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ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

The interested reader who has found my “PPL textbooks” guide useful may be planning in future to move on to a career in flying. In this case you will need at some point to take a series of ground exams which are much tougher than those taken at PPL level. You may find this guide useful in selecting which set of textbooks are best suited to your circumstances. If you have reached this stage you should be familiar with the acronyms used but they are explained below for the benefit of those new to aviation training:

Acronyms used

JAA Joint Aviation Authorities a group of (mostly European) civil aviation regulators.

JAR Joint Aviation Requirements a common set of requirements adopted by all JAA members, for example in flight crew licensing

CAA Civil Aviation Authority

ATPL Airline Transport Pilot Licence

CPL/IR Commercial Pilot Licence with Instrument Rating

TK

Theoretical Knowledge

DL

Distance Learning

FTO Flight Training Organisation

At the end of the article I have included a few ideas of how the system could be changed to

make the whole exams process more straightforward and cheaper for students. My brilliant ideas are usually ignored so feel free to skip them. But who knows, perhaps this article may be read one day by someone at the CAA or EASA who decides such innovative thinking is

the way ahead !

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

Ground training

The introduction of the JAR system for flight crew training in 1999 resulted in a considerable expansion in the choice of textbooks available on the market for the budding Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) student. For those new to flying it should be noted that someone who has been issued with a Commercial Pilot Licence with an Instrument Rating (a “CPL/IR” ) with theory exam passes at ATPL level has a “frozen” ATPL. They can fly as a First Officer on a multi-crew aircraft with their CPL but cannot be issued with an ATPL until they have over 1,500 hours of total flying experience.

Prior to JAR there was only one published series available for ATPL study, which was “Ground Studies for Pilots” by Taylor and Parmar. These were revised by Roy Underdown and appear to be published versions of the ground school notes from the old College of Air Training at Hamble which closed in 1984. Other organisations such as the Professional Pilot Study Centre at Bournemouth and Trent Air Services at Cranfield which both specialised in correspondence courses ( or “distance learning” to use 21 st Century terminology) produced their own manuals which they sold as a complete set when you signed up for a course with them.

The introduction of JAR certainly made the cost of passing the ground exams much more time consuming and expensive. Prior to JAR there were three routes:

Do a correspondence course. This was as it said on the tin: there was no requirement to attend any classes or “brush up” sessions prior to exams.

Do a full time course. These were tailored in duration to what Flight Training Organisations (FTOs) found was required to teach the material. In the mid 90s for example Cabair at Cranfield used to run a course of 4 weeks duration for the “Navigation Group” of subjects and another 4 weeks course for the “Technical Group. The CAA required that you sit all of the subjects in a Groupin one attempt over 2-3 days of exams so the courses were preparation for the Group the candidate planned to sit. Candidates would then have the option of immediately ploughing into the next Group or could take a break to the next Group depending on work commitments and financial circumstances.

Do full time study as part of an “integrated” course which included both ground and flying training. At the time integrated was exactly as it suggests: students would do flying one day, then ground classes the following until 30-40 weeks into the course so that theoretical learning could reinforce practical experience in the air for a substantial part of the course.

This UK national system which had worked for well for the previous 30-40 years was substantially changed with the introduction of the Europe-wide JAR system which the CAA was one of the first European countries to implement. The objective was to harmonise European flight crew licensing so enable free movement of labour across European boundaries.

How much free movement of pilots to jobs in Europe has resulted is debatable but we have ended up with a more prescriptive and expensive system. The components of a CPL/IR course were broken down into “modules”. The ground subjects now have the title of the

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

ATPL Theoretical Knowledge (TK) course Module. It was specified that a course for this module had to contain 650 hours of classroom tuition. It was also stipulated that any Distance Learning TK course had to have at least 10% of this figure (so 65 hours) as classroom based teaching. This is the origins of the “brush-up” week(s) held by training providers prior to the CAA exams which are held in the first week of every month.

The former UK ground studies routes described above have been replaced with the following options:

Do a correspondence course. Except it is now known as a TK Distance Leaning (DL) course and has the 65 hours of classroom attendance requirement.

Do a full time TK course. This now has the minimum of 650 classroom hours requirement. In practice this results in a course of 26 weeks duration.

Do an “integrated course”. In practice FTOs like Oxford and Cabair do the TK course for 26 weeks solid prior to starting any flying at all so I suggest that really the title “integrated” CPL/IR course with TK knowledge passes at ATPL level (a.k.a. the “frozen ATPL”) has become meaningless. What they are doing is in fact a Modular CPL/IR in one contiguous timescale.

