Entry-Level Flying Jobs
I was conversing with one of our readers over Facebook and the question came up about first flying job after getting your ratings.
I built most of my time flight instructing and if you asked pilots in the US, 90% of them did it this way as well. But what alternates are out there?
Here is a list with a brief explanation of each. If there are ones I have missed, please chime in.
Flight Instruction – Ok. I wasn’t supposed to mention this one, but it does seem to be the primary post-flight school job. Unlike some of the other jobs we’ll look at, insurance companies don’t seem to mind that you barely have any experience yourself and now you are teaching others how to fly. The pay depends on where you live and how much you can fly. Many instructors augment their pay by doing some sort of individual or class-based ground instructing. My first two years as an instructor in the early 90s, I made $12,000/yr. As a bonus, some facilities are big enough that you can start to get flight time in larger more complex equipment (twin time), either as an instructor or via pilot service.
Banner Towing – Several of my friends cut their teeth pulling banners. There aren’t nearly as many banner towing operations as there are flight schools in the US, so you’ll have to seek them out. Also, I would recommend locations where there is decent weather, because most entry-level jobs only pay when you fly so you don’t want to be grounded half the year due to poor conditions. You may need to get a tailwheel endorsement and some tailwheel time to qualify at some operations.
Glider Towing – Towing gliders again is a weather dependent operation, but it can be lots of fun. Again, glider ports are not as common so you’ll have to do your homework. Also, some operations don’t actually pay the tow pilot, rather they use volunteer help or barter. Again a tailwheel endorsement might be required.
Flying Skydivers – This one has worked well for lots of pilots. With good weather, a popular drop zone can stay very busy. Pilots are generally paid by the load – as I mentioned, a common theme is you get paid when you fly in most of these jobs. Bigger drop zones have opportunities to move into heavier equipment and maybe even build twin time – a huge bonus.
Aerial Photography – Some of these guys work for a company or they go into business for themselves. Unless you work for a company that can keep you flying, this one will probably only augment some of your other endeavors.
Aerial Survey – Related to aerial photography, but I’m not sure this is done with airplanes anymore with all the satellite imagery. It would be worth researching to see if this is a niche that needs filled.
Sightseeing Rides – Touristy places like Las Vegas and Hawaii have full-time flight operations dedicated to giving rides to tourist and it’s a pretty good business and a great way to build time.
The list below might be your second job out of flight school, unless you are really lucky or you know someone.
Bush Flying – tons of guys I know have cut their teeth after flight school up in Alaska. A few of them had to actually move up there and camp outside the Chief pilot’s office or start working as a ramper until they could slide into a cockpit. With the TV shows about flying up North I can image it is even more competitive. But if you are hardy and you have the passion, this can be some of the best flying you’ll ever do.
Powerline or Pipeline Patrol – Again if you are lucky you might land a more livable job flying patrol. I don’t know many people who did this fresh out of school, but if you get a little time and you need a change, this could be an option. This is challenging, low altitude flying. Not for the faint of heart. You can build time quickly.
Also, there are other patrol jobs, like fish spotting and fire patrol that are generally subcontracted from the federal government or part of federal grants.
Crop Dusting – Very hard to get into ag flying. It’s more of an apprenticeship, but I do know several professional pilots that built a lot of their flight time doing this. I always wanted to fly dusters; this is serious stick and rudder flying. Like bush flying, you’ll need to really want it to make it happen.
You might be able to create a flying job for yourself out of thin air. Who knows, it could maybe pad your wallet as well as your logbook depending on how lucrative it is.
In a previous article I wrote about giving Christmas Light Rides, although that is only temporary, it’s an idea. The same could be done for folks up North to look at the fall foliage or whale spotters off the coasts where they can be found. These are all seasonal ideas, but you get the point.
I am sure I have left out some good ones so please add any ideas you have below.
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