ATPL done!

A few months flew by sitting in class studying the ATPL theory. We took exams in 14 subjects, first the school exams and then the EASA exams. That amounts to nearly 30 exams in a few months, nearly 20 of which we did during the last month. The EASA exams were done at two separate sittings, each two days. In the first set in December we had 8 subjects and in the second set, which we took a week ago, we had 6 subjects. It’s been a hectic and stressful last couple of months. The pressure we’ve been through, you’d think we were diamonds by now.

I thought I’d list the ATPL theory subjects and summarize what they entail. I also included the exam information such as the number of questions and the time allotted to give you an idea of the scope and emphasis on each subject. I also added a few random tips for those of you taking the exams! Those of you who already have, will probably remember the fun of it.

010 – Air Law (44 questions, 60 minutes)

As the name states, a lot of regulations have to be memorized here. An important operator in international civil aviation is ICAO, which develops standards and recommended practices to its’ member countries to use as a basis for developing their own air laws. The SARPs are published as Annexes, which handle everything from personnel licencing to aerodrome markings and transportation of dangerous goods. We studied the different air law treaties, which, to name a couple, handle for example damage to third parties on the ground caused by a foreign aircraft (Rome convention 1952) and unlawful seizure of aircraft (Hague convention 1970). In addition to international law and agreements, Air Law handles aircraft operations, procedures for departure, approach and holding, aircraft separation, search and rescue, accident investigation, security, airworthiness of aircraft and general rules of the air. Tip: Runway width 45 m: code 4, 12 stripes.

021 – Aircraft General Knowledge (80 questions, 120 minutes)

We went through the whole plane from nose to tail and figuratively tore it apart. We studied the fuselage, wing and tail structure, landing gear, wheels, tyres, brakes, flight controls, doors, windows, fuel, hydraulic, pneumatic and electric systems, piston as well as turbine engines, anti-icing and de-icing systems and emergency equipment as well as protection and detection systems. All this in quite the detail. Overall a very interesting subject and you get to see what the large aircraft has eaten. Tip: Remember that the voltage regulator of a DC generator is connected in series with the shunt field coil.

In AGK class.

022 – Instrumentation (60 questions, 90 minutes)

This is one of the subjects that we studied already in IR theory, but this time we concentrated more on the systems in modern passenger aircraft and only fairly quickly revised the basic altimeter, airspeed indicator, gyroscopic instruments, magnetism etc. We studied the inertial navigation and reference systems, which are the main navigation systems in modern aircraft. They are totally self-contained navigation systems, independent of any external reference, in contrast to GPS (satellites) or VOR navigation (ground stations). Other systems we familiarized ourselves with were the Air Data Computer, Flight Management Systems, autopilot, autothrottle and alerting and proximity systems such as traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) and ground proximity warning system (GPWS). Again a very interesting subject especially now that we were studying the systems on passenger jets. Tip: Learn the Von Neumann architecture of a basic computer.

031 – Mass and Balance (25 questions, 60 minutes)

Quite a compact subject, but one of those subjects with a lot of calculations and charts. The subject handles the loading of aircraft, the cargo handling and center of gravity calculations. We learned to calculate the CG position as well as its’ movement after cargo was on/off-loaded or moved inside the aircraft, calculate the take-off mass, traffic load, fuel quantity, floor loadings as well as read the load and trim sheets. Tip: Standard masses used for a holiday charter flight are male 83 kg, female 69 kg, average adult 76 kg.

032 – Performance (35 questions, 60 minutes)

Once again, a lot of numbers and factors to memorize. We studied the general performance theory, how aircraft mass, configuration (flaps, landing gear), runway conditions, ambient temperature, altitude (air density) affect the aircraft performance, how they affect the different speeds that are calculated for take-off and the maximum take-off mass. Engine failure was considered in different phases of flight. We learned to determine take-off and landing distances from different charts for different class of aircraft and in different conditions. We also learned a long list of speeds like Vmcg, Vmc, Vef, V1, Vr, Vmu, Vlof, V2. Tip: That’s the correct order of those speeds.

033 – Flight Planning and Monitoring (43 questions, 120 minutes)

Another one of those subjects with many calculations and charts and tables. General VFR and IFR flight planning including map reading, chart symbols and information about flight plans, routes, distances and minimum altitudes. We learned about fuel planning and the regulations, pre-flight preparation, including meteorological briefing, flight monitoring and in-flight re-planning. We also learned to calculate the point of equal time (PET) and point of safe return (PSR), which are respectively, the point along the route from which it will take the same time to continue to destination or return to the departure airport, and the point before which you will be able to return to the departure airport with the sufficient fuel reserve. Tip: Remember to add contingency fuel.

