AOPA's Guide to Flying Careers

Flying Careers

Table of Contents

Importance to Members


Technical Information

Additional Resources

From the AOPA Archives

Table of Contents

Importance to Members

Career development is critical to ensuring your success in landing a flying career. There’s a lot to learn, both about the industry and about potential employers. How can you be as prepared as possible for the opportunities that are out there?

The job market can be more fickle than in many other industries; knowledge is your key to making the best decisions in this regard. Where is the industry growing? Who’s hiring? What are the current employment trends? Articles in this subject report will help to assure that you have a fundamental understanding of subjects and issues that, while they may not be as exciting as flying itself, are equally important to your career as a professional pilot.

If you have any additional questions or comments after reading this subject report, please feel free to call the AOPA Pilot Information Center, 1-800-USA-AOPA (872-2672) Monday through Friday, 8:30 to 6:00 ET.


The U.S. Bureau of Statistics estimates that 110,000 pilots are using their flying skills in an aviation career. Of these professional aviators, nearly 80,000 work for the airlines and 15,000 to 20,000 fly business aircraft for corporate America. The remaining pilots are employed in a variety of aviation careers ranging from air taxi service to wildlife spotting.

The largest portion of the U.S. pilot community holds a private pilot certificate. This allows the individual to fly for pleasure and for personal business. No compensation can be paid to a private pilot for flying an aircraft. So if you are considering a flying career, the commercial pilot certificate is a must.

The commercial pilot certificate requires a minimum of 250 hours of flight time in most cases (if you plan to attend what is termed an FAA-approved "FAR 141" school, the minimum requirements for the commercial pilot certificate are somewhat less). Within this 250-hour standard are other stipulations such as so much cross-country flying time, instrument training, and the like. This authorization allows a pilot to be compensated for virtually every commercial operation using an aircraft, with the exception of flying airliners as a captain. However, to serve as a copilot (now called "first officer" in the industry), a commercial pilot certificate is sufficient.

If the ultimate career objective is to fly for an airline as a captain, then the airline transport pilot certificate is an absolute necessity. This authority requires a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time including a range of special experiences.

AOPA Career Pilot - an in-depth online resource on aviation careers is at your fingertips for researching the various aviation-related careers and opportunities. Check it out online.

Technical Information

Flying Is a Business

If you are seriously considering a flying career, then remember this important fact: Flying is a business first and foremost. The first lesson in planning a flying career is this: Always be a student of the aviation industry. Read both aviation and business journals regularly. Know the pulse and the trends. Remember that as a pilot, you are but a component in air transportation commerce.

Although the FAA requires 250 hours as a minimum to qualify for a commercial pilot certificate, the reality is that, to be competitive in the hiring process for a flying occupation with a significant employer and to be well qualified, you will need to acquire somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 hours of flight time, with perhaps 200 to 500 hours in multiengine aircraft.

The distance between the commercial pilot certificate requirements of 250 hours flight time and the additional experience needed to be hirable is known as the "gap." The most common way to bridge the "gap" is by flight instructing.

Generally speaking, a future professional pilot will earn the private and commercial pilot certificates in one of several training environments. These can range from the local airport flight school to a college that has within its academic structure a flight-oriented degree program, to a proprietary flight academy with an intensive, full-time training curriculum devoted solely to earning flight certificates. AOPA's Aviation Services has prepared an informative package on  Aviation Colleges and Universities and  Aviation Scholarships and Loans to assist you in planning and achieving your aviation goals.

Once the commercial pilot certificate is obtained, the next step on the career track is to get a certificated flight instructor (CFI) authorization. Following that, the fledgling professional will build time and experience as a flight instructor at a flight school. This can take from one to three years. There are, of course, other ways in which to cross the "gap" such as buying your own airplane and flying it relentlessly, towing banners over the Florida coast, piloting scenic flights, or serving as a charter or corporate pilot for a small company. However, flight instructing is the most common route to accumulating flight time.

But what type of flying do you want to do? There are many choices, so let's begin to look at some of them.

Airline Pilot (Source of salary information:   Professional Pilot,   June 2011)

The airline industry is classified along these lines: sales volume, passenger loads, aircraft flown, and market served. Companies can be divided into major airlines or regional airlines.

