May 25, 2023

Becoming a pilot is not just about learning to fly an aircraft, it involves studying the theory behind the principles of flight, navigation, meteorology and much more! In order to qualify for your pilot license, you must study and pass all of the theory components of your pilot training, whether it be a PPL, CPL or an Airline Pilot. First, let’s take a quick look at what you will study and then delve into some handy tips on how to prepare for your pilot license tests and exams.

Pilot Theory Courses

The following theory courses make up the theory component of a NZ pilot’s licence from the PPL (Private Pilot’s License), to CPL (Commercial Pilots License) through to ATPL (Airline Transport Pilot Licence), there may also be some additional theory courses for individual ratings.

PPL Theory Courses

  • Aircraft Technical Knowledge
  • Meteorology
  • Flight Radiotelephony
  • Human Factors
  • Air Navigation and Flight Planning
  • Air Law

CPL Theory Courses

  • Flight Navigation
  • Air Law
  • Meteorology
  • Aircraft Technical Knowledge
  • Human Factors
  • Principles of Flight and Aircraft Performance

ATPL Theory Courses

  • Advanced Aerodynamics, Performance & Systems
  • Air Law
  • Instruments and Navigation Aids
  • Flight Planning
  • Flight Navigation
  • Human Factors
  • Meteorology

Pilot Theory Exams General Descriptions

You may have noticed the theory topics are fairly similar across the different pilot licences. However, this does not mean they are the same. Each pilot theory exam is progressively more advanced as you move through from PPL to CPL to the ATPL (if applicable). So the PPL theory exams must be passed before moving on to the CPL, for example, with the CPL theory exams going into much greater detail more specific to the types of aircraft you will be flying, the increased responsibility around flying with passengers on board, flying for much greater distances, and in heavily controlled airspace. See below for some general descriptions of each theory topic.

  • Air Navigation And Flight Planning. Learning to calculate the distance of your planned flight, how to follow compass headings and what they mean, calculating flight times and how much fuel is needed as well as learning to read aviation maps and use aviation navigational software.
  • Aircraft Technical Knowledge. Understanding the principles of flight, aircraft systems and making safe in-flight decisions based on this knowledge. This includes aircraft aerodynamics, engines, electrical systems, flight instruments, and weight loading and aircraft restrictions.
  • Meteorology. Learning about New Zealand-specific weather patterns, including cloud formations and how different weather conditions can affect aircraft performance.
  • Human Factors. The study of the effects of the human element in aviation and understanding human error, how it can cause accidents and also avoidance procedures. This includes the study of aviation medicine, health, stress management, and decision-making under pressure.
  • Flight Radiotelephony. Pilots need to keep in contact with air traffic controllers and also with other pilots in the sky nearby by radio communications in order to navigate safely through both controlled and uncontrolled airspace (avoid air collisions). This subject includes learning the common terms and phrases pilots use and how to operate aircraft communications devices and emergency locator beacons.
  • Air Law. As defined by the Civil Aviation Authority (New Zealand’s government agency tasked with establishing civil aviation safety and security standards), everyone in aviation follows the same set of rules when they are flying. As you progress through the different levels of pilot training, you will develop a good working knowledge of these rules.

14 Study Tips For Student Pilots

Like all students, aspiring pilots can experience the stress and difficulty that comes with understanding lessons, concepts, and theories. Developing good study habits will help overcome these challenges and get the most out of your flight training. Here are some handy study tips for students training to become pilots:

1. Schedule Dedicated Study Time

Guessing the answers on the spot is not really going to cut it in pilot theory exams. Dedicating time to explore the appropriate material carefully and having a good understanding of the subject matter is essential for every pilot in training. Experimenting with different study times to find what works for you will help determine the ideal study schedule. Committing to regular study will vastly increase the likelihood of accomplishing your learning goals.

2. Choose The Right Flight School

Any aspiring pilots will come to realise where you train counts. Some elements you will want to consider when choosing your flight school are the number of aircraft available for flight training (too few can mean it’s difficult to schedule flight time), quality of instructors, other facilities (such as simulators and ground school capabilities), location, reputation, and career goals (if you wish to continue on to airline pilot training does the school provide this pathway?).

