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Planning your aviation career

How do I plan a career as a pilot? What’s involved in the training and how long will it take? What kinds of pilot jobs are available? Are there other good-paying jobs in the industry? How do I decide what’s best for me? These questions are especially important for pilots.

Planning your career will take some careful consideration as well as a lot of investigation. Learn the requirements that make up each pilot certificate or rating you’ll need and the minimum qualifications. Know that there are numerous ways of completing each step, all of which lead to the same piece of FAA-issued plastic.

A good plan begins with obtaining your private pilot certificate—usually 50 to 70 hours of training for most students, roughly half as dual instruction and half as solo practice—which, like most certificates, requires that you pass a knowledge test as well as an oral and practical examination at its conclusion. If you are prone to “checkitis”—the fear of taking checkrides—you may as well get used to it because it will occur even more frequently as you progress.

Next, you’ll need to gain experience and self-confidence by flying to new places, during the day as well as at night. After you accumulate about 100 hours, your next step is to learn about instrument flying. This new world of detailed procedures and precision maneuvers will be scrutinized and tested.

Then you’ll obtain your commercial pilot certificate, which will allow you to fly for hire. Add a multiengine rating to your certificate so you can start logging hours in twin-engine aircraft; this is the type of time that pilot employers value most highly.

Obtaining your flight instructor certificates (basic, instrument, and multiengine) will not only provide you with what may be your first flying income but will also teach you the finer points of aviating and help you get accustomed to flying from the right seat.

To reach this point in your journey toward a pilot career, you’ll likely spend between $15,000 and $25,000, possibly more. Your flight time will be in the 350- to 400-hour range, and your employability will still depend on acquiring more flight hours.

Networking is crucial to your success. Pilots like to help pilots who help themselves and are willing to work for their rewards. Your job is to demonstrate to those who can help you that you’re ready, willing, and able to pay your dues and will put any opportunity they give you to good use.

However, don’t feel you have to nail down all of your career considerations at one time. Ask lots of questions, sample numerous answers, and enjoy the fun, excitement, and freedom that come from learning a new skill. Aviation has provided a lifetime of satisfaction and enjoyment for many people just like you.

Karen Kahn is a captain for a major U.S. airline, a CFI, and author of Flight Guide for Success—Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot. See her Web site.

November 17, 2008

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