Integrated Flight Training versus Modular Flight Training – The Great Debate

Integrated Flight Training vs Modular Flight Training

Integrated Flight Training versus Modular Flight Training – The Great Debate

Which is the best way for a professional pilot to train, an integrated course or a modular course, or does it matter? This is one of the great debates in the flight training industry, and has been going on for many years. In this Aspire Aviation article we examine some recent academic research on the topic.

The following is an excerpt from an MSc thesis entitled “Pilot Training – developing a model to explain Pilot Employability,” by the author, who was studying at City University in London. The excerpt references survey data – this is based on a 2017 survey of over 650 respondents. Two acronyms are used in the passage; ATO is Approved Training Organisation and HoT is Head of Training.

There are two options when it comes to choosing a professional pilot training course, an integrated or a modular course.

Integrated courses bring the student from a position of little or no experience to a qualified commercial pilot over approximately 14 months at a single ATO. A modular course is comprised of separate elements of training, which may be completed over a longer time period and at possibly different ATOs. Generally, integrated courses are more expensive than modular courses. Personal circumstances may dictate the choice of course as those undertaking modular training can do so while remaining in employment and may take breaks between the various modules.

Survey participants who indicated that they were qualified professional pilots were asked which type of course they had completed, what category of aircraft they fly, and details of the time it took to find their first job.

90% of integrated course graduates reported being employed while 70% of modular course graduates were employed.

Figure 1. Time to find first job, integrated versus modular students (%)

Of those who report that they are currently seeking their first job, 35% are integrated graduates and 65% are modular graduates. Of those whom report being between jobs, 20% were integrated, while 60% completed modular courses. This would indicate that integrated graduates tend to find employment quicker than those completing modular courses.

The vast majority of airline sponsored / mentored schemes appear to use integrated courses.

64% of integrated graduates reported that they intend staying with their current employer for the next five years, while for modular graduates the figure was significantly lower at 38%. This may indicate that modular graduates are more likely to take less desirable positions for their first job.

Figure 2.  5 year employment intentions, integrated versus modular (%)

An analysis of the type of aircraft flown versus the type of course completed appears to corroborate these findings with 65% of jet pilots reporting that they completed an integrated course as opposed to 28% who completed a modular course. 39% of turboprop pilots were integrated students while 50% were modular. Just 22% of flight instructors trained on an integrated course while 68% reported being modular students.

61% of respondents who reported that they were considering commencing training indicated that they intended to choose an integrated course with only 23% indicating that they intended to choose a modular course. Yet only 42% of those in training are completing an integrated course. The data indicates that prospective students may encounter barriers that prevent them from commencing integrated training. One could speculate that the reason for this may be financial, owing to the potentially larger fees for an integrated course.

Figure 3. Intentions of those considering training versus in training (%)

ATO HoTs commented that “if modular is done right it can be superb,” and that it can “show dedication.” But they asked, “how can modular courses possibly compete with structured, residential courses?,” and cautioned that they can be “somewhat haphazard.” One HoT commented that regardless of what course you complete that “you walk out the door with the same qualification and skill set.” It was observed that airlines “seem to favour integrated.” It was noted that those who cannot pass pre-entry selection tests in integrated ATOs might enroll on modular courses with less difficulty.

Airline training managers expressed mixed views, with one stating that they had had “good experience of modular,” and that they were “just as impressed with driven individuals through the modular route.”   Another felt that integrated was “the way to go,” as it had “good consistency” and was a better product.” In their experience integrated pilots “required less training at airline level.”

One training manager suggested that individuals considering training should examine their “target” airlines and establish what those airlines’ preferences in this area were. Potential trainees should ask themselves if their choice of course could “impede their career progression.”

The evidence suggests that there is a strong advantage to completing an integrated course, with integrated graduates being more successful in their job seeking, getting a higher proportion of jet jobs and being more satisfied in their positions. However the modular option offers a route into professional flying for those who cannot commit to either the time or finance requirements of an integrated course.

