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What is ATPL Theory?

Alexandra O'Loughlin01 Feb 2019 Posted in: atpl, ATPL exams, atpl training


To qualify as a commercial pilot, you need to complete both theoretical and aircraft flight instruction.

The Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) Theory is an important part of this instruction and takes around nine months to complete.

The course covers various topics, such as meteorology, the principles of flight and navigation.

We cluster the 14 subjects around three modules – with exams at the end of each module. It is entirely classroom based and takes place at Brighton City Airport (our main base).

The ATPL Theory requires considerable focus, study and revision. You’ll complete the course using PadPilot via an iPad or laptop – which means that you can complete additional study and revise anytime, anywhere.

How ATPL Theory works

The order of completion depends on when your training begins. 

We have two classes for ATPL Theory in 2019, and this is how the classes will be structured:

Class 11 Nov 19 13 Jan 20 9 Apr 20 11 Jul 20 12 Oct 20
One Module 3 Module 1 Module 2 Module 3 Module 1
Two Module 2 Module 3 Module 1 Module 2 Module 3

At the end of each module, you take the corresponding exams with the CAA at Gatwick.

You have up to six sittings to complete a total of 14 exams, although typically this can be accomplished in three sessions.

You will need to take the ATPL Theory regardless of whether you choose our integrated or modular training routes:

ATPL Theory - Course overview

Module One:


  • What are weather fronts? How are they formed?
  • Cloud formation and how it affects flying
  • Wind and its impact
  • What are the potential dangers of the weather?
  • How to forecast the weather
  • Weather charts and how we can use them
  • The atmosphere
  • Temperature
  • Climatology
  • Density

Aircraft general knowledge:

  • Powerplants
  • Aircraft systems
  • Electrics

Air law:

  • Martialling
  • Airport markings
  • Aircraft licensing
  • Personnel licensing
  • Air traffic services
  • Rules of the air
  • How we legislate – the Chicago Convention
  • The division of airspace

Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) communications:

  • Communication principles and failures
  • Air traffic control clearances
  • Standard Radio Telephony (RT) phraseology
  • Emergency standard RT phraseology
  • Radio propagation theory

Visual Flight Rules (VFR) communications:

  • Meteorological data and weather reporting
  • Equipment used for VFR

Module two:

Principles of flight:

  • The atmosphere
  • Lift and drag
  • Aerofoil
  • Level flight
  • Spins and stalls
  • Stability
  • Propellers
  • Turning
  • Climb and descent
  • Wake turbulence

Instrumentation, which includes:

  • Pressure sensing
  • The altimeter vertical speed indicator
  • Airspeed indicator
  • Machmeter
  • Angle of attack
  • Air data computer
  • Magnetism compass
  • Altitude indicator
  • Turn indicator


  • What are the situations which affect the performance of an aircraft?
  • Climb, cruise and descent
  • Engine failure and landing
  • Asymmetric flight
  • V speeds
  • Other calculations that can be used in performance

Flight planning:

  • How to plan a route effectively
  • Factors which can affect the planning of a flight
  • VFR planning
  • Fuel policy
  • The Jeppensen Airway Manual
  • En-route charts
  • Area charts
  • Medium-range jets
  • The point of no return
  • The point of equal time

Module three:

Operational procedures:

  • Air operator certificates
  • Keeping up with legislation
  • Aircraft checks
  • Managing duty time
  • Flight and cabin crew
  • Health and safety planning
  • Emergency landings
  • The impact of adverse weather conditions

General navigation:

  • The solar system and satellites
  • The shape of the earth
  • Latitude and longitude
  • Great circles and Rhumb lines
  • Convergency and conversion angles
  • Magnetic/compass direction
  • How to use maps effectively

Radio navigation:

  • The principles of radio waves
  • Radio navigation beacons
  • Radars and radar principles
  • Area navigation

Human performance and limitations:

  • Psychological factors of performance
  • The human body
  • The nervous system
  • Atmosphere and oxygen
  • Respiration
  • Human error
  • Perception
  • The eye
  • The ear
  • Human overload and underload

Mass and balance:

  • Calculations involving aircraft centre of gravity
  • Weight and loading of aircraft
  • Mathematical calculations using formulae.


Your study options

Integrated (full-time) training:

If you opt for our Integrated Programme (either Option A or B), you complete phases one, two, three and four in various aircraft and simulators.

The ATPL Theory is taken at the very start of your course (after the basic theory element) or after flight phase three. The timing depends on when you start your training. The elementary flight phases (one to three) are usually completed in the spring and summer to make the most of the fair weather. So your theoretical instruction would be taken either before or after this practical training.

Modular training:

With modular training, you can enrol for ATPL Theory on any of the six start dates throughout the year, as detailed above.

As a modular student, you must hold an International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Private Pilot’s Licence. You do not need this licence to enrol but you must have the PPL before you start your training.

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