The equipment involved in corporate flying encompasses a wider range of aircraft than that perhaps of any other segment of the aviation industry. A corporate airplane may be a Cessna 172; it may be a B-727. Although the corporate segment of aviation does include single-engine aircraft operations, this chapter will be addressed primarily to flight operations using at least a cabin class twin or helicopters.
When considered against the goal of gaining valuable overall flight time, the amount of flying available in the corporate segment is very limited. Corporate pilots accumulate flight time slowly: The average monthly flight time accrual is 20 to 30 hours.
When major airlines are hiring, there are more corporate positions open than normal since many corporate pilots are hired by the airlines, leaving vacancies in corporate flight departments. Yet the corporate field is hard to penetrate simply because it is a system that operates through a close-knit network. Usually, openings for corporate flying jobs are not advertised. Generally, a pilot is hired upon referral by another pilot.
Corporate pilots have varied backgrounds. Some pilots have come from the military, while others have come up through the civilian ranks. In many cases, getting the job is more "Who do you know?" or being in the right place at the right time than just meeting the minimum requirements. Most corporations prefer experience in the aircraft they fly, but this does not exclude a pilot from being hired if he does not have the experience. Personality and knowing the right people can overcome some lack of experience.
Being hired by a Fortune 500 company often is more difficult to accomplish than being hired by a major airline. Mailing lists of corporate operators are sold in most aviation publications, creating a tremendous flow of resumes and letters. The companies cannot handle the flow of paper, so by and large, it is ignored. In most cases, corporations prefer to hire people already living in the area where the flight department is based; management has less fear of losing such individuals to other corporate flight departments or to an airline.
With respect to attracting and retaining pilots, corporate job conditions play an important role in a pilot's making a career as a corporate aviator. Those items important to an airline pilot may not be as important to the corporate pilot (e.g., pass privileges). The corporate pilot's lifestyle is different, and this job may not be for everybody. It does, however, offer some interesting opportunities that appeal more to some people than does airline flying.
Although a commercial license with an instrument and multi-engine rating is all that the FAA requires, an ATP is generally preferred by most corporate operations. As with most types of flying, the more ratings, the better. Most corporations also prefer a type rating in a large jet or turboprop aircraft, especially if they are flying jet equipment. Corporations tend to shy away from pilots with Flight Engineer written exams or ratings because of the possibility that they may leave for an airline when the chance comes.
Some corporate flight departments are operated similarly to the flight operations of small airlines. They have a number of scheduled routes, with only a few unscheduled flights in relation to normal total flying per month. The pilots have scheduled flights and scheduled days off. They also are rotated through "on call" or "reserve" for those last-minute, unscheduled trips that occasionally come up.
On the other hand, most corporate operations have very few prescheduled trips. If you fly for one of them, you will remain on call during most of the month. Scheduled days off are fewer and more difficult to arrange. This does not mean you will fly every day, but being on standby does restrict your activities. Usually, the bigger the flight department, the closer the scheduling is to that of an airline.
Since corporate flight operations are run on a businessman's schedule, layovers are few. In most cases, a pilot is home every night, and flying on holidays is rare. A corporate pilot usually can expect more waiting time at the destination. If company executives are flown in for a meeting, a pilot may be expected to wait for hours until the meeting adjourns and the executives are off to another meeting or returning home.
Occasionally, some of these waiting periods may turn into company-paid vacations. If there is an extended meeting (say two or three days) and there is room on the plane, the corporation may allow you to bring your spouse along. Once you arrive and the plane is parked, you are given a time for the return flight and then released for the rest of the time to enjoy yourself. Although not all companies do this, it is a nice benefit when available.
This varies as widely as the type of equipment flown and the area of the country in which the flight department is headquartered. Generally, the pay is highest in the Northeast and lowest in the Southeast and matches the cost of living in each area.
Although most corporations have a seniority system, it usually is not as rigidly followed as the systems at airlines. Promotion usually is based on merit, not seniority.