To be an FTO approved to do any of the above in the UK a requirement is that each FTO must produce its own manuals for each TK subject. This will have a cost overhead and having produced a set of training manuals four of the providers have published them as books for purchase with the attraction of a greater size of market than previously existed before 1999.

They would potentially be of interest to students studying in any of the JAR countries plus other in the Middle East and Asia which broadly follow the JAR system rather than the American FAA system. With English being the language of aviation an English speaking FTO has a clear advantage here compared to those schools and authors who speak and write English as a second language.

The textbooks available

The main aim of this article is to review the four series of books available from pilot supplies shops from the following training providers:

Oxford who are a large FTO who do flying training so can offer the ATPL TK course via any of the above three routes.

Jeppesen these books were written by Atlantic Flight Training (AFT) at Coventry Airport. AFT are an FTO who also do flying training and at the time these books were written they used to do full time and DL courses at Coventry. AFT ceased doing ground training in the UK early in 2010.

London Metropolitan University and Cranfield Aviation Training - these are both solely theoretical knowledge course training providers so can only offer the first two options – they cannot offer an “integrated” course. London Met is a co-author of the Nordian series of books.

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

What is currently available is vastly improved when compared to the training materials of past years. The quality of graphics and diagrams and use of colour is in a different league to the monochrome thumbnail sketches and prose-heavy text of the past. They are available to anyone who has the money and inclination to buy them - you do not have to be a student at the school that produced them. I have used all of them to a greater or lesser extent so what follows is my opinion on each. I have shown how each series have spilt books across the exam subjects so that should a student be struggling he can easily see which is the one required. Each exam subject usually has its own dedicated book.

A point to note is that each school includes the books or manuals as part of either a DL or

full time course so if you signed up for a course with the FTO who produced them then you will not have to spend the £600-700 each set costs the books will be included in the total course cost.

Oxford Aviation Academy

included in the total course cost. Oxford Aviation Academy Oxford has been training Commercial pilots since

Oxford has been training Commercial pilots since the early 1960s. Their spin- prone Commercial Director does seem to like keeping people on their toes with regular name changes I used to know them as Oxford Aviation Training and before that as Oxford Air Training School. Whatever the current name “Oxford” is the shorthand name that most refer to them as.

Comments this is certainly the most detailed and comprehensive set of books on the

market. The books are lavishly illustrated in colour and the detail in diagrams is excellent.

If you want to look something up and cannot find it in the Oxford books then I suggest that

you will have to look hard to find it in another source. Page count is enormous at in excess

of 6,500 across the 14 books.

Critique With individual books costing anything up to £60 I would expect at this sort of figure to buy a hardback book rather than the oversized paperback book that it is. The actual book size is A4. Oxford used to publish them in ring binders so this looks like a cheap way of getting a saleable book out of what used to be a manual. Unless viewed on a table these oversized paperbacks do flop around in a way a hardback book does not.

These books were written with the introduction of JAR and while they do cover absolutely everything that you could possibly need to know according to the JAR learning objectives, they do lack emphasis on what is really important which you get from a dedicated set of course notes. When used as part of a classroom based course or as a supplement to a DL course they make an excellent, encyclopaedic reference. For use as the core of a DL course from Oxford they could be very heavy going and only for the most dedicated or hyper enthusiastic.

I would suggest to an ATPL student not to buy the complete set of manuals. A better method is if you find a particular subject very difficult to understand then buy the relevant

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

Oxford book to research the particular aspects you are struggling with by looking up the relevant chapter. This is made slightly more difficult in that there is no index at the back of each one. Oxford is no different here from most of the others and this reflects its origins as a manual. It does have the JAR leaning objective number at the start of each chapter so this could always be cross-referenced with the learning objectives which are still available on the JAR website (www.jaa.nl)

Jeppesen (with Atlantic Flight Training)

(www.jaa.nl) Jeppesen (with Atlantic Flight Training) These books were actually written by Atlantic Flight

These books were actually written by Atlantic Flight Training (AFT) based at Coventry airport and have Jeppesen’s name on the cover, presumably for marketing purposes and to give a more international appeal.