3. Break It Down Into Manageable Segments

Attempting to memorise and learn all of your course notes in one go can be a bit overwhelming. Breaking up your learning into more manageable and meaningful segments will make it easier to digest and remember. Taking short breaks throughout can also help with retention, trying to sit for hours and hours at a time without breaks only reduces productivity.

4. Well Structured Notes Do Help!

Well organised, structured notes in outline form with section headings and details covering the main points provide an excellent method for revision and remembering key topics. Keep in mind that any text presented in class or specific information emphasised by the instructors is generally important to remember and should be included in your notes. You might also find it useful to review your summarised notes right before exams or tests to refresh your memory.

5. Study With Friends

Study groups can help you learn new things, seek clarification and exchange ideas that you may not have thought of on your own. Having others around in the same mindset while studying can also help to motivate the group to keep on task working towards a common goal. A study group also has the additional benefit of a positive social aspect alleviating the boredom sometimes experienced when studying on your own.

6. Don’t Just Memorise, Learn

Memorising only gets you so far, learning the material provides greater insight, better recall and the ability to adapt your answers to unexpected questions. Understanding rather than memorising will also make you a better pilot in the long term. However, experimenting with different study methods to find what works best for you is always recommended.

7. Ask Your Instructor

Having an honest conversation about your strengths and weaknesses with your instructor is a great way to get an idea of what you should be working on when preparing for flight tests and theory exams. Instructors have gone through this process many times with other students and with their own experiences gaining a greater understanding of what it takes to pass.

8. Take Flight Arm Chair Style

Chair flying may sound a bit odd, but it is a technique sometimes used by trainee pilots and involves pretending to fly a plane through its manoeuvres while you’re seated in a chair. This type of learning aids in developing muscle memory, helping make your in-flight procedures and practices become second nature.

9. Get To Know The Local Pilots

Talking with experienced pilots is a great way to broaden your horizons in more ways than one! Pilots are able to give you handy tips and advice to succeed in an aviation career because they are out there doing it! And, who knows, they may be able to recommend you for job opportunities – NZ is a small country and the network of pilots in the industry are often known to each other.

10. Learn As Much As You Can On Ground

When learning to fly, for many student pilots, the thrill of getting up in the air and flying a plane can quickly take over all focus, but it is just as important, if not more important, to learn the theoretical aspects of flight. Once you’re in an aviation school, make the most of every opportunity to learn on the ground, read flight training text, lessons, and aircraft manuals, watch videos, tutorials and any other useful material.

11. Quiz Yourself

One of the best ways to learn is to quiz yourself. After you have finished studying a particular topic, quiz yourself on the material or get another student to do it for you. An impromptu self-test will help identify any areas or issues where you may need to spend more time studying. It may also be helpful to begin each study session with a review of what you’ve previously identified as an area needing work.

12. Always Be Prepared For Your Lesson

Whether it’s a theory or flight training exercise, being well prepared for each and every lesson means you will be faster and more able to complete tests, inflight reviews and tasks as expected – saving you money on flight and instructor time. It also shows respect towards your instructor and that you are serious about your flight training.

13. Look After Yourself

Due to the high pressure situations and sometimes intense workload taking care of yourself is one of the most important study tips for aviation students. Pilot health and well-being play a significant role in flight safety management, with improvements in alertness, stress levels, and cognitive abilities. Practising self-care is different for everyone, but this might mean a few simple steps, like getting to bed early, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthily.

14. Don’t Give Up!

Training to be a pilot has its challenges stretching time, money and resources to the limit at times. But, if you get stuck on a theory exam or flight test, whether its meteorology, performance calculations or crosswind landings, you will master it if you keep on trying. If becoming a pilot is your passion, don’t give up – see it through, and all of your hard work will be worth it!

Following these tips will help you develop good study habits and succeed in your aviation studies. Looking for more information on becoming a pilot in New Zealand? Get in touch with the Southern Wings Flight Training School today.


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