Pilots who earn a living at the "majors," such as United, American, Delta, and Federal Express, fly large jet equipment such as a Boeing 737, Falcon 900, or Gulfstream IV or V. Flight officers may be called to guide flights from coast to coast and internationally. The average salary for a major airline pilot is in the $100,000 range, with senior captains flying heavies such asthe Airbus A318 earning up to $200,000 annually. Salaries are, however, largely impacted by time with the airline, crew member status (Captain, First Officer)

For flying professionals associated with the "regional’s" (a more contemporary term for "commuters"), smaller turboprop airplanes are the norm. However, the relatively new regional jets (RJs) are making a career path with the regional’s more attractive because of the technologically advanced, jet-powered RJs and the heftier compensation that goes along with flying them. Entry-level salary for a commuter pilot is invariably in the $30,000 to $35,000 range; a captain on a new regional jet can earn $85,000 to $100,000 annually with seniority.

Most companies offer traditional employee benefits such as health insurance and paid vacations. Although not all airlines offer additional benefits, more compensation packages are including 401(k) retirement plans, loss-of-license insurance, company cars, and other benefits. Generally speaking, the larger the company, the more generous the benefit package.

Major airlines, the companies that are most highly desired and attract the most competitive candidates, will require in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 3,000 flight time hours and approximately 300 to 500 hours of multiengine time for application acceptance. Although these represent the basic minimum hiring standards, the applicant truly needs more than just the bare essentials to have a chance at the cockpit.

In surveys conducted by AIR, Inc., the total flight time for civilian pilots being hired into the majors in recent times averaged more than 5,000 hours. Only 18 percent had fewer than 2,500 total hours. Jet hours averaged approximately 1,600 hours; multiengine time more than 3,500 hours; and turboprop 3,000 hours. Although the airlines, like any employer, cannot discriminate because of age, the average age of pilots finding jobs in the big airlines was just over 33.

Additionally, a four-year college degree is virtually a must because more than 80 percent of pilots interviewed had at least a four-year degree. An airline pilot certificate (ATP) is almost a necessity based on the fact that 88 percent of pilot candidates held that certificate.

It should be mentioned that the airlines tend to require the FAA first class medical certificate because all hires must aspire to the captain's position.
Aside from experience, a potential recruit must fit in. An absolute key objective in the interview process at any airline, large or small, is to determine that the individual will be a team player and is likeable. A cockpit is a small, confined area, and the potential for conflict must be eliminated. A skilled recruiter will be on the alert to ascertain that the interviewee will mesh well with the company culture.

Most regional airlines require about 1,500 total hours, including 500 hours in multiengine airplanes. However, a few companies have been known to hire applicants with only 1,000 hours of total flight time and 100 hours of multiengine experience. Although a college degree is helpful, it is not a requirement like it is with the major airlines. Additionally, a commercial pilot certificate is all that is required to be hired on to a commuter airline.

For more information:

Business Aviation Pilot

Thus far, our focus has been on the airlines because it is this segment of aviation that employs the most pilots. General aviation includes all aircraft not flown by the airlines. Business aviation is one of the most important segments of general aviation and consists of companies and individuals using aircraft in the conduct of their business.

Aircraft are used for business by all types of people and companies: from individuals who often rent single-engine, piston-powered airplanes, to sales and management teams affiliated with the largest international corporations that own one or more turboprop or jet aircraft. Many of these large companies employ their own maintenance technicians, support personnel, and pilots. You, as a pilot for such a company, will be called upon to transport goods or personnel to further the commercial objectives of the business.

Corporate pilots fill a wide variety of job descriptions. If you are employed by a small tool and die company in rural Nebraska, you may be assigned to fly a single-engine Piper or Cessna every day to Omaha to retrieve parts. When you are not in an airplane for the company, you might be serving as an accountant or in some other "dual function" role. If, however, you are flying for a Fortune 500 corporation, you could be regularly conveying a planeload of officers to Hong Kong and back in a business jet that may exceed the complexity and performance of a Boeing or Airbus airliner.

Some sample salaries are provided from a 2011 survey by  Professional Pilot, a monthly magazine targeted to business aviation pilots and operators.

