Becoming a Pilot: A Job Profile

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While many people dream of a career in corporate aviation, many of the best aviation jobs are only achieved after committing years to the industry working in alternative airline aviation jobs. A job as a pilot for one of the major airlines is not a job that you just step into. The process involves a long-term commitment to getting enough hours in the air, as well as to finding an opening when one appears. If you're looking for a pilot job, it's a good plan to apply for alternative airline aviation jobs as well while you wait for an opening with a major airline.

What Do Pilots Do?

Pilots working in airline aviation jobs have a broad range of responsibilities. They don't simply step onto a waiting plane and fly away. As a pilot, you may be responsible for different types of aircraft. You might fly cargo across the country or the ocean, or transport passengers if you work in corporate aviation. The pilot is the one who holds responsibility for the airplane itself, as well as for the passengers, staff, and any cargo.



Major airlines are the primary employers for airline aviation jobs and corporate aviation. The planes these airlines use require two pilots: the captain, who is the one flying the plane, and the copilot (also called the first officer), who is responsible for the radio and controls. Prior to flying, the two pilots must examine the equipment to make sure that the plane is safe to fly. The copilot is responsible for charting the flight route. The pilot and copilot report to air traffic control workers on the ground and check weather and other conditions.

What Other Types of Airline Aviation Jobs Are There?

Although major airlines employee a large number of pilots, alternative airline aviation jobs include positions for test pilots, also known as pilot examiners. These pilots work for the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), the airlines, or airplane manufacturers to either fly new and experimental planes to check performance and safety or to review other pilots.

Agricultural pilots fly smaller planes that either drop chemicals or fertilizers. This is done either to help crops or to douse flames. These airline aviation jobs are not the conventional jobs one thinks about when one decides to become a pilot, but a need is there for people to fill these roles.

Helicopter pilots are also in high demand. Some fly as E-VAC (ambulance) helicopter pilots, providing a life-saving service to patients. Some of the best aviation jobs are ones that involve flying helicopters to provide assistance in rescue operations, while others are private service aviation jobs that conduct sightseeing tours from the air.

What about Education and Training?

With all the responsibilities of being a pilot, once you have decided to go this career path, knowing the education requirements is essential. Many employers require a college degree for positions in airline aviation jobs. Select a school with a strong aviation program, then, to start your career. If you're seeking a position as a test pilot, you may be required to have an engineering degree so that you can evaluate the equipment. This is definitely not a field that is easy to learn, but if you have a bent towards technical knowledge, that will help.

Pilots who carry passengers have to hold a commercial pilot license. In order to possess this license, you must have at least 250 hours of flight experience. You must also pass a vision/hearing screening, in addition to a physical. Once you meet the initial requirements, the FAA will grant you a license for the class of plane you qualify for (for example, a single-engine plane, a seaplane, etc). The specific requirements are different for every type of aircraft. The military offers an excellent option for pilot training if you want an expedited route that doesn't take a big bite out of your bank account. You can also choose from among more than 600 FAA-certified civilian flight schools.

Working Conditions

Airline aviation jobs do not come without risks. Most airline pilots average about 16 days of work per month. While actually flying only 70 hours or less per month, other time is spent on non-flight duties or layovers. With flights covering multiple time zones, jet lag is also a consideration. Some people adjust better than others to this condition. If you have an aviation job working as an agricultural pilot, there is also the risk of exposure to toxic chemicals, and of course, any pilot job carries the risk of aircraft failure.

Pilots working in the best aviation jobs do enjoy clean and comfortable aircraft. Although not a physically demanding job, the stress level for a pilot is high. Pilots must undergo regular physical examinations to keep their jobs, and the pressure to always be aware and to make snap decisions means that the pilot must always be thinking about his or her job.

Pay Scale

Beginning pilots don't earn much. Expect a low salary of about $25,000 in beginning airline aviation jobs. Once you have served your time as a new pilot, though, the pay scale goes up accordingly. Senior captains for large aircraft can earn more than $200,000 per year. The pay depends on what type of plane you fly, what company you fly for, and the hours and miles that you fly. The median salary in 2004 for commercial pilots came to $53,870. In the best aviation jobs, you can expect benefits that will vary with different employers, but most airlines offer paid vacations, sick leave, retirement, and insurance. Additional perks include reduced airfare for immediate family members and allowances for time away from home.

If you're considering this field, keep in mind that the best aviation jobs are often attained after working your way up the ladder. Don't get discouraged at the seeming lack of commercial pilot jobs; keep your options open by working in aviation contract jobs or alternative airline aviation jobs. The positions you start with now will certainly help you open doors later.
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