So now that you got yourself a Commercial Pilot Certificate or CPL as it is known outside of the United States, how do you go about building that flight time or flight experience to make it to that first airline pilot job interview? Airline hiring has traditionally been a roller-coaster ride. There are times when even the pilots with a few weeks old commercial certificate get hired immediately by a Regional Airline, and then there are times like right now that it is almost impossible to even find an airline employer that is even accepting job applications. This has been the way of an airline pilot job prospective ever since the dawn of commercial aviation, and probably will `always be the same.
What do we do in the meanwhile, until that first airline job? We “build time” or flight experience, and keep doing it until we achieve our goal. Here are a few popular ways that airline pilots have traditionally used to gain that well needed flight time before they got hired:
- Flight Instructor: Becoming a flight instructor has been one of the top choices for time building since a long time now. And if you ask me, it is one of the best ways, as you not only build that pilot time, but you gain valuable real life aviation experience. The more you teach, the more you learn. And any employer, including the airlines value the flight experience gained as a flight instructor.
- Banner Tow Pilots: If you live in or close to a metropolitan like San Francisco, you can find yourself a job (mostly part time) as a banner tow pilot. These jobs are mostly seasonal and on call type, and the pay rate can vary on either side of the peak. However, it is a great experience, and lots of fun. You won’t get rich at this job, but if you end up with the right company, you can expect pretty consistent flight time.
- Aerial Photography: Similar to the Banner Tow pilot job, but if you can market yourself the proper way (nowadays with the internet it is not as difficult as it used to be), you can pick up quiet a few clients. And who are your clients? Well, could be the photographers, marketing companies, and a lot of others as well. And if you want to go the easy way, just find a job with an existing aerial photography company in your area.
- Glider Tow Pilots: Gliders can be launched up in the air by various means, like winch tow, self launch, rocket propelled etc. However one of the most commonly used method is aero-launch, where a powered aircraft “pulls” the glider with a tow and takes it up to a certain altitude before the glider pilot releases the tow hitch. Busy over the weekends, and in the summers. And they always need pilots. Pay is usually not the greatest, but hey, it is always a fun weekend, and occasional glider rides as well.
- Skydiver Pilots: Similar to the Glider Tow pilot job. Launch skydivers up there instead of the gliders, and again busy during the weekends and holidays, and occasional chances at skydiving yourself.
- Traffic Watch Pilots: The companies who provide traffic watch aircraft and pilots usually are contracted by the local news and/or law enforcement agencies. These jobs are usually pretty consistent (scheduling and pay), and normally can get you a pretty consistent flow of flight time. 4-6 hours a day, 5 days a week is the average. And you can find them in just about any metro area.
- Safety Pilot: This is not really a job, but can always add some flight time in your logbook. Use a blog, or a pilot forum and offer your services as a safety pilot to instrument rated, or current instrument student pilots. Use simple business cards to hand out at the local aviation safety meetings, or post them over at the local FBO bulletin boards. The trick here would be to stand out from among the crowd. Offer the advantages of why you and not the other guy, and you will see occasionally opportunities coming your way. The best thing I have always liked about this way: as most pilots contacting you would be aircraft owners, you will get to experience all kinds of makes and models, big and small aircraft.
- Aircraft Ferry Pilots: There are companies who can hire you as a ferry pilot. I know a few myself. But, my suggestion here is: contact as many aircraft dealers as possible, and introduce yourself. These folks are usually the first ones who know about an upcoming ferry request, and usually are the ones who recommend it to the new aircraft owners. A few relationships can turn into great cross-country time for you. And you get to stay in nice motels / hotels all over the country, and if you get lucky, even internationally. I know of pilots (former students of mine) who have delivered general aviation aircraft half way across the globe!
- Aircraft Sales: Working as an aircraft sales person always gets you some flight time as a result of demonstration flights. And usually pays good if you can sell aircraft as well. There are a lot of pilots who have accepted these jobs as a full time career, and are happy with it.
- Charter Pilots: Air Ambulance, bank checks, cargo operators, courier sub-contractors, fractional ownership management, and similar part 135 operators are available all over the country. Pick the one you think you can work with, and offer your services. Negotiations and relationships can go long ways in these kinds of jobs. Really, there is no limit, and tremendous growth potential for the right candidate here.