Airline pilots get all the glamour and press in the aviation industry, but there are plenty of other aviation jobs out there. What many people don’t realize is that not every pilot wants to be an airline pilot. The lifestyle of living on the road is a tough one for many people, and it’s important to realize that if you love to fly, you can also sleep at home every night.
The working conditions and flight schedules at any aviation business revolve around the customers. Nearly every job requires some level of on-call service. While many jobs may allow you to be based near home, it doesn’t mean that you will never work a late-night or spend a weekend flying. Pilot jobs are not traditional 9-to-5 careers, but then that’s part of the appeal.
Some flight instructors have the closest thing available to a 9-to-5 pilot job. They will always be home every night, though they could sometimes be stranded away for a night due to weather or equipment delays. Their work schedules dramatically depend on the school they work for and the types of students they fly with. If their students are young pilots looking to start their careers, these instructors likely work weekdays. If their students are professionals who work 9-to-5 jobs, then the flight instructor needs to meet with them on evenings or weekends.
Airlines and aircraft manufacturers also employ senior instructors to teach in simulators or instruct ground classes. These jobs are much more stable than other flight jobs, with very regular schedules and little travel.
Many areas have sightseeing operators that take tourists for a quick ride around the area. Planes vary from basic Cessnas to antique biplanes, floatplanes, or sleek jet helicopters. These pilots never stray far from home, though many of them do seasonal work. They might fly in Alaska during the summer and Florida during the winter — they go where there are tourists who need their services.
A lot of aerial surveillance is done from airplanes and helicopters. It’s a niche aviation job that few people know about. Power companies inspect power lines, and fuel companies inspect pipelines. In Florida, the Fish and Wildlife Commission counts the endangered West Indian Manatees that migrate along the coast. NOAA operates a fleet of survey planes that inspect hurricane-damaged areas and conduct atmospheric research. Many law enforcement agencies have aviation departments. Some of these jobs require occasional travel, but most have their pilots stay close to their home base.
Aerial Application (Crop Dusting)
Crop dusting is the spraying of fields with pesticides or herbicides from the air. Small aircraft fly grid patterns at low altitude over the fields to ensure maximum coverage. It’s widely used across the country since it’s quick and effective. Some agriculture pilots are based in one area, while others travel across the country following different growing seasons.
Small Local Airline, Charter, or Cargo Carriers
When we think of an airline, most of us think of Delta or American — one of the major carriers. But all around the country, there are smaller airlines. The more local the airline, the more likely you are to be home every night. There are small airlines and air taxis in some areas that depart in the morning and return in the evening. Several small companies operate from South Florida to the nearby Bahamian islands. Bush pilots often operate in this fashion in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest — they depart in the morning and drop off their passengers, then return to base in the evening.
Sales is an often overlooked job that keeps you near your home base. There is some traveling to trade shows or to deliver airplanes to clients. But brokers will spend the majority of their time at their home bases. It’s a fun job that involves seeing and flying some neat planes. At its core, it is a sales job. Like a yacht broker or real estate agent, a plane sales position requires meeting clients when and where they can and sometimes working hard to close deals.
It’s also worth asking, does a pilot have to have a pilot job? It’s often said that ten percent or less of jobs in the aviation industry are pilot jobs. The other ninety percent represent all of the other tasks that need to be completed. Working in aviation is a dynamic and fun experience, and there are options available for pretty much any skillset. Perhaps the best thing about having a non-flying job is having the ability to fly for fun in your free time.
Just a few of the non-flying jobs you could consider include the following.
- Aircraft dispatcher or scheduler for airlines or charter companies
- FBO operations staff or customer service
- General aviation facility management
- Air traffic controller
- Airport operations crew or management
- Maintenance support personnel, or maintenance manager
- FAA aviation safety inspector
- Airline base operations personnel or management
- Aircraft finance, insurance, closing, or legal specialist
Aviation is a huge industry. The smallest airports can add millions of dollars to their community’s economy. All of those planes flying in and out represent jobs, some of them for pilots and some of them in other areas of aviation. Don’t be locked into thinking that all pilot jobs are the same, and look beyond the major airlines for many different exciting and rewarding career paths.