Making the decision to enroll in a flight training program is the first step into a career position that can be rewarding on many levels. At some point during that training experience, you may find yourself wondering, how do I get from where I am to the flying job I really want?
Like any other business, aviation offers entry level positions where you can gain the experience you need to move up in the world. The pay isn’t on the scale of a Hollywood A-lister, but for the first time in your career you can find yourself being paid to fly rather than paying to fly.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few entry level pilot positions. Some are obvious while others may be opportunities you’ve never considered. All of them exist in the real world, however. And all of them will provide you with the opportunity to fly professionally. You will be earning money, building time, gaining experience, and expanding your network of industry contacts along the way. As a bonus, all of these jobs are available without attending college.
Certificated Flight Instructor
Perhaps the most common entry level pilot job is the one you are already the most familiar with. Just as you have had CFIs beside you throughout your training, you can offer those same services to others. Not only will you derive a paycheck from your work as a CFI, you’ll find the work familiar and gratifying since you’ve just come out of a very similar program. It will also likely be your first experience flying from the right seat while logging time as Pilot in Command.
Glider Tow Pilot
You’ll need to add-on a glider rating to your commercial certificate for this one. But that’s generally seen as a thoroughly enjoyable process to fly without the benefit of an engine. A little extra training to become a tow pilot opens up the door to spending your free days towing your fellow glider pilots aloft. Sometimes these positions are paid, and sometimes your tow time is rewarded with free glider time. Either way you’re logging PIC time that you don’t have to pay a dime to get.
Skydiving is a popular activity that sportsmen and women travel widely to participate in. All those skydivers need someone at the controls of their jump airplane in order to get the altitude they need to enjoy their chosen activity. The training program is short and the fun factor of piloting these flights is high. A visit to your local jump school just might be the key to finding a new opportunity to be handed the keys to an airplane you’ll fly as a commercial pilot.
Airplanes move from one place to another. That’s their primary function. Finding somebody to fly that airplane from a maintenance base back to the owner’s home field sometimes requires a ferry pilot. Similarly, if Party A sells their airplane to Party B who lives several states away, Party B may very well hire a ferry pilot to pick up the airplane and deliver it. Whether operating independently, or as a contractor for an aircraft ferry provider, or under the employment of a company that moves aircraft from place to place, taking your turn as a ferry pilot can give you some great experience in a variety of aircraft, while allowing you to see the country on somebody else’s dime.
Part 135 Second in Command
The airlines (Part 121) require pilots to hold an ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) certificate with 1,000 hours or more. Charter operators (Part 135) allow commercial pilots to take the right seat to serve as second in command while a more experienced pilot logs PIC time from the left seat. This may be in aircraft with reciprocating engines, turboprops, or turbine power. Many are multi engine equipment which allows the right seat pilot to gain valuable experience, earn a paycheck, and work their way toward the left seat over time.
There are many more entry level pilot positions to consider, all of which you can begin preparing yourself to fill while you are in flight school. The key is to start. You can never tell for sure where that first training flight will eventually take you. Whatever you might choose to do, you can enter flight training knowing that within a year you very well could be earning your living at the controls of an airplane.
Onward and upward!