Many new commercial pilots choose to pursue instructing in order to build flight time and experience to become viable job candidates. However, for those of you who don’t want to instruct, there are other options you can pursue to acquire the experience you need for your dream flying job.
One notable job is pipeline flying. These pilots fly long hours each day inspecting oil pipelines, often at low altitudes. Though you may be locked into a contract between 1-2 years, these jobs often yield thousands of flight hours within a relatively short period. Days often involve hours of flying at a time, often at low altitudes, and in VFR conditions. This is a good way to learn effective single-pilot resource management with risk factors that may include low-altitude flying and VFR flight in marginal conditions. You will also have the added workload of splitting attention between keeping the aircraft stable and focusing on the task outside. However, this flying offers ample opportunity to learn more about PIC authority and effective decision making to a pilot.
Similarly, many choose to fly as survey pilots who use mapping and photographic equipment to capture images, record data, or work on mapping an area. This type of flying will, as with pipeline work, give you ample flight time in short periods and help you hone PIC authority and decision-making abilities. Since you may be required to determine the best path to accomplish you mission through pre-flight planning, it will also help you become especially cognizant of the terrain and obstacles on your route of flight.
Another option may be Part 135 flying. Though some major companies may still prefer highly experienced pilots, other airlines like cargo charter companies, essential air service companies like Cape Air, or other operators take low-time pilots at the start of their careers. These are good options for getting real-world experience at big airports, with structured air operators, or in a wider variety of aircraft.
Some pilots also fly skydivers, either during a particular season or year round. This type of flying offers challenging environments, in that you’ll be operating in tight environments at airports around other aircraft and skydivers, and experience in new, more-advanced aircraft. This is also another easy way to get hours, as skydiving companies expect a high frequency of flights in order to make money, thus providing the pilots with additional hours.
Sightseeing flights are also a common method of attaining hours. As with pipeline flights, sightseeing often includes common routes at somewhat-low altitudes, though there may be more natural breaks and more variability with weather constraints, passengers, and more. These flights are both a good way to build time and learn how to interact with passengers in a variety of environments and busier situations.
Flying as a ferry pilot may be a good way to gain hours, either full-time or to augment the flying you’re doing by taking part-time gigs. Either way, this is a good way to gain experience flying a variety of different aircraft. Often, you can even charge additional fees to get to and from the aircrafts’ bases as well as per diem costs. Flying as a ferry pilot is a good way to build time around your schedule, since working as a freelance pilot is arguably most seamless.
Finally, towing gliders and banners are good options for new pilots. You’ll spend time flying in relatively-easy conditions — along coasts, near airports, and over other popular tourist attractions. As with ferry-pilot jobs, these are often flown part time in addition to other positions. This isn’t the fastest way to build time, but it will provide options for smooth, relatively seamless, repetitive flying.
In summary, there are a wide variety of positions you can take in order to build flight time without being a certified flight instructor. Regardless of the path you take, it is easy to build a lot of experience in a relatively short time in new aircraft, in challenging environments, or with new methods. With focus and dedication, in no time, you’ll be taking the next step in your career.