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Non-Flight Instructor Opportunities for Time-Building

by Tim Genc

December 2020

There is no denying that the price of entry in the professional aviation world is steep. Maybe not as harsh when you compare it to the earning potential, or when you hold it up against the cost of medical or law school but, still, not including college costs, it is every bit of $60,000-$80,000. That is a healthy chunk of change.

Where aviation is different than some of the other high paying careers is that, at the point of basic eligibility – when you have a commercial multi-engine certificate – you are not yet ready for the prime time of aviation jobs. You cannot get a job with the regional airlines, which most see as the initial point of entry into a professional aviation career. Alternatively, companies like Delta Private Jets, Atlas and Southern Air require at least an ATP certificate, which likely means 750-1250 hours beyond certification, unless you acquired all of your training through the military. It is during this time – during your first jet job – that you gain not only more crew experience, but you acquire the coveted turbine time that will be necessary to land that next and final job with a legacy or global carrier.

So, how does one bridge that gap? How do you get from 200-250 hours to ATP minimums? There are only two options: buy the time, or work for the time. The most common option is to become a flight instructor and chip away at the balance of total time from the right seat of a training aircraft, teaching and guiding your way to your goal. But is that the only option? Is that for everyone?

The hour requirements to get your CFI certificates and ratings are minimal, but the educational needs are anything but. Earning your flight instructor credentials is one of the more challenging programs and is every bit of an additional $5,000-$10,000. After the initial expenditure to get your Private through Commercial certificates, many a student is maxed out on funding. So, what is the other option?

There are many options and opportunities for low time pilots to earn hours, experience and a paycheck. You just have to know where to look, and the easiest place to do so is on the FAPA website! The Pilot Employment Search Tool, located in the Articles and Data section of the Job-Hunting Pilots tab, allows you to search greater than 4,400 aviation companies for possible Part 91 (state & federal), 125, 135, and other jobs. You can narrow down your search by type of operation, city, state, and Zip Code to find those companies in your area. Try the first three digits of your home zip code and view the map for drive-by job-hunting. The Pilot Employment Search Tool is available to FAPA Basic and Pro members only, and is an invaluable tool for any and all job-hunting pilots.

One such available opportunity is flying right seat for a Part 135 (charter) or corporate flight department. In some cases, whether it’s an FAA requirement or a company requirement, there has to be a second appropriately rated pilot in the cockpit of the aircraft; appropriately rated in category and class only, so that usually means commercial and multi-engine. Type rating not required, ATP not required, just a Commercial Multi-engine certificate. The great thing about landing such a job is that you will often be flying in a much faster and more advanced aircraft, like a small jet or larger turbo prop. This could mean that, not only are you building quality Crew Resource Management (CRM) skills, but you are getting time in a jet long before your CFI time-building counterparts! A word of caution if this is the direction you take: depending upon the aircraft certification or company SOPs, you may not be able to count the SIC time in your logbook. The work around here is to have the PIC be either an ATP (most likely) or a CFI and agree to give you dual instruction. This way, all that valuable experience can also mean valuable hours with which to close in on your ATP or higher hiring minimums, depending on your goal.

Other opportunities are available via the handful of scheduled passenger propeller airlines, such as Ameriflight and Cape Air. With just 500 hours of total time, a lower time pilot might qualify for a First Officer position. And, while this may be only turboprop time at best, you are still gaining experience in a crew environment and in a scheduled air carrier capacity; sometimes, captain opportunities are available before reaching ATP minimums as well. Additional opportunities are available through some of the other 135 carriers or even the fractional jet companies out there with only 1000 hours of total time.

In many cases, there will still be a gap from minimum certification hours to the 500-1000 hour minimums for which these companies are looking, so it might be a combination of the available low-time jobs that is needed to build your hours. Some of the VFR job options, such as pipeline and geological survey, geospatial companies such as Google Earth, banner towing and flying for a skydive operation should not be discounted, as they can provide the experience and hours necessary to make application to the aforementioned companies.

To be completely fair, there are many benefits to building your time as a CFI. Keeping yourself close to the regulations and having your skills checkride ready are certainly big pluses. However, you cannot deny that having experience in a Captain/First Officer relationship, working with dispatch, having to do call outs, and working in an environment that more closely emulates that of an airline has significant benefits as well. And as honed as your IFR procedures will be if you are teaching instrument students, they are probably at no more than 100 knots and flying approaches in category A, maybe B, if you’re lucky. Having jet time and performing tasks at much higher altitudes and airspeeds is going to make the transition into the regional or corporate aircraft world that much easier for you.

As has been previously stated – and you’ve probably heard it a hundred times already – a good pilot is always learning. Whether it’s learning to survey powerlines or doing traffic watch low and slow across the ground, towing a glider up to altitude, or flying a Citation jet in Class A airspace, there is education to be had. The mix of education you can acquire while increasing your hours will make you a better pilot and provide valuable know-how that can be used throughout your career. As long as you approach every job, every mission with an open mind and a thirst for learning, then almost any time earned on the road to the big job is going to be beneficial to you and your experience. Look for the common ground and always be asking yourself what you can learn on a daily basis from your flying, and you will never be disappointed.

Bio: FAPA.aero