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CPL Flight Training

By Ashley Miller

Yes, I’ve finished my PPL NAV training, I reckon I could sit for my CPL flight test now… what more is there to learn?

The short answer is: plenty.

Moving on from PPL training phase, you know how to navigate from A to B, and perhaps even to C. This is quite sufficient if you are looking to fly for fun and take friends and family up for joy flights or a weekend away somewhere in your own aircraft. But a CPL is more than that, it is the ability to fly at a professional standard within professional tolerances with an increased focus on safety, passenger comfort, and efficiency. Scenario based training is used as a tool to improve a student’s ability in all these areas in preparation for their flight test.

Professional Tolerances

The key changes from PPL tolerances to professional tolerances are as follows:

  • HDG – Maintaining and turning onto nominated headings from ± 10° to ± 5°
  • ALT – Level off and maintaining an altitude from ± 150ft to ± 100ft
  • Steep turn – Conducting a steep level turn form within ± 150ft to ± 100ft
  • Landing – Landing within the touchdown zone reduced from ± 120m to ± 60m


Before we even start the engines, we go through our departure brief – talking through what we are going out to do and how we are going to depart, and taking into account what we will do in the unlikely event of a malfunction during take-off. Now, if you have nervous flyers on board and you start talking about malfunctions it won’t be very reassuring, but it something you should go over in your head at least, so you have a clear game plan if things do go wrong.

That’s not to say you don’t need to speak to your passengers at all. As PIC (pilot in command) you must ensure that a PAX (passenger) brief has been conducted informing them on the following:

  • Smoking
  • Seat Belts/Seat Operation
  • Emergency Exits
  • Evacuation Procedure
  • Stowage of hand luggage
  • Special equipment on board
  • Control Seat Etiquette (where applicable)
  • Oxygen (where applicable)
  • Flotation Devices (where applicable)

Walking out to the aircraft, keep them safe by asking them to walk beside you and ensure that they don’t walk off towards other aircraft that may be moving about. You could also begin your PAX brief during this time.

A little tip for you… Instructors like acting dumb in these scenarios, so if you don’t tell us not to do something, we will definitely do it during the flight at some point…

Passenger Comfort

One of the best forms of marketing is word of mouth. If your passengers have a safe and comfortable flight, they are more likely to tell friends and family about the great experience they had, the type of pilot you are, and the company you fly for. Unfortunately, in smaller aircraft we don’t have the perks of reclining seats or an in flight passenger service. 

We can still enhance passenger comfort, though, by considering the following:

  • Turbulence. Mechanical turbulence, thermal turbulence, and low-level mountain waves can be minimalised or avoided by flying at a higher altitude. If turbulence is unavoidable, flying at turbulence penetration speed (VB) will not only be safe for the aircraft, but also make smoother conditions for your passengers.
  • Descent rate should also by monitored. Passengers don’t necessarily fly that often and as such their ears may not be able to equalise as easy during ascent and descents. Descents usually cause the most pain and discomfort and on airliners – this is typically when you begin to hear young kids and babies become upset as the pressure builds up in their inner ears. If you can maintain a steady rate of descent, no more than 500fpm (in a non-pressurised piston aircraft), this will allow more time for the equalisation of the inner ear.
  • The view. If your flight for the day is for a scenic flight, consider where your passengers are seated. You get to see the sights regularly and they are the ones paying to see the sights, therefore if you are conducting an orbit of a feature, for example, make sure you orbit to the side your PAX are seated.


Time is money! The longer you are in the air the more fuel burnt and the higher the maintenance costs will be.

When planning your flight, consider the wind and use it to you advantage. Plan for an altitude with a tail wind, or altitude where there is a reduced head wind if a tail wind is not available. Oh, and don’t forget to lean then engine once in the cruise!

Plan direct to your destinations and utilise an airways clearance through CTA. Not only does this save time but you also have someone watching out for you as well. If you suspect that clearance may not be given, still plan for it but have a back-up plan. Think about what you will do if you don’t get plan A… and have plans B and C up your sleeve ready to apply if required.

If you are arriving at a CTAF aerodrome, calculate your Top of Descent position (TOPD) for a steady descent (500fpm) and plan for an efficient join by joining a leg of the circuit that will allow you to land ASAP, but only if safe to do so. Safety must come first, and if unsure join overhead.

