FAPA.aero | Picking the Right Pilot Job, Part One
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FUTURE PILOTS

Picking the Right Pilot Job

by Tim Genc

Part One

My favorite burger joint is a place down in Florida. Apart from the never frozen, ground-fresh-daily, combination ground brisket and round steak patties that are cooked at the time of order, (stop drooling on your keyboard), one of the things that make the place so great is the simplicity. Not only do the burgers come very plain – a bun, slice of cheese, and an amazing burger patty – but the menu itself has maybe a dozen options. That’s it! It’s not a confusing or stressful process where you have to comb through pages and pages of good-looking entrées. Chances are you’re going there for a burger, right? You have six options: half-pound hamburger or cheeseburger, third-pound burger or cheeseburger, quarter-pound burger or cheeseburger. So easy! So delicious.

If only picking the right aviation company was as easy and straight-forward!

Our market is very cyclical and it always has been. During a time when the industry needs to hire lots of pilots, there are many options as well as many additional benefits and enticements. Conversely, when companies don’t need to hire a lot of pilots, some of the sign-on bonuses and other perks go away and there aren’t many options; you might only get one interview, one shot, one opportunity. And while the compensation and rewards are better during a pilot’s market, there are less options to stress over during slower hiring times.

In times when pilots are a commodity – a luxury – and companies are hiring as many pilots as they can, there are so many factors to weigh when picking the right job for you. Some of these factors are very important when it comes to your happiness while others might seem important, but they actually do little to influence your quality of life. To help you make the right decision when it comes to your aviation career, we’ve provided a checklist of things to consider as you’re searching for and deciding upon your first professional aviation job.

Fleet Composition. Pilots fell in love with airplanes before they fell in love with aviation. Think about it: at one point in your life, you looked to the sky or at an aircraft on a ramp and something inside told you that you wanted to fly that. Your aviation journey began there. Because this is the case, you likely have some very strong opinions on aircraft that you like, and those that you don’t. You want to fly something exciting, or state-of-the-art, right? No one says, “I want to fly something old and dated and dilapidated.” For this very reason, pilots will often put a company’s aircraft fleet makeup at the top of their list when it comes to choosing the right company, and it’s easy to understand why. But, assuming there isn’t a safety concern or physical limitation you have to contend with, fleet composition should not be one of your primary deciding factors.

I’ve spoken to many pilots when they’ve landed their first professional job, like with a regional airline, and they’re always excited to talk about what they’re flying. However, when I talk to them after they land their next job with a major airline/legacy carrier, they talk about very different things. What they’re flying usually doesn’t come up. In fact, the comment I so often get when I press the issue is, “After a while, an airplane is an airplane.” Years of experience has taught them that the airplane is the tool pilots merely use to earn a living and have a good quality of life. There are so many factors that are far more important – and significantly more impactful – to how you enjoy your time with a company than the metal you’re flying.

Should the airplane be a part of your decision? Sure … a part of it. If two companies are equal in all other areas and whether you’d be flying a turboprop or a jet is the only difference, then use it as a tiebreaker. Plus, always remember that one of things that can change most easily – and often does – with a pilot job is the equipment you’re flying. If you choose a particular company because they have an E175 in their fleet, what will you be left with if they switch aircraft or you don’t get assigned to that airframe? Of all of the facets of picking an airline we are going to discuss, fleet composition equates to the least influential – if at all – when it comes to affecting your quality of life.

Bases/Domiciles. For my first airline interview, I went in not having committed the base/domicile locations to memory because, simply, I didn’t care. Wherever I had to go to earn a paycheck flying the plane they assigned me, that was where I was going to go. Although that interview wasn’t too long ago, the desire to “live in base” has become significantly more important to today’s pilot candidate. And it’s understandable! If you can maximize the time with your family by not having to be a commuter, of course you should do so. For clarity, being a commuter means that you live in a different city than where you work. In the aviation world, that means you travel to work the day before or morning of a scheduled trip and travel back home the evening of or day after a scheduled trip.

Having to commute does add to your time at work by subtracting from your days off, it adds a stress component and the possible cost of a hotel room. That’s the downside to it. The upside to commuting is that your family can plant their roots and thrive in the community, not having to relocate every time your base changes. Some companies don’t deal in bases, meaning you can live anywhere you want, and they will always fly you in and out of your domicile. Other companies – the airlines, in particular – will change their bases or your bases with some frequency. In most cases, at one point or another, you are going to be a commuter. Keep the following situations in mind:

→ The smaller carriers are always playing musical chairs when it comes to for whom they are flying. When their parent company changes, so do the bases.

→ New bases open and unsuccessful bases close. This kind of growth is normal and to be expected. It is a part of the job.

→ Different bases can offer you better seniority. When you upgrade from First Officer to Captain, or from one aircraft to another, your base will likely change as well.

The issue of commuting comes down to a quality of life decision. If it is just you in your family/living situation and there is nothing keeping you to a particular area, your quality of life will be better not having to commute. If you have a family, already established somewhere, your collective quality of life might be better not having to move all the time.

Similar to fleet composition and aircraft assignments, bases/domiciles are one of the things that can change more than anything else. Base location and the notion of “living in base” can certainly be a consideration, but not the primary one. Like the aircraft, it should be more of a tiebreaker. The base that was located in your hometown today might not be there tomorrow. If that happens, what are you left with? What else attracted you to that company? If all they were was a convenient base, you might find yourself unhappy with your place of employment.

I guarantee, if you speak to pilots currently working in the industry, you are going to talk with pilots who will tell you that commuting is the bane of all that is good and holy. Don’t do it! But, for every pilot who tells you that, there is another one waiting to share their story of how being able to commute saved their marriage, or enhanced their family life, or that they would not have met their spouse had they not been living elsewhere. Again, there are pros and cons.

Stay tuned for part 2, coming in next month’s Pilot Hiring Bulletin ...


Bio: FAPA.aero