Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Pilot Career: From Dream To Reality
Everything you need to know to step into a professional cockpit the modern way
For the first time in 30 years, becoming a professional pilot is within the reach of people who once only dreamed of it. We’re in an unprecedented time of skyrocketing demand for pilots, and the number of aviation jobs grows daily. The sky is calling, and if that has been your dream, now is the time to act.
The reasons for the current pilot shortage are many. The sustained growth of domestic air travel since 9/11 and the extraordinary expansion of air travel in countries like China and India have added to the huge demand for pilots. U.S. airlines have transitioned to scheduling more frequent flights in smaller but more numerous aircraft for efficiency. The traditional source of airline pilots—the military—has reduced the number of pilots it generates to a mere trickle. According to U.S. Air Force statistics, in 1943, the U.S. Army Air Force graduated 65,797 pilots. These war-trained aircrews manned the cockpits of our airliners for decades.
By 1996, the U.S. Air Force was graduating only 525 pilots per year.
Paying Your Dues
Today, there are many avenues toward becoming a professional pilot. Let’s look first at the time-tested, traditional way.
In every era except the present, the first thing a prospective airline pilot had to do was get a four-year college degree. Following graduation, a student would scrimp to earn enough money to get a private certificate, which would be followed by an instrument rating, commercial certificate and on up through a certified flight instructor (CFI) rating. An instructing job would ensue, teaching primary students and bumming multi time when possible. The work didn’t promise much variety, and an instructor would gaze longingly whenever a King Air would kiss the runway in front of his or her Cessna 150.
After several years, the pilot might graduate to flying turboprops for a carrier. If the person built enough turbine multi time, he or she could fly as a copilot at a regional airline for several years (making captain when gray hairs were well established). A select few would then start over as copilots for a major airline. But in the last couple of years, this model has changed.
Get There Fast
AIR Inc. (Aviation Information Resources) provides aspiring airline pilots with the resources needed to get them hired. President Kit Darby says, “There’s no doubt that today somebody with $70,000 can get into the right seat of a regional airline in six months through training-academy programs.”
In essence, academies provide intense, concentrated training that emulates airline practices, trains to airline standards and familiarizes students with airline cockpit procedures. “We teach our graduates to think at six miles a minute,” says Shawn Raker, president and CEO of Flight Training Services International (FTS). Their Commercial Airline Pilot Training (CAPT) program places pilots directly into right-seat positions.
Academies like FlightSafety, ATP and Gulfstream take zero-time students with no aviation experience and transform them into first officers in six to 12 months. Many boast placement rates above 95%.
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