For those of you considering becoming a professional pilot we must first dispel a few myths. Although airline pilots enjoy many perks (which I will mention later), there are a number of challenges and inconveniences they must face.
Once you have taken some flying lessons you will be much better able to decide if flying is for you. You may not like it, or you may decide that it will make a great hobby. But if you decide to make it your career you have some important decisions to make.
Selecting a Professional Pilot Program
The hundreds of small flying schools across Canada are a great place to take up recreational flying. These schools are also approved to train commercial pilots and some also provide multi-engine and Instrument rating instruction. I need to give you a quick overview of pilot licensing in order for this to make sense to you:
Private Pilot Licence - allows you to fly small airplanes for fun - it is the equivalent of your drivers licence. Most private pilots rent airplanes from the local airport, but some own their own airplanes. Canada has an owners association called COPA that you might like to look into.
Multi-engine rating - is required to fly an airplane with more than one engine. All professional pilots will need this rating (only wealthy private pilots who own their own airplanes will need this).
Commercial Pilot Licence - allows pilot to fly for pay. Pilot may be a copilot on any size airplane but must upgrade to ATPL licence to be an airline pilot.
Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL) - is the licence needed to be an airline pilot.
Instrument Rating - allows pilot to fly on days when the weather is bad. All professional pilots will need this rating. Most Private pilots prefer to fly only in nice weather, but it is possible for a Private Pilot to get an instrument rating.
The "legal" details of obtaining each licence and rating above are available through the links on the left side of this page under the heading Licensing Requirements.
Thirty years ago 90% of pilots obtained their advanced ratings at their local flying school. The rest either joined the Air Force or went to one of the handful of College Aviation Programs that existed.
Since the mid 1980s more and more community colleges have been providing integrated programs and today the majority of Commercial Pilot training is done in college programs. Today there are dozens of college programs to choose from across Canada.
What is an Integrated Program?
An integrated program combines Commercial Pilot Licence, Multi-engine and Instrument Rating into one package. This is a classic case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.
Should I get my Commercial Pilot Licence where I got my Private Pilot Licence?
If you are interested in becoming a pilot who flies jets, such as an airline, corporate or medevac pilot you will be much better off enrolling in an integrated program.
If you want to be a crop-duster, bush pilot, or flight instructor your local flying school is likely the most practical alternative.
Should I Enroll in an Integrated Program right from the start?
Only if you are absolutely certain you want to be a Professional Pilot. If you grew up in an aviation oriented household this may be the case (but why didn't you get your PPL in high school if that is the case?)
I believe that 90% of people should get the Private Pilot Licence at a local flying school and then based on how much they enjoy that decide if an aviation career is right for them.
If you do decide to enroll in an integrated program your knowledge gained in obtaining the Private Pilot Licence will better equip you to select an excellent flight college.
Not all Integrated Programs Are Equal
All integrated programs weave Commercial Pilot, multi-engine, and Instrument rating into one program. The details however vary considerably from school to school.
Transport Canada sets legal minimum training times but these are so out of date that they are useless. Therefore you must carefully assess each programs offerings. Rest assured that all will meet legal minimum requirements, but you should seek the package that best suits your needs. Each program will have the following elements:
Classroom course content varies widely among integrated programs. Fully review the course offerings of any integrated programs you are considering. Beware of programs that fill classroom hours with courses of no value to Professional Pilots. Try to pick a program where each course has a clear relationship to your chosen career. Avoid programs that are non-aviation such as business or management programs. (There are quite a few such programs in Canada. I say, if you want to be a business major enroll in a University Business degree and keep flying as a hobby.)
Find out if the college is providing flight instruction or sub-contracting it. 80% or all integrated programs subcontract the flight training portion.If training is subcontracted you should also checkout the contractor. Contact them directly and check carefully for the credentials of their instructors. Will your instructor be an experienced pilot with lots of flying as a professional pilot or will your instructor be one of last years graduates who just finished the course you are signing up for and who doesn't know much more than you?
Not unlike other industries, the airlines are faced with an aging workforce. This top heavy structure means there will be a significant number of retirements over the next decade. These demographics have potential to create a pilot shortage in Canada. This boom in hiring is already starting to show, as want ads for pilots are on the rise. In the past airlines have hired directly from College programs, and we may see this practice return in the near future. The career potential for young pilots beginning their professional careers looks extremely promising.
What to Expect From Your Chosen Career?
How Much Will I Make?
The simple answer to this question is not as much as one would think. At least initially, anyway. The first few years of a professional pilot career offer meager salaries, and tough working conditions. Most entry level pilots earn between $15,000 and $30,000 a year. After 2-3 years in the industry expect to make between $40,000 and $ 60,000 a year. With five years accumulated from graduation and depending on the operation expect to earn $50,000 to $70,000. From this point onward it is basically an upward trend as you advance within your company to top out anywhere between $120,000 and $200,000. Potential to earn more internationally has become a viable option for experienced pilots.
As you progress through the industry expect to take pay cuts as you advance to larger airlines. That’s right; as you gain experience and move on to larger companies you will be faced with pay cuts along the way. Once you have established yourself as an experienced captain working for a smaller company earning $60,000 a year, you are faced with the prospect of moving to a larger airline. You have paid your dues, and now meet the experience requirements of the airlines. If you are successful at landing a job you will be faced with an initial pay cut. Airline new hires typically earn $35,000 to $40,000. The upside is that after a couple of years you will be back up to $60,000 and faced with a steady climb from there.
The lifestyle associated with being a professional pilot varies greatly and is dependant on what type of flying you have chosen. Besides the airlines there are numerous other paths to follow as a professional pilot. Many pilots make careers of flying water bombers, corporate jets, charters, medevacs, aerial survey, float planes, and flight instructing. Each of these career paths have their own set of challenges and rewards which may be examined in detail by clicking on the links at top left of this page. For now we’ll talk about life as an airline pilot. Most people imagine an airline pilot’s life full of international travel and excitement. This is true to a certain degree, but always at a price. As an airline pilot you will have the opportunity to fly to exotic places and even spend some time there. This seems like an exciting proposition until you realize that Paris loses its flavor after your 121st visit, and becomes just another hotel room. Of course, as an airline employee you enjoy the benefit of free (usually minimal security fees and taxes apply) standby travel on your days off. This means you and your family members can travel by air for minimal cost, making international destinations usually reserved for once in a lifetime trips commonplace.
Airline pilots typically spend a lot of time away from home. When you are scheduled to work it usually means over-nighting away from home for 2-4 nights. For people with families this can become quite onerous. The flip side to this type of schedule means more time off than most other professions. A typical airline pilot works 15 days a month compared to the 20 days a nine to fiver works. These days off can be combined with holidays to create large blocks of days off. This time off is ideal for taking advantage of your travel benefits.
Another lifestyle factor to consider is where you and your family prefer to live. To work for a major airline you typically need to live in close proximity to a large city center. As you advance onto larger aircraft it may require a new base assignment and a move to another city. Ultimately, your career may require you to move numerous times. If you enjoy living in cities this is a minor point, but for those who prefer smaller centers it may mean commuting to work. Commuting long distances becomes feasible with the use of travel benefits, but adds travel days on top of your normal work schedule.
What do you want to do with your life?
If you are a pilot employer and would like a link to your website on this page please email me.