Like many people who aspire to a professional flying career, the journey to the flight deck is not always straightforward. 

At the end of 2022, TUI Airways became the first airline this side of the millennium to address the need for accessibility and fully funded routes into Piloting careers, whilst also simultaneously addressing the industry-wide pilot shortage.

Almost a year later, a number of other UK airlines bucked the trend and followed in the footsteps of TUI; British Airways and Aer Lingus being the most recent airlines to  launch their own renditions of funded pilot cadet programmes. Leading Edge Aviation also have an alternative funded route into the role.

With commercial pilot training totalling costs to the tune of around £120,000 and a cost of living crisis on our hands, it’s not so easy for the age-old solution of asking your parents to remortgage their house. The industry is in need of pilots and will continue to be for the foreseeable future as the aviation rapidly expands in a post-Covid world. As a result of this, fully funded cadet schemes can be extremely competitive with thousands of applicants in contention for very few coveted places.

For anyone hoping to apply for an upcoming funded pilot cadet programme, this article aims to demystify some of the process, having been recently successful in gaining a place on TUIs scheme.

First of all you’ll need to submit an initial application. This often entails submission of a CV, confirmation of any pre-requisite qualifications such as GCSEs or equivalent, and sometimes having to answer a few basic sift questions which relate to why you’re applying. When it comes to your CV, make sure you tailor this to the airline you’re applying to. Every airline has slightly different values and business models. Take a look at Pilot Competencies for each airline as well as Core Values and try to link these to the skills and experience outlined in your CV. Always have a small personal profile at the beginning of the CV where you can briefly get across your flare, passion and personality as well as motive for 1. Becoming a pilot, but 2. For wanting to be a part of this specific airline. 

Often the initial application stage is sifted electronically based on key words due to the sheer volume of applications, it’s unlikely that all applications at this stage will be individually assessed so be sure to use all of the correct terminology to stand out here.

Following the successful completion of the initial application and CV stage, aptitude testing will follow. Depending on which software the airline uses, a combination of verbal, numerical and logical/symbolic reasoning will be tested. To prepare for this, I’d definitely recommend brushing up on GCSE-level maths. In my assessment, there were a range of questions in the numerical reasoning assessment which ranged from percentages to algebra to ratio and proportion to probability and statistics. So grab a GCSE textbook and get revising, it’s surprising how much you forget!

For verbal reasoning, I would recommend reading the questions and the information carefully but don’t overthink the answers. Gowith your gut otherwise you start questioning yourself and can end up getting into a bit of a pickle. The answers will always be in the text but sometimes the way the text is presented requires you to read between the lines. There are loads of online practice questions available and no matter which format you practice, all verbal reasoning questions are pretty similar so you can’t go wrong.

When it comes to logical/symbolic reasoning, this is a little more tricky and it’s very common to look at the images and patterns and not make any sense of them. The key here is to identify patterns, often in the least obvious ways. For example, look at the way a shape is rotating, or a certain symbol within the image is rotating. Perhaps it rotates 1 or 2 positions between every image and this is the key to solving the puzzle. Sometimes numbers or shapes will go alternately in and out of sequence, this can also be a pattern, and sometimes rows can move back and forth differing amounts. There will always be a key to solving these puzzles and it will either be extremely obvious or extremely subtle. Again don’t overthink this! 

You may also have to complete other tests which could include ‘multi-tasking’ or assessing your motor skills. Essentially these are just capacity tests and you should think about it in a way that means you can switch your focus between tasks very quickly. You won’t ever have to complete multiple tasks at once, though it may seem like it. These tests are assessing how quickly you can switch from one task to another in the same simulation whilst also still maintaining some capacity. In real life this can be reflective of how you react and cope to an emergency onboard the aircraft. Flying should be second nature and you should look to respond to an emergency with your reserve capacity, prioritising and addressing the most important tasks whilst also being able to quickly move focus if needed. 

Aptitude tests are always pass/fail with no ambiguity. You either achieve enough ‘points’ to progress or you don’t. Usually you will be scored: Below Average, Average or Above Average. From what I understand you need to achieve 3 Above Average scores to progress. Although I do know a couple of people who achieved 1 Average score and 2 Above Average scores and still progressed. My biggest advice is not to overthink anything and to go with your gut. I remember completing my TUI aptitude assessment and my brain was frazzled by the end of it. I genuinely thought I had failed because I had no idea how well I was actually doing. So don’t let yourself get too bogged down, you may surprise yourself.  

