL):

  • Theoretical examinations are written at the Department of Civil Aviation
  • The practical part is done by the Designated Examiners
  • 200 hours of flying experience.
After completion of the course a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) is obtained and the pilot can start work as a pilot, but it is difficult to get employment with less than 500 hours of flying experience. Insurance companies usually require at least 500 hours of flying experience.

Airline Pilot: the Airline Transport Pilot Licence can be obtained from a private airline or the SAA and may take up to four years of active study and flying conversion training.

The SAA has its own Cadet Pilot training programme. You may apply for this programme during January and May when the SAA advertise in nearly all of the local newspapers. The successful candidates are sent by the SAA to a flying school of the SAA’s choice. The training programme consists of a theoretical part at a ground school, and a practical part where the candidates are first trained in the flight simulator and thereafter in the aircraft. The successful candidate is employed as a co-pilot by the SAA and when experienced enough, promoted and trained to fly as captain.
  • In possession of a Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL)
  • Younger than 35 years of age.


  • Department of Transport
  • Directorate of Civil Aviation
  • commercial airlines
  • flying schools
  • charter organisations
  • private airlines
  • air taxi companies
  • self-employed, as a freelance pilot

Further Information

Airline Pilots’ Association of South Africa (ALPA-SA)
P O Box 796
Kempton Park, 1620
Tel: (011) 394-5310

South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA)
Ikhaya Lokundiza Building 16
Treur Close, Waterfall Park
Bekker Street, Midrand
Tel: (011) 545-1000

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in an airport
  • arrange to speak to different types of pilots about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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