Scenario Based Training

Scenarios given may be a scenic flight, charter, or cargo – usually with some specific requirements to be met. The scenarios used will also test out your ability to find information such as the requirements of carrying particular dangerous goods and/or animals on board the aircraft. CAO’s, CAR’s and CASR’s may need to be referred to. Scenarios may also ask you to find the maximum baggage we can load on to the aircraft (hint: this may also mean working with minimum fuel and planning for refuelling stops along the way during the NAV).

The aim of these NAVs is to prepare you for potential real-world scenarios which your employer may ask of you in your career as a pilot. The ability to improve your application of relevant rules and regulations will be where you will see the biggest change in your proficiency as a pilot and open yourself to be able to think outside the box to solve in-flight simulated problems that may arise.

In the past, you will have likely experienced your instructor giving you a flight plan at the end of the last NAV or day or two before your flight. During CPL training we give you an hour and a half from receiving the flight plan and scenario to being in the aircraft ready to go.

‘Ahhh, say again,’ I hear you gasp. ‘That’s impossible!!’

This may sound extreme, but it can be done with preparation.

You can refer to our previous planning for NAVs blog, but here are some tips to help in preparation:

  • Common routes can be pre-recorded.
  • W&B calculations and Take-off and Landing charts for you and your instructor can be done ahead of time. This may not be possible with some scenarios as we may add passengers etc.
  • Come in early before your flight and prepare the aircraft, the aircraft can be pre-flighted, refuelled, and topped up with oil (if required) before you start planning. Keep in mind though that this won’t always be an option with scheduling, so check with Dispatch first.
  • Check the weather. Read through so you understand the weather before you start planning, noting any SIGWX and NOTAMs that may be in effect. Then a final check of the winds and relevant TAFs/GAFs is all that is needed pre-flight.
  • Most CPL NAVs will include YMMB or YMEN, revision of arrival/departure procedures, and radio calls. Going over these will make this part of the NAV much easier to manage in flight.
  • Underpinning knowledge of VMC requirements in all airspace and revision of NAV aid use will also make your NAV less stressful to plan.

Solo Hour building

Many students don’t utilise this part of their training as much as they should. This is a great opportunity to test yourself out and go explore different aerodromes, airspace, and procedures. Plan flights to Albury, go through West Sale airspace, Mildura, etc. If you have any queries about any part of the flight, ask an instructor to assist you through it. The instructor will also discuss with you during your pre-flight briefing any particular procedures you may encounter during your flight to ensure you are as best prepared as possible.

Weather can play havoc whilst hour building, so have several flight plans ready to go, north, south, east, and west to give you the best chance to complete your solo on the day. Also take into consideration the length of your booking, and make the most of it!


Each flight you complete is designed to improve on the last in preparation for your CPL Flight Test. Not only in physically flying the aircraft, but also in critically thinking through problems to solve and complete a safe and legal flight. This is the time to apply the theory learnt during your 7 CPL subjects into practice and demonstrate your proficiency in being a Commercial Pilot.

In the weeks leading up to your test, you will need to begin going through the flight test form and review the knowledge requirements for the ground theory. For our Diploma students, a briefing will be organised to practice going through various questions that your testing officer may ask you. Private students can (and usually do) book a time with their instructor to go over the theory.

The theory to the right will be the topics covered and multiple questions could be asked from each section. The ground theory component can be up to 2hrs during the test.

The flight test will last 3 to 3.5 hours approximately, and the test route will usually be given the night before to give you plenty of time to prepare. It would be expected that you arrive early on the day of the test to have your flight plan completed and submitted on NAIPS, aircraft pre-flighted, fueled, oiled, and clean before the testing officer arrives (don’t forget to give those windows a once over!). To earn extra brownie points, find out how the testing officers takes their coffee or better yet buy them a latte/cappuccino. You could buy them a newspaper or a magazine for them to read during the flight, and even some lollies. It may seem trivial, but it’s a nice touch.

It goes without saying, but prepare you as best you can outside of flying and theory. Get a good night sleep and have a healthy breakfast. It is much easier said than done but relax as much as possible. Nerves will always be present for any flight test you do but don’t let them get the better of you. Trust yourself that you have put in the time and effort to get yourself this far and be confident in your abilities that you have learnt over the journey so far.

CPL training is challenging, but it also a lot of fun. Take the opportunity when you can, especially when you have your instructor with you to help if needed, to challenge yourself to problem solve in flight. Most of all, enjoy your journey in becoming a Commercial Pilot! The growth you will see from finishing off your PPL training to the end of your CPL phase will be profound and put you in the best place to pass your goal of attaining your Commercial Pilot Licence.