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Updated on January 10, 2016
Delta, Korean, KLM Airlines and World Air cargo at Atlanta Georgia International Airport
Delta, Korean, KLM Airlines and World Air cargo at Atlanta Georgia International Airport | Source

Career options


IN SETTING yourself up to land a flying job it's important to assess what's required to give yourself a 'flying start'. There's often a temptation to spend every last cent you have on additional ratings and endorsements to give yourself an edge. But some of this may well be a waste of money. An instrument rating will be a good addition to your commercial qualification and an endorsement on a twin engine aircraft will be valuable to have under your belt in preparation for your search for work. However a night rating and an instructor rating may not be necessary as a new commercial flying graduate. By the time you finish your CPL you'll have spent many hours at your flight centre talking with instructors and other students. This along with your flying experience wilt get you thinking about career options, what type of flying appeals and what you need to do to start your job search.


To many onlookers the airlines represent the pinnacle of aviation careers. At the top end they pay very well, the aircraft are large and the technology is impressive. There's also great public attention focused on the role of the airline pilot -responsible, trustworthy and in command.

But such a focus of attention dwarfs the GA scene in terms of the important role it plays in the community, job opportunities for pilots and the job satisfaction derived from working in this field of aviation.

So what are the choices in General Aviation careers? Here's a rundown on the some of the options for pilots and the job satisfaction derived from working in this field of aviation.

So what are the choices in General Aviation careers? Here's a rundown on the some of the options focused on the role of the airline pilot - responsible, trustworthy and in command.

But such a focus of attention dwarfs the GA scene in terms of the important role it plays in the community, job opportunities for pilots and the job satisfaction derived from working in this field of aviation.

So what are the choices in General Aviation careers? Here's a rundown on the some of the options open to newly qualified commercial pilots.

Qantas airline pilot careers

Air Tractor AT-400 is an agricultural aircraft and many used spray crops.
Air Tractor AT-400 is an agricultural aircraft and many used spray crops. | Source


Agricultural flying is a specialist area of GA with limited openings for new commercial pilots. Pilots must have an agricultural rating and will typically fly aircraft purpose-built for agricultural work.

Tasks may include fertiliser spreading, pest control, weed eradication and even fire bombing. Ag flying can be seasonal and pilots often have to travel to find work year round. Nevertheless the high skill level demanded in this type of flying means that the work is well paid.

Most ag pilots work their way into the industry by first working as ground handlers - loading chemicals, changing spray nozzles, operating loaders and acting as a general rouseabout, possibly also picking up some mechanic skills on the way. The work is usually seasonal, although ag aircraft are now also getting involved in aerial firefighting. Aircraft are becoming more modern, reliable and capable, and the flying in some cases includes night spraying, often less than a metre above the crop, guided by sophisticated GPS equipment and intensive training.


Over recent years there's been a significant increase in the use of aircraft in medical transport and patient retrieval roles. The vast distances between population centres in areas of Australia makes transport patients by air quick and cost-effective.

In any terms aeromedical flying, be it for the Royal Flying Doctor Service or one of the State air ambulance services, it's a prestigious job There tends to be less flying time than in other flying jobs and a lot standby time, but the work is challenging, the aircraft are modern and well maintained, and the job satisfaction is high.

Jobs are often rurally based and pilots commonly work in shifts of 4 hours or more. Many aeromedical services also require their pilots to live at the base when on duty to ensure immediate deployment of aircraft when required. Most of these jobs require single-pilot IFR qualifications and experience and pilots will generally move into the aeromedical industry with a healthy number of flying hours and a range of airline and/or general aviation experience under their belts.


A considerable number of businesses, often in country areas, operate light aircraft in diverse roles such as people transport, aerial spotting and survey work, livestock control and other such tasks. These types of single aircraft operations can be a good place to start your career if you can find the work. The pay rates will probably be the lower end of the spectrum but the flying is interesting and varied and, if you're the only pilot the whole operation is your responsibility, which adds to your experience bank.

In many circumstances it will be an advantage if you can bring other skills with you, or at least demonstrate a willingness to take on other work, as the flying may not occupy all your time.


Many new commercial graduates find work in the charter business. Charter work is very diverse and can include executive transport, aerial photography, tourism sightseeing, freight haulage or any other task that the paying customer requests.

Aircraft flown on charters can range from Cessna 152s up to large turboprop and jet aircraft. This is a great way to gain diverse experience in flying and you'll probably pick up a few additional aircraft endorsements along the way.

