HOW TO BUILD FLIGHT TIME FAST
When the clock chimed 12 in the early morning hours of August 1, 2013, job-search strategies for pilots in the United States took a hard right turn. That’s the infamous date when the FAA’S National Order 8900.225 took effect, requiring all Part 121 pilots to possess an ATP certificate, including first officers. That meant every pilot needed a minimum of 1,500 hours in their logbook. Obtaining an ATP also became harder, with new and costly training requirements. Prior to the summer of 2013, new pilots with as little as 300 to 400 hours were receiving class dates at regional airlines and the minimum time required was just 250 hours.
With exceptions to the 1,500-hour limit only being handed out to accredited university graduates and former military members — who can obtain what is called a restricted ATP license — many career seekers are wondering how they’ll ever qualify for an ATP, short of buying a Cessna 120 and flying in circles for a few years. No question, an airline career in the 21st century demands a dose of reality and quite a few doses of patience, because airline hiring is just now beginning to accelerate, more than it has for many years.
Racking up hours in a logbook isn’t a new problem. While airline pilots weren’t required to hold an ATP until recently, it wasn’t all that much easier to get hired in the 1990s or early 2000s. ATP or not, companies wanted pilots with experience. And there were thousands who had it, meaning some low-timers got hired prior to 2013, but not all that many. The best advice is to get busy and fly wherever and whenever you can. And be ready to move
for the right job.
The most common time-building method for pilots has always been to earn a flight-instructor certificate since the only requirements are a commercial pilot certificate, an instrument rating and successful completion of the knowledge and practical tests. The industry in the United States today is hungry for instructors, just about everywhere.
But be forewarned, teaching people to fly means more than simply showing up to start logging hours. Instructors have a fiduciary responsibility to their customers — their students — to give them 100 percent of their talent every hour, even when a student makes nine awful landings in a row, or when they can’t remember half of what you taught them about flying on instruments, or can’t seem to choose a suitable emergency-landing field.
Flight training is expensive today, and we’re still seeing threequarters of student pilots drop out of the pipeline before earning their private certificate — and poor instructing skills are a part of that problem. If you can’t pour your heart and soul into teaching for a few years while you build flight time, do everyone a favor and go fly freighters.
Want a little adventure while you build those hours? Try towing banners or piloting a skydiver jump plane. Banner-towing operations tend to hover around big cities, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando and seashores. Skydiving schools are everywhere.
Towing banners is riskier than most all other kinds of flying, except perhaps agricultural work and aerial firefighting. Banner aircraft tow huge drag-producing signs from the back of a Piper Cub or Aeronca Champ or Ag-cat. That’s a learned skill, so investigate who can teach you the business — especially the safety side — and be sure to check out the financials of the company you might work for with the Better Business Bureau and through personal recommendations from pilots who’ve worked there.
The search for skydiving schools can begin by visiting the U.S. Parachute Association’s (uspa.org) drop-zone locator. If they’re dropping skydivers, they’re probably using an airplane for the job.
Part 135 charter flying, meanwhile, will usually teach you the crew concept of flying, not to mention get you paid to learn the ins and outs of the nonscheduled world of passenger flying. While flying heavy iron under Part 135 demands considerable amounts of experience and an ATP certificate, smaller charter companies flying singleand twin-engine piston aircraft and turboprops will often look at candidates with much less flight time. That might mean moving to far-flung locations like Springfield, Illinois, or Baton Rouge, Louisiana, of course. The Air Charter Guide is a good place to start your job search.
Here is another idea for time building, albeit a bit unusual. Years ago, I created a flyer I’d stick on the door of airplanes that I knew hadn’t been flown from our airport recently. I offered to exercise the owner’s airplane once a month. I told them an hour or two a month would help keep their airplane engine in top shape. Sometimes they’d pay me, sometimes not. But they covered the expenses and I logged the time. Surprisingly, I almost never got turned down.