The word "pilot" often evokes images of commercial airline pilots, flying for major airlines. While that can be a great career, it's not the only option for those who want to make a living as a pilot. In addition to commercial airlines, private corporations, charitable organizations, and government agencies all need pilots, and there's always a demand for additional flight instructors.
Corporate flying involves piloting private jets, usually owned by corporations. It has its benefits and drawbacks. It’s usually pretty good money, but it comes with a wacky schedule. You’re often on call, at the whim of a client who needs to leave immediately, just when you’ve sat down for dinner with the family.
And while there’s a lot of sitting around waiting at private jet terminals—known as fixed-base operators (FBOs)—corporate flying often involves flying to exotic destinations and spending a lot of time on the ground while you’re there. You might be in Maui one week and Dallas the next, and then off to London for a few days and back to spend a week at home with your family. The schedule is often unpredictable, but it comes with other benefits and sometimes more time at home.
Some corporate flight departments are known to be great to work for, and others not so much. You’ll hear horror stories about businesses demanding that their pilots fly at all hours in all kinds of weather whether they’re tired or not. The schedule can be exhausting, or it can be pretty great. And if you live in a place like Los Angeles, you might even get to fly and meet some superstars. Corporate pilot jobs aren't usually listed on the job boards, so you might have to do some networking to find openings
Flying for Charitable Organizations
Charity organizations like Angel Flight or Corporate Angel Network fly people for a good cause. Many times, the flights are done in a volunteer’s aircraft, and the pilots often work on a volunteer basis, but it’s a good experience for those who are looking to build time while doing some good in the world.
These organizations often fly medically ill patients to and from health care facilities that they otherwise would not be able to get to, either because they are not allowed to fly on a commercial airline (doctor’s orders) or because they can’t afford to fly commercially. This type of flying requires a kind heart, patience, and skill, as you will be presented with a variety of challenges and will be required to fly in some tough conditions.
Teaching the Next Generation of Pilots
Being a flight instructor is not easy, but if you have the heart of a teacher and like small airplanes, then it can be a rewarding job worth considering. Flight instruction comes with a lot of challenges, including banging around in bumpy weather close to the ground. It might be easy to discount a flight instruction career due to the low pay and limited advancement opportunities, but if you can live modestly and enjoy teaching, flight instruction is a great career.
And many people do make a decent living out of it. There are benefits to instructing, too, like having flexible hours or a schedule that's completely your own, making it an ideal job for someone who doesn’t want to be tied to an airline schedule, where you’re stuck working holidays, nights, and weekends until you gain seniority.
Career flight instructors should enjoy general aviation and should have a passion for sharing the love of flight with others. If so, it’s a great career to choose.
Flying for Government Organizations
Flying for a government organization such as the Forest Service, the FAA, the military, or the Department of Transportation combines stability with the excitement of flying airplanes. Government pilots are full-time government employees who perform services like fire location and suppression, surveillance, national defense missions, and airspace and equipment inspections.
Government jobs also include flying a tanker or a lead plane for the forest service, flying in the military, or flying as a test pilot. These jobs come with good pay, steady benefits, and a standard 40-hour workweek.