Much has been made of the new federal aviation regulations that require new airline pilots to have at least 1,500 hours. This is really no different than the way the old supply-and-demand system used to work. By that I mean that fewer than 20 years ago, a budding airline pilot wasn’t getting hired unless his or her logbook showed this kind of time or close to it. It’s only been in the last 10 to 12 years that we saw the serious decline in total hours among new-hire pilots—to the point that they were getting hired at 250 hours of total time.
If you are looking to get hired at the regionals, the best route to the 1,500 hours is flight instructing (this assumes you don’t qualify for one of the total time reductions). As a busy CFI, you can rack up 700 to 800 hours a year, and you can do it without paying for it. That alone will give you an idea of how much you can expect to fly as a professional pilot. Regional pilots can expect to average 800 hours a year once they are no longer on reserve.
At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, back in the day, teaching is what we did to earn our time.
What’s more important is that you find a way to take advantage of that gap in hours. If you have students who can afford it or are adventurous, try to arrange for some fairly long cross-country trips. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that you try to rip someone off or take advantage of them, but if you can meet a legitimate teaching need while fulfilling other obligations, you might be able to reach a mutually beneficial end point.
For example, I had a student who wanted to go to EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh one year, and he wanted to take his girlfriend and a buddy. They were retired, and affording it was not a concern. The only airplane that would work was a twin-engine Piper Aztec. As a result, my boss and I went along, and so did my girlfriend. The airplane was loaded up, and off we went. I flew the entire trip and picked up a dozen or so hours of much-needed multiengine time, along with great cross-country and real IFR experience, and it didn’t cost me a dime except for my food. My student even covered my housing.
The following year, I had another student who had bought a warbird Cessna 172 and wanted to fly to Oshkosh. Once again, I was intimately involved in the planning and logistics. She flew under Foggles for most of the round trip, and this time I also got paid for the time I was there (I was busy enough at the school that I couldn’t afford to leave and not get paid for missed work).
Advertise your services to local newspapers that need aerial photos, and look for opportunities to fly actual IFR as much as possible. Go into complex airspace, and get some night experience. If you have a client who is buying an airplane (or delivering one), try to get a ride.
The gap between getting your commercial and CFI is your chance to shine. Do what you can to make your experience stand out. This will not only help you get a job, but it will also help prevent burnout and boredom from doing the same thing every day. Polish your customer service skills and expand your knowledge. Be ready and able to answer any questions any client or student might have, especially if they are in the market to buy an airplane.
It sounds daunting to get the 1,500 hours to get hired, and if you need to pay-as-you-go, it is. But if you can get paid and get great experience, then it’s not only doable, it’s fun, exciting, and a grand opportunity. Take advantage of it!—By Chip Wright