Annual Average Salary Flying a Heavy International Jet
(Airbus A319CJ, Boeing 737/BBJ, Challenger 601/604, Falcon 900 Series, Global Express, Gulfstream IV and V)

Chief Pilot




First Officer/Copilot


Annual Salary Flying a Midsize Jet
(Citation III/VI/VII, Falcon 20/200, Gulfstream G100/G150 Astra, Hawker 600/700/800XP/1000, Learjet 35/36/45/55/60, Westwind I/II)

Chief Pilot




First Officer


Annual Salary Flying a Light Jet
(Beechjet 400/Hawker 400 XP, Citation II/SII/Bravo, Citation V/Ultra, Encore, Citation Excel, Falcon 10/100, Learjet 24/25/28/31, 31A, Sabre 40/60/65)

Chief Pilot




First Officer/Copilot


Annual Salary Flying a Corporate Turboprop
(Caravan, Cheyenne II/III, Conquest II, Gulfstream I, King Air 90/100/200/300/350, Merlin II/III/IV, Mitsubishi MU2, Piaggio P180 Avanti, Pilatus PC12, TBM700, Turbo Commander)

Chief Pilot




Annual Salary Flying a Corporate Helicopter
(Agusta A109, Bell 212,222,230, 412, 430, Sikorsky S76,S92)

Chief Pilot




Annual Salary Flying a Regional Turboprop

(ATR72, Beech 1900, DHC Dash 8, Saab 340)



First Officer


Annual Salary Flying a Regional Jet

(Bombardier CRJ100/200/700/900, Embraer ERJ135/140/145)



First Officer


Unlike airline flying, piloting a corporate aircraft is, for the most part, unscheduled. The pilot must be flexible as the schedule is subject to change at a moment's notice. It is not uncommon for a full-time corporate pilot to spend a day or more waiting for a phone call, alerting him or her that the boss needs to get to Detroit — now. Once arriving at a destination, the crew may have to "hang out" at the airport all day long and into the evening until the business meeting concludes.

On the high end of the spectrum, the pilot is treated like a member of management, spends time waiting for the executive team by working out in the Hyatt Hotel gym, and can plan on scheduled time off. Pilots who enjoy a flying career with a strong, reputable company are often the recipients of outstanding flight training, including periodic proficiency checks, which rivals that provided by any airline. Benefits, of course, vary.

The requirements for business aviation flying positions are as diverse as the companies and missions the industry serves. A smaller company will typically place more importance on personal relationships. The larger the company, the more formal and formidable the requirements will be. Fortune 500 flight departments are likely to insist upon an airline transport pilot certificate, several thousand hours of flight time, and, possibly, a type rating. The major corporations are similar in most respects to the major airlines as far as hiring criteria.

For more information:

Agriculture Pilot

An ag pilot or aerial applicator flies specially equipped single-engine airplanes (and in some cases, helicopters) over farms and fields, usually at altitudes ranging from 30 to 50 feet, to apply either crop growth enhancers and fertilizers or pesticides. Farmers are the primary customers of an aerial applicator company. Ag pilots are either self-employed or work for an aerial application enterprise. In either instance, the work is intense.

Additionally, depending on where the pilot is based, the work can be seasonal or full time. For example, if an ag pilot is employed in Florida with a large application business, the flying can virtually be full time. If, though, the agriculture flyer is based in North Dakota, flying will be almost daily during spring and summer and be nonexistent during the winter. In the latter case, ag pilots working in the northern tier of states may migrate south for the winter to fly in those locales from November through March.

An agriculture pilot will be accustomed to manual labor and early hours. Arriving at the airstrip near dawn, the pilot will load the airplane's hopper with the appropriate materials ordered by the farmer. After filling the container and adjusting the spray pattern on the airplane's dispensers, the ag pilot launches toward the particular fields that need the load. Once the hopper is depleted, the pilot brings the airplane back to the base, tops off the bay again, and flies back to apply more.

Flying is often limited to mornings or near dusk because the wind tends to increase in rural areas with the heat of the sun. The danger of applying fertilizers and pesticides in windy conditions lies in the possibility of drift into a neighboring field, which, in some circumstances, could damage an entire adjacent crop.

From the FAA's perspective, an agriculture pilot must have at least a commercial pilot certificate and a second class medical. The operator of an aerial application enterprise must also conform to a special list of regulations, known as  Part 137, of the Federal Aviation Regulations.

Like other segments of aviation, though, the minimum requirements do not necessarily translate to employability. There are two hurdles to overcome.
The first is insurance. Agriculture flying involves low-level maneuvering requiring a high degree of flying skill and is viewed by insurance companies as a high-risk activity. Further, most sprayplanes are taildraggers (airplanes with a tailwheel rather than a nosewheel) and can include high-power, turboprop models, both which require special handling techniques. Insurance companies will require a significant amount of experience in taildraggers and/or turbine-powered airplanes before the pilot and operation will be covered. How does someone obtain the experience to be insured? Taildraggers, also referred to as conventional-gear airplanes, can be found at many flight schools. If ag flying is a career goal, then all training from student through commercial certificates can be conducted in a conventional-gear airplane.

