Getting a Flying Job

March 16, 2011 by Bruce Landsberg

How do new pilots get beyond the Catch 22 of the aviation industry? It  goes something like this “You’ve shown some interest and aptitude in learning to fly. We have a position and we’d love to hire you but you don’t have enough experience – come back when you do.” To which the pilot hopeful replies, ” But I can’t get the kind of experience you want without getting hired.” Such is the world of aviation.

Got a note from a helicopter pilot, Barry, who has been trying desperately to break into commercial helicopter operations for several years. This would be a career change for him so he hasn’t had the benefit of military training and paid his own way.  But to go beyond the basics he needs turbine chopper time, which on one’s own nickel is especially daunting, so he hit on a novel idea.

How about the companies offering an internship?  Perhaps it turns out to be more of an apprenticeship. Whether lightly paid or completely volunteer,  the idea is to allow the intern/apprentice to function as a non-required second pilot to gain experience.  If it’s an EMS job, they would learn about that highly specialized environment, could add a set of eyes and hands to a high workload environment. NTSB has called for more flight crew – possible safety benefit?

There are cost, logistics, liability and weight considerations but perhaps  some flight operations might experiment a bit.  It’s a great way to get to know if this is a person you’d like to spend hours in the cockpit with and you’ve had the benefit of training them in your way of doing things. At the Air Safety Institute we’ve had interns for years who have assisted in all manner of activities including flight. Granted, it’s not quite the same thing but the concept has validity. AOPA had hired several and others have gone on to professional aviation jobs.

In a broader sense,  shouldn’t the industry help people who would like to work in it provide at least an open window,  if not a doorway, to enter?

Conversely, there are many people who are looking for flying jobs and have the credentials. Some regional airlines and companies have done a spectacular job balancing their business plans on the hard working backs of folks who just wanted to be the best pilots they could and make a living wage. The more candidates, the greater the competition and potentially the lower the wages. Flying for free or low wages certainly doesn’t help that.

Where’s the balance point?

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • Jack

    Along the same lines, I’ve often wondered what could be done to encourage the mentoring of low-time pilots. In the medical field young doctors go through years of dedicated apprenticeships working on live patients. Why can’t we do the same with the airlines.

    I don’t think the new experience requirements for airlines will actually make air travel that much safer. How much more valuable is 1000 vs. 2000 hours of instruction in Cessna 172s?

    Instead wouldn’t it be better to make the regs about combined flight crew times? So if the FO has less than X PIC and Y in type, then the captain needs to have 5X PIC and 5Y in type (so something similar).

    As a regional jet passenger I’d feel much more comfortable knowing that a very experienced captain is teaching a inexperienced FO in front than having two moderately experienced pilots in front (a la Colgan).

  • Jack

    meant…”or something similar”

  • Patrick Pohler

    I think we also have to face the impact technology is having on flight crews. It used to be you’d have three to four people in the cockpit who could take over flying the aircraft if need be.

    Technology is advancing where in ten-twenty years it might be possible to have only one pilot up front, acting mainly as an orchestrator/fail-safe for the flight and navigation systems (with very little actual “stick” time). How will flight training keep up with that reality?

  • Mike

    I tried this tactic myself when I was a low time pilot trying to get a break. The opportunities are few and far between. Now, as a pilot in a 135 operation that could potentially provide such an opportunity I have to wade through the FAA’s red tape, the constant threat of professional and personal liability, the owner’s fear of personal and professional liability, our client’s needs and perceptions of the safety of our operation. It’s a real buzz kill. I wish I could provide some deserving up-and-coming pilot such an opportunity but how do do it??? Single pilot medical flying is not an ideal place to have potential distractions up front. You really can’t, by regulation, be teaching up there either. Passengers get real cagey when they think the pilot is giving a “flight lesson” to the “co-pilot”. I know this can be done but it requires a lot of cooperation from several uncooperative entities and individuals.

