Every airline pilot can fly—or at least it’s assumed that they can. When you are pursuing a job, the basic assumption is that you can aviate with a certain degree of competency, and that you are trainable. The real question for many interviewers is simple: What else do you bring to the table? What skills do you have? What problems can you help us solve?
Pilots are an amazing bunch of people. The wealth of talent and knowledge in other fields that I have seen in this industry never fails to amaze me. One young lady at Comair was not only going through the stress of new-hire training, but she also took the bar exam during training. I can’t imagine such a divergent set of demands on her time. I’ve known pilots who have been lawyers, pharmacists, insurance agents, and members of all kinds of music bands. Many are mechanics, and a lot own their own businesses outside of flying.
When you are interviewing for any flying job, be it for an airline or a corporation or a sky-diving job, don’t hesitate to mention your other skills and attributes. Often, that kind of flexibility will pay off, and it may be just what the employer is looking for. In fact, the smaller the company, the more important it is for you to be a jack-of-all-trades. A great example is AOPA. Not all of the employees are pilots, but all of the pilots can do more than fly.
If you get hired by a regional but aspire to a major, one of the best things you can do is to get involved in other “stuff.” There are usually all kinds of arenas you can dive into. You might help in the training department with rewriting or doing initial writing of material; safety departments need all kinds of inputs; ASAP and FOQA programs need people to do data analysis, interviews, and interfacing with other airlines. The list goes on. You should fly as much as you can, because if you want to get to a major, you’ll need to average at least 200 to 300 hours a year, but you can still make a meaningful contribution outside of the cockpit.
Another area where you can volunteer is with the pilots’ union. Much of what the union does mirrors the company structure, especially in safety and training, and airlines and the unions often work hand in hand on major initiatives. Depending on the position you volunteer for, the union may pay for advanced training in such areas as accident investigation or aeromedical services. All of these will round you out as an individual and make your resume shine. Further, you will be marketable as more than a pilot. I know of two that were union safety volunteers that went on to work for the NTSB. Another got a prestigious job with Boeing, and yet another went to the MITRE Corporation. And, of course, many realized their dreams and went on to fly at the majors.
Ask yourself what you bring to the table that someone else doesn’t. If the answer is not as fulfilling as you’d like it to be, start working on changing that. You can focus on aviation or non-aviation pursuits and interests, but the big thing is to just get started. To borrow from the old Army ad campaign, you need to be all you can be, and that does not just mean as a pilot.—Chip Wright