Some flight centres operate charter businesses in tandem with their flying schools and this can provide commercial graduates with opportunities to gain some professional flying experience. The work may only be on a casual or occasional basis initially but it's still good value-adding experience if you can get it.

There's no more fuel-efficient way to fly 10 people to their destination than with the Beechcraft King Air 350i twin-turboprop plane.
There's no more fuel-efficient way to fly 10 people to their destination than with the Beechcraft King Air 350i twin-turboprop plane.


This is at the top end of general aviation. Large corporations that buy and operate corporate jets and turboprops need pilots to fly them in a range of roles and those pilots can be full time on the job or seconded from other aviation operations when required. Most of the larger aircraft are sophisticated multi-million-dollar machines that require two pilots to fly them. Others are more modest and lower priced.

Corporate flying mainly involves ferrying company executives, customers, employees or guests between centres, sometimes internationally. At this level the pay rates are high but pilots will often be recruited from the airlines or large charter outfits.

The pilot's role may be diverse, with responsibilities extending to passenger comfort, ground transport and accommodation, the management of aircraft flight operations and maintenance, and record keeping.


There's a worldwide shortage of flying instructors and there will be for some considerable time. It's especially severe in Australia, because of our large and growing pilot training commitment, not only for Australian pilots but increasingly for aviation colleges that specialise in training pilots for foreign countries.

Many new commercial graduates commence training for their instructor rating immediately and move quickly from the role of student to teacher.

The role of flying instructors is important in the aviation industry as they teach others to fly. Some instructors enjoy the work immensely and stay in it, making it their chosen flying career. Others choose to accumulate the flying hours and experience before moving on to other positions.

Working as a flying instructor is a good means of building flying hours, confidence and good discipline in the cockpit. The experience is also valuable in preparation for gaining higher qualifications such as the CIR and ATPL.

So spending some time in flight instruction is a great start to a flying career. The qualification and flying experience are highly regarded in the industry, and instructional experience is a positive plus when airlines are choosing training and checking captains. It's also an especially interesting option for those who enter aviation later in life, because it's a relatively relaxed occupation, and the more mature pilot who has acquired good flying skills will enjoy imparting them to others. imparting them to others.


Freight pilots are a godsend to many businesses and small communities in rural areas. Typically they fly small to medium sized twin engine aircraft, picking up and delivering freight of all sorts and flying it between these smaller communities and larger business centres, usually on a daily basis. This is not the only work done by `freight runners.' Large freight and courier companies operate fleets of heavy jet aircraft nationally and internationally, transporting huge quantities of freight where ever it needs to go.

Freight transport comes alive at night with aircraft being loaded and departing from the capital cities at about 10.00 PM to ensure the goods are delivered and distributed ready for the start of business the next morning. For this reason freight pilots are night owls, flying rarely in daylight hours.

Pilots with relatively low flying hours can get into freight transport but they must demonstrate a capability for working alone, maintaining highly efficient operations and taking responsibility for all aspects of the operation.


Australian governments at state and federal level operate a large range of aircraft in various roles. Public sector organisations including police services, forestry agencies, parks and wildlife organisations, Coastwatch and aviation authorities all own and operate aircraft around the country. Because of the specialist roles they have, government operators often seek pilots with a fair amount of flying experience, preferably in a compatible field.


Maritime aviation operations include coastal patrol, fish spotting, search & rescue and shipping control. A range of aircraft specifically equipped to suit each of their roles is used. Maritime flying is a specialist role and requires specific knowledge of the field. The coastal environment requires careful attention, particularly in regard to weather patterns and operations over water. Again the specialist nature of the flying will require reasonable flying experience to gain entry into this area of general aviation.

EasyJet Airbus 320 ready to depart. pushed towards taxi-way
EasyJet Airbus 320 ready to depart. pushed towards taxi-way | Source

An airline flying career

FLYING with the airlines is the only goal of many a student pilot. It's 'glamorous,' well paid, and the machinery is sophisticated and well maintained. Airline operations fall within three categories - International, Domestic and Regional. Most major airlines, Qantas being a good example, operate in all three categories, flying internationally to other countries, domestically between capital cities, and regionally to and from smaller rural centres. Other smaller airlines operate domestic or regional services only.

Airline pilots can achieve big rewards in terms of salary levels and job satisfaction but jobs are always in high demand and getting in is not easy. To gain entry into the airlines as an air transport pilot you need meet a set of minimum criteria set by each airline. These criteria will change from time to time, depending on pilot demand and other factors so it's important to keep in touch with the requirements and with any changes to them. Many of the airlines post their pilot criteria on their web sites, helping you to check them regularly.

