It takes a lot of work to become an a airline pilot. For starters, your flight school training is pretty intense. You must accumulate between 190 and 250 flight hours – minimum – to even be considered to fly an airplane for anyone.
Most airlines want you to have more flying time than that though before they even consider putting you on board to fly one of their complex aircraft.
The First Hurdle? The FAA!
The FAA is the governing body that decides whether you fly or not. Its regulations require that you pass a practical exam, have at least a 2nd class medical certificate, and that you spend a decent amount of time flying cross country (at least 300 nautical miles) en route to becoming an airline pilot.
You also have to stay current on your training. You see, even after you pass your exam and take your final check ride, it’s not over. Instrument ratings have to be kept current and you need to constantly be up in the air since airline recruiters are looking at your recent flight time (within the past 6 months).
You have to have a good temperament, good personality, and be calm but in control of stressful situations to be a successful airline pilot. It’s entirely likely that your plane will be hit by lightning, you’ll hit lots of turbulence, you’ll have to deal with paranoid passengers, and you’ll have to navigate annoying FAA regulations on top of taking off and landing from a variety of airports – some of which don’t have ideal layouts for the type of aircraft you’ll be flying.
Before you apply for an airline pilot job, make sure your logbook is in order, and you have an up-to-date medical certificate. Brush up on Part 91 operations, Part 121 operation, and get familiar with the aircraft of the airline you’re applying to. It helps to be familiar with your employer’s assets, as it were.
In many interviews with airlines, you’ll be expected to use a simulator. Many times, however, it’s a faster aircraft than one you’ll actually be flying. Here’s the fun part: you’ll be expected to fly a perfect instrument approach. It’s definitely a challenge, so make sure you come prepared. Practice before your interview. More details on this can be gathered from the Phoenix East Aviation Flight School and other such schools.
What It’s Like
The lifestyle of an airline pilot is hectic. You’re flying everywhere. You may work up to 16 hours in a day. You’re staying overnight in hotels quite often. You may not have the same types of luxuries you’re used to at home. In fact, you may not even see home for a week at a time (or more) depending on your work schedule.
When you first enter the business, you may want to consider where you live. Living in an expensive city is almost impossible on a starting salary. That’s why a lot pilots commute – except commuting, for a pilot, means hopping on an airplane and using the jump seat to get where you need to be to start work.
If you do this, it’s entirely likely that you’ll need to have a crash pad – a cheap apartment that you share with other fellow pilots (or even non-pilots). It’s sort of like your home away from home. Sometimes, you just rent a room from someone who is renting rooms out in their home or apartment. It’s tough, because people will be coming and going at all times of the day and night. You may need to sleep during the day, but the landlord may be home (if you’re renting from a senior couple).
Salary and Benefits
Salary and benefits vary depending on who you work for. Seniority is everything at an airline though, so the higher up the “food chain” you are, the better the benefits look. A pilot’s pay, flight schedule, base, and equipment are pretty much determined by his employee number.
When you’re new, you have to accept low pay, minimum flight hours, and you’ll be seating first officer. Don’t expect much in terms of days off during the month – probably just 11 total days off per month.
As your seniority improves, your time off improves, your paycheck improves, and your general quality of life improves. If you start out at a regional airline, your pay may be just $25,000 – with top incomes just under $100,000 for an airline pilot who makes captain.
If you’re working for a major airline, your starting salary may be more like $40,000 – reaching as high as $200,000 with time in. If you leave your company, however, or the operation goes “belly up,” then you risk starting all over at the bottom. So, you could potentially work for a major outfit, ratchet yourself up to a good 6-figure income, lose your job, and have to start at what amounts to a first-year salary with another airline. It’s a practice common in the industry, unfortunately.
Why You Should Do This
It’s a good job, for the right person. You must have a determination to succeed in this industry. The work is hard, but you’re handsomely rewarded if you stick with it. There’s always a part of the job you won’t like – but that’s true of any job. However, 80 percent of the time, it’s a dream come true.
In the meantime keep your wings straight and level Hersch!
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