What are the ATPL Subjects?

The airline transport pilot license (ATPL) - known in the U.S. as the ATP certificate - is the highest level of aircraft pilot certificate. If you’re hoping to become a commercial airline pilot, this will be a necessary part of the process, and you may be wondering what the exam involves.

The ATPL subjects are:

  • Aviation law
  • Aircraft general knowledge
  • Flight planning and monitoring
  • Human performance and limitations
  • Meteorology
  • Operational procedures
  • Principles of flight
  • Communications (IFR & VFR)
  • Performance
  • General navigation
  • Radio navigation
  • Instrumentation
  • Mass and balance

How can I pass my ATPL exam?

You’ll need to study hard for your ATPL exam. When it comes to revising, everyone is different, so it’s important to find what works best for you and to stick to it.

Organize Your Time

First things first, you’ll need a plan of action.

You’ll either be studying full-time or studying part-time alongside work, and either way, you’ll need to manage your time effectively to maximize study time.

This will mean missing out on going out with friends, as going to class or revising whilst hungover is just not an option!

However, it can be a good idea to remind yourself why you’re studying and to reward yourself with the little things - like a break on the weekends.

Use a Technique that Works for You

Your ATPLs contain A LOT of theory, and you need to fully understand it in order to pass your exams.

There are many different techniques out there for absorbing information, but the Feynman technique can be a great rule of thumb for theory-heavy subjects.

This technique is based on the following principles:

  1. First, learn and digest a new concept
  2. Now try and explain the information to someone with no knowledge of the subject
  3. Take note of where your gaps are
  4. Revisit the material.


People also have different learning methods - Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic… If you don’t know your learning preference, you can take a quick test online to find out.

Most people learn best with a combination of techniques, so find what works best for you and stick with this technique - whether it’s diagrams, flashcards, or listening to audio.

Research, Research, Research

No school will have the perfect resources, so it’s important to fill in any gaps with your own research.

Online forums, YouTube channels, and blogs can be useful for this. Read about the exam experiences of others - what did they find difficult, what didn’t they expect, etc.

Set Goals

As a pilot, you need to be a goal-oriented person anyway, so setting goals for your revision should be part of your plan of action.

Set goals by working backward, and pinpoint what you need to achieve each day, each week, each month. Also set cut-off points for when you need to learn the material by. For example, ensuring you’ve covered exam material 6 weeks before your exam, so you have time to go over any weak spots in the time remaining.

How many ATPL exams are there?

The EASA ATPL involves 14 separate theory exams, along with a mandatory six-month residential or twelve-month distance-learning course during this phase.

What are the 14 ATPL exams?

The EASA ATPL is comprised of the following 14 exams:

  1. Principles of Flight
  2. Airframes/Engines/Electrics
  3. Performance
  4. General Navigation
  5. Radio Navigation
  6. Instruments/Electronics
  7. VFR Communications
  8. IFR Communications
  9. Air Law & ATC
  10. Operational Procedures
  11. Flight Planning & Monitoring
  12. Mass & Balance
  13. Human Performance & Limitations
  14. Meteorology

What is ATPL theory?

The Airline Transport Pilot Licence Theory (ATPL Theory) is the theoretical side of the Integrated Flight Deck Programme, and you must complete this before you’re awarded your ATPL license. In order to gain your ATPL, you must successfully pass the 14 theoretical modules.

The other part of the ATPL process involves aircraft flight instruction. The first four phases of the course are spent training in various aircraft and simulators, and together these phases account for 43% of the total course time. The remainder of the course is spent in the classroom and involves the ATPL theory, which is usually delivered over nine months if done full-time, which also requires the student to revise in their own time outside of the classroom.

Final Verdict

The ATPL theory makes up the majority of the IFDP, and passing the theory stage of the program is essential if you are to be awarded your ATPL license, and embark on a career as an airline transport pilot.

The program - particularly the theoretical side - is no walk in the park, and requires diligence, hard work, and continual study. Successful candidates usually have strict revision programs which involve putting social activities on hold for a while, but this is all worth it if you pass the 14 exams and are able to gain your ATPL.