The other obstacle is gaining the confidence of the potential employer. Although some aerial applicators are run by larger corporations, most are still managed by mom-and-pop owners. Once the contact is made and mutual trust develops, the operator may be willing to give the employee a chance at flying and teach him or her the ropes.

There is one other option for entering the business that may be appealing to some: Purchase an existing operation. A variety of publications do list aerial application businesses for sale and may, in the long run, be the most efficient way in which to launch a flying career as an ag pilot.

For more information:

Air Taxi Pilot

The air taxi pilot (also routinely called a "charter pilot") is not unlike a business aviation or corporate pilot. He or she may be called upon to fly a variety of aircraft, ranging from four-seat single-engine airplanes on floats to multi-million-dollar jets. A trip may encompass a few hours or several days.

All air taxi companies must comply with rigorous standards known as  Part 135 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs). These rules dictate specific operational, maintenance, and training guidelines that protect the flying public and ensure that those entities providing these services adhere to the highest levels of safety.

There are basically two career paths within air taxi flying. In instances where a new flying professional has set the career sights on either the airlines or business aviation, FAR 135 flight time is generally considered the second step on the career ladder. Remember the "gap" discussed previously? That is the gap between having acquired the 250 hours of flight time essential to earning the commercial pilot certificate and the 1,200 to 1,500 hours of experience needed for a job flying for the regional airlines, a good corporate flight position, or the airline transport pilot certificate.

The most common way to acquire these flight hours is to teach at a flight school after the commercial pilot certificate is acquired. Then, once employed by that flight school, the new professional pilot may be given the opportunity to advance to flying air taxi in the company's high-performance single-engine and light twin-engine airplanes. Of course, multiengine time is extremely valuable in any job hunt, and it is here, flying air charters in multiengine airplanes, that the new commercial pilot can accrue some multiengine flight hours.

What is the income potential? With duties split between flight instruction and flying charter, compensation can be from $15,000 to $25,000 annually, as a rule. On the other hand, a full-time career can be had flying for a sizable air taxi operator that owns turboprop and jet airplanes. The compensation and lifestyle is quite similar to that of a full-time business aviation pilot.

The commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating is a necessity, as is the second class medical certificate. Also, both a single-engine and multiengine rating are required if one- and two engine airplanes are going to be flown. Additionally, to qualify to fly for FAR 135 operation, the pilot must have a minimum of 500 hours of flight time to conduct an air taxi flight under visual flight rules (VFR) and at least 1,200 hours to fly under instrument flight rules (IFR). There are also additional stipulations for cross-country and nighttime experience.

Additional Resources

Banner Towing

Banner flying offers attractive benefits for the aspiring professional. Hiring on with a high-activity banner operation means lots of flight time. Imagine hooking up a banner to a Super Cub, Champ, or Citabria, then heading to a Florida beach to fly for hours. Six hours of flight a day, day in and day out, equates to a lot of flight time in the logbook and a fairly rapid ascent to the 1,200 to 1,500 hour total required for major job competitiveness. Although all flying is accomplished in single-engine airplanes, a season with a banner company can be an alternative to flight instruction as a time-building activity.

Banner towing is also a good track for future agriculture pilots. For anyone interested in ag flying, an insurer could require anywhere from 50 to 500 hours of taildragger experience because agriculture aircraft tend to be taildraggers.

Although flying for a banner company does not provide big money opportunities for pilots, who can be paid a salary, paid by the hour, or paid by the tow, the individual who has an entrepreneurial spirit, lives in a tourist or outdoor sports arena area, has some money to invest, and sales skills can develop a handsome living as an aerial advertising owner/operator.

For the price of a used single-engine airplane and banner equipment purchased from several suppliers — about a $50,000 total investment — a banner towing business can be launched virtually overnight. Contact and "sell" potential advertisers about the benefits of a billboard in the sky. Rates of $300 per hour and more can be and are charged by aerial advertising companies across the nation.

