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CPL or ATPL theoretical exam

Apologies for starting a new thread on the evergreen-topic CPL vs ATPL TK…

The leading opinion seems to be to go for the ATPL test when someone is interested in basically going for the CPL and IR. Now with reduced CBIR TK (and maybe further reduced exam for the upcoming Basic-IR) the question appears whether the ATPL-route is still practicable?

Disclaimer: I have no interest in starting an airline career; I’m rather thinking of CPL as a sort of continued education from PPL and maybe starting as a freelance flight instructor.

What I have seen so far is the comparison of number of exam questions (ATPL 682, CPL 468, CBIR 151) or the size of the question bank (i saw numbers for ATPL 9194, CPL 6730, CBIR 2384). So from that perspective differences appear pretty minimal.

But when looking at the required hours for home study and classroom lectures (on top of the home study), to me the differences are sizeable.
According to a flight school, for the ATPL-exam one need 585 minimum hours plus 65 hours additional classroom training = total 650 hours for being send to the exam.
CPL plus CBIR arrive at a total of 340 hours, hence roughly half of the ATPL requirement.

To make a long story short, why should one take the (massively) longer route towards ATPL-theory when CPL & CBIR is only around 50% of the effort? (Again, no way of going the airliner way, nor start flying an A320 for private fun…)

Last Edited by MikeWhiskey at 21 Oct 11:49

Have you found any flight school where you can do the CPL theory? That is usually the problem, most of the commercial schools only do ATPL theory.

Sweden, Sweden

There are some schools, such as Cranfield Aviation Training in Germany or Safetywings in Switzerland, so that should not be an issue…


CATS in the UK is very popular. A search here for e.g.


(uppercase AND)

digs out various threads.

It appears that the 13 CPL exams are roughly 2/3 of the work of the 14 ATPL exams. But you need to be sure that you will never want to go for the full EASA ATPL (due to your age, for example, or a definite lack of interest) because a CPL/IR obtained this way cannot ever be upgraded to an ATPL (via the EASA 500hr multi pilot cockpit route).

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

MikeWhiskey wrote:

(Again, no way of going the airliner way, nor start flying an A320 for private fun…)

Yeah. I said that. I did the IR, then after a few years the CPL, then a few years later the ATPL. I wish I had gone straight for the ATPL.

And anyway, we like aviation, don’t we? So why not learn more stuff, even if you are not going to use it? After all, you read Ernest Gann with no plans to fly a DC2!

EGKB Biggin Hill

What did you use the ATPL for, and when?

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I’m near the end of the CPL TK using CATS at Luton and studying from home. Halfway through I wondered whether I should have gone for the full ATPL despite the fact I will never fly at that level (no pun intended). But now I am very happy with where I am, I’ve found the work required pretty all-consuming and I’m glad that I didn’t need to immerse myself in things like Polar navigation or grid navigation and extend the hours of study required.

The mandatory ground school – 3 four day sessions, a course requirement – were very varied, their value being entirely dependent on the quality of the lecturer. A couple were excellent, several indifferent. As a distance learning candidate I have found I have had to rely heavily on internet resources to gain an understanding of some of the subjects – the set texts are often not much more than lists. Lacking the back up of a teacher I’ve had to work even harder to get to grips with some concepts. Given my maths qualifications were limited 40+ years ago, I have also had to work on the basics.

The pass mark for all exams is 75%. This leads to an interesting problem for the CPL route: you have fewer questions in the exams so you have less leeway in the number you can get wrong! I have found that you are best to subscribe to a question bank (BGS in my case) and test yourself constantly once you have a grip on the subject. The QB is particularly good at showing you the pitfalls and traps set in some of the questions, phrasing and wording designed to trip you up.

If you have the time, money and inclination, its probably worth doing the extra 25% of study and completing the 14 ATPL exams rather than the 13 CPL, but for what I’m aiming for (instructor) definitely not. It’s harder than I thought it would be and I’m looking forward to re-gaining some semblance of a social life when I finish in the next few weeks (hopefully).

United Kingdom

Thank you for the feedback! Well, we all like aviation and to gain knowledge around it. What I dislike is to learn for topics I probably will never need. Refering to topics such as polar navigation, just to pick one topic out of the ATPL-range; not to the endless question how relevant CPL-topics are for real life…

On a personal note: I’m 42 now, with the whole family package including 2 kids. While I love flying, it is a huge difference whether to fly when I want to instead of when I have to. I’m thinking about a freelance business as a flight instructor; professionally minded of course but rather a ‘professionalized hobby’ instead of trying to manage a career change into 100% in aviation. Here the question comes up whether the expected drop in income is worth the hassle (expecting to earn less as a starter in aviation compared to my current environment).
My 2 cent on changing into full time aviation: I guess there is required more than ‘just’ passing the ATPL-exams. Maybe some experience beyond flying SEP-airplanes. Maybe multi-pilot cockpit experience; or maybe just big luck by knowing someone who is giving the entree into the business. But for me, realistically, I dont see that.

Coming back to the comparison of CPL (and CBIR) vs ATPL; my take is that ATPL is more than just one exam more, or more than just a couple of exam questions more. When looking at the minimum hours of self-study and the additional classroom-teaching ATPL appears roughly double the effort compared to CPL & CBIR?

Last Edited by MikeWhiskey at 21 Oct 18:23

I think you should do the CPL if you are certain you will not need ATPL. If you despite decide to go for ATPL in the future you will have a lot easier completing it since you have the CPL somewhere in the back of your head.

Sweden, Sweden

The ATPL syllabus is “fatter” than the CPL (and IR if done also) syllabus for most of the questions. This is why if you do the 13 CPL exams you don’t get 13 exam credits if you later do the full 14 ATPL ones. I will leave it to those current to know what credits you get but it is something like HP&L and 1 or 2 others.

The material (I have seen it close-up) is mostly irrelevant to aviation especially modern-day aviation, so why learn even more of it? There are more worthwhile things to learn in life… I take the p1ss out of bits of the JAA ATPL QB here. It really is horrible and unfit for the purpose, with the main purpose being to sort the men from the sheep, or more accurately to make sure that only really determined people reach the cockpit.

If you are 20 then all you need to do is position yourself on the airline pilot pipeline and eventually you will get a job. It might take years but you will get it unless you have “social issues” at the interview and/or cannot actually fly in the sim check. However, if in your 40s, you won’t get an airline job unless you are outstanding in all relevant areas and it might take you a few years too. And then you will be facing the work timetable screwing up your family life, which didn’t matter when you were 20+ because you probably saw Catch Me If You Can and thought this will be a great life as one of perhaps just two straight guys in the whole crew, and let’s face it the majority of the female cabin crew don’t want to be waitresses in a metal tube full of virus-laden air for 40 years and having to wear the prescribed full “mask” makeup, and are really looking to get out of the job with a nice life and marrying a pilot is the obvious route. I see so much of this where I live, near Gatwick

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
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