Airline and Commercial Pilot
The work of a pilot is a lot more diverse than many think. It’s a skill and career that involves a variety of activities. While transporting passengers (on commercial or charter flights) is a big part of the flight industry, thousands of pilots specialize in using their aircraft for crop dusting, meteorological research, and aerial photography.
Overview and Work Environment
87% of pilots work for airlines. Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month, which correlates to roughly 20 hours per week. The FAA states that pilots also put in up to 140 hours per month on nonflying duties.
As you can see, pilots spend a very large percentage of their time away from home, staying in hotels. The airlines include financial allowances for the hotel bill and for meals. Airline pilot is a perfect career for people who like to find themselves in a wide array of cities and circumstances. If you think you may enjoy navigating in strange cities, soaking in the sites, the lifestyle of a pilot may be for you. However, you must understand that you won’t have a traditional lifestyle, spending most of your time in a neighborhood, in your home. A pilot also consider the upkeep and safety of your home while away.
The Pilot’s Work
In any commercial flight (though this may not be true of non-passenger flights or chartered flights) there is a captain and a co-pilot. The captain is chiefly responsible for the flight; the co-pilot is usually the one with less seniority, and is also known as the first officer.
The two pilots divide tasks before, during and after the flight. The first task is to plan the flight’s path, using computerized instruments. The pilots must clear this flight plan with air traffic control. Next, the pilots have to perform safety checks and make sure that the plane is ready for the flight, including having adequate fuel supply. Understanding the weather conditions along their flight path is also crucial for each pilot.
The pilot then exercises close control over the aircraft and its steering mechanisms as he executes takeoff. This is where much of his or her training comes in. Once the aircraft is at cruising altitude, the pilot and co-pilot have to perform some of their required tasks as needed—keeping in communication with air traffic control and continuing to monitor the all-important weather conditions ahead. All of the various elements the pilots must check up on are done easily now. Airline pilot Sam Weigel writes, “Navigational cross checks, ETA and fuel calculations, maintenance notations, weather updates…are automated and available at the push of a button.”
The pilot must, of course, exercise great skill in landing the plane. If turbulence should arise at any time during the flight, the pilot must take control. In rare cases, engine failure, storms, or other emergencies may require quick and efficient action on the part of the pilot.
Skills and Abilities of a Pilot
A pilot should have a fair amount of mechanical skills. Outside of the large organizations of airlines, pilots will have to perform some maintenance on their aircraft. For airline pilots, an understanding of mechanical principles as well as an understanding of the plane’s instruments is necessary.
A person with an interest in physics and science in general is a good candidate for the profession of pilot, since he or she must understand not only the concepts behind flight, but how to negotiate difficulties that may arise, such as turbulence or strong winds.
A pilot also benefits from an aptitude for weather and the behavior of wind, precipitation, etc.
Hand-eye coordination and a general skill with one’s hands are beneficial.
A pilot must also have courage and good judgment. He or she must be a person of integrity, since she is often putting the lives of others in her hands. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some airlines conduct some sort of psychological evaluation on candidates to assess their ability to make wise and courageous decisions should the need arise.
Education and Training
The educational requirements for pilots vary by specialty. Commercial pilots (crop-dusters, rescue operation pilots, etc.) must have a high school diploma, while airline pilots must have a Bachelor’s degree.
The basic training for pilots of any kind is the commercial pilots license, administered by the FAA, Federal Aviation Administration. This occurs at a certified training institution. Many of these are dedicated flight schools, but some are components of colleges and universities.
This education gives the would-be pilot an excellent foundation, but it only the beginning. Once the pilot has earned the commercial pilots license, he or she is ready to proceed. A pilot who would like to go on to become an airline pilot will have to advance to the Airline Transport Pilot Certificate. Commercial pilots often need additional training that pertains to their type of work, such as agricultural schooling for agricultural commercial pilots.
Once a pilot is hired by an airline, he or she must go through further education, this time becoming ready to mean Federal Aviation Regulations. This entails classroom sessions and then actual flight school.
All in all, pilot is a position for which one needs substantial education and training.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics points out that in 2012, the median annual salary for “airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers,” was $114,200. To give some perspective, those in the lowest 10% earned under $66,970. One might keep in mind the allowances for meals and the travel.
The states that pay the most for airline pilots are:
- New York
Those states also have the highest rates for commercial pilots, but others in the same range are Washington State, Texas, Alabama, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Connecticut.
Is this a growth industry, one in which many jobs will be available in the upcoming years? Overall, yes. The industry is projected to grow, but only in the area of commercial flight. The passenger flight industry is expected to suffer a 7% decline. If one wants to break into passenger flight, going the route of flying planes for private corporations or other chartered flights may be the most promising.
Airlines are expected to try to be as frugal as possible by maximizing the number of passengers on flights. This, combined with a disillusionment with policies of many airlines and long wait times for cumbersome security procedures doesn’t figure to grow the industry.
The metro areas that offer the most jobs in airline flight are:
- Columbus, OH
- Houston, TX
- Phoenix, AZ
- Dallas, TX
- Miami, FL
The occupation of pilot is unique and interesting, requiring very specific skills and temperament. One who can excel in the required training and live the unique lifestyle will be rewarded by seeing the country and much of the world. It is a career that gets one out of an office and doesn’t require much collaboration with co-workers.
However, one should monitor the occupational outlook to be sure that the decline applying to the airline component of the industry doesn’t continue.