In most cases, airlines must operate all flights with two pilots. Airlines may conduct single-pilot operations only if the aircraft has nine passenger seats or less. These are usually very small regional airlines providing services to and from rural centres. otherwise the typical crew on each flight includes the captain, who is the pilot in command, and the first officer who is the co-pilot. Some airlines also use second officers on larger aircraft, who are there fresh out of the airline's ground school to learn cockpit processes and to act as support pilots at cruise altitude, allowing captains and first officers to take sleep breaks.

If and when you do land an airline job you won't even be stepping into the co­pilot seat straight off. There's a period of three to six months, depending on the airline and aircraft, in which you'll go through some intensive training, getting to know all aspects of the airline, the aircraft you're assigned to and your role as a pilot. At least a month or so will be ground training and simulator work and your skills will be tested rigorously until your competency is assured.

McDonnell Douglas MD82  twin-engine, short- to medium-range, single-aisle used by commercial jet airliners.
McDonnell Douglas MD82 twin-engine, short- to medium-range, single-aisle used by commercial jet airliners. | Source

When you get started as a 'line pilot' you'll typically at the first officer level for a number years before being trained and appointed as a captain. At this point although you'll be under the supervision of a training captain on every flight, the workload is shared intelligently. You'll perforty takeoffs and landings and manage all other aspects of the flight including radio communications and navigation, and monitoring of aircraft systems and performance. As first officer you'll be expected to demonstrate high levels of judgement and good decision-making, however the captain is pilot in command and therefore has ultimate responsibility for the flight and the decision making along the way.

Throughout your career any airline will expect you to maintain the highest standards of proficiency in your flying. At regular intervals you'll undergo simulator checks and any necessary retraining to ensure you're up to speed in your skills. Ongoing training means regular time in the simulator and attendance-at refresher courses which keep you up to date with aircraft procedures and technology and provide you with other information you require as a pilot.

Because airline jobs don't come along every day, many pilots apply for any positions that are out there, regardless of which airline it's with and where the work is based. Whilst you may need to take such measures to get a start, it's also important to consider your priorities in the broader context. Are you happy to fly internationally and spend days, even weeks away? Would you prefer to fly jets or turboprops? Would you like to be based in a country centre or a capital city? Addressing some of these lifestyle issues may give you an idea of which airlines you should target in terms of getting a job.

There's no doubt that whilst it's not for everyone, airline flying is a challenging and rewarding career Most pilots who join the airlines stay in the business until retirement occasionally moving between airlines and aircraft types in the name of career development or for a change - one way or another - it's usually lifetime occupation for those who are in it. As an aspiring commercial pilot it's definitely a career worth considering, not only for the flying but for all the other rewards that go with it.



A new dimension
Discovering the pleasures of flying.

What's it all about
Why do people learn to fly, and what are their training options?

Licence categories
Tailoring your flying qualifications to your needs and preferences.

Training in the GA environment
The traditional training path in a general aviation school.


RA's simple and its fun
Recreational aviation has come of age, and is an increasingly popular option.

Full-time airline pilot training
If you're seeking an airline flying career, this is the way to go.

New technologies and training philosophies
Training as a team member from Day One.

Choosing your flying school
Tricks and traps n how to evaluate a training facility.


Different by design
The design features that make aeroplanes different.

Trying your hand
What happens on your first flight.


The training aircraft fleet
Some of the more popular training aircraft in the current fleet.

The walk-around
A guide to the main components of a modern light aircraft.

At the controls
Everything on the instrument panel' is important to enjoyable and safe flight.

The 21st Century instrument panel
New technologies bring easier flying and navigation.

Airports and circuits
A guide to the typical airfield and the sky above it.


A flying start
What you'll lear and how you'll learn it.

One foot on the ground
Learning all you need to know about aircraft, systems, engines, navigation, weather, flight planning and the rules.

Your first test
The first of a series of tests that will culminate in licence issue.

Finding your way
Learning to navigate visually is a skill you'll need to acquire.


Career options
Many and varied options that may become your career or part of it.

An airline flying career
A satisfying and challenging but rewarding career choice.

The helicopter alternative
Rotary wing training and careers

Flying the forces
The armed forces provide excellent training, an amazingly diverse fleet, and real adventure.

CASA approved flying schools
A directory of all Australian schools available to the general public.

RA-Aus approved flying schools
A directory of recreational schools.


Flying gear
A guide to essential and optional flying equipment.

Aviation terms and acronyms
Guiding you through the maze of experssions you'll encounter.

Back to the stone age
You never stop learning. A now-accomplished pilot flies us through some early and character-building experiences.


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