Landing a Range of Pilot Jobs

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Little has been said so far about how pilots commence their aviation careers. Many pilots start out their professional aviation careers as flight instructors at airports close to their homes. (This, of course, requires commercial and flight instructor ratings, as well as a medical certificate.) They also may fly sightseeing trips, haul skydivers, tow gliders or banners, fly pipeline patrol, crop dust, ferry aircraft, contract themselves to various aircraft owners, volunteer for humanitarian flight agencies (e.g., Angel Plane, Flight for Life), fly charters or freight, fly corporate, fly for a commuter. They can scan the Trade-A-Plane publication for job opportunities during visits to a local FBO, check newspapers for possible job listings, check with county or state agencies for flying jobs (police, fire, traffic control).

Sources for information about who is hiring include Aviation Week & Space Technology, The Wall Street Journal, local newspapers, Janice Barden's Corporate Aviation Agency (for those seeking corporate jobs), FAPA's Career Pilot Job Report, and FAPA's Career Pilot Magazine. Air Transport World has long been a standard among monthly commercial aviation publications, while a more recent rival is Airline Executive', Commuter Air Magazine was adopted in 1988 by the Regional Airline Association as a monthly forum; and Business/Commercial Aviation has the advantages of experienced staff and coverage of both corporate and airline flying (particularly of the smaller airlines). All of these magazines can prove valuable in keeping a pilot informed about who is expanding, who is cutting back, and who is more likely to be hiring. They also add to a pilot's store of information about particular airlines and other companies.

A valuable source of information for corporate jobs is the pilot grapevine.



Why are all of these sources of information important? Easy: Because they can help you gain the flying experience needed for your ultimate piloting career destination.

There are several speedy routes to a major or national airline seat. If you would like to obtain an aviation-related degree, there are over 30 colleges and universities that offer aviation bachelor degrees and more than 80 schools that offer a two-year associate degree. Some of the colleges include flight training as part of the degree program; others do not. Much will depend on your preference of airline to make a career with, but if you plan right, you can reach your career goal in the minimum time.

In fact, in the late 1980s, a few of the major carriers became so intent on protecting themselves against any pilot shortage and on providing stability at the regional airlines which fed passengers to them that they took initiatives to provide career tracks. Some of these tracks begin with enrollment at a university that has a good aviation school, funnel students through regionals, and culminate with a successful candidate's hiring by the major carrier from an affiliated or owned commuter. Note the word' successful.' Nobody involved with an ab initio program is guaranteeing anybody a job.

Ab initio means "from the beginning." Not all the track systems start there; some begin later in the pilot's career - after the pilot has acquired the ratings and experience to be hired by a regional carrier.

Some of the major airlines went even further, actually giving a seniority number as soon as a pilot took a seat with one of the major's feed carriers. If you are on such a program and are accepted later at the affiliated major, the seniority number carries over to your career with the major airline. The first major airlines to establish such track systems were Pan Am and Continental.

That seniority number is a great carrot. All airlines base promotions and pay increases on a seniority system. Such a system is keyed to date of hire and governs an entire career. Pay, trips, vacations, time off, etc., are determined through a bidding system that lets the most senior pilots choose first; then the junior pilots get what is left. You will find seniority governing your career even at those companies without labor unions. Consequently, you need to reach your career-goal airline as soon as possible. You cannot advance your position within the company by your individual accomplishments; only seniority counts.

Schooling is far more important than many pilots realize. So are ratings and other factors. Too many pilots overstress the importance of total time as they compete for jobs. Usually, once a pilot has between 2,000 and 3,000 hours, his or her competitiveness is not greatly increased by adding flight time. The most important factors then become additional ratings, inside contacts, education, the kind of equipment flown, and the time spent in the job search.

The other thing to remember about flight time is the value of the right kind of flying experience. The best experience background you can have is to fly equipment comparable to that flown by the airline at which you are applying, and over a wide route structure. While it is not essential, experience carrying passengers is preferred by the passenger airlines. The closer your background is to the actual airline operation, the better your chances of being hired.

For the military pilot, this could mean flying C-141s, C-9s and other modern jet aircraft. Large turboprops, such as the C-130, also would be good choices.

For the civilian pilot, the best choice would be to land a job with a good commuter airline flying sophisticated turbine equipment or a corporate job flying jet equipment.

Remember, evaluation is always comparative because you are going up against a lot of other applicants.
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