The career advisor
Q: I'm currently attending a major flight school in Florida. I'm scheduled to finish in January. It's no surprise the job market is starting to look bad with the gas prices the way they are. Not good news for a pilot like me who is going to have a $100,000 student loan to pay back after finishing school. My school is pushing me to get my CFI and stay to instruct. Is there a better way to further my career as a pilot without doing so? I know my time is low, but I really can't see myself as an instructor. I'm a single male in my 30s with no dependents, and I wouldn't even mind moving and flying out of the country. Any suggestions would be great. Thanks!--Matt
A: Matt, you are facing a dilemma that is being shared by hundreds of flight students caught in the training pipeline when oil prices began to skyrocket, forcing the industry to take drastic reduction measures.
Bear in mind that 2007 was a unique year. The airline recovery coupled with an outflow of retirees created opportunities for young, low-time professionals like we had never seen before. Airlines in particular were drafting CFIs out of schools and academies before the ink was dry on their CFI temporary airman certificates. Unfortunately what you are experiencing today is pretty much like it has always been before the 2007 boom.
Historically, very few airlines or flying businesses would talk with you unless you had the coveted 1,000 hours of total time. The premier companies, even some regional carriers, would stipulate 1,500 to 2,000 hours plus 500 hours of multiengine for new hires. It went like this: 1. Earn all of your ratings in about 250 to 300 hours. 2. Get a job as a CFI. 3. Pray that you would get beaucoup MEI time. 4. If the school has a charter department, you could start flying Senecas or even King Airs. 5. At about 1,000 hours, you started shopping around at the airlines or corporate operators. Ask anybody in the business over age 50 and you will see that's the way it was. The other route was the military.
With a slew of fine aviation academies and colleges, the new paradigm was simply this: Enroll; earn all of the certificates and ratings; flight instruct for awhile. After a few hundred hours, the institution shops your résumé around with its affiliate airlines and, voilà, you are on your way.
Before you dismiss the idea of flight instructing for your academy, it is at least steady work, you're building time every day for the next hiring boom that will inevitably come, and you will be staying sharp. You may have to get a part-time job to service that whopping debt, but many have done it before you. Plus, many chief pilots were themselves CFIs and have a certain soft spot for instructors when hiring is competitive.
I am presuming that your academy is not shipping many graduates to its partner airlines right now. At least if you stay in the family, I suspect that it will attempt to take care of you and send your résumé up the line at the first opportunity.
It looks like we're pretty much back to the old days where you build up that logbook one line at a time from the right seat. And, from what I see, the airlines are ramping up their minimums again. At this moment, very few are still recruiting.
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.