About Us : About IWITTS : Contact Us : Sitemap : WomenTech World Home
Back to:   Aviation Main Menu

 Biographies & Stories Mainpage

Women in Aviation Magazine

"Getting Started in a Flying Career"

January/February 1999, by Judy Tarver

What does it take to reach that goal of becoming a major airline or corporate pilot? After more than twenty years in the pilot selection and recruitment business, my advice on this topic is often sought by aspiring pilots. Believe me, it isn't an easy route but, if you plan carefully and stay on track, the opportunities are better today than they have ever been. Here are some simple hints to help you begin.


Most major airlines either prefer or require a four-year college degree. You should consider pursuing an aviation-related degree. You benefit from being able to combine your flight training with the other requisites for the degree program and move faster into your profession. In addition, many aviation universities are closely connected with a variety of airlines. The airlines often give preferential consideration to students who attend these schools or participate in an internship program.

Military versus Civilian

Should you pursue the military route or go civilian? Both plans are good ones. However, various factors should be considered when you are making that decision.
  • Military
    While the experience and training you receive in the military are valuable, remember that you will have a commitment of 10 or more years of service, depending upon the branch you select. Since the aviation industry is unpredictable, you could be risking a downturn in hiring when you get out.
  • Air National Guard/Reserves
    This can be the best of both worlds. You can fly military aircraft and still work in the civilian sector. This really helps you build hours and experience. However, there are a couple of important items to consider. You must be under 26 years of age to join and you may be called to active duty with your unit.
  • Civilian
    The civilian career is a tough and expensive one but, if you plan properly, you can move through the stages quickly. Some pilots have worked hard and gained the credentials to get hired by a major airline when they were 21 years old and became captains before they were 30. It is not necessarily when you start, but what you do after you decide to pursue this career path that leads to success.
Additional factors to consider when pursuing the civilian route include:
  • Consider universities that have "bridge programs" with regional airlines. The airlines take the top students and give them an opportunity to qualify as co-pilots with their companies.
  • Earn your certificates as quickly as possible. This is a sign of motivation. Build those initial hours. Most pilots gain their initial experience as flight instructors. Others try banner towing, crop dusting, or other light charter work.
  • Build multi-engine experience. This is the hardest transition, but once you start building the multi-engine time, you are getting much closer to reaching the goals. Search out small commuters, companies that ferry airplanes, or charter companies. Many people ask if buying, borrowing, or renting an airplane to get hours would help. This type of experience is not viewed as valuable as that which requires flying into and out of large airports in all weather conditions. Flying around on nice days does not have the same impact.
  • Get as much turboprop or jet time as possible. Many companies require some turbine experience in their minimum qualifications.
  • Build pilot-in-command (PIC) time. PIC in a single-engine piston aircraft is not what I am referring to here. Time in the multi-crew environment really has an impact.
  • Get instrument time. One of the biggest failure rates in the interview and training process is a result of not having enough instrument experience.
  • Stay current. Deviations from your chosen path can slow you down. Companies look at your hours in the last six to twelve months.
  • Network. Everywhere you go, try to meet people who can provide a referral. You never know when that will pay dividends down the road.
  • Stay on track. If you jump from job to job and are not improving your qualifications along the way, you will not only slow down your career development, but also raise flags with hiring companies. Each job should be a step up to better equipment or more experience.
From the Beginning

There are guidelines and resources you can take advantage of while developing your career. Keep the following words of advice in mind while you are working towards your final goal:
  • Keep good records. Create a resume and keep it updated. Always keep a copy handy in case you meet someone who might be a link to a new opportunity. Be honest. Honesty is critical when completing your application or resume and during the interview. If a company learns that you misled it or lied to it, you are out and will never have an opportunity to recover with that company.
  • Maintain clear and concise logbooks. Follow the FAA guidelines and do not fill them with superfluous information.
  • Don't burn your bridges. Take care when accepting a position and maintain the highest level of integrity at each job. A bad referral from a previous employer can be a huge obstacle to overcome as you progress. Always leave on good terms. Don't ever leave an employer without notice. In this business, if a company has to cancel a flight, the financial impact is hefty.
  • Accept advice only from the experts. Although your friends and associates may have your best interest at heart, they sometimes have misleading or insufficient information that may guide you on the wrong course.
  • Seek professional help. Professionals can help you prepare. There are some standard ways to write resumes and fill out applications. I am a strong advocate of interview preparation. You usually have one chance to interview- make sure you are comfortable and prepared. This is especially critical if you have an obstacle you must overcome in the interview process.
  • Keep a clean record. Before an airline will hire you, they will retrieve your training and driving records for the previous five years. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that any blemish on your record is going to create a roadblock. There are ways to work through some of these problems, but the more incidents you have, the more difficult they are· Don't place unrealistic restrictions on your job hunt. Be ready to move. Make yourself available through as many means as possible to get your qualifications information out into the industry. to overcome.
  • Get referrals. Many companies rely on references in their decision-making. They are looking for comments from people who have known you or worked with you for a while and, preferably, have flown with you.
  • Don't place unrealistic restrictions on your job hunt. Be ready to move. Make yourself available through as many means as possible to get your qualifications information out into the industry.
You are choosing a career path that is fulfilling and challenging. It is one of the few that follows a strict seniority system. This means that once you find your valued airline job, you should be prepared to finish your career there. The longer you are there, the more you benefit financially. If you do your research and plan carefully from the beginning, you can reach that goal faster and reap the benefits longer.
Judy A. Tarver is the president of the Universal Pilot Application Service, Inc. Prior experience included serving as manager of pilot recruitment for American Airlines. During her tenure, she was responsible for hiring over 7,000 airline pilots. Tarver has also worked as a pilot selection/human resources consultant for several major air carriers and the Air Line Pilots Association.

© Reprinted with permission from Amy Laboda 2000


Copyright © 2010 Institute for Women in Trades, Technology & Science | http://www.iwitts.com