Women in Aviation Magazine
"Getting Started in a Flying
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.
factors to consider when pursuing the civilian route include:
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.
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.
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
Get as much turboprop or jet time as possible. Many
companies require some turbine experience in their
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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