Comments Your money does buy you a hardback book. Coverage is comprehensive and there are more photographs of real life examples of aeroplane parts and equipment than in any of the other competitors. They are about two thirds of the page length of the Oxford books. Much of this is due to them not having sample questions at the end of each chapter in the way that the Oxford books do. This is a particular dislike of mine. The text should cover what need to be explained and not pad out with large numbers of questions on what you have just read at the end of each chapter. I believe that this is where the on-line question bank should be used or a separate questions- and-answers book or manual should be provided. Worked question examples in the text are a more productive use of space, for example when calculating conversion angles in General Navigation.

Critique conciseness of the books does very. The Aircraft General Knowledge books in particular are really to the sort of level more appropriate for a maintenance engineer’s course. It is difficult to get to grips with basics that are required by the pilot among the mass of material. The stuff on properties of materials used (aluminium, titanium, steel etc) is all very interesting stuff but we are flying the things, not building them ! The Performance book in particular is very good and I do know is used by a couple of the schools in preference to their own particular manual on the subject.

The diagrams used are clear enough and have associated photographs to show actual examples of equipment used. However rather too many of them are of the assortment of vintage machines such as the Lockheed Electra and Douglas DC6 which happen to be at Coventry Airport which is where AFT are based. Where photos are used it would be best if they were taken of parts and equipment used by the “baseline” aircraft used for the JAR syllabus, which are the Piper Seneca for the piston engine twin and the Boeing 737 for the Medium Range Jet Twin. There is also a lack of consistency in the diagrams. Some are drawn from other sources, often in a monochrome format while others have been produced by an in-house graphic artist. It all works but just does not have the consistency level of the other publications.

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

The books are on their second edition while Oxford is now on edition five. There are numerous typos in the text which shows that the second editions were rushed into print without thorough proofreading. I actually did the full time 650 hour ATPL theoretical knowledge course at AFT in 2007 and we did have some good sporting fun spotting the errors in the books when they were displayed in pdf format on the interactive whiteboard. I actually tended to rely on what was taught in the classroom and used these books for reference where some extra reading was required to consolidate knowledge and for this they proved adequate, of which more later in this article.

One big problem with this series is that in early 2010 AFT stopped doing full time ground school at Coventry and made all of the ground school staff ( many of whom had contributed to these books) redundant. It is therefore difficult to see how Jeppesen can keep them updated in the future unless some arrangement has been made with regard to copyright.

Nordian (with London Metropolitan University)

to copyright. Nordian (with London Metropolitan University) These are published by a consortium of Norwegian and

These are published by a consortium of Norwegian and Swedish schools plus London Metropolitan University, hence the “Nor” in the name. London Met has been doing ATPL ground studies for 30+ years (prior to 1992 it was London City Polytechnic). And well done them - how many other UK academic institutions have ever bothered to offer something for trainee pilots ? It makes a refreshing change from Sport Science, Media Studies and other quasi-academic fluff. It’s just a pity they are based in the most expensive city in the country in which to live and study.

Comments Another set of durable hardback books, split over 15 volumes with exactly the same division as Jeppesen. They are also of a much smaller and more convenient size than Oxford or Jeppesen and avoid the “doorstop” effect of some of the heavier subjects. Effort has clearly been made to consolidate and simplify material, which is of benefit to those who speak and read English as a second language. The diagrams are numerous and tend towards the simple and schematic to explain the principles involved rather than the “engineers drawing” type present in some of the other series. Use of colour is good without being lavish in the way that the Oxford books are.

Critique My big dislike with this series is the layout of the text. Each page has the text split into two columns which does not allow your reading to flow easily. I don’t know if this is a consequence of using some archaic desktop publishing package but it does give them the look of a manual for sat nav device or a mobile phone. I do like the way the book outer covers are given a colour coding which gives some differentiation according to JAR subject area Mass & Balance, Performance and Flight Planning are all in the 030 category and coloured brown, for example. It seems more down to earth than the Oxford book covers with their large airliner pictures beloved to plane spotters on the front covers and gives a less pretentious first impression.

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

There have been whinges about this series of books on a “certain rumour network” with accusations of poor grammar, mistakes, incomplete sentences and poor proof reading. Most seem to be made by European students. When I was studying at AFT one guy there had these books and found them really useful so I just wonder if non-English speakers find books written in English by other non-English speakers hard going ?

I have summarised the books available from each series in the following table. The book description is blank where the book title is the same as the JAR exam subject name. All split down the large subject of Airframes & Systems into three books, and consolidate other smaller subjects such as the two Communications exams into one book.