  • Bryan

    I think its more than mentoring. Its the costs that are gonna be the future challenge. I have no idea where the airlines (regionals and majors) will find their future pilots. The question is: where are you going to obtan the minimum hrs for the future requirements? Congress (ie FAA) passed the law that both pilots must have and ATP to flyi in 121 ops. Thats 1500 hrs minimum! Now.. There are those that will pursue the training regardless of the cost but these costs of training are getting so unattainable vs. the compensation expected. A private through commercial is gonna cost somewhere between $40K and $75K ..and that only gets you to 250 hrs. Then you have to pursue some way to get anotehr 1200+ hrs. CFI’ing or banner towing (rare job) to get to 1200+ will take years because most people cannot afford to learn to fly. A good CFI job flys an AVERAGE 20 hrs a week (flying) (at $20 hr). Thats only 20000 mo/ earnings. And Starting FO jobs with the regionals are running $19K-$24k and captain pay averages around $50K. Who is gonna want to spend $100K+ on their flying education + the college tuition required to get hired for a $50k job? Granted you only work 15 days a month, but you will have to bear weekends, holidays, unions, TSA, being away from your wife or family. It sounds glamerous but it isn’t that much after 3 yrs into it. I am an aviation insurance underwriter and I will tell you, Phoenix, Starr, Global , USAIG, Chartis, Aerospace, Berkley, ect will not cover an claim if it foudn that instruction was being given on a Pleasure & business policy. Mentoring sounds good until youplay out the actual costs of doing so.

  • Jay G.

    AOPA would be performing a great service if the organization were to develope a template for internships applicable to corporate and airline operations.

    Not an easy task, but very do-able. Said template would have to address legal, confidentiality issues along with a host of other challenges. If successfully developed, the proposed framework would provide acceptable guidance to large and small flight operations that may not have the resources to develope an acceptable program on their own.

    Approval and endorsement could come from AOPA, NBAA and other organizations, providing a level of comfort to participating flight operations.

    I believe something along these lines could become very popular and fill a serious need that exists for a credible, nationally (inernationally?) recognized mentoring, internship or apprentice program.

    I am willing to work towards developing a program to bring developing aviators into environments where they can be professionally developed……

  • Rashelle

    An internship is a good idea, but I think that the liability concerns may outweigh the potential benefits for most organizations and many would not want to participate in such a program. For those that do, I think it could be a good way for pilots to gain the necessary experience to move up (no pun intended) in their carreer.

    Another way, and it may already be happening, for pilots to get the training they need for an airline job might be for airlines to partner with established aviation schools and universities to come up with specialized training programs. These programs would not only focus on the basics, but would also provide the type of training needed for a pilot to be successful as an airline flight crew member. The airline could award successful applicants scholarships to complete the specialized training, with the stipulation that the student would commit to staying with the company for a certain number of years after they were hired, at a reduced pay rate, to help offset the cost of their training. The regulation for the 1500 hour minimum time requirement could then also be lowered for those that successfully complete the course. There’s a lot of details, legalities, etc., that would need to be worked out, but it’s another option to think about.

  • http://Buz'sPhrophecy Buz Allen

    We all “old timers” know the answer to this question. The supply of pilots will have to dry up to the point which some regional carriers have to shut down! Then the majors will force the politicians to lower the requirments back down!! In the meantime corporate aviation depts will end up with retired airline pilots who won’t have a clue without all of the support depts. they had with their respective airline. The accident stats will get horrid then the knee will jerk once again! Here lies the great delimma, what about all those military trained pilots the airlines benefitted from in decades past? Gone! From 1965 thru 1975 the U.S. Military trained an average 110,000 pilots a year! Last year they trained less than 900!! Yes you read it right 900! The crisis is on the way!! Most airline executives either plan on retiring or passing the Buck!! That’s why all the interest in advanced avioncs and auto-pilots!

  • Mark McCormick

    Bad idea for the pilot population as a whole. Nothing but free labor. Remember when you had to pay $10,000 cash up front to buy an RJ job? Also, that “non-required” pilot can not log the time!

  • grumpy

    The “non-required” pilot can log the time as dual if the right-seater is a CFI.

