We are now an ATO

Pilot training is a complicated world sometimes. It looks quite simple – turn up for your flying lessons, don’t bend the aircraft too badly, do a test, fill in some paperwork and voila! A shiny licence arrives that allows you to fly off into the sunset, assuming of course you also have a night rating.

But from the school’s point of view it’s slightly more complicated. There are two types of training organisation; Declared Training Organisation (DTO) and Approved Training Organisation (ATO). A DTO can deliver training for a LAPL, PPL and associated ratings (the night rating being an example) whereas the commercial focused courses (CPL, IR, MEP) must be taken at an ATO.  We have always been a DTO which is a fairly straightforward approval process, but we wanted to put our aircraft and simulators to more use and so decided to start the approval process to be granted ATO status to deliver CPL, MEP and IR courses.

This isn’t straightforward at all! First step, find the application form and fill it in – all 15 pages of it. Plus additional forms for “nominated post holders” and a CV for each person. Don’t forget photographs and measurements of the facilities, many pages of proof you exist (people and company) and other required supporting documentation. If you’re getting a bit swamped it’s OK, the CAA produce guidance material – 81 pages of it – and EASA provides the source regulation which is several hundred pages long… Then you need some manuals for the important bit – the training! So that’s a manual per course, plus safety manual, compliance manual, management manual, operations manual… and checklists to specify where the important bits are. And the most important form of all, the payment form!

Wow. That was a LOT of work, and then not long after we had submitted it, Covid-19 struck. At this point we were starting to wish we had never started this process as it seemed that every mountain we climbed just led to a bigger mountain.

The CAA were extremely helpful, which we expected from our experience with the FNPTII approval. Our inspector was working from home but made the effort to remotely carry out what he could for the initial inspection. There were some tweaks needed to the manuals, we all had to have individual interviews with the CAA to make sure we were qualified and acceptable, and then it was time for our site inspection. Unfortunately the bandwidth wasn’t sufficient for an inspection via Skype, but the lockdown was eased just in time for a visit in person.

All went well (we bought nice biscuits which definitely helped) and finally – ATO.0515 is ready for training! We can now offer CPL, MEP, SE IR, ME IR and CB IR, and suddenly all the hard work seems worth it.