Career In Aviation: Making Living Out Of Your Passion
Many aviation enthusiasts dream about a job as a commercial pilot. What's better than this - doing what you really love and getting paid (really well) for it? The problems with being a commercial airline pilot are not one or two however. Take alone the super-high competition: many pilots who have education and all the required licenses can't manage to find a job at an airline. Add to this the really stressful life of the commercial pilot - responsibility of many people's lives, spending long time away of your family, flying in the night etc. And it stops being the dream career anymore.
So I decided to have a look at the aviation career websites and books and see what other careers could be good for you. By "good for you" I mean careers that are strictly related either to flying or working with the airplanes. I know many people who read here fly their own airplanes. Others build ones. So I'm not going to underestimate you by talking about careers in ticket sales. (Nothing wrong with these careers! I just don't see how they would satisfy your passion to fly or make airplanes).
So with having this on mind let's see what are the best options, how easy is to get such a career, and how much you could earn:
As a ferry pilot you will deliver new airplanes (empty, without passengers) from manufacturer's plant to the end customer or dealer's aircraft store. Obviously it's a job with less requirements than commercial airline pilot because you carry no responsibility for passengers lives.
The license you need depends on the aircraft you are going to deliver. Check out our page about pilot licensing to get better idea about the matter.
In the USA you can expect to earn $30 - $50 per hour as a ferry pilot (maybe more if you can find a good deal).
This is also a profession that can be turned into small business. You can offer your services to aircraft manufacturers to carry private airplanes, light sport aircraft, etc to the customers. Combine this with dealership and you can earn far more.
Patrol pilots typically work for the government, military services, security services etc. Less often it's a job available in the private business sector.
The patrol pilot mostly observes and documents. Your job might be to watch traffic on a highway, to document a wildfire, plan and coordinate operational activities, observing a border, identifying criminal suspects, provide information in emergency situations and so on.
It's definitely a very interesting and important work. At the same time it could be quite stressful because you may have to work long hours and days when the situation requires it.
Again this is a work that does not include carrying passengers, except probably people from your team.
Wages are usually on the lower end - in the USA you can expect to earn $30,000 - $40,000 yearly.
This is hardly a career you can start a business with your light airplane, but don't be discouraged. There are options for the creative: you could start offering patrol services for local communities, large farms, oil companies and so on.
Now this is a pilot career that involves carrying passengers and includes all the responsibilities coming with this. You must have a Commercial Pilot License to operate such a position.
Charter pilots obviously fly charters. They may work at the airlines, at charter services companies, or operate their own small business. Small businesses operated by a single charter pilot with his or her light airplane are often seen in countries and areas that lack good overland infrastructure. This is excellent area to start small aviation business, provided you live at the appropriate place.
As a charter pilot who works for the commercial airlines in the USA you can expect to earn between $60,000 and $110,000 annually.
This is a work you would perhaps love. You would fly over fields with crops and document the produce growth, ensure its safety, probably spread seeds, fertilizers or insecticides.
You would typically operate an agricultural airplane and carry heavy loads with you. You will fly lower than most other pilots which will give you excellent views from above.
OK it sounds lovely indeed but has downsides. You need very high pilot skills to fly over trees, wires and buildings. You may have to fight wildfires. You may have to carry dangerous chemicals and wear protection masks etc. So it's not all roses.
By working for a company you may expect to earn somewhere between $35,000 and $120,000 per year, in the USA. As you see it varies a lot by location, business etc. Most salaries seem to range around $50,000 mark.
This is a good career to starting small business especially if you leave in area with large farms. You can even adapt you ultralight or LSA as agricultural airplane and offer services to local farmers.
Being air photographer is slightly different matter than the other pilot jobs. First, you don't have to be a pilot at all. Sure, most air photographers are, because hiring a pilot or paying for a flight and just photographing rarely makes economical sense. However you can make aerial photographs using a radio-controlled model aircraft, from a balloon, from a paraglider and so on. And very often these methods are much cheaper than flying an airplane.
Of course some photographs require flying an airplane and usually you should also be the pilot. Talking licensing strictly, you probably need commercial pilot license. In practice photographs can be made by anyone flying under Part 103 (i.e. an ultralight, no licensing required), because you are not technically paid to fly, but to take photographs. I am not a lawyer however, so better consult one before charging for taking photos with your experimental aircraft.
If you work for a company in the USA you can expect to make around $40,000 or so per year.
Aerial photography is excellent area for freelancing/small business. Moreover you could combine flying an airplane with using a remote control model one, paragliding etc, depending on what kind of photos your customers require.
In this career you will teach others to fly. Obviously you need to know how to fly first :) You will need instructor license for this plus a rating for the type of aircraft that you will teach on. You will lead flights in dual-controller aircraft and will observe solo flights.
Being a flight instructor is relatively less stressful than being an airline pilot but it still carries quite a lot of responsibilities. As a flight instructor you will either work in a flight school or create your own.
In USA you can expect to make somewhere between $35,000 and $45,000 with this job. It's usually a first step for further (and better paid) aviation career.
Paragliding, Hang-gliding or Skydiving Instructor
While not exactly flying an airplane, these careers also involve flying. There are quite a lot of requirements to become such instructor - they are summarized well here.
At such a job you will do tandem-flights with customers, instruct them on techniques and safety, observe their flights, and perhaps examine their abilities to receive certificates.
You will work at paragliding, hang-gliding or skydiving clubs and schools. You can also start your own business or just freelance as a private instructor.
Expected income if you work in the USA is between $20,000 and $50,000 yearly, usually closer to the lower end.
Most interesting pilot jobs end with this. Below are several other great aviation careers which do not include piloting or even flying. However they are jobs that people who love aircraft will most probably love too.
In this job you won't be the pilot but you will still fly with the crew. The flight engineer observes the tools and systems during the flight, helps the captain with information, and even does in-flight repairs when this is possible. A more detailed description of this less known career is given here.
Obviously this is not the type of work that you could base small business on. Sometimes airlines hire flight engineers for contract work but in most cases it seems to be salaried position.
The advantage is this is one of the high-paying careers in aviation, other than the commercial pilot and co-pilot of course. In the USA you can expect to make from $70,000 to $110,000 per annum.
Don't confuse this career with being a flight engineer. It's not. The aerospace engineer is engineering at its best: you are going to work on, explore and develop new technologies, security systems, structural design solutions; examine materials, aerodynamic solutions, structural design etc. It's an exciting work, no doubt, but you aren't going to fly. You will work in an office or laboratory and usually have a typical work week. And obviously you'll need engineering degree.
There is little chance to start a small business with this career unless you perhaps develop stuff for the ultralight or light sport aviation.
Now on the good part: salaries are usually in the high $70,000, sometimes above $100,000 per year.
Aircraft Maintenance Technician
Here's a great career for all you do-it-yourself enthusiasts! In this job you will repair aircraft, you will inspect devices and equipment, will check flight instruments, replace parts and so on. And the best of it is, most probably you are going to work with different type of aircraft (as long as you have the desired knowledge). So if you ever dreamed to touch various types of helicopters, airplanes, and why not gyrocopters, this job is for you.
Such a career is also good for starting a small business. If you live in area with light sport pilots or ultralight enthusiasts you can offer repair and maintenance services to them.
If you work for a salary, expect to make about $40,000 - $60,000 annually.
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