Once you have passed the aptitude phase, next you’re likely to face a digital interview. These are usually checked by real people so this is an amazing opportunity to let your true personality shine through. Often questions involve understanding your motivation to join the airline as well as assessing why you want to be a pilot and why you think you’d be a good fit for the role and for the company. They also want to understand your strong and weak points so be honest about these. Think about ways you may struggle or things you may find difficult over the course of the training phase and how you would work to address these. Make sure you completely understand the airline you’re applying to and what they stand for, how the customer profile differs and what their core values are both for staff and customers alike. For example, TUI is a leisure airline, they primarily take passengers on holiday and therefore are hugely interested in understanding how you as a pilot can enhance the customer experience from the limited interaction you’re likely to have. Whereas British Airways and Aer Lingus have a much higher focus on business travelers, commuter travelers and long-haul feeder flights. The customer profile is very different and these type of passengers are often less likely to engage with the airline and use the service simply as a means to be transported from A to B. So make sure you understand this and get it across in your interview.

On successful completion of the digital interview, the next stage is usually an in-person assessment day. From thousands of applications, only 250 people were invited to an assessment day with TUI. For me personally, I found this element the most enjoyable. On arriving at TUIs training centre at East Midlands Airport, we were greeted by the TUI pilot recruitment team and made to feel extremely comfortable and relaxed. The pilot recruitment team largely consists of current line pilots so they were able to give a really valuable insight into life in the role and what were likely to expect. There was so much energy and positivity on the day, it didn’t feel like an assessment at all and just put everyone at ease so more time was spent actually getting to know each other than stressing all day about the assessments.

The day itself consisted of several presentations that gave an overview of the company as well as the MPL scheme and how it will likely play out. The assessment phase consisted of a group activity and discussion with other candidates, a day-in-the-life role-play activity with a TUI Captain and a knowledge test. The final part of the day was a 2:1 competency-based interview with two members of the pilot recruitment team. The interview, again is looking to help the recruitment team understand more about you as an individual and your motivation to fly for the company. They want to understand more about your personality and how you have reacted and learned from situations in the past as well as what motivates you. For every stage of the assessment day, I would honestly say, as cliche as it sounds, just to relax and embrace the experience. It’s a really really enjoyable day. 

I have completed countless assessment days and interviews over the last decade for both commercial and military flying jobs as well as flying scholarships and can honestly say, by far this was the most relaxing and enjoyable assessment day I’ve ever experienced. My interview felt so chilled that I actually forgot I was in an interview and it became more a of a chat with colleagues than a formal process. TUI pride their whole business model on customer experience and engagement and as I said before, they want to see how much you can bring to the table in order to enhance that customer experience from the little interaction you have, whether that be walking through the terminal or standing at the door during disembarkation, your messages over the PA, or flight deck visits on the ground. Other airlines may be looking for slightly different key competencies and may not have such a focus on the customer experience so it’s up to you to understand the airline you’re applying for and also most importantly, understand if that airline is a good fit for you. Yes it’s a very attractive offering to have your commercial pilot training fully funded, but if you don’t resonate with that particular company then you will likely not be happy going forward in your career, so take some time to understand more about yourself and what you want out of the job. Be proactive and reach out to people in the airline and in the industry. LinkedIn and Instagram are great tools for connecting online. Organisations such as the Air League and the Honourable Company of Air Pilots also offer great opportunities to network. 

Following the assessment day, the final stage was a simulator assessment in the Boeing 737 sim at CAE in Crawley. I found this phase quite daunting as I’d never experienced a full motion sim before and didn’t know what to expect. On arrival, the pilot recruitment team were there to put me at ease which was amazing and by the time I was called for my sim I had totally forgotten how stressed I had been in the build up. The sim session is tailored to individual flying experience. I have a PPL but haven’t exercised this since before Covid and so felt a little rusty. There were some candidates who had limited to No flying experience though, hence the sessions were individually tailored. My session included a briefing and being taught a number of manoeuvres and procedures and looked at how quickly I picked this up and managed to replicate the instructors’s requests. Actually being in the sim was an amazing experience and it was at that point it really hit me how close and how real I potentially was to achieving my dream. 

About a week after the sim assessment, I was given the good news via phone call. I’m still in shock. Now only 6 weeks away until the beginning of my training, I couldn’t be more excited and proud to be beginning my professional flying career with TUI. After a decade of chasing the dream, it’s finally becoming a reality with the best airline in the business (I know I may be biased).

As you go through each process, my biggest recommendation is to stay true to yourself and follow your heart and gut through the selection processes. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not because airlines will see through it. Do what you can to build up your network and knowledge base whether that be joining an organisation like the Air League or reaching out to people on LinkedIn. I would also say, there are a number of courses out there that aim to help develop your skills at assessment and interview. These courses are often quite expensive and I don’t necessarily believe they are that helpful at an ab-initio phase. If you’re applying for a fully funded cadet scheme, the chances are you’re applying because you don’t have any other financial means to support yourself through training and out the other side. I’d think carefully before parting with large sums of money for a preparation course when you can actually develop a lot of the skills they tell you about through alternative means. There are many online resources out there as well as free mentoring schemes which are equally beneficial. So all I can really say in my parting words is a huge good luck as you embark on potentially multiple applications to different airlines!


Bridget A M Donaldson BSc (Hons), MSc (Oxon.)
Check out our Tui Assessment guide if you are going through the process.