Qualifications include a commercial pilot certificate with a single-engine rating plus a second class medical certificate. Most operators and insurance companies will require a minimum of 25 to 30 hours of experience in a conventional-gear airplane, plus some training by an experienced banner tow pilot. Advanced academic education is not a factor.

Additional Resources

Fire Fighter

The job requires an adventurous spirit, a willingness to travel and live at remote sites for long periods, and flying skills that some would call hair-raising. The pilot must be willing to launch at a moment's notice, travel to an outpost sometimes at the edge of civilization, and fly old transports, loaded to the maximum gross weight, just above flaming forests or blazing grasslands — and do it again and again and again — for days at a time.

Fire fighting is a very select career track that attracts relatively few aviators because of the harsh lifestyle and the hazards, as well as its seasonal nature. However, fire control in massive forested or grassy areas is a critical activity that can only be accomplished from aloft. For the few aviators who have the personal make-up, character, and qualifications, this kind of flying is an adventure beyond compare.

Because the airborne fire control community is small, earning a flight position is dependent not only on flying skills and experience, but on whom you know. Further, training in fire fighting is a general requirement.

Hawkins and Powers located in Greybull, Wyoming, is one of the largest aerial fire-fighting companies in the West. The company has operated a fleet of C-130s, C-97s, P2Hs, a DC-4, and a C-340. Sound strange? These are, indeed, strange and unusual aircraft that the average pilot has no experience in, but they are typical of equipment used by other fire control businesses. Thus, it can be appreciated that any pilot hoping to fly one of these machines must have been around the company and its equipment for some time before being entrusted with the machinery and the crew.

An applicant for a copilot flying position must have at least 800 hours of piloting time, a multiengine rating, commercial pilot certificate with instrument rating, and second class medical. Further information and requirements are listed on the  Aerial Firefighting Industry Association's (AFIA's) Web site.

Additional Resources

Flight Instructor

The CFI will instruct the student in three common areas: knowledge, skill, and judgment. If you are already a pilot — even a student pilot — you are acquainted with the CFI's role in instilling knowledge. The certificated flight instructor will develop a student's understanding of traditional aviation academics, such as rules and regulations, aerodynamics, aircraft operations and performance, meteorology, navigation, etc.

Many industry observers lament the fact that few pilots desiring a flying career consider flight training as a full-time vocation. Historically, aspiring professional pilots have viewed flight instruction as merely a stepping stone to crossing the "gap" mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, this has resulted in some CFIs being somewhat less than committed to providing their students with the very best instruction. This is due to the fact that these CFIs view their role as temporary and are eager to move on to more challenging and rewarding flying.

Thus, there is a true need for persons with a love of flight and a passion for teaching to enter the flight training field. As an instructor, you can enroll your students in the  AOPA Flight Training Instructor Program. And each of your students will receive a free six-month subscription to  AOPA Flight Training magazine.

The primary reason that few aviators seriously consider the flight training career track is this: CFIs generally get their first job with a flight school that is co-located with an FBO. The pay scale is somewhere between $20 and $30 for each hour of instruction given. Unfortunately, on rainy days or when business is slow, the CFI may sit around the airport all day long and not earn one penny of income. Traditional benefits of insurance, paid vacation, and retirement plans are not usually offered. Consequently, a flight instructor may have to hold a second job because $1,200 a month is just not enough income to survive. It is easy, then, to recognize why CFIs become disenchanted and look eagerly to move on in the industry.

Throughout the United States, there are more than 200 colleges and universities that offer aviation programs. Career CFIs within the traditional academic environment enjoy customary benefits, including, in some situations, tenure.

Airlines require instructors, too. Although flight training at an airline requires that the instructor be a pilot for that airline and hold a type rating, there are academic instructors who teach systems, procedures, and some simulator training who are not required to be line pilots. A salary in the $30,000-plus range is possible.

For the new CFI working in the traditional role of instructor at the neighborhood airport flight school, the income scale will probably continue to be in the $12,000 to $20,000 range. Remember, though, that a new flight instructor will have acquired only about 300 hours of flight experience before joining the school staff. The new CFI should really view this time in his or her career as a paid apprenticeship. That fledgling CFI is given the opportunity to build and develop and is being paid something in the process. And what profession doesn't have a period of internship and low wages? Medicine? Law? Once the CFI develops and earns additional ratings and experience, then a higher fee can be commanded.

No matter where your future takes you, consider working even part-time as a CFI. AOPA has created  Professional Liability Insurance just for flight instructors. Call 800/622-2672 for more information.

