The career advisor
Q: I have been reading your features and advice since I started flying in 2004 at Palwaukee Airport outside of Chicago. I am curious. What do you consider the best flying job out there?--Ken, Arlington Heights, Illinois
A: A veteran airline pilot with 24,000 flights hours says, "I've learned over the years that the best flying job is the next job!" There is a lot of wisdom in his quip. Flying is one career track where satisfaction seems to be the next rung on the career ladder. The young CFI shoots for that first officer gig flying regional jets. But once there, the FO covets the captain's chair. Once a captain, he or she longs for a major carrier and another progression from the right seat to the left seat. Then, it's on to bigger airplanes like the Boeing 777 or Airbus 380. The climb up seems endless.
But, let's talk specifics.
At the risk of seeming self-indulgent, the primo job in aviation may be working and flying for oneself. After a stint in corporate aviation flying sportscasters to Big 10 venues and media executives to sales calls across the country, this pilot hooked up with a regional airline flying the venerable Beech 1900. One night while dodging thunderstorms in all quadrants near Rapid City, Iowa, I recall saying to myself, "What the heck am I doing here?" I returned to Colorado where I launched a Part 135 air taxi service transporting skiers in my Cessna Turbo Skylane RG to places like Aspen and Telluride, flew scenic flights in hot air balloons, became a designated pilot examiner, and started doing 737 training as a contractor at United.
This is meant as a testimony that a working stiff can build aviation-based income and have a ball doing it--without a huge bankroll. I paid for my first working airplane, a beat up old 172 that cost $11,000, by towing banners with it. It was eventually parlayed into the 182. The initial investment for the scenic hot air balloon touring outfit was $9,000. The 737 type rating that opened the doors to contract training was $6,900. Today, I help Michigan air taxi operators stay safe as an aviation safety consultant and stay current in the Falcon 20, and I do ATP and type rating certification checkrides.
Another may be flying for NetJets. While airline aspirants may be aghast, Richard Santulli's fractional jet ownership concept not only supplies turbine-powered transportation to the high and mighty, but also provides a remarkable career path for the pilots who join their ranks.
First, the flying is diverse. These pilots are conveying business titans, golf pros, and celebrities to destinations far and wide. A NetJets pilot could see Jackson Hole, San Francisco, Aspen, and Los Angeles in a day. And the pilots are treated with a great level of respect by their passengers.
Second, the aircraft are top notch. The fleet now tops 600 and includes sleek and well-equipped Cessna Citations, Hawkers, Gulfstreams, Falcons, and the Boeing Business Jet.
Third, the company treats its pilots well. With a very predictable schedule--say, seven days on/seven days off--a first-year first officer will earn $56,875 annually. That gets bumped to $62,563 for FOs who take a 15-day flexible schedule. A five-year captain on the seven-on/seven-off rotations will earn $100,408 per year. If that captain opts for the 18-day fixed schedule, the annual salary is $122,147. And NetJets pilot can live virtually anywhere.
NetJets hired more than 200 pilots last year and will add more in 2008. The price of admission has not tumbled like the regional airlines; applicants are required to have 2,500 hours' total time, 500 multiengine, and 250 IFR. But average time for pilots coming on board is 6,500 total time; new hires includes senior airline captains and a former Air Force One pilot--so you'll be in good company.
Send us your career question and we'll answer the best ones here. Sorry, but we are not able to provide individual responses. 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.