David is a pilot for a large commercial airline that’s based in Canada. He’s been flying professionally for more than 20 years and expects to remain a pilot until retirement.
How does one become a pilot?
“There’s more than one way,” explains David. “You can get hired by an airline right out of flight school after you earn your commercial pilot license. You can also get hired by an airline after flying for the military. The most common way to get your ticket is to work at a smaller airlines or charter company. You can log a lot of hours that way. Some do it by working as a flight instructor.” Many airlines have strict hiring requirements for pilots. If they haven’t logged several thousand hours and have the necessary type certifications, they won’t get the job.
Even before 9/11, insurance companies have been demanding that airlines hire crew with a high number of hours on the aircraft that they’ll be flying. This has caused a huge shortage of qualified pilots and makes it more difficult for pilots to move up to larger aircraft or a more senior position. This situation is not likely to change anytime soon, which may force the insurance companies to relax some of their requirements. “The aviation industry is very cyclic,” explains David. “First it’s up and there aren’t enough pilots because things are booming. And then, bam, they’re laying people off and companies are going bankrupt. It’s turned around since 9/11, but there are no guarantees about how long it’ll last.”
Immediately after earning his commercial license, David worked as a bush pilot in Canada’s Far North. “It was hard work,” he says. “The accommodations weren’t great, and the conditions were tough. It gets cold up there! I started out during the oil boom when there were lots of small charter companies. Plenty of jobs to go around. I used to haul freight, passengers, whatever the company needed. I’d fly into really remote bush strips, sometimes when the weather was barely legal for flying. We’d get in there and then fog would move in, or a bad snow storm, and we’d be stuck for a week. Couldn’t go anywhere. And nothing to do while we waited.”
In those days, commercial pilots could fly as many hours as they could wanted. Now, the FAA and Transport Canada limits the number of hours a commercial pilot can fly in a year.
After a few years of bush and charter flying, David had accumulated many hours on several types of airplanes, including the Cessna 185 and 206, as well as small multi-engine aircraft. Eventually he was hired by the airline at which he now works. “They started me flying as first officer on small commuter planes-not more than 19 passengers. Then I made it to captain. After that I got on as first officer of a 737.”
How did it feel to finally become a pilot of a large jet for a major airlines? “It was great!” David laughs.
What are some of the challenges with being a commercial pilot?
“Well,” says David, “you can be away from home quite a bit, especially in the beginning of your career. As you gain seniority, you have more control over your schedule and that changes a bit. The other thing I found challenging over the years was putting in the time that it took to rise to captain.”
What does David enjoy most about his job?
“I just love to fly. It still gives me a thrill. When I’m wearing my uniform and kids give me that look, I know what they’re thinking-they want to be a pilot.” David laughs. “And so do I.”