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Airline Pilot & other flying careers

Updated: Jul 22, 2020

The Career Pilot:

The first step in Airline Flight Training is to get a Private Pilot License, (for which you may NOT be paid), followed by a Commercial Pilot License (for which you may be paid). As a Commercial Pilot you may work for an Airline, or a Charter Company, but they will only consider you if you have an Instrument and Twin Engine rating, and preferably turbine or jet time as well. If you want to progress up the ranks, you will have to get your Airline Transport Pilots License. 

Although "Airline Pilot"  jumps right to the forefront when the word "pilot" is mentioned, it is not the only type of aviation lifestyle out there.

Flying jobs include a much wider variety. Sometimes pilots pass through flying vocations using them as "stepping stones" to move on to another, usually higher or potentially higher paying position. Airline Flight Training ranks highly because there is no denying that Airline jobs pay from well to very well. Plus the uniform usually looks pretty good.

Airlink about to enter the runway at Pietermaritzburg

There are some hard truths below, but for those of us that love flying, it's all worth it.

AVIATION CAREERS: Here are as many as I can think of, (and their licensing requirements):

- Airline Pilot (CPL okay, but will need ATLP eventually) - Corporate Pilot (CPL okay, ATLP recommended) - Fire Spotter Pilot (VFR CPL) - Survey Pilot (VFR CPL) - Charter Pilot (CPL to ATPL) - Flight Instructor (CPL, ATPL for DE qualification required) - Medical evacuation Pilot (IF CPL minimum) - Fire Bomber Pilot (VFR CPL) - Crop Sprayer / Agricultural Pilot (VFR CPL) - Contract Pilot (IF CPL minimum) - Aerobatic Display Pilot (VFR PPL / CPL) - Bush Pilot (VFR CPL) - Police Pilot (VFR CPL minimum) - Nature Conservation Pilot (VFR PPL / CPL) - Airforce Pilot.(Military qualification, in-house)


PPL - #Private Pilot License (you may NOT be paid for flying, but you may fly for your company provided you hold a position other than that of a Pilot, otherwise you need a


CPL - #Commercial Pilot License (you are a professional pilot and may be paid) minimum 200-250 hours training.  Can be VFR or IFR, choose twin or single engine aircraft, but must be rated in a complex aircraft with VP and retrac.

ATPL / ATP - #Airline Transport Pilot License - the next step up from a CPL, minimum 1500 hours to your name.  You must have an IFR and multi-engine ratings, and may now captain big jets.(Company discretion).

VFR - #Visual Flight Rules - You may only fly when you can see where you are going.

IFR - #Instrument Flight Rules - You may fly through and above clouds and don't have to see where you are going as you will be using your aircraft instruments to fly and navigate.

VP - #Variable Pitch

Retrac - Retractable undercarriage

Your Career is tied to your personal health Earning an income as a pilot, as with any profession, is dependent on your health. One can take out both life insurance and license insurance, so that you are covered for any eventuality. Airline flight training is a very specific direction, and a loss of license due to medical reasons can be devastating.

Aviation Insurers in South Africa are Dennis Jankelow & Associates, and Flightsure.

Your Future As with any career, you start at the bottom and work your way up. Every hour you earn adds to airline flight training. Some Aviation Careers pay a lot better than others, and each promise different lifestyles. Think about where you would like to be in 20 years. This will help you with your decisions now and in the future.

Take any job you can get in an aviation company, even if it does not involve flying at first. Stay positive, show the powers that be that you are made of the right stuff, and you are likely to get into the cockpit long before an outsider. In aviation, networking is paramount, and people help people they know, like and trust.

Airline flight training never ends, even once in the airline there will always be another aircraft to convert to, requiring weeks of training.

Family Life You will be away from home a lot unless you choose something like flight instruction,(dismal income in SA, better in some other parts of the world) or fire fighting (reasonable to good income in SA, some contracts 6 months, others permanent employment. Expect to spend 6 months in one small town part of the country, and 6 months in another small town part of the country).

As a parent you will need a forgiving partner, or a dependable Au Pair or nanny to raise your child(ren), because you won't be around much. In the long term, relationships for pilots are challenging since they are often long distance.

Forgetting about the delight of flying: Some pilots have become a bit jaded. Airline Flight Training is sometimes a long road. I suppose that is like some lawyers, doctors, accountants, business men, bank clerks, drug dealers... it doesn't matter what you do for a living, doing it for long enough can make you a little dis-illusioned, a little dull, a little used up.

I can only speak for myself, there are days that I would rather be doing something other than flying, but then there are those incredible days, crystal skies, crisp horizons, views into forever, or days that I just think "Shite! I'm good!" Days like this re-connect me with that exuberance I felt when I first chose this profession. The former happens usually as the result of a storm or heavy rain that cleans the skies, the latter, when I have handled the aircraft particularly well, and the aircraft and weather have co-operated so that I congratulate myself on my exceptional flying ability. What fun!

The Inside Story There is no better way to learn about what each route is like than from someone who is or has been there, so ask people you meet who are doing what you would like to do.

Look for other blog posts on this site for the inside story on different flying careers.

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