Recession-proofing your pilot skills
"It's a 50/50 proposition," said the captain at a major airline. "Your flying career depends 50 percent on training and piloting skills and 50 percent on job hunting and networking skills."
He had been talking with a young woman who worked on a cruise ship and wanted to be a pilot, but felt she didn't have the funds to even start down the road toward her dream job. His comments were meant to remind her that succeeding in aviation isn't just based on your pocketbook or where you got your training, but how you deal with two very crucial factors: networking and job hunting.
Both are vital to your success as a pilot and will make or break your career. All the training at the best flight school won't get you a job if no one is hiring and all of your flight school classmates are pounding on the same closed doors.
So what should you do when the aviation job market is in the dumps? That's where preparation and persistence are critical. Having flight ratings is fine, but rounding out your résumé with other skills can make the difference when talking to a potential employer. What other skills do you have to offer? Can you help promote the business by speaking to local groups, designing Web sites, writing a newsletter, promoting weekend flight activities, or attracting new customers through innovative marketing ideas?
If you are rated, figure out a way to stay current, whether by ride-along flights as an extra set of eyes, eco flights to monitor environmental concerns, charity flights to fly people or supplies to distant destinations, or just rounding up a group of friends for a shared-expenses trip that will net you the flight time--and maybe a new student pilot for your local flight school.
Pilots who are willing to use their nonflying skills can find a job when the pilot cutbacks begin. By being creative, you can find employment that will keep you at the airport and in the path of current and future aviation opportunities. Pilots who continue to demonstrate their passion and interest in flying get noticed and assisted by other pilots who are in a position to do so.
Pilot employers like helping those who help themselves and don't let setbacks deter them from their aviation passion. Using your ancillary skills at any stage of your flying career can give you the visibility that makes you a magnet for aviation opportunities.
Capt. Karen Kahn is the author of Flight Guide for Success: Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot and a career counselor. A Master CFI and 30-year airline pilot, she flies the Boeing 757/767 for a major U.S. carrier.