Which to choose: MPL or ATPL? 2016-09-09 17:38:00 2018-12-06 10:55:43
Pilot George
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Which to choose: MPL or ATPL?

09 September 2016

NOTICE: This post is intended to provide aspiring pilots with a fair and unbiased explanation as to the two differing types of aircrew licence available in the United Kingdom and other EASA territories. Having failed Virgin Atlantic selection I am now training for an ATPL with CTC Aviation as part of their Whitetail program. However, if I were to have been successful then I would have ended up training for an MPL. I want to make it clear that I hold no preference for one over the over and personally feel both have good standing. I hope you find this post informative.

First things first.. what exactly are they?

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Whilst both lead to the same end goal - the MPL with more guarantees than the other due to a conditional job offer - the ATPL and MPL are, in simple terms, licences permitting their holder to fly and assume commercial pilot responsibilities in aircraft with 9 or more seats. With that said, the ATPL can also permits you to fly smaller aircraft in the same apacity but considering the audience of this blog are typically individuals focussing on airline flying, I feel it's not really relevant to cover that here. If you're wondering what they stand for it's Airline Transport Pilot Licence and Multi-Crew Pilot Licence respectively, although I think one thing we can all agree on is that they're both quite a mouthful so from now on I will simply refer to them by their abbreviations of ATPL and MPL.

Throughout this post I describe what each licence type is, in order that you can begin to understand the key differences between them and identify which you feel is best for you.

Click a heading to get started..


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The ATPL licence has been around for a significant amount of time now and is the highest tier of licence a civilian pilot can hold. On completing the various stages of training to attain it, the holder is then deemed by the local aviation authority to be at a level of competency to fly an aircraft of 9 or more seats commercially.  In the UK the typical licence route looks something like this (excluding individual components):

  1. PPL - Private Pilot Licence
  2. CPL - Commercial Pilot Licence
  3. fATPL - Frozen ATPL (more to come on this one)
  4. ATPL - Airline Transport Pilot Licence

Cadets of Integrated ATPL courses such as CTC Aviation's Whitetail course will leave with the third licence on this list known as the Frozen ATPL, abbreviated to fATPL. The word Frozen means that whilst you have the requirements to fly an airliner you do not hold sufficient experience to justify a completely unrestricted licence.

Holding a frozen ATPL means you will have attained the following during training:

  • Passes in all 14 ATPL Theoretical Exams
  • 150-200 Hours Flying Experience
  • Commercial Pilots Licence with Multi-Engine, Instrument and Night Ratings
  • Multi-Crew Co-operation Certificate
  • Jet Orientation Course

It is at this point which the two licence types vary significantly. Holding an fATPL means you can start applying for jobs with airlines and in the case of a CTC cadet you would be placed in to the hold pool. Once you secure yourself a role at an airline you would then continue training to achieve a Type Rating which would provide you with the required knowledge and experience to fly the aircraft assigned to you by your airline. For example, if you were to secure a place with easyJet you would train on the Airbus A320 family whereas Thomson could train you on either the Boeing 737 or 757.

Having achieved all of the above you would then be fulfilling your dream as a Second or First Officer (airline dependent) and be well on your way to command. Your frozen ATPL will become a fully-fledged ATPL on reaching 1500 hours with a mixture of pilot in command and pilot monitoring experience to be included. At a short haul airline like you could reach this point within a couple of years.


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The MPL licence was created following the review of the way airline pilots are trained by the bodies responsible for governing global aviation and according to IATA is designed to replace the traditional, tiered, hour-building training of the former ATPL syllabus.

Whilst the ATPL licence by name is an Airline Transport Pilot Licence, the MPL focusses much more on airline operations from the very beginning of the in-aircraft phase and replaces many of the single-pilot elements of flight training with multi-crew operations and procedures the trainee would eventually follow. It is due to the heavy focus on 'the airline' that many airlines are now opting to use the MPL as their preferred entry in to the organisation with companies such as easyJet, Virgin Atlantic and FlyBe all opening their own courses with training providers such as CTC Aviation

With thanks to the increasing accuracy of simulation environments, such as pictured, the MPL introduces cadets to their end-operating environment much sooner than the equivalent ATPL cadet who otherwise wouldn't see it until their Type Rating. This allows an MPL cadet to familiarise themselves with the standard operating procedures of their end-employer meaning that such a cadet would effectively join an airline 'line-ready'. 

When compared to the ATPL, training can be delivered in a much more cost-effective manner meaning the average course cost is considerably less. For example, take the easyJet MPL which costs £109,000 all in, compared with the ATPL course with Type Rating reaching upwards of £120,000. Of course, the final cost of the ATPL course is totally dependent on whether an airline makes a contribution to the the type rating or not, as some do.

Unlike the ATPL which trains you for a commercial licence with additional training for ratings and certificates, the MPL is commonly split in to four distinct phases with all but one completed in the simulator, although this may well change depending on the airline behind the MPL program you look at. You'll notice phase one requires the completion of the ATPL Theoretical Exams just like the ATPL licence. See below:

  1. Core - completion of ATPL Theory & Aircraft Flight Training
  2. Basic - Multi-Pilot Flight Training
  3. Intermediate - Aircraft Specific Training
  4. Advanced - Aircraft Specific Training Continued (ATPL type rating equivalent)

Just like with the fATPL, you can convert this MPL licence to a full ATPL licence on reaching 1500 hours should you wish to. 

As in the notice at the top of this site, I applied to an MPL myself but sadly didn't make the cut so took CTC Aviation up on their ATPL course. Nevertheless, i feel it's important you see what many believe the negatives of the MPL are in order that you be able to make your own mind up about the two differing licence types. 

  1. You're could be tied to the airline - or at least initially.
    Whilst one advantage to the MPL is that you typically need an airline associated scheme and thus a conditional job offer in order to complete one, you will be focusing on one airlines operations from day one right up until completion. Whilst you could see that as advantageous, the MPL is still very young and there are still some uncertainties as to what happens if you were to ever lose your job down the line should your airline go bankrupt or, for some reason you lose your job. This happened with Monarch's MPL back during their turbulent financial hiccup and thankfully, due to them only just joining the airline, CTC were able to move said cadets to easyJet. How well that could be done again remains to be seen. Thankfully easyJet and Monarch shared the same aircraft type. It is also likely you will be unable to move to another airline prior to conversion to ATPL at 1500 flying hours unless the airline you move to is willing to accept you. This doesn't mean it's impossible as it has been done in one or two occasions, but it's still worth mentioning.

  2. You're Limited to Multi-Crew Environments - updated November 2017.
    Being a multi-crew licence by nature means you will be limited to operating in a multi-crew environment and as such you couldn't seek employment for a smaller airline requiring one pilot. By the same token and unlike the ATPL licence the MPL has typically prevented individuals hiring light aircraft for private use. That is, until 2017, when L3 incorporated a PPL into the syllabus which at the time of writing is applicable to Generation easyJet MPL cadets only. It's worth noting an MPL can be converted to ATPL at 1500 hours in preparation for captaincy, but it is my understanding that even the resulting ATPL would be multi-crew only so in that respect you'll still need to undergo additional training to operate in a single crew capacity. If your plan is only ever to fly for the airlines then none of this should matter so much. 

  3. You receive much less actual flying time compared with an ATPL cadet.
    This one is down to your own interpretation to be entirely honest. I didn't personally mind the thought of being taught in a simulator so long as i got to the same end goal at the end of the day. However, some people say that less flying time means you're less experienced. Whether that is true or not, who knows! MPL cadets typically return from New Zealand or Arizona much sooner than the Integrated cadets as the largest majority of their courses are simulator based.

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