JAR

JAR exam

Oxford book

Jeppesen book

Nordian book

subject

subject

number and

number and

number and

code

name

description

description

description

10

Aviation

           

Law

1

12

100

   

2

Airframes &

4

Airframes &

101

Airframes &

Airframes /

Systems

Systems

Systems

21

systems/

3

 

6

Electrics

103

Electrics

engines

Electrics

4

Powerplant

5

Powerplant

112

Powerplant

22

Instruments

5

 

7

 

107

 

31

Mass &

 

Mass &

10

 

108

 

balance

6

Balance,

           

32

Performance

 

Performance

9

 

111

 

33

Flight

           

Planning &

7

11

104

Monitoring

40

Human

           

Performance

8

13

106

50

Meteorology

9

 

1

 

109

 

61

General

           

Navigation

10

2

105

62

Radio

           

Navigation

11

3

114

70

Operational

           

Procedures

12

14

110

80

Principles of

13

 

8

 

113

 

Flight

91

VFR Comms

           

92

IFR Comms

14

CCoommmmss

15

CCoommmmss

102

CCoommmmss

 

Total books

           

in series

14

15

15

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

CATS ( Cranfield Aviation Training School)

exams guide CATS ( Cranfield Aviation Training School) CATS are like London Met - a provider

CATS are like London Met - a provider of ground training only. They are headed by a Dr Stuart Smith, no less, so clearly a man with an impressive academic background. CATS offer you the lowest cost way of getting your box ticked of studying the ATPL TK module because they give you the option of not having paper copies of the book but access to them on-line only plus the brush-up courses for just £999.

I have not included a subject table for CATS they produce one book for each subject with the exception of the two Communications exams which are covered by one book, giving a total of 13 books. This does result in their Aircraft General book being much the largest since the other providers all split this into three books.

Comments - in book form these are another paperback cue the usual whinge that for the cost of them why not hardback? Older versions were in a 4 ring binder form but they are now available in book form. The text in these books is very brief and to the point, almost to the extent that they resemble an advanced set of notes someone has made on an ATPL course. This is not a bad thing; a dense mass of text can be very intimidating for those new to a subject.

Critique - I have found that if I want to learn about something new I will often look in the section with schoolbooks for 11-14 year olds in the local library. I recently was sufficiently interested after seeing a film about Alexander the Great to borrow the book about him, all 47 pages of it with economic use of text plus lots of maps, diagrams and pictures in full colour. I got a great deal out of it, it didn’t take long to read and it gave me a really good overview if I really wanted to find out more. Or bluff my way on Alexander the Great.

This is my thoughts on the CATS books. I think it is lacking depth on one or two subjects but I think the rest of them would do what most people want to do, which is get the exam passes on the subjects which are of not much interest, are not likely to result in interview questions, and are not going to hinder progress on a Type Rating due to lack of knowledge acquired on the ATPL course.

Many of the diagrams are monochrome which I think does let down the excellent colour diagrams that are also profusely used. I have found from teaching PPL ground school that a picture or table can replace a great deal of dense text. CATS veer a bit close to the wind in their economy of words but their use of yellow highlight boxes of the important points is very good I wonder how many students skimp even the text used and read just these boxes alone ?

Which is the best ?

Having reviewed the above, my recommendation would be … none of the above ! The books I have actually found to be the best are ….

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

The Bristol Ground School (BGS) ATPL Manuals

exams guide The Bristol Ground School (BGS) ATPL Manuals Comments - Unfortunately Mr Alex Whitingham does

Comments- Unfortunately Mr Alex Whitingham does not sell his Bristol manuals as a stand-alone set that you can buy at the pilot supplies shops!

The subjects are split into 7 manuals in four ring binders which are normally only available if you sign up with BGS for a Distance Learning course. The content level is exactly the right blend between what is required for exams and that which is essential knowledge for your future career. Diagrams are excellent and the text is finely honed to deal with the important parts of each subject (IE the materiel that JAR asks the most questions about). There is room on the side of each page for your own notes and important points are highlighted next to the text for easy reference. The style of writing is much more of a readable relaxed narrative almost in the style of a classroom lecture with occasional bits of humour and irony liberally sprinkled throughout the text. This is a refreshing change when compared to the dry fashion of the other books.

