AOPA - Career Pilot

Career Success Stories

Flying for hire

Consider Part 135 operations

By Wayne Phillips (From AOPA Flight Training)

Some cold and windy night, curl up with a good book: Title 49 United States Code. Since it is highly unlikely that you have the paper version in your library sandwiched between the Skyhawk pilot's operating handbook and the Airplane Flying Handbook, you might need to first perch your laptop on your knees and Google Title 49 United States Code.

Why Title 49? As you make your way through the legalese, you will find the basis for the FAA's very existence. Right there in section 44701, it states, "The Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall promote safe flight of civil aircraft in air commerce by prescribing...regulations and minimum standards in the interest of safety." Thence comes the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR)--specifically Title 14, labeled Aeronautics and Space; pilots commonly refer to this as the federal aviation regulations (FARs).

As you climb the aviation career ladder, you will learn that shuttling humans and boxes in aircraft for pay is highly regulated by reams of Title 14 regulations organized by "Parts." There's a bunch, and if you really want to look at them all, go to the FAA Web site and click on "Regulations."

You already know something about Part 61--Certification: Pilots, Flight Instructors, and Ground Instructors. This gives your flight school and you the roadmap to earning pilot certificates, ratings, and authorizations, as well as other minutia to keep yourself valid and legal as an aviator. If you've soloed an airplane, then you should already be acquainted with Part 91: General Operating and Flight Rules. VFR and IFR rules of the road, speed limits, and operating procedures spring from Part 91. Anyone launching a flying career must get into Part 67: Medical Standards and Certification pronto. There are sad stories of young airline pilot wannabes who signed up for costly flight training only to find out that they could never hold an FAA first class medical certificate because of a physiological glitch.

It's a good bet that most students in line for the commercial pilot practical test can't answer this question from the friendly designated pilot examiner. "So, what exactly can you do with your brand-new commercial pilot certificate, and where can that information be found?" The answer lies in Part 119--Certification: Air Carriers and Commercial Operators. Slide on down to Section 119.1(e). Part 119 is also a crucial part of the vast conglomeration of regulations that airlines consult to either earn or maintain an air carrier certificate.

When you are ready to forsake flight instructing in a Piper Seminole or a Beech Duchess and move to the next level, then a whole sea of regulations will engulf you.

Is the grand dream navigating Cessna Citations and Gulfstreams into Aspen for NetJets or Flight Options? Then, you might want to look at Part 91 Subpart K: Fractional Ownership Operations.

Headed for Chautauqua, SkyWest, Southwest, or Continental? Then get ready for a dizzying array of rules contained in Part 121--Operating Requirements: Domestic, Flag, and Supplemental Operations.

Candidly, it does seem as if most folks forging ahead toward a flying career ultimately want to fly a regional jet, 737, or Airbus. As such, these airborne professionals will encounter almost all of the rules cited above at one time or another. But there is one set of regulations that is more or less overlooked, and that is the regulatory concoction known as Part 135--Operating Requirements: Commuter and On-Demand Operations and Rules Governing Persons on Board Such Aircraft. For simplicity, let's just call it "air taxi" or "135."

There are actually two important reasons to contemplate "air taxi" or "135." First, in so many instances, Part 135 flying is the bridge between flight school and a job flying heavy iron for the airlines or corporate America. Second, this type of flying can be a career track in itself.

That guy with the beard, in jeans and a plaid lumberjack shirt, conveying some corporate big shots from Anchorage International to a backwoods lodge in a Cessna 206 on floats as a single-pilot/single-engine operator should be flying under the auspices of 14 CFR Part 135. That Agusta helicopter or King Air crew transporting the sick and injured to healing centers adheres to the FAA's Part 135 bible. The gutsy soul chugging over the Colorado mountains at night in a Caravan with a load of cancelled checks or UPS boxes is a 135 pilot. Ferrying tourists for a spiffy little outfit known as Island Airways between Charlevoix and Beaver Island, Michigan, in keen Britten-Norman Islanders is 135 flying. But, 135 as a career track when there are so many ERJs and CRJs to fly? Why? Let's find out.

She's all of 26 years old; bright, talented, and has 2,500 hours of flight time in her logbook with 1,000 multi and 450 turbine. Sarah O'Brien should be the hiring poster child for what's left of the majors. But yet, she is happy guiding a King Air 200 through the upper Midwestern skies.

To get to where she got, Sarah started at age 17 when working as a waitress at a Bob Evans. After pestering mom to drop by the airport after work one day in June 1998 to take an introductory flight, she was hooked.

She credits her flight instructor for keeping her focused. Sarah says, "His enthusiasm kept me so motivated. He made every flight challenging, insightful, and most of all, fun."

She stuck with it right through a private pilot certificate and instrument rating. Then, she slipped down to Florida to knock off the commercial and all CFI credentials with a couple of name-brand outfits. By December 1999, she had earned a pocket full of FAA tickets at an amazingly low cost of $28,000.

Her first flight school thought highly of her and welcomed her back for a year to instruct. Then, from 2001 to 2002, she added a bachelor of science degree in professional aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's Prescott, Arizona, campus.

In a classic reason why never to "burn bridges" after leaving an employer, Sarah was welcomed back again to that very first flight school where she not only instructed once more, but eventually worked into managing the office and the company's charter operations at age 24.

You know what's next in the script. The boss offers her the keys to the Cessna 421 to ferry high rollers to a variety of ports of call under 14 CFR Part 135. One charter customer is so enraptured with the experience of tooling around in a cabin-class twin, he decided to buy one for himself and hired Sarah to manage and fly it for him.

The customer sells the airplane after being spooked by a maintenance bill racked up during an annual inspection. By this time, Sarah has developed such a sterling reputation in the local aviation community that a King Air and Falcon Part 135 operator hires her. Today, she is still up front flying a King Air and ultimately one of those neat bizjets in the very near future.

Why not the regional airlines? Sarah rolls off a number of solid reasons. "First, I would have to take about a 50-percent pay cut from what I am making now. Flying 135 is more personal. The pilots get to know the customers. In one instance, rather than sitting around an FBO all day waiting for the passenger to finish his business, the crew was invited to the client's family reunion. You just don't see that in the airlines.

"The flying is so diverse, too. You are not facing the same drudgery of ORD-DSM-ORD-SGF-ORD-GRR-ORD-STL. I just don't think that kind of life is appealing.

"I guess one of the real 'hot buttons' for me is having chances to contribute in ways you simply cannot in the airlines. I have a good relationship with our FAA inspectors since I am the company's FAA liaison; I've had the responsibility to develop hazmat and MEL manuals; I have daily opportunities to enhance my own aviation business skills and grow with the company."

Certainly, life isn't always smooth and CAVU for the charter pilot. The downside? "There's one," says Sarah. "You can be at the mercy of the pager. The company I work for will say that, if we don't call you by such and such time, you're off the hook for the rest of the day or evening. But, when the customer has got to go now, you pack up and go."

In this game of aviation, there are lots of "shalls" and "shall nots" in the book of regs, and the savvy career-chaser will become at least somewhat acquainted with the rules that govern. Knowledge equates to bonus points in the interview. But, think about that "135" section of the FAA's tome not only as so much more gobbledygook to contend with, but as a basis for an alternative--and rewarding--career path to flying a winged mega-bus for a living.

Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines. He is an aviation safety consultant in Michigan and speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.