Qualifications: The requirements for the entry-level flight instructor are: a commercial pilot certificate, an appropriate medical certificate, and a flight instructor certificate.

Government Service

Did you know that Uncle Sam employs thousands of pilots? A veritable air force of nearly 4,000 pilots work daily in the service of U.S. citizens, flying every conceivable flying machine from turbine-powered helicopters to Boeing 727s. Just a few agencies using aircraft and pilots are listed.

U.S. Customs: This division of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security employs more than 300 pilots. Pilots who fly for the agency often have a background in law enforcement as well as piloting credentials and are involved in protecting our country's borders. Pilots can be subjected to high-risk situations relating to drug interdiction.

FAA: Of the 4,000 pilots employed by the federal government, some 3,000 are in the FAA. Duties include enforcement of the Federal Aviation Regulations, the conduct of flight testing for various certificates and ratings, research and development, and monitoring and surveillance of airlines, air taxi operators, flight schools, airports, and navigation equipment.

Department of the Interior: Fewer than 100 pilots are engaged in fire search and control, law enforcement, search and rescue, wildlife surveys, and water conservation activities. The agencies that comprise the Department of Interior include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Land Management, Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Minerals Management Service, Territorial and International Affairs, and Surface Mining.

Drug Enforcement Administration: The DEA flying staff includes nearly 250 pilots. Only DEA agents are offered flying positions. These lawmen must have at least two years of agency street experience before applying for a cockpit position.

U.S. Department of Energy: Fewer than 25 pilots fly for this agency, which generally oversees and conducts airborne monitoring of power systems in the western United States.

U.S. Marshals Service: This agency, dating to that days of Wyatt Earp, has only 20 pilots in its employ who fly airplanes ranging from single-engine Cessnas to a Boeing 727. The primary work of the pilot is to transport outlaws from point to point.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration   (NASA): Not including astronauts, NASA employs approximately 100 pilots. However, about half have significant professional skills as engineers and test pilots. The remaining mix of civilian contractors and civil service pilots fly mission management flights or research-supported aircraft.

U.S. Department of Agriculture: The three branches of the Department of Agriculture include Agricultural Research, Animal and Plant Health, and the U.S. Forest Service. Some 70 full-time pilots fly an equal number of aircraft for the three different services. However, the agency does rely on contractors for special needs, depending on the season. Flight activities are related to fire spotting and disease control.

Flight experience and certification do vary from department to department. As an example, U.S. Customs requires pilot applicants to have 1,500 hours total flight time, 75 nighttime hours, 100 hours in the past 12 months, and 500 hours of multiengine time. Some positions require a substantial background in law enforcement or specific skills. To determine the exact hiring requirements, the individual agency should be contacted. More information is available on the  U.S. Office of Personnel Management Web site.

Additional Resources

Law Enforcement Pilot

They are called "Flying Smokies." They track speeders and bandits. They transport prisoners from one jurisdiction to the other. They may even fly elected officials from one part of the state to the other in the dispatching of governmental duties.

Generally speaking, a flight career for any law enforcement agency is highly competitive and very selective. A requisite is often that the pilot has been a law enforcement officer — a beat cop or a patrol car trooper — for a specified number of years. Then, when a flying position opens within the department, the officer with the essential flying credentials can compete for that slot provided. These, of course, vary widely depending on the department and the equipment flown. A commercial pilot certificate is a minimum requirement. Annual salaries are generally in the upper-$30,000 range.

Medical Evacuation

You may hear it called "Flight For Life," "Air Life," "Air Ambulance," or "Rescue One." The men and women who fly both helicopters and airplanes in life-saving missions are a breed apart.

Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and their pilots will fly aircraft, mostly helicopters because of their mobility, to the site of an accident or calamity. The team will administer preliminary medical aid and transport the victims expeditiously to a trauma treatment center.

Helicopter pilots invariably need a minimum of 1,500 to 2,000 hours of helicopter flight experience and several hundred hours in type because of the demanding, sometimes hazardous, conditions faced by these airmen.

Aircraft such as large pistons, turboprops, and jets are used by business concerns that transport the ill to special treatment providers such as burn centers, specialized clinics, and the like. Similarly, requirements for pilots tend to vary from 1,500 to 2,500 hours of total flight time, 250 to 500 hours of multiengine time, and some experience in type. Income is typically in the $40,000 to $50,000 area annually.