Critique as I write this in February 2011 I have been doing private ATPL tuition on Saturdays for some months now with “J”, one of my ex-PPL ground school students now doing his ATPL Theory exams. We cover the subjects he has most difficulty with like Navigation, Aircraft General Knowledge and Mass & Balance (which by happy coincidence happen to be the ones I enjoy teaching the most!). He is actually registered with an FTO at Cranfield but we use the books from Oxford and Jeppesen I have acquired over the years from various sources and he has the temporary use of some Bristol manuals. I teach using courses I have written in PowerPoint but our base reference is the Bristol manuals. If a question crops up or a point needs to be explained I can guarantee that what I am saying is going to be also explained somewhere in the Bristol manual.

I would strongly suggest that if you can borrow or buy a set off someone who has completed their ATPL course then do so. It is surprising to me the number of people who will dispose of their manuals when they have finished the course so take advantage of it. Perhaps you can arrange to borrow with return if required for an interview. Used sets on eBay seem to go for anything up to £200 which is money well spent. BGS have on on-line forum on their website where manuals are available for sale from students who have completed their course.

Failing this, give BGS a call and see what kind of deal can be made for a purchase. They have been investigating producing the manuals as a series of books. I did make a call to BGS to enquire if they ever sell the manuals as a stand-alone purchase. They do although cost is higher than for the other commercially available books. Part of the reason for this is that BGS have manuals printed in small batches of 20-30 sets locally in the UK, while the other suppliers reportedly print thousands at a time at low cost in the Far East which will then satisfy demand for 2-3 years at a time. This does mean that BGS has the theoretical advantage of being able to respond much more rapidly to syllabus changes.

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

Checking did confirm that the Oxford books were indeed printed in Singapore, but on the other hand the Jeppesen books were printed in Germany. The syllabus has been stable since about 2001 so I had my doubts about how much of an advantage this would be. However changes are coming in June 2011 in the form of the implementation of JAR NPA-25 (Notice for Proposal of Amendment). One problem with the JAR syllabus is that each subject had its own SET (Subject “Expert” Team) with their own ideas of what should be included in the content.

Anyone who has done the Air Law exam and then subsequently taken Operational Procedures will notice a substantial quantity of very familiar material and think “I have already done this”. INS crops up in both Instruments and also Radio Navigation. Meteorology crops up in Flight Planning. Principles of Flight creep into Performance. NPA-25 is supposed to reduce or eliminate much of this duplication across the syllabus and this will require some pruning of content from selected subjects. Certainly BGS will be able to supply NPA-25 compliant manuals upon adoption in June 2011 in a much shorter timeframe that the other providers.

Does how you do your Theoretical Knowledge course affect the books to use ?

If you are going to do the Modular ATPL TK course full time at Oxford, Cabair, CATS etc, most of your learning will be in the classroom with the FTO’s own set of textbooks or manuals. For example Oxford naturally will use the Oxford books. There is no need to read the textbooks cover to cover, just look at relevant chapters for some consolidation if required. I did this at Atlantic and it is by far the easiest way to do the course. But I probably did more consolidation and extra reading using some of the Bristol manuals I had managed to acquire than using the Jeppesen books.

If Distance Learning, I would suggest only using an FTO which specialises in this form of course, not one which does both full time and DL courses. I saw at Atlantic that DL students seemed to be very much an afterthought in terms of attention they received. BGS does DL only and it shows that their manuals are written to make life as straightforward as possible for the non-classroom student. The only series of the four commercially available series which come close in this respect is the CATS series.

The other three (Oxford, Jeppesen and Nordian) really are textbooks in the classic sense, to support teaching provided either in the classroom or from a distance learning manual written specifically for the purpose. I do not think they are succinct enough to be used as the foundation of a DL course but are very good for a “second opinion” or a different way of looking at the subject if it is one you find particularly difficult. The Oxford series in particular can be a very good reference for a really detailed look at an area of difficulty. Buy as required or if you can get a whole second hand set for a good price then do so and use as your own mini reference library.

