Safety Publications/Articles

Professionally Speaking

Keep your ticket

A career to fall back on in hard times

A little over two years ago, I wrote in this column that you should value your reputation as a CFI and hang onto your certificate, even if your real goal is to get hired by the airlines. I gave several reasons, including the fact that airlines were no longer as stable as they once were, and I predicted that it would probably get worse before it got better.

Was I right? I don't think I have ever been more correct on a prediction in my entire life.

There was a time when "getting on" with an airline was as close to lifetime security as it gets in this country. Not only that, but the money was tops, the prestige high, and the authority godlike. Those days are gone, and they may never come back.

I ate breakfast this week with a friend, "Joe," who has flown for seven - count em, seven - different airlines. One of those airlines was Pan Am. Joe and I can both remember when a pilot job with Pan Am was considered top of the heap, as secure as - if not more secure than - Fort Knox.

Did we say secure? When Pan Am went under, Joe not only lost his job, he also lost his pension.

Joe is one of the hardest-working people in aviation. On his way up to the airlines, he instructed, sprayed cotton, flew skydivers, towed gliders, flew charter and corporate, and delivered Santa Claus in a helicopter. He is also a working A&P, has built his own airplane, and is constantly involved in rebuild projects. If you can name it in aviation, Joe has done it, and he probably still does. (Did I mention he is also an aeronautical engineer?)

Today, Joe flies for a major, major airline that is probably going to last forever. (It hauls freight, not people, so it actually makes a profit.) He finally does have a great job, and more power to him. He deserves it.

But he still instructs, does maintenance, and otherwise uses his aviation qualifications.

Safety? Security? The one constant in Joe's career has been - guess what - instructing. Year in and year out, the one thing he has done every year is teach people to fly.

During good times and bad, Joe has instructed and does so to this day. Because his reputation is so good, he turns down more instruction time now than he accepts, is able to pick and choose his customers and their aircraft, and keeps his price up. Same with his mechanic work.

Therein lies the moral of the story. Joe worked like hell at all of his aviation jobs, and now he gets his pick. His airline job pays the bills and then some, and he gets to choose the cream of the crop on his other aviation jobs, which are also his hobbies. He couldn't do this if he didn't have that great reputation, and he wouldn't have that reputation if he hadn't worked all of those past jobs enthusiastically and diligently.

Wouldn't you like to have a reputation like Joe's? Wouldn't you like to know that no matter what happens in the aviation industry, you would always be able to get a job?

If so, just copy Joe. Work every job as if you plan to keep that job for the rest of your life.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for 33 years and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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