The pilot shortage continues to put pressure on airlines, flight schools, and other companies as they look for qualified pilots to fill positions left by senior pilots retiring or leaving for other positions. Making it to a dream airline is arguably more attainable than it has been in years, but it’s still important to know what boxes to check during your initial experience building.
The most important currency in the modern aviation environment, as it has been historically, is flight time. Building as many hours in as little time as possible will be beneficial for being more attractive to potential employers. Not all flight time is created equal, however. Different operations like to see different types of experience when they’re looking for the ideal candidate. A multiengine operation, for example, might prefer to see more multiengine experience in a preferred candidate. Operators that fly technically advanced, high-performance, or turbine aircraft may also like to see more experience in similar aircraft.
In that same vein, it’s important to find the right places to build your time. For example, some companies have faster flow times to upgrades or reaching more advanced aircraft types. Spending more time in these advanced aircraft, or as PIC in complex planes, may make you a more attractive candidate to the companies to which you may want to apply. PIC time might be especially key, so choose a place where you understand the flows to PIC roles and are comfortable with the timelines. Having experience making executive decisions is important to highlight decision-making skills in practical applications
Perhaps just as important as flight time is where you’re obtaining that flight time. While having all your time in the same geographical location is likely not a detriment, having experience in a variety of locations proves ability to operate under varying conditions with an in-depth understanding of concepts like density altitude, cold-weather operations, and actual IFR operations. With this additional experience, potential employers will know you are able to operate effectively in a variety of conditions and may prioritize you over people with less experience.
Aside from gaining hours, there are other things you can do early to push your career faster along. For example, if you know you want to fly for a specific airline, consider whether they have a cadet program to join, internships to participate in, or more readily accessible jobs, like working the ramp or in customer service. Going that route early, perhaps while you’re still finishing training or building time, will demonstrate proactivity and passion for the company and will give you a sense of what it’s like to actually work for that company. Alternatively, if you know you want to instruct long-term or fly private jets, consider working for a flight school or FBO. You’ll be able to chat with pilots and learn the workings of their flight operations.
Ultimately, there are lots of things you can do to advance your career. Be proactive and explore your options and you’ll arrive where you want to be.