Becoming a Corporate Pilot - More Than a Stepping Stone - Find out more by going to www.fapa.aero
By Rob Mark
A decade ago, a pilot considering a corporate flying job was assumed to be biding his time until that dream airline job came along. After all, what pilot in his right mind would choose a career of shuttling corporate executives and their pals around, handling their baggage and arranging the catering? To some, corporate flying seemed akin to being an aerial limo driver.
Then along came the tragedy of September 11, which sent the airline industry into a tailspin. The airlines have only now begun to recover and barely, at that. By the thousands, airline pilots found themselves not only out of work, but watching the careers theyd spent years building fall apart. Salaries and benefits for airline pilots plummeted as one carrier after another slipped into bankruptcy. This time, however, pilots didnt just find themselves wondering how to make a living while awaiting recall. They found themselves asking if it would even happen at all.
Today, thousands of professional pilots have learned that corporate aviation has evolved into a worthy alternative to airline flying. As a career, corporate aviation also called business aviation offers aviators a number of opportunities that are not available to airline pilots. Business aviation pilots often fly the newest jets wearing attractive names like Gulfstream, Learjet, Citation, and Global Express. In addition to carrying the most sophisticated on-board avionics and airline-like safety equipment in the cockpit, business airplanes are now capable of traveling internationally. Last summer, a Bombardier Global Express captured a world record when it easily made the leap from Chicago to Paris nonstop with a half dozen passengers aboard.
An increase in commercial air travel delays, due to a range of security restrictions has convinced many executives to either buy their own company aircraft or enter into partnerships, allowing them access to point to point service as needed.
Additionally, the nations aging air traffic system has added new stress to travel between major airline hubs. Business aviations ability to avoid the OHares, La Guardias and the Hartsfields has focused a new light on business aviations flexibility. A recent forecast from Embraer, a builder of a variety of business and commercial aircraft, shows a need for some 13,000 new business aircraft by 2018. Over 1,500 jets and turboprops were delivered in 2007, alone. While some are counted as replacement airplanes, others found homes as additions to current fleets, or were purchased to establish a completely new aviation department. The General Aviation Manufacturers Association recently said that, including all business aircraft, those considered non-airline accounted for sales of nearly $21 billion in 2007. All of these aircraft, of course, need pilots to fly them.
Corporate aviation has made incredible strides in salary, benefits and schedules in order to attract and keep good pilots. In the past, job security was practically nil, and flying jobs with the Fortune 100 companies were about the only that paid well, and only then its most senior pilots. Small airplanes, mostly turboprops and light jets were the traditional realm of flight departments that often had trouble affording the expense of the fleet, let alone their pilots. And during difficult economic times, smaller companies would look first to the aviation department to cut costs. Now, however, a company aircraft is viewed as a business tool that resource management is reluctant to eliminate.
The seniority level of company personnel permitted to use the corporate airplane has lowered in recent years, meaning that the overall usage has increased. In years past, a business aviation flight crew that flew 400 hours per year was thought to be busy. Today, a busy airplane chalks up around 700 hours per year.
One Falcon 2000 pilot based in Chicago flies for a Fortune 100 company. Employed by the business for seven years, he now earns a six-figure salary, flying about 550 hours per year. He told FAPA.aero that the position offers him good health, dental, and retirement benefits that many airline pilots have seen disappear in the last decade. His flight time is normally scheduled weeks in advance with few last minute changes. While most runs are those regularly flown between his companys branch locations, he occasionally is called to fly to cities hes not visited before, an aspect of his job he finds appealing.
Wheres the Beef?
Janice K. Barden has been an eloquent voice for business aviation for 35 years, since she opened Aviation Personnel International, a pilot placement service. She runs the company with her daughter, Sheryl, from her Napa Valley, California office. Barden explained why a pilot might choose a corporate career over an airline job. If you are a people person and like having some say in your career, business aviation might be for you. This is a challenging career and I think youll work harder than you do at the airlines. One important fact that Barden pointed out is, There are no unions in corporate aviation and you dont always have a firm schedule. But as a corporate pilot, youre a direct ambassador for your employer, often with some incredibly important passengers. As the CEOs attache it is your job to greet passengers and assure them of the professional treatment theyre expecting.
