Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) Essentials Study Guide

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The Wright Brothers were the first in flight. I write this post not very far from those historic grounds where they changed man’s relationship with the sky and stars forever.

I’m hoping our guest today will do the same for you.

[Interview Questions]

Today we’re talking with Stefan, an aviator and founder of the ATPL Essentials project whose aim is to build an open source library of ATPL study guides.

Stefan has had his private pilot’s license for over five years now and shares with us today his passion for flight and the data that drives it. Stefan’s latest project is a quick and targeted Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL) Study Guide.

How old were you when you realized you wanted to become a pilot?

Quite old, actually! I was about to finish my studies of Aeronautical Engineering. Back then I believed I knew everything about airplanes. Then I met a friend who had his Private Pilot’s License (PPL) for several years and was an avid aviator.

Talking to him, I found out that I knew a lot about the theory and close to nothing about the practice of flying. So after finishing my engineering degree, I decided to reward myself with my PPL license and enrolled in a flight school right after.

What was the first aircraft you ever flew?

I completed my training on a thirty year old Cessna 172. Nothing fast, nothing exciting, but very forgiving for the student pilot.

What’s the fastest aircraft you ever flew?

After my PPL I flew a lot in Austria, where I almost exclusively flew on new generation Diamond aircraft. I used small planes already for business trips, so range, speed and reliability became an issue.

The next step into a deep addiction to flying was the Multi-Engine Piston (MEP) rating. I did it on a Diamond DA42 - a marvelous aircraft. No steam gauges, but an airliner like Garmin 1000 glass cockpit. Two piston engines, retractable gear. Beautiful to fly. You get cruise speeds of around 180kt, which makes for a nice travel experience.

Do you have your private pilot’s license?

Yes, I have my PPL since five years now. Couple of months ago I finished my instrument rating, and currently I am about to finish my commercial license. It was quite a way here from PPL, but flying as a hobby is one of the most fulfilling things you can imagine. There is always this little bit more that you can get. You always learn something. On every flight. That’s what keeps it interesting.

How long did it take you to study for the pilot license exam?

Coming right out of university with an aeronautical engineering degree, I had covered all the basic knowledge already. So I did my PPL fast pace in five weeks.

Sitting in the plane almost every single day, doing two sessions per day. It was not as easy as it sounds though. I imagined, I would do some flying in the morning, and spend the rest of the day at the beach.

Instead my day looked more like this: Quick breakfast, get to the airport, briefing, flying, debriefing - oh, it’s lunch time already! Quick lunch, briefing, flying, debriefing - then maybe study an hour in the evening and fall into bed at 8pm.

As for the ATPL I took one and a half year for the whole theory. It is by far more expansive and I was doing it in parallel to a full time job, so there was only little time for studying.

What percentage of candidates pass the flight exam the first time? Is there a penalty for failing the exam? Do you have to wait 6 months or a 1 year to retake?

You have three attempts for each of the 14 exams. If you fail three times, there is some leeway to discuss with the authorities. Otherwise you would have to start all over. But I don’t know anybody who failed completely.

Why a Flight Essentials study guide?

When I started studying for the ATPL, I was looking for a good book that explains the background of the ATPL exam and gives some context.

Several friends started out doing only question catalogues. When I joined them in their sessions, going through all the exam questions, I found out, that big parts of the books are irrelevant for answering the questions and other important building blocks for the questions were not even in the book.

Worse, in no single instance did the book tell me exactly what I had to know to pass the exam. So I decided to create my own study guides, like I’d done at university already. My friends asked me if they could use them, so I came to the idea of publishing them.

That’s how the ATPL Study Guide was born.

What flight instruments does the Instruments Essentials cover?

On the one hand it covers all the basic flight instruments, Speed Indicator, Artificial Horizon, Altimeter, Turn & Bank Indicator, Horizontal Direction Indicator and Vertical Speed Indicator. On the other hand it gives a rough overview of Alerting &Warning Systems, Autopilot and some additional information about the physical principles behind them.

What is the most difficult instrument to master?

In terms of studying, the Airspeed Indicator is not as simple as it sounds. There are many different relationships between Indicated, Calibrated, Equivalent and True Airspeed - depending on altitude, temperature and speed.

In terms of flying, the Compass can be a bit tricky. Normally you don’t use the compass, but if your HDI is out of service, you have to rely on the little ball compass. The Compass is affected by acceleration and turning errors, which always have to be considered. By itself, is just a very flimsy device - shaking in turbulence, which does not make it easy to follow a certain heading.

After the certification is complete, what do you do next? Are there any more exams?

I have successfully passed all my theory exams and went for the Instrument Rating right after. Right now, I am two sessions short of finishing my CPL training.

After that? Who knows!

I definitely want to spend some time in cockpits, but I guess not in commercial airlines. I think best for me would be to fly for a small private executive operator. This would give me some time to finish the ATPL Essentials Study Guide and pursue some other projects I’ve been working on.

What other projects are you working on? What’s next for you?

I can’t tell much about that now. It’s a project about providing better and cheaper information to pilots.

In the US, flight is quite transparent already. But in Europe it can be super annoying to find out simple things like the runway length or opening hours of an airport.

Many people have to pay for that information. I think this is inherently wrong and there is a lot of space for improvement.

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