  • http://N/A Carl Wittfeld

    All of this is pointless, given the astronomical financial burden of obtaining an
    ATP rating. Even if all of your 1500 hours were in a 172 that still comes to a whopping 155,000.00 even at the cheapest of rental rates. All of the programs
    out there require at least a third of that. The bottom line is and has always been money. You have it or you don’t. If you don’t it takes so many years of saving, credit cards, loans, etc, that it often becomes an issue of “I’m wrecking my finances on a pipe dream”. There are freight haulers out there who will hire a relatively inexperienced pilot with “1200” hours, to fly a Cessna 210 for 24,000.00 a year. Quite a slap in the face considering it will take the rest of your life to pay off the loans, let alone putting bread on the table. And I do mean bread. That don’t include much protein. I am very lucky to have a license and an instructor who is also a friend. He has always spent more time with me than he charges for and I have always helped him take care of his aircraft. It has always been the tyranny of money that prohibits good learning and teaching,
    and not just in aviation. There is a local flight school that is slowly going under, even though their rates are some of the lowest in the area. It is simply not financially feasible to run an aviation training business in the midwest. The school actually survives by the charters it provides. They have taken out of service at least two of their aircraft and others are owned by other parties and
    used on a leaseback arrangement. Unless you are 16 and have your whole life ahead of you, live at home, and have no family to support, it is for all intents and purposes impossible to afford. Pilot training loans are aroud 18$% which is the same as a credit card rate. Again, you will be in retirement paying off all the loans instead of enjoying it. One more thing GPS is not GOD. When the lights go out and the autopilot/GPS/G1000 goes dead, the only thing left to fly with is the seat of your pants/pilotage/basic flight skills. How many new pilots are trained to do that. No common sense/situation awareness/basic stick and rudder equals lots of NTSB/finger pointing/insurance claims/death. If you are a slave to your cellphone/electronic gadgets, you are crippled by them. In my office many hours are wasted waiting on technology, because it is not upgraded/maintained properly. Again, the bottom line is money. Penny pinching/dollar short/wasted time and money simply because of misplaced priorities.

  • Don Waldschmidt

    You are all way out fo my league in experience and knowledge but once upon a time I had aspirations of aviation being my bread and butter as well as my passion. I became a helicopter mechanic in the Army, attended an A&P trade school at Willowrun airport near Ypsilanti, Michigan, earned my A&P and my Private Pilot license in 1980 and 81. I don’t really have anything to contribute to the discussion but will forever be looking to the skies and wondering… maybe, just maybe I could’ve…

  • Anthony

    If Doctors can find a way to make it (the internships and apprenticeships) work in their litigation obsessed world of high liability and insurance…. There must be a way for us. I am in agreement with the i high time pilot crewed with a lowtime pilot to meet a total cockpit time requirement vs a per individual time req. nothing better than the old training the new while the new “refreshes” training the old forgot, lol :)

  • Jeff Veers

    I think a defined mentoring program for all levels of aviation training could go a long way to increase the efficacy of flight training and movement into aviation careers. One way to bring the cost burden of pursuing an aviation career down from prohibitive levels is to reduce the flight time we currently deem necessary to develop good judgment.

    Current regulations make it inevitable that we wind up with novice CFIs populating FBOs and Flight Schools around the country and tasked with teaching the next generation of pilots, often with little or no guidance from seasoned professionals. If these CFIs are deemed unworthy of contributing in the right seat of a commercial flight crew, why in the world are they considered worthy of rearing someone with zero experience? What we see is the result, newly minted commercial pilots who need another 1000 hours of trial and error experience before they are deemed capable.

    Moving out of this paradigm will require regulatory reform, and data to support modifying insurance underwriting. I think a nationally recognized certification/review of instructors that goes well above and beyond FAA standards is necessary to ensure the right skills are being developed and honed throughout the training process. There also needs to be a financial incentive for career professionals to seek certification and train future professionals. How to make it happen is beyond the scope of this discussion, but there is no reason to believe we can’t develop the flying and decision making skills necessary to serve as SIC in two hundred hours. We need a more disciplined approach than we currently have.

  • Bob

    I’m one of those guys that invested $75K in flight training. Lured by the rumor back in 1993 that there were going to be a shortage of pilots positions because the Viet Nam era pilots, who fly for the regeonals, well be retireing. Not enough flight time? no job. No job? no flight time. It all boils down to money. No aircraft owner, investing hundred of thousands of dollars on his piece of machinary, is going to give away flight time. Especialy if it cost him/her money for the upkeep. Everything “aviation” is VERY EXPENSIVE!! The aviation pilot industry has been forced to limited itself to the very rich and the ex-military. I pitty the pilot who paid his own way through aviation school. Living with resentment is tough.