Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pilot Careers 2010: A Brave New World

With the industry showing signs of life, preparation and training soon will meet opportunity for prospective pilots

Paths To Commercial Cockpits
Most people still have outdated ideas of how to go about becoming a professional pilot. With sweeping changes affecting the aviation world in recent decades, the traditional methods of becoming a pilot are no longer the only way to go. If your dreams end up in the left seat of a professional cockpit, it’s important to know what options you have for starting your flight training.

The Military
The bottom line is that the military services are no longer a source of commercial pilots. There has been a huge shift, especially in the U.S. Air Force, to using UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for a large percentage of operations in the Middle East theatre. This shift, along with high fuel costs, technology advances and changes in the threats to our country, has resulted in a very different world for military pilots. Only 800-1,000 pilot slots open every year in the U.S. Air Force, and less in the other military branches. Becoming a military pilot today requires a 10-year service commitment, a college degree in a mathematical or scientific major, a rigorous medical-screening exam and scoring high on different aptitude tests.

Local Airport Flight School
You can still go down to your local airport and learn to fly. Unfortunately, economic turmoil and federal regulations keep squeezing out the smaller flight schools. Local flight schools are great because they’re convenient and offer most of the ratings you’ll need to get you going on your way to a flying career. They almost always have a relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff and can work around your schedule.

As the world changes, local flight schools are becoming stepping stones for those pursuing an aviation career. Many pilots will use a local flight school to earn their private certificate, and then move on to a training academy or dedicated school specifically for advanced ratings and airline training. Local flight schools can be great or not so great, depending on where you are. Word of mouth is the key to finding a good one. Keep in mind that the easy-going training schedule available there could lengthen the time it takes you to earn your ratings.

Independent Instructors
Some instructors are not affiliated with any specific flight school. They might instruct in their own airplane and could be less expensive than local FBOs. Freelance instructors advertise on airport bulletin boards, airport cafes and by word of mouth. Ask around about an instructor, interview her or him first, and agree to a few “shake out” flights to see if you both get along.

Training Academies
If an airline cockpit is your goal, training academies offer many advantages. First of all, they offer training focused specifically to airline standards. At a training academy, you’re totally immersed in airline-style operations and frequently have airline-pilot mentors or instructors. Also, training academies like ATP now offer fixed-price training, so you know your costs up front. Academy training is fast-paced and usually requires your full dedication to achieve success. Most academies offer “fast-track” options to get you into a professional cockpit even faster. Training academies require personal discipline and time resources. Training-academy programs are frequently termed “ab initio,” meaning they take you from 0 hours all the way to professional certification.

Degree Flying Programs
Several colleges and universities across the country offer accredited degree programs that include earning all your ratings. These schools offer both the academic and the flight-training pieces of the flying career puzzle. While these require a minimum two-year commitment (to earn at least an associate degree), their focused programs yield graduates who are in high demand with airlines and corporate flying departments. Many schools are reasonably priced, and their degree will give you something substantial to fall back on if you ever leave flying. College programs accredited through the AABI are becoming magnets for many of the major airlines via gateway programs.

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