The research seems to suggest that professional pilots who complete an integrated course have an advantage over their modular counterparts. So why is this? And what action can a modular student or graduate take to mitigate the perceived issues?

Most Integrated courses require potential students to complete a selection process before being accepted onto a professional flight training course.  This element is missing from many modular courses.  The danger here is that an airline may view an integrated student as a safer bet as they completed selection testing prior to the course.  As noted above, it is possible for an individual to be unsuccessful at one or more ATO selection days but to enrol at an ATO that does not conduct pre entry tests.   A prospective modular student could consider completing independent aptitude testing prior to starting their training. A positive report in this area could be used to your advantage when you attend airline pilot job interviews and may look good on your CV. GAPAN in the UK provides such a service, check out this link.

Modular students may do the various elements of their flight training at different ATOs, and there may not be any complete training record from start to finish. This can make it hard to get a “Final Report” for modular graduates. Integrated schools will generally give their graduates this report which can be passed onto airline recruiters and provide a good picture of progress from start to finish.  Modular students should ask the Heads of Training in each ATO they use to give them a report on that particular part of the training. If you have already finished your flight training, get back in touch with the different ATOs and ask them for copies of your training file and a report on your time there. Ask the Head of Training at your final ATO if he or she can provide you with a letter of recommendation.  Ryanair’s latest sponsored type rating programme requires the applicant to submit a Final Report as part of the application process.

There is the potential for modular training to be less structured than integrated training. It is important that modular students take personal responsibility for putting a good structure on their training. Try and avoid using a different ATO for each element of training, get some consistency, it will look good on your CV. Make sure your hour building in particular is structured – don’t “burn holes in the sky.”  You should achieve something on every flight.  Visit busy airfields and expose yourself to busy Air Traffic Control environments.  Hour building experiences have the potential to give you some great interview examples. Consider a trip through Europe or across the USA, or fly to a major event such as EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh.

Academic research on employment in general (not aviation specific) would suggest that there are important elements beyond the specialist subject knowledge or qualification that a candidate has. Integrated courses may provide students with lectures above and beyond those subjects required by the licencing authorities. They may also have relationships with airlines that may allow students to develop contacts within the industry and build a network. Modular students should actively mitigate these issues.   Make sure you attend events such as the upcoming Pilot Careers Live event in Dublin.  Try and develop a network by building contacts at events such as these, or by seeking out useful contacts at airfields or flight schools. If you can find somebody who is willing to mentor you through the process this could be a great advantage and give you good insights into the role of the First Officer.  Getting a deeper understanding of the role will be advantageous when it comes to preparing for your airline interview.  You could ask your ATO or individual flying instructors to put you in touch with previous students who are now with the airlines.

Modular students do have potential advantages over their integrated counterparts. Completing flight training while holding down a full time job or dealing with family responsibilities is no mean feat. This drive and determination can be translated into great interview examples that can act as strong proof of an individual’s motivation to succeed.

The research suggests that perspective students should examine their target airlines.  Different airlines have different attitudes towards flight training and if you hope to work for a particular airline you should research their stance on the issue.  For example, easyJet state that they will only consider integrated graduates from specified flight schools for those joining without experience in other airlines.  Other airlines don’t overtly specify their requirements but speaking with someone involved in training or selection may shed light on the issue.

Ultimately the choice of course comes down to individual circumstances, modular training may suit the needs of some perfectly, whereas for others integrated better fits their requirements.

No matter which training route you follow, make sure you maximise your potential by attending an Aspire Aviation interview coaching course. For full details of our pilot interview preparation sessions, see our website at www.aspireaviation.ie or contact us at info@aspireaviation.ie

Watch out for our upcoming articles addressing more topical flight training and pilot recruitment topics.  Follow our Facebook page or check out our LinkedIn profile – we’ll post an update when new articles are added.