How to successfully pass your ATPL exams

Obtaining your ATPL licence isn’t an easy feat, quite the opposite, everyone who has gone through this experience agree that to successfully pass the ATPL exams, it requires serious dedication and real love for aviation.

The profession of a commercial pilot is one of the most valued of all the economic sectors. It’s true that the preparation for this has a high level of complexity but with good training, passing these exams is much more attainable.

Today we want to talk to you about pilot exams, the most feared part of the training by any student who aspires to work in the one of the most prestigious professions.

To follow we will share some tips to help you prepare for your pilot exams, and we’ll show you the registration process along with all you need to know in order to successfully pass your exams.

Let’s start!

The fourteen ATPL exams and their subjects

As you will know, the theoretical part of the ATPL licence is formed of 15 subjects, although only 14 of them have an official exam. Each one has time allocated for it in the exam as we reveal below:

✓  Air Law and ATC Procedures: An exam that lasts one hour.

✓  General Aircraft Knowledge: Also referred by AESA as ‘Cell, Systems or Power plant’ and two hours are allowed to complete this exam.

✓  Instrumentation: The duration of this exam is one and a half hours.

✓  Mass and Balance: An exam that lasts one hour.

✓  Aircraft Performance: One hour to complete the exam.

✓  Flight Planning and Monitoring: A maximum time of two hours is given to complete this exam.

✓  Human Performance: One hour is allowed to complete this exam.

✓  Meteorology: This exam should be completed in a maximum of two hours.

✓  General Navigation: This exam should be completed in a maximum of two hours.

✓  Radio Navigation: In this exam you are given one and a half hours to complete.

✓  Operational Procedures: The exam of this subject is to be completed in one hour and fifteen minutes.

✓  Principles of Flight: One hour is allowed to complete this exam.

✓  VFR communications: To complete the exam of this subject you have 30 minutes.

✓  IFR communications: As the previous one, you have 30 minutes to complete.

✓  Area 100 KSA: the new subject you’ll have from 2022 that does not require an exam.

Official Headquarters for AESA FCL Exams in Malaga
State Aviation Safety Agency

Additional to the time that you have to complete each of the ATPL exams you should be clear on the conditions and limitations imposed by the AESA (State Air Security Agency) to attend these exams and also the time frames we explain below.

Time limits for passing the ATPL exams

You have 18 months to attend and pass these exams on all the subjects for the ATPL licence. This timeframe starts at the end of the month in which you attend your first exam.

You will have a total of 4 chances for each subject. So, if you fail the same subject 4 times, you’ll have to start again.

In the case that you register to take several exams at once, there is a maximum timeframe of 10 working days between exams in which to sit them. This is what AESA calls ‘a session’; and you have 6 sessions in total to pass the pilot exams of all the subjects.

In the case you exceed the 6 permitted sessions, 4 tries per subject or the 18 months since the first exam, then a new cycle or period of 18 months starts where you would have to repeat all the exams, including the exams you’ve already passed.

Which subjects to sit and how to group them as per their difficulty

Which are the easiest subjects? Which are the most difficult? These questions has very subjective answers and it will always depend on your abilities or preferences.

From our experience, the majority of the students who have already been through the training, agree the best way to sit these exams is to sign up for 3 sessions of 5-4-5 subjects respectively.

When choosing these subject groups, you need to assess how to group them. That being said, to guide you, there are many students who group up the subjects while studying such as Flight Planning and Monitoring, Meteorology, General Navigation, and Principles of Flight so they can sit this group of subject exams together. The remaining 10 subjects are then divided into 2 groups of 5 as indicated beforehand.

You can rest assured that at One Air, you’ll always have the support and advice of our experienced instructors, such as revision weeks with your tutor to prepare for your exams, resolve any issues or widen your knowledge. This way, when you finally decide to sit the exams you’ll be prepared and confident to do so.

Grouping exams by blocks of subjects which share fees

When grouping exams for the ATPL subjects, you also need to bear in mind there are some subjects which share fees and that if you register for these in the same session you’ll only pay once. The subject blocks are the following:

  • 010 – Air Law.
  • 021 – General Knowledge of Aircraft: Systems.
    022 – General Knowledge of Aircraft: Instrumentation.
  • 031 – Mass and Balance.
    032 – Performance.
    033 – Flight Planning.
  • 040 – Human Performance.
  • 050 – Meteorology.
  • 061 – General Navigation.
    062 – Radio Navigation.
  • 070 – Operational Procedures.
  • 081 – Principles of Flight.
  • 091 – VFR Communications.
    092 – IFR Communications.

To follow, we’ll fully address the registration process, choice of headquarters to sit the exams, fees and more useful information.

Registration and ATPL exams costs in SENASA

As you will know, in order to sit the ATPL exams you need to be registered in an ATO or a Registered Training Centre approved by the AESA, as is the case of One Air E-ATO 190.