For additional information, the National EMS Pilots Association maintains a  Web site.

Additional Resources

Broadcaster Pilot

You hear them give traffic reports, or you see them on the evening news. The top radio and television stations in the 100 largest cities often have flying career potential for those with the gift of gab and an ability to fly. A broadcaster pilot could be flying small single-engine airplanes every day, which circle lazily over the city's freeways. Several times each hour, live, on-air traffic reports are given with the latest information on pile-ups and bottlenecks. The traffic reporter/pilot, who is possibly earning $40,000 to $55,000 annually or more, will acquire literally thousands of hours throughout a career and rarely leave the airspace over the home city.

A broadcaster pilot might possibly fly a station helicopter that is deployed to the site of news-making events. The pilot could serve as the on-camera talent who delivers the actual news report but is more likely to ferry a journalist and photographer to the scene. Some radio stations will contract with a flying service, which will, in turn, place newly certificated commercial pilots in the airplane to fly the station's reporter. The pay can be as low as minimum wage in some instances, but the flight time is invaluable to someone looking to build time and experience quickly. Rotorcraft fliers who act as on-camera reporters can enjoy a yearly salary of $75,000 or better. For even more details, contact the Web site of the National Broadcast Pilots' Association.

Additional Resources

Scenic Flier

Pilots can make a career out of flying larger multiengine airplanes for touring companies based in Las Vegas, for example. Operating with airline regularity, aircraft launch for points of interest with loads of enthusiastic visitors eager for a bird's-eye view of the area's splendors. Although the salary tends to be in the $25,000 to $35,000 range, highly tenured pilots have the potential for more.

In other areas, such as Page, Arizona, tour operators use four- or six-passenger single-engine airplanes to view the region's wonders from above. Good pay is considered to be from $2,000 to $2,500 monthly. However, the work is seasonal. Employment with an aerial scenic enterprise can afford the commercial certificated pilot who qualifies under FAR 135 with the 500-hour minimum a chance to add more hours to the logbook over a season or two, which can then place him or her in that 1,000-hour bracket so important to career advancement.

Additional Resources

Sales and Marketing Flying Representative

Pick up any flying magazine such as  AOPA Pilot and review the pages of advertising. Not many aspiring aviation professionals give a single thought to developing a career as an aviation insurance marketer, an avionics technical representative, an airplane salesperson, or even an employee of one of the industry's special interest associations such as AOPA.

AOPA periodically has positions available for marketers, writers, and researchers. A group of hard-working folks man telephone lines to assist its 412,000 members. To check out the job possibilities, visit the  AOPA Web site.

We cannot even begin to catalog the potential for career development in the general aviation industry and the good, legitimate reason to own or fly an airplane, but one thing is for certain: It is possible, and even probable, that an airplane or aircraft is an essential tool in the conduct of business for all of those who serve aviation with their products and services.

Imagine flying to visit a customer in the next state to demonstrate and sell the newest doodad for the airplane. Think about demonstrating a sleek business jet to a potential buyer and then earning a healthy commission on a $5 million sale.

The possibilities are endless, and the good news is that, in most cases, only the private pilot certificate and third class medical certificate are required. As a superior flying marketing rep, the earnings potential is unlimited, dwarfing even those senior airline captains flying Boeing 747s for the major airlines.

The "Good Samaritan" Pilot

Today, you have dreams of flying professionally and to earn a living as a pilot. Many before you have shared that same vision. The wise will recognize, though, that plans change and objectives need to be tailored to unforeseen circumstances.

Presume for a moment that, after all of the scheming and all of the training, you abandon the goal of flying for a major airline or a blue chip company. Instead, you join your father's dental practice or become a contractor. You will discover with time that all of the flight training, whether at a major aviation college or the neighborhood flight school, is not wasted. The ability to fly is a resource and privilege that will serve you both personally and professionally for a very long time.

Here, then, is the final career path for your consideration. It is a course that fits perfectly with a well-trained aviator who wants and needs to fly but life has taken him or her down a different non-aviation track. It is the "Good Samaritan" pilot.

Pilots who feel the need to contribute something meaningful to their fellow human beings have used their love of flight as a means to fulfill that need. These are the volunteers who search for lost souls, deliver the sickly to hopeful restoration, or serve as missionary pilots.

Consider flying for the  Civil Air Patrol or similar search-and-rescue organizations. The CAP and others have documented lifesaving efforts where volunteer pilots have literally saved the day for someone who has lost his way.

