10 ways to build Flight Time for Airline Pilot Job

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

11 thoughts on “10 ways to build Flight Time for Airline Pilot Job”

  1. A friend (and former student) of mine, he put the word out to some bigger aircraft dealers that he is available to ferry airplanes for new owners. In less than a month, one dealer called him and asked him if he could ferry a brand new SR-20 from California to India!! As he had never flown an SR-20 before, they even paid for his checkout/TAA training, and he flew their Cirrus to India! And now he turns down some business as he doesn't have enough time. He ended up working as a chief pilot for the new owner that he was ferrying for. 🙂

  2. Its great. Whats the experience people look to ferry planes. I have just 250 hrs TT with IR and ME (FAA & Indian DGCA CPL). What are the options available to build time for low time pilots like me. I know in India Club one Air got new SR 20. I think that swhere your friend got the job. Anyway whats his name?

  3. Nitin, pro-activeness, persistence, and connections is the name of the game in aviation. I will write another detailed post on options for "low time" pilots like yourself shortly. Checkout climbto350.com and such sites. You will see that there is a lot of demand for FAA CFIs in the middle-east, China and South-East Asia. Don't forget that one of the reasons why we chose to be pilots is the love for traveling the world. Look beyond the comforts of your home (country) and you will find what you've been looking for. And because there are very few who actually do this, this is why there are a few who succeed.. … even in hard times. I will forward your comment to the pilot friend who works for Club One (privacy) and let him decide whether he wants to connect publicly or not. But one thing is for sure, even he looked beyond his comfortable home country to land himself the job. Keep up the good work on your blog….and build connections.

  4. Hello,
    I am Vassil Spirtov,the foreign guy from Bulgaria that called you today late in the morning.I am sorry about that I wasn’t able to send you the letter earlier today,because I had a flight that time.So here is a brief list representing all the ratings and diplomas I had so far:
    1)I was enrolled to study at a Vocational School of Civil Engineering in my country in 1996 and after four year course of study I graduated from there in 2000 with diploma of specialised secondary education which is similar to the high school diplomas in the USA.After I graduated that school I became a Technician in Civil Engineering and Architecture.In addition I finished manager’s training course related to the civil engineering in the same school so I was awarded the qualification of Middle Manager.
    I don’t know if you really need to know about my high school education since this what I used to study there is not related to the aviation and particulary to the pilot’s occupation but this is part of my personal story and I think I should mention it.
    2)In March 2001 I started my regular military service as a soldier from the infantry in Bulgaria and I finished it in December the same year
    3)Next year,2002,during the summer time I applied for the National Military University-the Faculty of Aviation and I was accepted for a four year degree of study there.In 2006 I graduated from the Military University and I was promoted into the rank of lieutenant.I got a diploma for a higher education with the degree of Bachelor.My major degree course from the Military University is Navigation Officer-Air Traffic Controller and my civil specialty is Automation,Information and Control Equipment but I used only my major degree course from the Unoversity.After I graduated from the University I have been serving for around two years(2006-the end of 2008) as a Military Air Traffic Controller and I used to provide air traffic control services for the air tactical and air interception training for fighter from the Bulgarian Air Force and the air forces of other NATO countries.My country’s been a NATO member for more then five years and our Air Force participate in a lot of cooperation trainings with other countries members of NATO.In 2008 a great political changes took place in my country ans as a result the Bulgarian Government and more exactly the Bulgarian Ministry of Defense decided to reduce the Air Force military staff since the tendency for Bulgaria as a NATO member was to have a less number of military personnel.So,I was one of the many young lieutenants that had to live the army.
    4)In November 2009 I got my First Class Medical Certificate which conforms with the JAR-FCL requirements since Bulgaria is a member of the European Union.After I successfully got my first medical I enrolled JAA ATPL ground school in a Private College of Transportation and after six months of study there I finished and got a certificate for successfull completion of the ATPL ground school.
    5)In September 2010 I chose United Flight Systems in Spring, Texas as my future flight school in the USA and I started the application process for my M-1 visa status through the US Embassy in my country.I was approved for one-year M-1 visa which was issued to me in the first days of November and I arrived in the USA,Houston at 16th of November last year.
    6)I got my FAA First Class Medical Certificate at the end of November last year and I started flying.So far I got my Private,Instrument and Commercial Single Engine Ratings.In July I got my Spin Endorsement and last month I started my Commercial Multi Instrument training.I would finish so far my training but the twin-engine airplanes in my school experienced a long-term maintenance that’s why I am a bit late with finishing my training.I did all my training under Part61 and I am very close to pass my Commercial Multi Instrument Checkride,probably in a week or two.At the end I will get around 270 flight hours.
    This is my experience so far.I would appreciate if you guys over here suggest me of what could be the best I can do for my future pilot career.I am willing to work anywhere and I accept advice and comments from everyone.
    Please,do not hesitate to contatct me,I prefer through my e-mail.


  5. hi iflyasa. im kunal. i completed my cpl in 2010 . i have india cpl and philpines cpl.can u suggest me the job vececies whr i apply. i still jobless

  6. Hi guys,
    What is better? FAA or JAA license? In the Middle East, JAA seems to be more in demand. ..any views? Its all about the first breakthough!

  7. Ferry a SR20 from california to India must have been a fair effort. I wonder how long it took him + number of fuel stops. I work for a manufacturer myself & ferry aircraft across Australia. Some from east coast – west coast taking upto 20hrs – 25 hrs in flight time. My best was had to deliver one to west and bring one back to east for another customer. 37 hrs flying in 4 days…was sick of flying after that for couple of days..:)