Other books

so and use as your own mini reference library. Other books Aerodynamics, Engines and Systems for

Aerodynamics, Engines and Systems for the Professional Pilot

This is one of three books by Air Pilot Publishing’s “Master Pilot’s manuals” series which was written for the Australian ATPL. While I am not a great fan of their PPL series of books this one is an excellent read, particularly in its coverage of large transport aircraft systems such as

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

electrics and hydraulics. The basic principles are explained in a few pages and then the systems examined in real life detail on the base aircraft, which for the Australian ATPL is the Boeing 767. There are also illustrations of what it means to the pilot with descriptions of what instruments and panels the system in question has in the cockpit. The one criticism I have is that the diagrams are not in colour which is a great pity. You can always do what I have done and colour in yourself when looking at the schematics for hydraulics and electrics.

when looking at the schematics for hydraulics and electrics. Rolls-Royce - The Jet Engine From the

Rolls-Royce - The Jet Engine

From the horses mouth ! The diagrams in this are outstanding, as you would expect from the engineers designing the engines. If you have read the books by Oxford etc you will recognise a lot of the diagrams because they have just been copied verbatim from this outstanding book. I particularly like the description of thrust distribution within the engine and performance chapters. The only area it is weak on is the minimal content on turbo-prop engines. You can skip the sections on VTOL with the Pegasus engine and afterburners, neither of which is relevant to ATPL study. Mine is the

5 th edition as shown to the left but there is now a 6 th edition out I have seen some bad press about content having been “dumbed down”. If sent a freebie copy for a review I am sure I can offer a more informed opinion.

for a review I am sure I can offer a more informed opinion. Not much of

Not much of an Engineer by Sir Stanley Hooker

Hooker was an outstanding mathematician with a background in aerodynamics who worked on supercharger design for Rolls Royce, dramatically boosting the efficiency of piston engines such as the Merlin by using mathematical analysis rather than “rule-of-thumb” design. The race to improve the performance of the Merlin during the Second World War reminds me of the of the sort of competition that now goes on between Formula 1 racing teams except that for Sir Stanley the other team was Nazi Germany and national survival was a stake if the RAF lagged in aviation technology.

He was later Technical Director for important engines like the Pegasus engine on the Harrier and the Olympus on Concorde. I suggest that having studied your ATPL books on superchargers, turbochargers and jet engines you have a read through this book. It should all make sense and gives a real feeling of the historical background to the jet engine. The appendices have some excellent descriptions of the likes of Propulsive Efficiency which you should be able to understand. If you don’t then you need to go back to your textbooks ! Some of his opinions will seem archaic to the modern reader but bear in mind he was born over a century ago (and died over 25 years ago). He does have a real talent of explaining technical issues in layman’s terms which I am guessing was developed over many years of dealing with bean counters and politicians during his career.

The greatest pity was that he did not write a book along the lines of “Jet engines – a Simple Guide for Pilots” – I am sure it would be a consistent bestseller !

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual by Brown & Holt To

Turbine Pilot’s Flight Manual by Brown & Holt

To acquire an FAA CPL requires you to pass just one written exam of 100 questions plus an oral test. Upon getting a job flying a jet it is common practice for the airline trainee to then spend the first month or more in ground school classes studying books like this to acquire a level of knowledge the JAR qualified pilot has long since achieved. It is little surprise the US Congress has recently mandated that a pilot flying an airliner requires 1500 hours flying time before being let loose on Joe Public.

I am not a great fan of American aviation textbooks. They tend to have a “folksy” style that I find too simplistic, for example using irritating words like “gizmo” to describe an electrically driven device. The overall impression you get is an assumption that the reader has the reading age of an 11 year old and a pre-GCSE level of educational attainment. This is surprising since a “college” degree is usually a pre-requisite for a flying job in the USA.

Having said all this, for just over £20 this book does have some innovative chapters on aircraft systems and there is a very good section at the back describing the most common commercial aircraft in service, engines used, weights, performance etc for the substantial proportion of ATPL candidates whose aircraft recognition skills are mediocre to say the least. Perhaps we should make it an exam subject? I do remember one CPL/IR graduate from Oxford who I did my Flying Instructor course with asking me what that high wing thingy on final approach was during a mutual teaching session (it was a Cessna 172 !). There is a systems CD provided with the manual. Throw it away or use it as a coffee mat it is rubbish.

Throw it away or use it as a coffee mat – it is rubbish. The Professional

The Professional Pilot Study Guide Series by Mike Burton

These books have been around for about 20 years now. I got seven of them for about £2 each in a shop clearout at Birmingham airport some years ago and for that they were a bargain. They cover the subjects in the Aircraft General and Systems exam such as hydraulics, electric, undercarriages, propellers etc.

They are were written for the old UK system which had AGK split into a series of mini papers of about 15 questions each but not much changes in aviation so they are still very useful as each one is about 80-10 pages total including a large number of practice questions. Again, the only real criticism is that a move from monochrome to colour diagrams would really make a big difference.