Aircraft owners and pilots donate their time and equipment to informed, often under-privileged adults and children, to bring them to a haven for cure and care. Organizations such as Angel Flight, AirLifeline, and the Corporate Angel Network exist to bring fliers and patients together. A consortium of these humanitarian flying groups has formed under the name of the Air Care Alliance. They can be found on  the Internet.

A career as a missionary pilot in domestic and foreign fields offers exceptional challenges and rewards. The  Mission Aviation Fellowship is, perhaps, the best-known organization focused on flight support for missionaries.

Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Aviation Careers (articles from AOPA Pilot and AOPA Flight Training)

AOPA Career Pilot. An in-depth online resource on aviation careers.

Christmas Tree Transport, December 2006

Saving Aircraft Inc., April 2006

The Great Mechanic Shortage, April 2006

The Boss Says Fly!, February 2006

Legendary Aircraft, Extraordinary Service, November 2005

GA Entrepreneurs, November 2004

My Life as a Freight Dog, November 2004

The Aerial Jockey, April 2004

Flying the Schnozz, September 2003

Sky Artist, March 2003

Aviation Biz 101, September 2001

Rocketing Out of Obscurity, November 2000

The Dot-Com Air Force, July 2000

Careers: A tale of two pilots
AOPA Flight Training, September 2006

Mission Pilot
Flying for a higher authority
AOPA Flight Training, March 2006

Careers: Pushing tin
Consider a controller career
AOPA Flight Training, November 2005

Flying the Mesa way
Ab initio works for this partnership
AOPA Flight Training, July 2005

Careers: The professional CFI
Much more than a career waypoint
AOPA Flight Training, November 2004

Foot in the door
Where you train could determine where you'll fly
AOPA Flight Training, June 2004

Career Counseling to Help You Secure your Future in Aviation
AOPA Flight Training, June 2003

The College Conundrum: Choosing A School That's Right For You
AOPA Flight Training, December 2002

Careers: A Career Reality Check
AOPA Flight Training, September 2001

Flying for Uncle
AOPA Flight Training, January 1998

Professional Opportunities
Helicopter Emergency Medical Service Pilot
AOPA Flight Training, February 1997

From the AOPA Archives

Careers: Inspector Insights
Career opportunities in the FAA
A OPA Flight Training, July 2006

Professionally Speaking: References
You can't outrun your reputation
AOPA Flight Training, July 2006

Careers: What's going on?
2006 hiring forecast
AOPA Flight Training, January 2006

Change of Latitude
A pilot changes flying careers
AOPA Pilot, September 2005

I've Been Here Before
Reflections on a flying career
AOPA Pilot, September 2005

Careers: The call
How the hiring process works
AOPA Flight Training, September 2005

Careers: Window dressing
Extra training to make a résumé pop
AOPA Flight Training, May 2005

Your image
Why you didn't get the job
AOPA Flight Training, February 2005

Careers: Pilots wanted — really
AOPA Flight Training, January 2005

Seamless transition
Aviation education today offers multiple career paths
AOPA Flight Training, December 2004

Career watch: Taking the industry's pulse
AOPA Flight Training, September 2004

Tactical decision
Pilot opportunities abound in the armed forces
AOPA Flight Training, September 2004

Careers: Up, up, and away
Consider hot air balloon tours
AOPA Flight Training, May 2004

President's Position: Alive and well
AOPA Pilot, September 2003

Airline Aspirations: What It Takes to Make It
AOPA Pilot, March 2003

Careers: Job Mining On The Web
AOPA Flight Training, March 2002

A Wealth Of Options: Choosing Your Educational Opportunities
AOPA Flight Training, December 2000

Instructor Report
From the Beginning: Ab Initio Training
AOPA Flight Training, June 1999

College: More than readin', writin', and rudder control
AOPA Flight Training, November 1998

Programming A Career Compass
Getting To An Aviation Career Just Doesn't "Happen"
AOPA Flight Training, June 1998

Collegiate Aviation: Planning For An Aviation Education And Beyond
AOPA Flight Training, November 1997

Collegiate Aviation: Turning College Experiences Into Flying Experiences
AOPA Flight Training, November 1997

FT Pro: Professional Development: Reaching For The Sky
AOPA Flight Training, January 1997

Insights: Images of Success
AOPA Flight Training, July 1996