Before registering for the official exam, you need to have passed the theory tests on the subjects in the academy. In fact, this is one of the requirements set out in AENA’s guide to taking exams for pilot licences and FCL ratings.

The person responsible for the exams at your ATO centre will issue a certificate confirming that you fulfil the requirements of being registered in the school, and have successfully passed the test exams provided by the school.

At the time of registering for the pilot exams, you should choose the headquarters where you would like to sit these and the dates you wish to do them.

Every year, AESA publish the locations where the electronic theory knowledge exams will take place along with the operating dates. Since 2020, One Air is an official centre for the ATPL exams so you won’t have to travel to sit these.

Also, on the AESA website, you will find important information such as maximum time limits for an exam session, or the bank holidays of each Autonomous Community. Also the capacity of the rooms where the exams will take place and a tutorial where you can see the dynamic in which the exams take place.

Bear in mind you will need to practise using the distance measuring tool in the annexes along and the calculator which will be available to you during the exam; so on D-Day, everything will be under control.

Lastly, management of the registration of each student is done by the exam manager of each ATO. The fees for this year 2023 are €77.79 for each block of subjects.

What to do on the day of the exam

On the day of the exam, you need to be at the centre 20 minutes before the exam time. In the case you arrive late and 5 minutes have passed from the start of the exam, you will lose the right to participate.

Before entering the room, you will need to show the original registration document to the exam, your ID / Passport; depending under which you have registered for the exam.

The exam is multiple choice and will be carried out on an electronic examination application. There you will have everything you need to do the exam, including a calculator or ruler which you’ll need at some point.

All the ATPL exams are in English and nothing can be taken into the exam room, not even a wristwatch or stationery such as pen and paper. For this reason, we provide lockers so you can leave your personal effects such as your iPad, smartphone, wallet, etc.

Be very aware of the time you have for each subject to complete the exam because once the time is up, your computer screen will switch off and you will not be able to continue.

Just so you’re not temped to chat with your neighbours, each classmate will be doing a different exam.

Tips for passing the pilot exams

Some of the material in this training seem very complicated when taking a glance, however it’s no different to what you’ve been studying until this point. Is it?

The most complex part, not necessary the most complicated of the whole course are the subjects based on Physics and Mathematical principles. It isn’t a case of looking at them as an impossibility; by dedicating time and taking advantage of all the recourses we make available to you, you’ll be capable of successfully passing them.

We recommend you don’t try to memorise the questions. It’s true that these exams are multiple choice questions but we advise you take it a step further than just passing the exams to obtain your ATPL licence.

Once you have to go through the selection process of an airline, the tests are much more difficult and there will be no multiple choice.

Many airlines will carry out oral exams where you will need to answer the questions with your own conclusions. For this reason, it’s of utmost importance you study the subjects understanding the concepts and complimenting your study with tests.

English is the official language of aviation

Fact. For this reason, our classes are given by bilingual instructors, so you can study your training for the ATPL licence in English. We’ve also included general English lessons, Aeronautical English lessons as well as OACI linguistic competence exams in our Commercial Pilot Course – Airline Pilot Programme.

The ATPL exams are integrally formulated in the official aeronautical language. Additionally, any employment selection process for a job as an Airline Pilot will be done in English.

For these reasons, we recommend you to take your English knowledge further than just what is needed to become a Commercial Airline Pilot. For example, a good method is to watch series and films in English, educate your ear by conversing with your colleagues in English or whatever method that works best for you.

The importance of the Class 1 medical exam

Although it’s not a part of the ATPL exams, we are under an obligation in order to be issued the licence, so it’s a pretty important exam. Don’t you think?

The tests involved in the Class 1 medical examination include various specialities which between them all take around 5 hours to complete.

These are the tests that will be carried out before issuing the certificate:

✓ Spirometry: An examination of your pulmonary functions and capacity.

✓ Posturometry: An examination to measure your static posture and balance both with eyes open and closed.

✓ Cardiology: An examination to check your heart is strong and healthy.

✓ Ophthalmology: Your vision will be rigorously checked for problems such as short-sightedness, long-sightedness, any other issues and colour blindness.

✓ Otorhinolaryngology, Odontology, Psychology, Psychiatry, X-rays, blood and urine tests: All routine tests to ensure all is normal.

✓ Psycho-technical test: This test shows your ability and capacity of reaction toward unexpected sounds and images.

Are you now ready to pass your pilot exams?

The preparation to lead you to obtaining your ATPL licence is a difficult one where you need to invest lots of time and effort to attend classes and above all study, study and study.

Determination and consistency are your best friends in these months of gruelling preparation. Remember the reward will be your dream come true.

Work hard, don’t ever get tired of doing exam simulations and you’ll see how at the end it will have all been worth it.

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