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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Realistic Prospects
It’s never too late. Most of the flight academies we talked to told us of students well into their 40s and 50s who are switching careers and pursuing a life in the cockpit. Because many academies can take a zero-time student and get him or her all necessary certificates and ratings relatively quickly, the time required isn’t out of the question. Aviation as a second career is a great choice for many people because their experience is directly applicable to a flying job. Airlines and other professional pilot hiring departments want to see that candidates are team players, capable of working effectively with others. Because a pilot career is largely one of customer service, people with experience serving others are a valuable asset to an aviation department. Career switchers should highlight this experience and use it to their advantage.

While domestic airline hiring is down, opportunities exist in the international market. The growth of travel throughout Asian countries is unprecedented, and Asian airlines are training pilots in the United States in record numbers. According to Kit Darby, many international carriers have recently offered all kinds of hiring deals for pilots willing to live outside the United States. “Each deal is different,” says Darby, “but it seems worldwide demand remains robust.”

The bottom line is that if you’ve ever dreamed about flying as a career, or if flying runs through your veins and invades your thoughts, now is as good a time as any to pursue a career in aviation. Even in economic turmoil, goods need to be delivered and passengers need to get to their destinations. With flight academies competing for every student, you might even be able to get unheard of deals on your training. It might just be a great time to pursue your dream.

Career Switching 101

There are certain things you can do if you’re considering switching to an aviation career. Maybe you already have some flight training or are just starting out. In either case, there are certain basics that will apply to any professional pilot career path.

Research The Profession
Look into salaries, hours, training costs, lifestyle issues and other factors of becoming a pilot. Because the aviation career world has changed so much in recent years, it’s important to get the latest, most current information. Separate the myths about pilot careers from the facts.

Get A Medical
The FAA requires that commercial pilots pass a specific type of medical exam performed by an FAA-designated doctor called an aviation medical examiner (AME). It would be wise to take the exam or talk to an AME to root out any potential health issues long before you incur the cost of flight training. It’s also a good way to dispel the many medical myths that exist around aviation (like that you must have perfect vision—you don’t).

Take Some Flight Training
Most local flight schools offer an “introductory flight” for less than a $100. It’s a great way to try aviation and see what it feels like before jumping in with both feet.

Choose The Right Flight School
Choosing the right type of school and the right instructor is the key to success in aviation. Plane & Pilot has many articles available online with lists, tips and instructions for choosing the right flight-training environment.

Review Your Past
Before you even start to pursue a professional pilot job, you need to look at your past. The airlines and FAA certainly will. Issues like past DUIs or controlled-substance offenses need to be identified and dealt with before you pursue a flying job. Airlines want pilots who meet high levels of responsibility, integrity and character. If you have past issues, then you need to address them
before you start training.

Get Transcripts
Start collecting transcripts from high schools, colleges and other educational institutions. Gather academic records, scholarships, awards, career milestones and other important documents. For example, were you an Eagle Scout or did you receive some other recognition? You’ll need these records when you start applying for piloting jobs.