The Electronic alternative…

I visited my local library while writing this article. There were perhaps half a dozen people browsing the bookshelves and yet just about every one of some twenty computer terminals had someone using it, many of them “screenagers”. To me books are the mark of Civilised and Literate Man. However leaving aside the fact that money is supposed to be spent on

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

books and not on making libraries publicly funded internet cafes, instances like this and the popularity of book readers like iPad and Kindle demonstrate that a substantial proportion of people just will not buy reading material unless they can see and be seen reading it on their latest gadget. The good news for all the gadget freaks is that for some of the above series the books or manuals are available in electronic form on a CD or DVD, or whatever they call those shiny round things.

Bristol supplies a DVD as part of their “Integrated Learning System”. It contains all the manuals in text form and has some animations added as a bonus. Perhaps they would sell it as a stand-alone item? I would suggest they take the cost of all the manuals, subtract the print cost, and sell the manuals on a DVD for the net sum. Given that the production costs would be a few pounds I would say this could be a profitable sideline.

Nordian produce an E-book” on DVD for 60% of the cost of the books which equates to 560 Euros. For this you only get a licence to use the DVD for 18 months (how this works I am not sure do they self delete after this time ?).

CATS have the option of not buying their manuals and just accessing their course on-line.

I can see that for those with jobs involving travel or people who wish to study during breaks at work a DVD plus laptop is a lightweight and convenient study tool. Personally I prefer a book or manual which I then proceed to deface with added highlighter marks and extra notes. But if paper is anathema to you and you do not own a bookcase then the option is there. I am all for electronic media where it enhances learning animations are a brilliant way to make a point and I often use YouTube clips on courses. I just cannot bring myself to spend money on something which is little more than an enhanced pdf file.

Time for change ?

In my article on PPL textbooks I had a few thought on the examination system we have under JAR and the same is true for the ATPL. With the PPL exams my own feeling is that a significant percentage of potential pilots are put off by the current number of exams and the lack of much in the way of teaching support to pass them.

With the ATPL the significant issues are cost and user-friendliness. There is no industry or government support of any significance for trainees so the vast majority are funding their training personally from savings, loans (usually from Bank of Mum and Dad since the start of the credit crunch) or in the case of older candidates with income from employment. Of those in employment a significant number will be taking the TK module as a DL course, typically taking about 12-18 months to do so.

The problem they face is that they may be faced with the requirement to take “brush-up” courses of 1-2 weeks duration for each “module” of subjects (for example BGS split their course into 2 modules, other have 3). They also need to set aside time for examinations which are held from Monday to Thursday in the first week of every month. Again, most students will do “sittings” where they take 4-5 subjects out of the 14 possible exams over the four day period. You can see that potentially they will have to be asking their employer

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

for 6 weeks off over a year to prepare for and take exams. How many places of employment are currently so generous with annual leave allowances?

I have doubts about having such a prescriptive approach to the ATPL TK module and think

that with the advent of EASA next year some sort of re-think is required. Reality has to be

faced that unless some effort is made to reduce the cost of getting a CPL/IR then a career as

a pilot will cease to be a realistic option for anyone other than wealthy individuals. If there

is a recovery from the current economic malaise it may indeed be the case that this situation has already been reached.

The most significant cost reductions could be achieved be removing VAT from flight training courses, or making it reclaimable upon acquisition of a licence (in the same way that self-builders reclaim the VAT on building materials on completion of a house). Why is duty and VAT charged on AVGAS used by training aircraft and not on JET A1 ? What about making loans available from the Student Loans Company, at least for the Theoretical Knowledge Module which is classroom based ? On a financially much smaller scale some rethink on the current system of ground exams is also in order to make life a little easier for potential Commercial pilots.

Internet based exams ?

The CAA currently charges £66 per exam which totals £924 for all 14 ATPL exams. They can only be taken at one of four exam centres (Oxford, Shuttleworth, Gatwick and Glasgow) so involve significant cost and travel for many students. Yet on the flying side CPL and IR Skill Tests are carried out by independent Examiners approved by the CAA.

I suggest that we move away from paper exams at the start of each month at just four

locations and to a system where Examiners are approved by the CAA to set the exams locally at any time using an Internet based system. The software for such a system must be available somewhere off the shelf ! Each examiner would have an individual logon code to the system and could provide the required invigilation. I have to declare an interest here in that I am a Ground Examiner but I would suggest that having a group of examinees turn up on a regular Saturday morning exams session, each logging on to the system via WiFi with their own laptop, would provide much more flexibility for the people taking the exams.