Personal flexibility is a critical aspect of this profession, says Barden. If the crew is on the ground in Munich and the company suddenly sees a huge opportunity pop up in Africa, the airplane could well be headed for Johannesburg the very next day, rather than back home.
Bardens notes on personnel highlight the primary differences between corporate and airline pilots. On a typical trip, the boss might call the pilot, mentioning the need to fly next Thursday from Atlanta to Los Angeles with three other passengers for a dinner meeting. While vague to some, those instructions are thoroughly understood by the corporate pilot.
First, the pilot will consider the aircraft capabilities for planning departure time, flight length, fuel stops and destination airport. Maintenance inspections and operations details will be handled. Next he or she will make catering, and ground transportation arrangements. Its the pilots responsibility to make arrangements for the local maintenance and layover of the aircraft, as well. Does the pilot have a list of telephone numbers? Shed better!
The corporate pilot is involved in almost every aspect of a corporate trip. A pilot friend who flies for FedEx likes it because, boxes and packages dont ask for anything. He obviously wouldnt make a good business aviation pilot. But you just might!
Shane Forsyth lives in St. George, Utah with his wife and young son. Despite having recently sold his Cessna 152, Forsyth knows his future lies in the cockpit of an airplane somewhere. After a fair amount of research about his options, hes gathered a few interesting insights. My dad was a crop duster so I always wanted to be a pilot, too. But I thought being a professional pilot only meant the airlines. I started looking at the lifestyles and the kind of flying they do at the airlines and realized it just wasnt for me. Forsyth is now giving strong consideration to a career as a business aviation pilot, especially after talking to one of his first instructors, a Learjet pilot and friend who flies a G-5 in Texas, both recommending the corporate pilot career.
Holding only a private certificate leaves Forsyth asking the same difficult questions asked by an entire generation of civilian aviators. Where do I turn for further education and certification? Will the school I attend help me find a job? How do I finance this training? And should I become a flight instructor?
Right from the start Forsyth realized that most schools he looked at were aiming their graduates in the same direction - commercial aviation. One school that did attract his attention, however, was Flight Safety in Vero Beach, Florida because of that companys Business Jet Direct program. The program offers new flight instructors an opportunity to fly right seat in any of the training giants simulators, thereby gaining jet procedure experience.
Jan Barden mentions an aspect of corporate aviation thats critical for success. Most people who fly corporate hold at least an ATP certificate. That means theyll need some flying time under their belts to qualify for a good corporate job. And how exactly can a low-time pilot qualify for the benefits of a corporate flying position with a good company when he has just been certified as a commercial pilot from a diploma mill that focuses on airline jobs? Consider hiring on at a regional airline, Barden says. It provides great real-world experience with weather and high-density traffic flying that will prepare a new pilot well as she builds time. Things have certainly changed in this industry; as one now gains training as a regional pilot in order to later land a corporate flying job.
Finding a corporate flying job is all about networking, which is much different from the commercial airline application system. Many corporate jobs are never listed anywhere, in fact. A company in need of a business pilot might, for instance, contact Aviation Personnel International for a candidate matching its needs. Ms. Barden will search through her companys database of pre-qualified applicants to find a match. Another route a company may take is to simply ask its current pilots for knowledge of a person with the right qualifications. Associations like the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA.org) and Women in Aviation International (WAI.org) incidentally, not just for women offer other great opportunities to meet the kind of people youll find useful in securing the right job.
If it sounds like a prospective pilot needs to become a bit of an airport bum meant affectionately, of course to meet and greet people, thats exactly the case. But since meeting and greeting is a large part of being a successful corporate pilot, its all good practice for the future.
Last Modified: February 5, 2013