Airline Job Hunting Guide

Pilot Working Conditions

Apart from salary expectations, most people are concerned with working conditions of their jobs. In regards to the airline industry, working conditions vary widely according to the type of job you undertake.

Pilot Working Conditions

According to FAA regulations, airline pilots flying large aircrafts cannot fly more than 100 hours a month or more than 1,000 hours a year. Most airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours a month and work an additional 75 hours a month performing non flying duties. Most pilots have a variable work schedule, working several days on, then several days off. Most spend a considerable amount of time away from home because the majority of flights involve overnight layovers. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations, transportation between the hotel and airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses. Airlines operate flights at all hours of the day and night, so work timetables are often irregular. Flight assignments are based on seniority. An airline seniority number is normally assigned to a pilot on completion of training. The sooner pilots are hired, the lower their seniority number and the stronger their bidding power.
Commercial pilots also may have irregular timetables, flying 30 hours one month and 90 hours the next. Because these pilots frequently have many non flying responsibilities, they have much less free time than do airline pilots. Except for corporate flight department pilots, most commercial pilots do not remain away from home overnight. But, they may work odd hours. However, if the company owns a fleet of planes, pilots may fly a regular schedule. Flight instructors may have irregular and seasonal work timetables, depending on their students’ available time and the weather. Instructors frequently work in the evening or on weekends.
Airline pilots, especially those on international routes, often experience jet lag—fatigue caused by many hours of flying through different time zones. To guard against pilot fatigue, which could result in unsafe flying conditions, the FAA requires airlines to allow pilots at least 8 hours of uninterrupted rest in the 24 hours before finishing their flight duty.
Commercial pilots face other types of job hazards. The work of test pilots, who check the flight performance of new and experimental planes, may be dangerous. Pilots who are crop-dusters may be exposed to toxic chemicals and seldom have the benefit of a regular landing strip. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue and police work may be subject to personal injury.
Although flying does not involve much physical effort, the mental stress of being responsible for a safe flight, regardless of the weather, can be tiring. Pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong, particularly during takeoff and landing.
Actually, pilots work in all kinds of conditions.  In general, the working conditions get better as you gain experience and are able to have a larger, wider choice of who you fly for and what sort of flying that agency or company does.

Below 500 hours PIC*:

Normally the main job you will get at this level of flight experience will be as beginning flight instructor.  The working conditions vary from working out of a local flight school with one or two other instructors to working in a large FAR 141 Pilot School where you have a standard syllabus for everything.  Large FAR 141 Pilot schools can be at universities or colleges or can simply be privately owned technical flight schools such as Flight Safety Academy or Delta Airlines Academy or Pan Am International Flight Academy.  A flight school or a flight training company will work you very hard, especially on good weather days....  You are paid hourly in most cases and at the better companies a salary is paid.  Benefits are rare but they are offered at the bigger flight schools and university flight training companies.  Average pay is $8 to 12 an hour.  Average salaries at colleges vary from $1750 to $3000 a month depending on where you are.

500 to 1500 hours PIC

Advanced flight instruction jobs, charter jobs (flying for a non-scheduled Air Taxi Operator flying under FAR 135), specialty flying such as flying aerial advertising (towing signs), flying bank checks for bank clearing houses or flying pipeline inspection flights.  Generally 500 hours is the minimum # of hours required by aviation insurance companies for a job at an air taxi or specialty jobs that involve flying.  Specialty flying and charter flying is AS NEEDED BY THE CUSTOMER, 24 HOURS A DAY, SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.  You have to be ready to go on short notice.  A demanding series of jobs but you have to realize that most people use these jobs as a stepping stone to bigger and better jobs, so, most do not mind the abuse of their schedule.  Pay is better than as a flight instructor but the key thing is to get a broader set of experiences with bigger and faster aircraft and, hopefully, some multi engine flight time.

500 to 1500 hours PIC with 100 to 300 hours of multi engine experience

A job with a smaller regional airline is possible at this level of flying experience.  Airline flying with an airline flying smaller turboprop or piston twins will usually be a maximum of 100 hours a month.  Most regional timetables you 4 to 5 days of work a week and you will work a lot of weekends to start with since you will be a "junior" pilot at first on the senior list.  The better flight timetables normally go to the more senior pilots.  Regarding working and living conditions with a regional, you need to watch out for where their PILOT CREW BASES OR DOMICILES are located.  Some are located in big cities like New York or Chicago or Atlanta....and since regional aviation employers pay you well, you will likely be living in a "crash pad" with several other pilots in the same boat as you.  You will be on the road a lot...but, some of the smaller airlines will get out "out and back" the same day from a hub and require few overnights.  Only one or two regional employers pay up to six figures ($100,000 a year) for a captain with ten years of experience.  The rest pay less than that.  Starting salaries offered by regional employers are more like flight instructor salaries the first year....maybe $20,000 to $25,000 a year.

2500 to 4000 hours with 500 to 1000 hours turbine PIC (or Captain in a jet) flight experience

This is when you begin to qualify for a national or major airline such as JetBlue, Midwest, American or Southwest or a large cargo airline like FEDEX or UPS.  The lifestyle at some airlines will require several three and four day trips with total working days averaging 12-16 a month.  So, you will be gone a fair amount.  But, after serving any "reserve" time (that is, pilots at the beginning of their career with a company do not  get a schedule and fly a "reserve" schedule, filling in for pilots who call in sick, etc), your schedule gets better and more predictable with time.  With a large major like United or American or Northwest you might be spending time overseas, too....four and five day trips to the Orient, for example.  The pay at the most majors tops out at $250,000 a year for a 20 year captain on their largest aircraft.  Starting salaries at most of these type of airlines are in the $30,000 range.

2500 to 4000 PIC flight time with 500+ in jets

Also gets you a chance to fly for a corporate flight department.  The lifestyles at these companies can vary a lot depending on their size.  The schedule is much like an airline schedule and the places you fly will depend on the type of aircraft operated....many corporate jets have intercontinental capability.  But, chances are you will be gone a fair amount on overnight trips.  Smaller corporate flight departments with only a few pilots will be at the mercy of the aircraft owners in terms of their personal timetables.

*PIC: numbers of Pilot in Command or PIC flight hours

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Pilot Working Condition

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Flight Engineer

Pilot Working Conditions