Alternative Piloting Careers

by Lauren Burmester

picThe typical path to becoming an airline pilot involves starting as a student pilot to complete FAA certifications (Private, Instrument, Multi-engine, Commercial, Instructor, Airline Transport Pilot, etc.).  Once all required certifications have been obtained the pilot then continues to fly on their own to gain hours or becomes a flight instructor.  Flying on your own time can become extremely expensive to accumulate hours.  Flight instructing is the most popular and economical method to build hours and get paid while doing it.  All pilots flying for hire must obtain a Commercial or Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate.   What about piloting careers outside the airlines?

A corporate pilot flies aircraft owned by businesses and corporations.  They transport company executives and employees on cross-country flights.  A corporate pilot will arrange for in-flight passenger meals and ground transportation at destinations.   They are also responsible for supervising the servicing and maintenance of the aircraft as well as keeping aircraft records. The job is often demanding and challenging, as the pilot is expected to fly in all kinds of weather into many unfamiliar airports. The aircraft may be a light twin-engine plane, a small executive jet, or even an airliner. The pilot is on call as needed by the company executives, so they are subject to irregular hours.  If the company owns a fleet of planes, pilots may fly a regular schedule.  As with becoming an airline pilot, you will need to build your hours before obtaining a job as a corporate pilot.

A charter pilot or air taxi pilot flies paying passengers for on short trips over varying routes in light aircraft such as single engine or light twin engine planes.  Most charter companies want new pilots who have already acquired their ATP with at least 3,000 flight hours.   Charter pilots will need to have a strong background in customer service as they work closely with their passengers coordinating ground transportation and special requests from their customers.  These pilots fly passengers and cargo as service demands.  Flights are mostly of short duration and pilots can count on returning home at the end of the working day.  If the pilot works for a company with a fleet of aircraft, they may fly on regular schedules over the same routes, much like a small airline.

Cargo or freight pilots fly mail, packages, freight, cargo, perishable items, etc.  In the United States there are few major companies that fly strictly cargo, such as:  FedEx, UPS, and DHL.  These companies primarily fly large jet aircraft.  Some of the smaller cargo companies may fly twin-engines, turbo props, or small jet aircraft.  Cargo pilots typically fly late nights and early mornings from 9pm to 7am.  The path to becoming a cargo pilot is a little lengthier than becoming an airline pilot.  Major cargo companies are looking for experienced pilots to fly for them.  Typical experience could include flying for a regional airline as a captain or a major airline as a first officer.  Major cargo companies are not willing to hire pilots who have built their time solely from flight instructing experience.

Becoming a pilot for a government agency or the military is a little different and has its own challenges.  To become a military pilot, you must be a member of the military.  Typically, with the exception of the Army, you will have to be a commissioned officer to be a pilot.  This can be achieved in several ways.  You can enroll in ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) through Embry-Riddle and compete for a flight slot.  Keep in mind that you are not guaranteed a flight slot, and you could potentially be placed in a non-flying position if the military is not looking for pilots at that time.  If ROTC is not an option you can join a Reserve or Guard unit after you complete your bachelor’s degree. Obtaining a piloting position in the Reserves or Guard may be difficult, as you will be competing against prior and current military members with seniority.  Both options require a commitment to serve for a specified amount of time.

If becoming a military pilot is not the best option and you still want to fly for the government, there are many different agencies that need pilots.  Depending on the agency they will only use military pilots or those with law enforcement backgrounds for security reasons.  Some agencies that will hire non-military personnel include, but are not limited to:  Forestry Service, NOAA, NTSB, FAA, Bureau of Labor Management, etc.  To become a pilot with NOAA, you must be accepted to the flight program following a three year assignment at sea as a Bridge Watchstander.

Whether you decide to become an airline, cargo, corporate or charter pilot, the path to a flying career is similar.  Start by getting your licenses and certificate through Embry-Riddle or  a local flight school. Depending on the pilot career path, additional type ratings may be required.  Build up your flights hours on your own or as a flight instructor to meet the minimum requirements to obtain a position as a first officer, and then move on to a captain position.  Regional airlines are an excellent option to acquire more flight time and experience before moving on to corporate, charter, cargo, and major airline piloting careers.

Lauren Burmester is new to the Career Services Office as a Program Manager.  She has been an employee with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University since 2006 working in Advising and Admissions.  She completed both her Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace Studies with concentrations in Aviation Safety, Space Studies, and Business Administration, as well as a Master of Science degree in Aeronautics with a specialization in Safety Systems at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.  Lauren’s passion for the Aviation and Aerospace industry is instrumental in assisting students achieve their personal and professional goals.

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