Other Routes to a Pilot Job

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Although the ab initio route is an efficient one, it probably will never prove to be the single best route to a major airline for all pilots. Several factors will prevail in creating more than one pool of aviators for national and major airline pilot recruiters.

  • Sheer numbers will dictate that the airlines spread their nets over a wider population than the ab initio programs can cover. If the pool of retiring military pilots cannot keep up with airline hiring needs (and it cannot), then the much smaller pool of fully qualified ab initio pilots cannot hope to do so, even after ab initio programs multiply and mature.

  • Individual preference will continue to be a big factor. Many persons still havea powerful yen for a stint as a military pilot before moving on to civil aviation.

Others have a built-in bias against having their careers stage-managed from day one, preferring a more individualistic course of action.

" Academic and financial barriers will keep many pilot candidates out of the ab initio programs. Only the ablest students are chosen for the programs, but a great many individuals who fall below the level of academic performance demanded by these programs ultimately will make excellent airline pilots.

Similarly, the majority of candidates cannot come up with the $50,000 to $90,000 price of the most extensive ab initio programs. Some of these may find the free training offered by the military to be the best educational avenue available to them, even though this choice means giving Uncle Sam eight years of military service. Other students may prefer the civilian route of training at a flight school or a local airport, then building time through instructing and miscellaneous low-paying flying jobs before latching on with a regional airline, where multi-engine time can be built rapidly. (The latter group can recover some of their training costs from paid flying jobs even as they are working toward being hired by a regional airline.) And there are paths that fall somewhere between the "high road" of ab initio programs and the "low road" of flight school or local airport training, e.g., a pilot might attend one of the many four-year colleges or universities with an aviation program, then get accepted into a transition program of the FlightSafety/TWA type. Moreover, an important question suggests itself: "Who is to say that if you take the 'high road' and I take the 'low road,' I'll not be in Scotland (i.e., the desired major airline position) before ye?"

" Along the same lines, the enormous investment involved in most ab initio programs may never be recouped by many students because they may never be hired by a major airline. As currently operated, ab initio programs are funded by the students, and there is no guarantee of a job offer from the sponsoring airline once a student completes such a program. Then, too, a risk associated with the health requirements for ab initio programs is that the Class I medical, utilized by the program administrators as a health standard, is far less rigorous than the medical requirements of major airlines. The FAA Class I medical is concerned with a pilot's health for six months at a time, whereas airline hiring personnel need to predict a pilot's health over a 30-year time span. A student may pass the Class I with flying colors, then be rejected by a major airline as a health risk. (This factor suggests that a pilot candidate considering the costly ab initio route should take the trouble to undergo a full airline-type medical examination before plunking down all that money.)

If you are one of the vast majority who, for whatever reasons, are opting for r\on-ab initio avenues to their career objectives, you will find the alternatives virtually infinite. First, you get to choose from hundreds of educational possibilities. Then you get to choose from more possible combinations of additional training and experience than you can count.

The military option deserves a few words:

Many pilots have found the armed forces attractive both as a career and as an initial step toward becoming an airline pilot. At one time, the major and national airlines selected 75 percent of their new-hire pilots from this pool of highly trained, experienced pilots. For the first six months of 1989, according to FAPA's tracking of airline hiring, the figure had slipped to 67 percent, and civilian career paths are expected to account for an increasing share of major and national airline hiring in coming years.

If you are considering going into the armed forces for pilot training, note the following:
  • A four-year college degree is required (except in the Army).

  • You must be in an officer training school (OCS) prior to your 27th birthday; you must begin pilot training prior to reaching 27 years and six months of age.

  • A commitment of several years of military service after pilot training is required. The Air Force requires eight years; the Navy, seven; the Coast Guard and Marines, four; and the Army, three.

  • Pilot training lasts 12 to 18 months.

  • You may join the Air National Guard or Reserves (Reserve Components) and obtain your military pilot training under their auspices. By this means, you can receive the same training that an active-duty pilot receives without incurring the active-duty service commitment. Your reserve service commitment after completion of pilot training is five years. Two negative factors apply: Reserve component pilot openings are few, and pilots with previous military experience have an edge in filling them. If you do not have previous military experience, your best bet (a long shot) for filling one of these openings is to join the Reserves as a non-pilot and hope to be chosen for training.
One source of training deserves special note: For the pilot taking an "independent" route to the majors, there is in Atlanta a career counseling firm, Future Aviation Professionals of America (FAPA), from which in-depth training in how to pass muster in simulator and other tests at the airlines is available. FAPA also provides instruction in how to pursue a job with an airline. FAPA's services apply equally well to military and civilian airline pilot candidates.
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