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Considering a Professional Pilot Career?

by Tim Genc

I entered aviation on a whim. It wasn’t a family thing, it wasn’t in my blood, it wasn’t a life-long dream. I didn’t originally go to college to become a pilot. To be honest, I don’t know why I originally went to college; it was just something I was expected to do. After floundering around for a year or so and wasting time and money, I landed on pre-med. For the first time, I made a grown-up decision and decided to become a paramedic to see what life in medicine was all about. Eventually, I concluded that I loved being a paramedic, but being a doctor was not going to be for me. I was getting ready to start my third year in college and I was, once again, without a heading or even a magnetic compass to guide me. Frustrated, I asked my roommate what I should do. He replied, “I dunno; why don’t you become a pilot?” And I did.

After securing another student loan to finance my new career endeavor, things became very straight-forward. If I wanted to graduate from the professional pilot program, I needed to take six classes to earn my private, instrument, and commercial credentials. So, I enrolled in the classes, took the classes, did what I was supposed to, got certificates and ratings and, eventually, graduated. The next step was also pretty straight-forward: become a flight instructor, start teaching, build flight time. There was an airport ten minutes from home with a nationally reputed school that was known for an accelerated flight instructor program. A few months later, I was teaching, earning a paycheck, and building flight time. 

And that was where the straight-forward part ended for me, because what would happen next was anybody’s guess. I assumed it would be the airlines because … well … what else was there?

It was 1999, and the airlines were a very different place from what they would become, or even what they are now. I never heard about any job fairs or airline school visits. Pilot recruiters were not showing up at schools to buy pizzas and tell the audience why their company was the best. There were no relationships, heavily advertised flow programs, cadet programs, and there were absolutely no sign-on bonuses! Information wasn’t being thrown out in every which direction, like it was in the hiring boom of 2016 to early 2020, like it is once again, and like it will be for the foreseeable future. There wasn’t an ATP time requirement to be a first officer, so every company could set their own minimums, based on how many résumés they needed to see. 

I wasn’t trying too hard either to find information and get any guidance. I figured I would just keep teaching and building time and, at some point, I would be ready to apply. Which I finally did. I applied to the same place that everyone at our flight school applied. I casually talked with some of those who had gone before me to adequately prepare for the interview. The interview happened, and I was offered a job … making $14,600 a year as a First Officer. I would have to pay for my own training, pay for my room and board during training, and would not be paid during training.

This caught me completely by surprise. But why should it have? Why was I not prepared for life as an airline pilot? Why did I not seek this information out before committing myself to $70,000 in student loans? The “blame someone else” answer is that no one sought me out to tell me about it. The “take responsibility for your own life” answer is that I did not seek anyone out to ask them about life after training and time-building.

The fact is that I took a serious gamble. I decided on a career as a pilot without knowing anything about a career as a pilot. 

Now, regardless of which of the above attitudes and answers ring most true to your particular situation and habits, the good news is that FAPA has a solution to both issues with FAPA Future Pilot Forums. These FREE events, held monthly on Saturday afternoons, are dedicated to providing a convenient way for everyone to learn about a career in aviation, from start to finish.

→ We’ll talk about pilot training. What training is required to become a professional pilot? When can I start? Before I start flying an airplane, is there anything I can or should be doing beforehand? All good questions that we will address.We’ll discuss college degrees and professional careers, and whether or not you need one to have the other. We’ll talk about choosing schools and what is important.

→ We’ll touch on financing your training, as this is one of the big concerns everyone has. So, before signing away your life to a bank, we’ll address whether or not this is the best or only option.

→ We’ll talk about getting from graduation to your first big job and the experience building that has to occur. How and where do you build that experience? Are there some places that are better than others? How long will I be at this “stepping-stone” pilot job before I can move on to bigger and faster things?

→ There’s more to a career in aviation than just the airlines; what are these other options? Pros and cons? How do the various careers affect my family or lifestyle?

→ And, when it’s all over, we’ll stay around to answer your questions! I’d love to say that we’re so good at this that we’ll address every concern you could possibly have but, because aviation can be a career for anyone, everyone entering the industry is unique with an individualized set of circumstances. So, whatever your questions may be, we’ll be answering them.

FAPA Future Pilot Forums are staffed by industry veterans who have “been there, done that” and they are there to put their experience to work for you. They are there to share their journey with you. They are there to answer the unusual and the uncomfortable questions. They are there to make sure no stone is left unturned and that you leave the event with answers, things to think about, and people to contact for when you do come up with new quandaries.

FAPA’s Future Pilot Forums are held monthly in major cities all across the country. They are FREE for all who attend and are a valuable resource to anyone - high school or college students, adult career changers, or non-aviation separating military personnel - considering a professional pilot career. To view the schedule of events and locations, or to register for an upcoming event, please click here to visit our Future Pilot Forum page.

Whether you are a high school student thinking about your future, a recently separated member of the military exploring your options, or already established in a vocation but looking for your next career adventure, FAPA Future Pilot Forums are designed with you in mind. Take a look at our calendar, pick an event that works for you, and sign up today. Or, if you have questions, we are here to help you right now! Call us at (800) JET-JOBS (800.538.5627) and let us know how we can help you launch a successful and lifelong cockpit career.

Looking forward to speaking with you soon!

Bio: FAPA.aero