Those who have trouble in locating a local examiner could still have the option of going to the CAA at Gatwick.

I suspect that the main reason that this has not been looked at is that the CAA makes a

profit rumoured to be in the region of £500,000 to £1m. per annum from ground exam fees. The big plus for them is that they can be administered by staff with little or no flying qualification or experience flying Skills Tests are outsourced because they need licensed personnel to do them.

Consolidate the number of exams ?

The number of JAR ATPL exams (14 in total) is way in excess of other counties (for example Australia has just 7). Why do we have two Communications exams for people who already hold a UK RT Licence ? Some of the exams could be combined into a broader subject area to avoid students “picking” at exams one at a time via an Internet exam system. Under JAR there are nine subject areas and the can be combined or split in exams as

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

deemed necessary (for example the PPL in the UK covers the lot with seven exams, in Ireland with just four). There is no reason why this could not be done at ATPL level. The following is a suggested example:

   

New

 

Jar

Seq

Code

Subject

number

New subject name

10

Aviation Law

 

Aviation Law & Operational Procedures

70

Operational Procedures

1

21

Airframes / systems/ engines

2

Airframes / systems/ engines

32

Performance

   

80

Principles of Flight

3

Principles of Flight & Performance

22

Instruments

   

62

Radio Navigation

4

Instruments and Radio Aids

31

Mass & balance

   

33

Flight Planning & Monitoring

5

Navigation & Flight Planning

61

General Navigation

50

Meteorology

6

Meteorology

40

Human Performance

7

Human Performance

91

VFR Communications

 

Radio Telephony (no exam required

92

IFR Communications

8

for holders of a Flight Radio Telephony Operators Licence)

The average Modular ATPL student with a PPL and RT Licence would thus have the exam cost burden halved. I would suggest that a cost per exam of £50 (twice the going rate for a PPL ground exam) would be very acceptable to independent Examiners.

Classroom time

If it really is “distance learning” then why is a classroom element required ? I do wonder if

these brush up sessions become the time when students actually learn the subjects, having had the temptation to leave real study until the brush-up weeks ? Those choosing the DL option will be doing so precisely because time away from work is limited and they presumably have the capability based on past educational achievement to complete such a course. I suggest a switch to a competency based system where classroom based training becomes mandatory only for subjects where a candidate has failed the exam, say after a first or second attempt. DL courses should surely be aimed at the time-poor and not be

some halfway attempt by JAR at a classroom based course ?

A simultaneous rethink on the requirement for the full time ATPL TK course to be 650

hours / 26 weeks duration is also required so that we could have more flexibility on how

ATPL textbooks and Theoretical Knowledge exams guide

courses are delivered by FTOs. I suggest it should be up to the provider to decide how long they need to achieve the task. If courses were de-coupled from exam cycles I suspect that durations would shrink to between 6 and 8 weeks. When you look at the prices of full time courses and the fact that staff are tied up for 6 months for each student it does make the hourly rate the student pays look very good value for money. Could this be why a large proportion of TK providers only do DL ? Perhaps the economics of providing a full time course are not attractive.

There is a requirement for an FTO to gain approval to teach the ATPL TK course to produce its own training manuals. This is a case of re-inventing the wheel. There are plenty of commercially available books and manuals for a school to choose from as can be seen from this article. My son’s secondary school does not produce GCSE textbooks. They just buy them and concentrate instead on the teaching task. Is the FTO being judged on its technical authoring skills, or on how effectively it can teach the subjects ? It is rather like saying to a flying instructor that he can only teach someone to fly after he has first assembled his own kit aircraft.

Conclusion

The JAR system produces a well trained standard of pilot who is able to step up to the task of flying a turbine powered aircraft despite relatively low hours when compared to the minimum requirements in other parts of the world. But it can be a difficult and expensive slog, particularly for the loners who are ploughing through their ground studies without the mutual encouragement you can receive in a class based environment. I would argue for the path to be less costly and more convenient in terms of time, particularly for those doing the self study route - what percentage give up, I wonder ?.

When I was at Atlantic we had a visit from a senior Captain involved in recruitment at Flybe. I asked him if they looked more favourably on those who had studied for their TK exams on a full time course. His response was “If you get a high average mark from a full time course it just shows that you are not lazy. If you get a high average mark from distance learning, you deserve a medal”. Personally I took the easy option of full time study but for those current and future “medal winners” I hope you have found this guide useful.