040 – Human Performance and Limitations (48 questions, 60 minutes)

This subject handles human factors and how they affect aviation safety. We learned the basics of flight physiology, a lot about the sensory system and how unreliable it is. We also learned about different contagious diseases in different parts of the world, how they are transmitted and how you can protect yourself from them. Aviation psychology forms about a third of this subject and it deals with information processing, human error and reliability, decision making, overload and underload, cockpit management and the effects of cockpit automation. Tip: Bring a dictionary.

050 – Meteorology (84 questions, 120 minutes)

Probably the most extensive subject. I feel like I can replace your standard tv meteorologist any day. The weather is of course a huge element in flying and there are a lot phenomena that affect the safety as well as the selection of the fastest and most convenient route. We learned the cause of wind, about local winds, jet streams and general global circulation. We studied the atmosphere and thermodynamics, learned about the clouds, fog and precipitation, air masses and fronts, pressure systems and climatology. We also learned about flight hazards such as icing, turbulence, wind shear, thunderstorms, inversions, hazards in mountainous areas and visibility reducing phenomena. And of course we learned to interpret meteorological information, weather charts and weather messages for aviation. Tip: Learn the average heights of jet streams.

061 – General Navigation (60 questions, 120 minutes)

In this subject we learned the traditional way of navigating. We learned about the solar system, the Earth, great circle tracks, rhumb lines, different chart projections and their qualities. We learned to make time conversions and calculate distances between two coordinate points, use grid charts for polar regions and what not relating to navigation. This subject includes a lot of calculations and is by far the most arduous subject. Tip: Learn your flight computer.

062 – Radio Navigation (66 questions, 90 minutes)

Navigation with the help of different radio aids. We learned the basic radio propagation theory and the radio aids, VDF, NDB, VOR, DME, ILS and MLS, in great detail. We studied the different applications and working principles of radar, primary radars (only a transmitter needed) like weather radar, area surveillance radars and surface movement radar, and secondary radars (a transmitter and a transponder needed) like DME and transponder. We also learned about area navigation systems (RNAV) and GPS and satellites in amazing detail.

070 – Operational Procedures (45 questions, 75 minutes)

This subject has probably the most random details to be memorized. The number of hand fire extinguishers, first aid kits, megaphones, life rafts, emergency medical kits, cabin crew, crash axes, oxygen, you name it I know how many are needed. We learned about North Atlantic procedures, ETOPS, dangerous goods, bird strike, noise abatement, fire, fuel jettison etc. This subject has it all.

In OPS class. A life jacket.

In OPS class.

081 – Principles of Flight ( 44 questions, 60 minutes)

This subject handles the subsonic and supersonic aerodynamics, the airflow around an aerofoil, drag, lift, shock waves, stability of the aircraft, ground effect, stall, control in pitch, yaw and roll, propellers and their effects as well as operating limitations. It’s a lot of physics and it would help if you’re inclined like that. Tip: Learn the formulas.

091 & 092 – VFR & IFR Communication (2 x 24 questions, 2 x 30 minutes)

Anything we say or hear on the radio. Distress (MAYDAY) and urgency (PANPAN) procedures, communication failure, standard phrases, transmission of letters, numbers and time, call signs, radar phraseology, weather information. Tip: It’s easy.


After the last exams we had 3 days left of our Christmas holiday. We went back to school this Monday. Right now we’re learning about our next aircraft, the Diamond DA42NG. I will get back to that next time. I promise it won’t be long this time! ATPLs just consumed me.

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4 responses to “ATPL done!

  1. Fantastic job!

    This is quite the accomplishment and a huge hurdle to overcome. A couple of random thoughts as I read through the list of subjects. Moving forward, you will never have the extensive mass of general knowledge as you have right now. Things will change and because you are too busy being an airline pilot, you may not learn about the change.

    Try to keep up with the law sections and the operating procedures for your airline. It is so frustrating when you have to call a lawyer before you start the engine but the greatest hazard to your career is a lawyer sitting in a office moving at zero knots judging you for something you did or didn’t do. By the way, the second greatest hazard to your career is a flight doctor. Be very careful what you report to them.

    You will never watch the local weather the same way again and you know the truth that the only time the weather man is right is when they look out the window. Everything else is a guess.

    Again, congratulations on everything.

    • Thanks Rob! Always love to read your comments. You’re absolutely right. My brain is swollen with knowledge right now, but surely the knowledge will become outdated and also fade away without an effort to keep up. It was a huge amount of information to digest in just a few months. I’m happy it’s done but I’m also happy to have learned much.

      Thanks for the good tips too! ;)

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