Becoming a Pilot: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a pilot's career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a pilot is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Pilot

Aircraft pilots fly airplanes, as well as helicopters, for a variety of tasks, including carrying passengers and cargo, performing crop dusting and testing types of aircrafts. Before you consider this career, it can be beneficial to weigh the pros and cons of becoming a pilot.

PROS of Being a Pilot
Higher than average salary ($132,000 in 2014)*
The opportunity to travel the world*
Airlines take care of lodging, transportation and meals*
Excellent benefits (health, life, retirement, disability, discounts on flights, expense allowance)*

CONS of Being a Pilot
A majority of their time is spent away from home (approximately 360 hours a month)*
Possible exposure to toxic chemicals for crop dusters*
Commercial pilots often have irregular schedules*
The possibility of stress due to being responsible for other peoples' lives*

Source: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Pilots make sure that the aircraft is fit for flight before take off by checking engines, controls and various instruments. When visibility is poor pilots must use instruments to safely guide the aircraft through the skies. Pilots and their crew must keep a close eye on instruments during the flight to check weather conditions, fuel level, air speed, air conditioning and the engines.

Airline pilots may have other non-flight duties to fulfill, such as deal with unhappy travelers, act as federal law enforcement officers, handle passenger luggage and oversee refueling. In order to become federal law enforcement officers, pilots must undergo intense training and a background check before they receive a firearm. Such training prepares them to safeguard the cockpit.

Salary

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers earned an average salary of $132,000; commercial pilots took in about $82,000 for the same year. The BLS also noted that the salaries of pilots could vary depending on if they are employed as commercial or airline pilots. Other factors to take into consideration when looking at salary include rank, experience, size of the aircraft and if the flights are international or made at night.

Career Paths and Specializations

Pilots can also help local news stations monitor traffic and inform listeners and viewers of traffic jams, accidents and rescue efforts. Some pilots work with police to track criminals and assist firefighters with extinguishing fires. Flight instructors teach students with simulators, as well as duel-controlled planes, and usually work on either weekends or evenings. Companies that transport cargo and executives or businesses that conduct tours and inspect pipes also employ pilots.

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, pilots generally train in the military or through a degree program, such as the Associate of Applied Science in Flight Technology or Bachelor of Science in Aviation. These programs can teach students about meteorology, aviation, macroeconomics, physics, flight theory, aviation navigation and aerodynamics. Programs may also teach future pilots how to operate both single and multi-engine planes, as well as how to navigate at high altitudes. It's recommended that students pursue programs that are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Pilots must also be licensed/certified by the FAA before they are employed. In order to become licensed, pilots must be at least 18 years old and have at least 250 hours of flight experience. You would also need to meet certain physical qualifications and pass an exam.

Airlines also require pilots to be able to fly an aircraft by instrument during times of low visibility. Captains must have an air transport pilot's license and be able to make sound decisions at a moment's notice. Individuals hoping to become private pilots must obtain their private pilot license, which requires an FAA medical certificate, at least 40 hours of flight experience and a flight test.

What Employers Are Looking For

As new airline pilots may start out as flight engineers, it's a good idea for pilots to have their flight engineer's license. Employees who don't yet have their license may be able to receive on-the-job training. Individuals will most definitely want to have a commercial pilot's license. Following are examples of job postings open during March 2012:

  • A company in California advertised for a safety specialist and pilot to fly the corporate jet to different locations in the U.S., assist line and staff management to understand OSHA regulations and standards (including guidance on handling OSHA compliance, inspections, and citations), investigate serious injuries in conjunction with line and staff personnel and notify top management of pertinent details. In order to qualify, it's recommended that applicants have a pilot license with over 2,000 hours of turbine as well as a commercial and/or instrument license.
  • A transportation company in Anchorage, AK, advertised for a seasonal tour pilot with a FAA Commercial Helicopter License and Commercial Instrument rating. Applicants should also be able to lift 50lbs with no restrictions.
  • A corporation in California advertised for a plane captain who would work on the flight line as a plane captain. This position would require performing servicing activities on various contract units including fuel, oxygen, water, oils, hydraulics, off-loads or loads cargo.

How to Stand Out in the Field

Employers may pay special consideration to applicants who have experience flying in the U.S. Air Force due to their extensive experience flying different types of aircraft. Pilots with more experience may have their pick of flight routes and stand out to employers. Employers may give special consideration to applicants who have experience with the type of aircraft they will be flying. According to the BLS, you can also increase your job prospects by clocking a great deal of instrument and flight hours.

Other Career Paths

The following careers may be suited for individuals who would like to work on planes without flying them.

Aviation Mechanic

Aviation mechanics, also known as aircraft mechanics, perform preventative maintenance and work to make sure that aircraft are in perfect operating condition. Some airline mechanics specialize in inspection while others focus on repair work. In order to become an aviation mechanic, it's recommended that individuals have a degree in aviation maintenance technology or a related field from a school approved by the FAA. Payscale.com reported in April 2012 that most aircraft mechanics earned between $25,000 and $75,000, which included bonuses.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers make sure that planes are a safe distance from each other and ensure that flights are not unnecessarily delayed. Air traffic controllers work in both the air traffic control tower and on the tarmac. In order to become an air traffic controller, individuals must have experience with the Department of Defense or the FAA. Another route is to have the proper amount of experience or a college degree that focuses on aviation or air traffic control. Individuals may also need a recommendation before they are hired. Payscale.com reported in April 2012 that most air traffic controllers earned between $33,000 and $147,000, which included bonuses and profit sharing.

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