While the coronavirus pandemic brought the hottest pilot job market in 60 years to its knees, nearly all experts agree that this downturn will be a pause. So what can you do to keep your skills sharp to be ready for the interview or return to work when it comes on the back of this slump?
Recruiters hate to see pilots simply "give up" and stop flying. Sure, flying is expensive and everyone knows it, but if at all possible, try to keep your foot in the cockpit door as much as possible. I last flew a trip for my airline in April. In the meantime, however, I have picked up a little side hustle flying a turboprop for a real estate company at my local airport. If the worst happens and I get furloughed from my airline, I have a flying job to fall back on at least. No, it doesn't pay nearly what my airline job does, but it keeps some income coming in and keeps my flying skills sharp.
Of course, everything I've mentioned so far takes a sizable chunk of change, and if the funds simply aren't available for those ideas, it may be time to get a little creative. Many flight schools rent simulator time for far less than real airplanes. Sims are great for keeping instrument flying skills and cockpit procedures sharp. Of course, if you're a CFI, perhaps it's time to get back into the game and get paid to fly. Earning a remote pilot certificate is another inexpensive add-on to your certificate. If you also happen to be a decent photographer, aerial imaging using drones is an exploding business. Loans or financing may also be worth looking into to fund bolstering your resume.
Longtime airline pilots have seen several ups and downs in the business, and many of us have a side job or three. Real estate and property management are popular. For those with military backgrounds, returning to active duty or to the National Guard is a solid choice, as is the Civil Air Patrol. While the passenger airlines are in a world of hurt, cargo operators continue to hire and likely offer preferential hiring to furloughed airline pilots.
Airline pilot Sarah Rovner is facing a possible furlough but has made success in ferrying airplanes, especially on overseas ferry flights. “Having a specialized skill set like tailwheel or experience in a particular type of aircraft can help a pilot gain ferry-pilot opportunities,” said Rovner. “Additionally, many owners want instruction on ferry flights,” she added.
As is usually the case with seeking out flying jobs during a down market, it's important to keep your head on a swivel for potential opportunities and network as much as possible. Start reconnecting with old pilot friends to see what they are up to and whether they are aware of any opportunities. Perhaps your corporate pilot friend could use a warm body in the right seat? Check out seasonal jobs like aerial firefighting, banner towing, and skydiving operations. And don't forget to look within your company at jobs like dispatcher, or simulator/ground instructor, or helping in the chief pilot's office.
Keeping your head in the aviation game while also making a living is a delicate balance during a downturn. Assuredly, those pilots who make the effort to stay involved with aviation during the slump will shine brighter than those who choose to sit idle.