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Life as a Contract Pilot

Contract Pilots are not allowed to tell you what the job is like. Personally I find this a bit weird as having secrets goes against the grain for me. But I suppose some activities are at personal risk, are cloak and dagger, and money and power must, as usual, be the reasons behind it all.

As a pilot, I can attest we don't really give a damn about the politics. It's all about the flying for us! So here is the down low about this type of flying, anonymously brought to you, so you have a clear idea on what you may be getting yourself into if you want to fly on Contract in Africa and the Middle East.

So there you are, with a commercial license and maybe more than a few hundred hours under the belt. It’s just no more fun to fly around in the circuit with a student who is trying to kill you. Or maybe you have gone up the ladder a small step and have found new freedom in a Seneca or a Baron, tearing up the skies in the Lowveld. But you always want more.

Everybody talks about contract flying and the fun and joy that goes with it.

Let’s start off with some facts:

Currently there are just a handful of contracting companies left in S.A. Some of them are:

  • King Air Services

  • Balmoral

  • Solenta

  • N.A.C / Naturelink.

  • Allegiance

  • Cem Air

To fly on contract you need one of 4 basic ratings. Others may apply, however these are the common ones:

  • Pac 750

  • Let 420

  • Beach 200

  • Beach 1900

  • Embraer E 120

The ratings cost quite a bit of money. These days it is very rare that a company will be bothered to pay for you to fly for them.

There are four basic contracts.


  • UN WFP

  • Red Cross (ICRC)

  • Other

On Contract, you could stay in from some of the worst places in the world, to some of the best places in the world.

Internet and cell phone is usually either/or. Either it works or it doesn’t.

Duration of contract tours are from 5 to 10 weeks. With 4 to 6 weeks off.

For the most part you will not be paid for the time off.

Let’s take a look at all the NEGATIVES and hurdles to overcome.


The most prominent contract flying out there will be for the UN or some version of that.

The UN DPKO missions, (Political side), have high requirements for hours and experience. The common figure is 3000hr TT with 500 PIC on type. For a FO, (First Officer), it is 1000hr TT with 200hr on type.

For the UN WFP it is 1500TT with 500hr on type for P1 and 1000hr TT and 200hr on type for a FO.

As you can see, the UN DPKO is a lot more stringent with the hours of experience and it is for this reason that you will remain a FO for a very long time.

The ICRC requires about 750Hr TT and 200hr on type for P1 and 500hr TT for a FO as far as I know.

Other contract flying is as per client requirements. Some contracts may be for oil companies, where the TT could be as much as 4000hr TT 1000hr on type for P1 and min frozen ATP for FO. Some contacts could be aircraft owned and just the crew supplied.

The remainder is airline orientated, without the stability and perks of an airline.

It is sometimes really difficult to get into Contract flying without knowing someone who knows the “right” person.


As previously mentioned, a tour cycle can vary from company to company. The most common rotation is 8 weeks on 4 weeks off. This in itself is not too bad, considering it brings a 4 month holiday every year.

In reality however there will be many a time where the Boss man will ask you to do an extension of tour for some reason or the other. If you decline this request, be sure that it will be well noted and when upgrade time comes, you will be somewhere at the bottom of the pile. Having said this, if there are real solid reasons for not doing the extension, it can be understood. Some companies have few places of operation, so chances are that you will see a part of the world that is not too good. Some have operation in as many as 6 different countries all at once, so travelling light is advisable. Here is a current list of known places of operation.

K.A.S: DRC, South Sudan, Sudan, Malta, Timor Leste, Haiti.

Solenta: Kyrgyzstan, Jordan, Ghana, Niger.

N.A.C / Narturelink: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Ghana, Jordan, Chad, South Sudan.

Balmoral: Afghanistan.

Air Tec: DRC, CAR, Chad, Algeria

These are a few of the most well known Contract areas. There are still many more companies out there with all different places and kinds of operations.

Women on contract:

It is not uncommon for women to want to be on tour and you won’t be the first. Many female pilots enjoy contracting work as well as men. There must be a huge word of caution though. The conditions are not exactly what women are usually subjected to. Men that you come in contact with on contract might be a little rougher than you are used to. Generally it must be said to be harmless fun but with an alarming lack of tact. Survival will be easy with those with a thick skin and who are able to adapt to the basic environs (including washrooms that you will remember for the rest of your life). You will know in advance if this is for you.

You will need a sense of adventure but don’t expect it to be easy. I