Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Right Way To The Left Seat

How to realize your dream of becoming a professional pilot

the right way to the left seatFlying is in the blood of certain individuals. Some of us plan a career in the cockpit from an early age, and we pursue it to the exclusion of everything else. Others keep their aviation goals quietly smoldering, always on a back burner ready to emerge at the right time. For various reasons, they may alight in a different direction, attain career goals outside of aviation and pursue vocational paths that seem far detached from flying. But many of them come back.
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the right way
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Training Paths
Several paths exist for pilot training. Certificates and ratings are the same whether you choose to fly for a regional carrier, an air taxi service or any other commercial operation. While the quality of training is a key element, prospective pilots can choose from several flight-training choices:

Military.The military has drastically cut the number of pilot slots available each year. Between fewer pilot graduates and longer enlistment commitments required in today’s military, the armed forces are simply no longer a major source of pilots. It’s a long-term option available to those few who can meet the increasingly tough standards and medical requirements. Military flight training requires a four-year degree.

Local Flight Schools. These are at almost every general aviation airport across the country. The training received is usually geared toward the casual flier. Small training fleets and few instructors mean possible scheduling conflicts. The quality of instructors varies widely, as does cost. Environments vary from sleepy little airfields with grass runways to large towered airports serving multiple runways (with scheduled airliners mixing with flight school traffic).

Training Academies. Students are immersed in the flight-training environment at training academies. They’re geared only toward professional pilot careers. Academies have large training fleets and standardized courses. These facilities consistently provide top-notch training, and some have been around for decades. Many offer ab initio training from zero time to regional airline qualification in a year or less. The cost is usually high as compared to local flight schools, and the pace is fast and demanding.

Aviation Colleges. Some universities combine an aviation-related major with flight training. Several of these exist across the country and are excellent training and education options. Although most regional airlines don’t currently require a college education, any candidate with a degree—especially in an area related to aviation—will be considered long before one without the degree. See our exhaustive guide to training academies and degree programs in Learn To Fly from P&P March 2009.