Something you’ll ponder is: “What’s the hardest or most challenging parts of the PPL(A) course?” or, “What’s the most difficult aspect of the PPL(A) to get your head around?”. These are precisely the questions that this post aims to answer.
Let us run you through our top 5 most difficult parts of the PPL(A)…
1. Aircraft Systems
The first step toward piloting your aircraft safely is to have a thorough understanding of the different aircraft systems. While you don’t need to be an engineer by any means, you do need to be armed with the knowledge that’ll help you to understand a problem and react to it.
As you might imagine, aircraft systems are pretty complex and made up of many different components. The system can be broken down into simpler sub systems that carry out their own specific functions. Some examples include:
There’s a lot to take in.
The PPL(A) teaches students the foundations, but ultimately every plane differs. In order to operate aircrafts in the manner that the designers and manufacturers intended, pilots must understand what each handle or knob controls and what to expect from each system when it is employed.
2. Understanding Airspace
Each day, around 6,000 aircrafts and 600,000 people fly in UK airspace. This includes leisure, commercial, cargo and military users. So it’s no surprise that sections of the PPL(A) course focus heavily on how to operate aircrafts safely in the sky.
Here’s some aspects of airspace that PPL students must become knowledgeable on:
Airspace around the world is divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs) of differing sizes. Each FIR is managed by a controlling authority (e.g. CAA for the UK) that has responsibility for ensuring that air traffic services are provided to the aircraft flying within it.
Airspace over an ocean is usually divided into two or more FIRs and delegated to controlling authorities within countries that border it.
You also need to understand that in some cases, FIRs are split vertically into lower and upper sections. The lower section is referred to as a FIR, but the upper portion is referred to as an Upper Information Region (or ‘UIR’).
Airspace within a FIR (and UIR) is usually divided into sections that vary in function, size and classification.
Classifications determine the rules for flying within a section of airspace and whether it is ‘controlled’ or ‘uncontrolled’.
- Aircrafts flying in controlled airspace must follow instructions from Air Traffic Controllers.
- Aircrafts flying in uncontrolled airspace are not required to take air traffic control services but can call on them if and when required (e.g. flight information, alerting and distress services).
3. Flight Regulations & Procedures
PPL(A) students are introduced to many flight regulations and procedures which they must learn, and abide by. There’s a lot to remember, which can be difficult.
Regulations and procedures involve:
- Pilot responsibilities
- Pre-flight checks & flight planning
- Airspace rules and regulations
- Radio phraseology (“radio talk” standards)
- Radio procedures (ATIS frequencies, etc)
- Using aerodromes
- Risks & Emergencies
- Flying outside of the UK
- The tables to work out crosswind components
- Ground marshalling signals.
For more information on the above, check out the ‘Skyway Code’:
All European EASA licences (e.g. the PPL-A), ratings and certificates are regulated by the CAA. Non-EASA licences require knowledge on other national licences.
Many student pilots find the technical subjects — like aerodynamics — difficult. The equations and obscure terminology are a real turn off to some.
Aerodynamics is the study of forces and the resulting motion of objects through the air. The motion of air around an object allows us to measure the forces of:
- Lift: allows an aircraft to overcome gravity
- Drag: the force which delays or slows the forward movement of a plane through the air
- Thrust: a force created by a power source which gives an plane forward motion.
- Weight: the force due to gravity which pulls down on the plane, opposing the lift.
Aerodynamics teaches pilots how an aeroplane would fall to earth in the absence of air. If it was upside down when dropped, it would remain so. If dropped tail first it would fall in that orientation. Even if you spun it, like a frisbee, it would spin around, but still fall. However, in air an aeroplane does not fall or tumble.
Everything that flies — including airplanes, rockets, and birds — is affected by aerodynamics. The objective of learning it is to help pilots understand how a plane flies in order to pilot it
5. Decoding Textual Weather
METARs are routinely issued at over 50 UK airports. This is the most common format for the transmission of weather information.
A METAR weather report is used by pilots in pre-flight weather briefings. It is highly standardised through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which allows it to be understood throughout most of the world.
It provides a snapshot of current weather conditions including wind speed and direction, visibility, weather, cloud, temperature and pressure. PPL(A) students need to familiarise themselves with the abbreviations used in METARs.
TAF’s are also routinely issued at over 50 UK airports. Student pilots should also familiarise themselves with the abbreviations used in TAFs, which convey the most likely weather conditions over periods up to 30 hours ahead. TAFs are essentially airport weather forecasts.
A TAF provides a concise description of the wind, visibility, cloud and weather conditions over periods ranging up to 30 hours ahead. Like METARs they are transmitted in a coded format consistent with TAFs issued anywhere in the world.
Classroom learning — is it for you?
Leaving the cockpit and heading into a classroom learning environment is a crucial part of the PPL(A) course. It’s tough for some pilots to get back into ‘school mode’. The PPL(A) isn’t all flying (sadly!). So also bare that in mind.
What parts of the PPL(A) are you finding (or did you find) most difficult? Tell us in the comments section!