Plane & Pilot
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Pilot Careers 2008


Get inside the cockpit


careersOpportunities for professional pilots are at record levels for civilian aviators. No matter what your goal, if you work hard, fly well, present yourself professionally and are flexible with schedules and work locations, chances are extremely good that you’ll find a professional pilot seat waiting for you.
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careers
For people who are professional and flexible with schedules, a career as a pilot can be extremely rewarding.
The New International Market
Non-U.S. air carriers are a relatively new but phenomenally expanding market for U.S. pilots. American pilots have always been employed by overseas carriers. In countries like India and China, where networks of in-country air service are blossoming, there’s an acute need for pilots—far more than are being trained within the countries themselves. Consequently, foreign carriers are turning to the biggest source of pilots—the United States. The most desirable employees are experienced jet captains, not only for international routes, but also for midsized jets like 737s. But even first officers are being recruited in large numbers—nearly 1,000 in the last 12 months. Darby reports that pay and benefits for U.S. pilots in India especially are “outstandingly good.” First officers on 737s and even ATRs (turboprop) have been hired at $80,000 per year, tax-free in many cases.

Whereas foreign carriers now try to domicile international pilots at the U.S. end of their routes, domestic pilots usually must live in-country. Some foreign airlines are trying to accommodate U.S. pilots by scheduling them in ways that allow them to commute home at least several times a year (for example, two months on/one month off). Others, like Australia’s Rex (Regional Express), are funding new-pilot training, half of $100,000+ in low-interest loans and up to all of the remaining investment in scholarship money for pilots who sign a two-year employment contract upon certification as a turboprop first officer. This offer is part of an Australian government initiative aimed at addressing a massive pilot shortage Down Under.

Despite the pilot shortage, Indian authorities recently announced they would not employ pilots over the U.S. airline retirement age. But otherwise, India, China, Australia, African countries and even some European countries are becoming major new career destinations for American airline pilots.

careersBusiness Jets
“Bizav” (business aviation) is the true growth segment in professional aviation. Honeywell’s annual Business Aviation Outlook estimates that more than 14,000 business aircraft will be added to the worldwide fleet in the next decade, with 2008 aircraft deliveries exceeding even the record number of new bizav airplane shipments in 2007. Roughly half of these airplanes (and the career opportunities for flying them) will be outside the United States, according to Honeywell.

The biggest domestic market for bizav are the fractional-ownership programs, something of a cross between corporate and charter use. The niche is unique enough that a special section of the Federal Air Regulations, Part 91, Subpart K, was created to regulate the fractional model. Fractional aviation is extremely dynamic, with frequent, short-notice trips to destinations as varied as the passengers themselves. Fractionals, though, are not usually a pilot’s first jet job. According to Darby, the “hiring profile is almost identical to major airlines,” with 1,000 to 1,500 hours of turbine time in a pilot’s logbook being a common minimum requirement for an interview.

Rotary Wing
Helicopters (“rotary-wing aircraft”) are a unique subset of commercial aviation that continue to be used widely in law enforcement and medivac, aerial spotting (including natural resources and transportation support), industrial support (such as logging and heavy construction), transport to offshore oil rigs, executive transportation and other roles. Flying a helicopter requires a different skill set from fixed-wing aviation, so rarely do the two career paths cross (although many helicopter pilots earn fixed-wing ratings and eventually apply their expertise to the “other” kind of flying). Helicopters are typically far more expensive to operate than comparable fixed-wing aircraft, so even though the most successful line of aircraft in the world (Robinson’s R22 and R44) are training and light-duty helicopters, most (but not all) commercial-helicopter pilots learn to fly in the military.




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