Building Time

Today’s young pilots face the same age-old number one question as pilots in the last century: namely – how do I get a job?

Of course, as it was in the Twentieth Century, so it is in the 21st. New pilots find themselves caught in the exact Catch-22 as older pilots when they first started in the business. Many have pondered, I need experience to get a job, but I need a job to gain experience.

This is the old classic chicken and egg conundrum. There is, however, another piece of the puzzle involving new regulations and insurance requirements.

Because of more restrictive insurance criteria, the first “stepping stone” flying jobs are now more difficult to obtain. Additionally, more young pilots having exposure to the more “interesting” aviation jobs are dissatisfied with the idea of working for a living. Some even believe they should have the right to fly jets for an air carrier the moment they finish their commercial checkride.

Projected pilot job growth between now and 2018 is eight percent in the airline industry and 19 percent for other commercial pilot positions. Most young people dream of flying Boeing 700 series airliners and there is nothing wrong with this dream. However, they should not overlook the possibilities of finding great happiness in other fields of flying.

A new pilot with a freshly inked commercial pilot certificate sometimes feels overly important. Consequently, they may believe they are above working the menial jobs of aviation. They refuse to work what is probably the best, most important and underpaid job in the business: flight instructing.

Flight instructing is a position offering great time building, but little money. Like teachers everywhere, a flight instructor holds one of the most demanding and important positions in aviation, for which he or she never earns their worth.

Two things about flight instructing are worth mentioning. The first is that new instructors learn more about flying than they teach their students. Secondly, teaching allows pilots to form life long bonds with their students and other aviators.

If a young person is not interested in flight instructing, there are other ways to build time for the airlines. One may become a charter pilot, but obtaining a charter pilot position may also prove somewhat difficult.

To act as the pilot in command of a Part 135 charter flight, you have to look at the regulations. Part 135 PIC requirements include a minimum of 1200 hours total flight time. We come back to the question of how to get the experience and therefore a job.

Other early flying jobs include sightseeing flights, banner towing, and flying skydivers. All of these positions the airlines will tolerate, but airline chief pilots are typically looking for more in the way of experience.

I often think back on one young pilot who was anticipating a career with United Airlines. After 4000 hours as a flight instructor, he became discouraged and gave his notice. He had no job prospects and no idea of what he was going to do. He did take some time to vacation with his family in Alaska.

While there, he inquired about bush flying. He found a position with an operator and gained experience in the Alaskan wilds. He learned the trade and long story short, bought his own operation. Before long, he was hiring other pilots and having the time of his life.

When the airline hiring boom started up again, when told United would be interested in him, his reply? “Why would I want to take a pay cut, work longer hours, live in a crash pad, and have my schedule dictated to me?

“Besides, I wouldn’t be able to fish salmon and hunt elk when I’m not flying.”

If you are a young pilot looking for opportunity, don’t close your eyes to things you think you may not enjoy.


© 2010 J. Clark

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4 Responses to Building Time

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  2. midlifepilot says:

    Joe, enjoyed this post. I’m in the interesting position to learning to fly at the age of 40 (or about to), but only for recreational purposes. I toyed with the idea of flying as a career (pilot shortage in Australia back in 2007) but abandoned the idea as too costly and not compatible with my family’s needs.

    Frankly, I would love to do flying instruction on a semi-retirement basis in years to come. Little pay, absolutely, but great learning I would think.

  3. Joe Clark says:

    Welcome to the post. Flying for “only for recreational purposes” is possibly, the most important reason for flying. And flying as a flight instructor, well, yes, sometimes it can be a low-paying position, but only if we, the flight instructors, allow it. I have always found it interesting that a piano teacher who essentially has no risk in that position, makes more money than a flight instructor who has the responsibility of an expensive airlpane and the lives within.

    In the flight instruction business, the way to make a living with it is by specializing in a particular aspect of flying (aerobatics, GPS instruction, mountain flying instruction) and charge accordingly.

    Good luck with your endeavors; and keep me posted on your progress – I’ll be following your blog also.

  4. midlifepilot says:

    Thanks Joe. I’ve got about 6 weeks to go until my training starts and will be blogging regularly then. Currently sorting out a training plan and finding an instructor from my club’s pool of 19. And figuring out how to balance maximum time out at the airport with my family responsibilities (3 kids, 1 each in long day care, school and high school).

    Way I see it, I’ll always fly for the sheer love and joy of it – so yes, probably the best of all possible reasons to fly. But I would love to turn a quid at it in later life if I can do some instruction. Time and financial challenges though, of course – this means I would need to do CPL and instructor rating. But then again, I never thought I’d be learning to fly at the relatively young age of 40, and here I am about to do just that, so you never know …

    Interesting your comments on flight instruction. It seems extremely poorly paid here in Australia also. Clearly many younger instructors use it as a vehicle to build hours as they prepare for careers in the airlines. But there are also plenty of older ones as well. The ones I am getting to know, instruction is only part of their overall income stream – others do theory instruction, writing, all manner of stuff.

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