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Career Spotlight: See the sights

Flying as a tour pilot

Not all aviation jobs are glamorous. Some require repetitive flying and extensive customer service, and offer relatively low pay. Such is the life for a pilot needing to build time for a career.
Laurence Balter of Maui Flight Academy pilots his Cirrus SR-22 to the Four Seasons Resort on Lanai.
Kahului Airport (OGG)
Maui HI
Photography by Mike Fizer

After earning the commercial pilot certificate and beginning a career, a pilot has a decision to make. To instruct or not to instruct? Become a flight instructor and you can gain the experience necessary to jump from there to charter, corporate, or the airlines. Choosing not to instruct may put you on the path to becoming a sightseeing or air tour pilot. Depending on the area of the country, the type of aircraft, and the company, jobs can be had for little more than commercial pilot minimums.

Air tour pilots fly predictable shifts over familiar locations for months on end. Their job is to safely give passengers a fun and memorable experience seeing the local sights from the air. Aircraft can be everything from a Cessna 172 to a Viking Twin Otter or a turbine helicopter. Prior to the pandemic, jobs were available with very low time, but the market has since tightened. In places with bigger operations and more competition for jobs, such as the Grand Canyon and Hawaii (above), minimums might be 1,500 hours. Other operators might also require a tour pilot to instruct, but will hire at commercial minimums. Helicopter pilots can expect to be competitive in Alaska and New York City once they hit 1,000 hours, no turbine time required.

Although the routes are routine, the flights offer good training on interfacing with the flying public, and practicing the division of duties as you navigate the demands of passengers, the busy airspace, and the aircraft. As a plus, bigger aircraft offer the chance to be part of a crew and potentially the gold standard of turbine time.

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Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly is senior content producer for AOPA Media.

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