Early job opportunities: Make your own
One of the best ways to learn about aviation is to experience some of it firsthand from the other side of the counter. As a new pilot who is learning the ropes, you see mostly the customer side of the business and may miss much of what it really takes to make airplanes fly. Any public-contact job, from line service to receptionist, will allow you to meet other pilots and learn the ins and outs of aviation.
After earning my private certificate, with funds in very short supply, I applied for a job at a new FBO and told them I would take anything they had. This FBO offered discount rates on aircraft rentals to its employees. Maybe the pay wasn't that good, but the excuse to hang around the airport was great!
I started out at the front desk, dispatching aircraft for the flight school, answering the phone, talking to pilots, and getting to know who flew which aircraft when and where. I let it be known that I was working on my certificates and ratings, and soon had various opportunities to fly along with other pilots and log valuable flight time.
I kept in close contact with our aircraft salesman and found him to be a great source of bootlegged flight time. I also kept abreast of who was buying an aircraft locally so I could pitch my pilot services to new owners who might need a second pilot.
One day I learned that a local TV news anchorman who had been a regular renter of the FBO's aircraft purchased a well-maintained 1960 Cessna Skylane; he was planning to start his own film production company. I boldly told him, "You may not know it, but you need me to help you run your business and fly your airplane while you do the photography." To my surprise, he agreed.
My next big chunk of learning included all the trials and tribulations of owning your own aircraft. Although the ship wasn't mine, I was intimately involved in its maintenance and servicing. Everything from the mandatory annual inspections to bad communications radios was my territory when it came to keeping an eye on N8466T. Insurance quotes, chart updating, IFR currency, tie-down ropes, fueling--I learned about them all.
All of this had started with a job at the airport. I was friendly, outgoing, and unabashedly self-promoting when it came to telling our customers about my aviation goals. Many former coworkers from that FBO now fly for major airlines. The line boy, the front desk receptionist--they all got their start at the local airport, realizing the value of being where the action is.
Karen Kahn is a captain for a major U.S. airline and author of Flight Guide for Success--Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot. Type-rated in the Boeing 757/767, MD-80, and Lockheed JetStar, she is an FAA aviation safety counselor who holds ATP and Gold Seal flight instructor certificates. Kahn is rated in gliders, seaplanes, and helicopters. Visit her Web site.