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5 unique ways

to build flight time

So you got your commercial pilot rating and flight instructing just isn't your thing... here are 5 unique ways to build flight time!

By: Aubrey Warrick

DISCLAIMER: The information provided below is strictly my opinion and interpretation and does not take place of any regulatory rule. It is at your own discretion, what you do with the knowledge provided. 

I graduated from Eastern Michigan University in 2009 and my first aviation job out of college was, in fact, NOT a flying one. I actually took an internship in a management position as Assistant Director of Flight Training for a 121/135/91 operation up in Michigan. In this position I learned SO much about regulations, in-house training, pilot flight training scheduling, dangerous goods recognition, crew resource management, emergency drills on various aircraft and an endless amount of record keeping. Needless to say, I whined everyday that I wasn't in the air.

 

While I was at this Internship, I was working on my CFI training. Quite frankly, I had simply ran out of money. I just couldn't afford any more flight hours. It was being submerged in the aviation community in this management position that I learned of alternative ways to build flight hours! 

Below I will list 5 unique ways for low-time pilots to build flight time, starting first and foremost, with how I started flying for hire! (I did NOT finish my CFI BTW)...

1. aerial survey

An Aerial Survey Pilot operates a single or multi-engine aircraft equipped with a variety of camera ports, and will be routinely deployed around the country to collect aerial imagery and operate specialized sensor equipment. 

There are numerous companies that offer pilot positions with various schedules. For example; I worked with a company from October until June (leaf off work for minimal shadows in the photos). I was assigned my own plane that I was responsible for, including maintenance tracking, flight planning, camera operation, hotel and vehicle accommodations and expense reporting. Every 2 weeks or so, a fleet of us were assigned a different location and moved across the U.S. to take photos for companies like Google maps, Bing.com and third party government operations.

 

We were also sent on occasional special assignments to places of recently occurring natural disasters to take photos for insurance companies. Once summer comes around for this particular photo mission, our job was done for the rest of the year until fall, if you so choose to return. I had built over 500 hours during this period and was hired out so I did not have to return. 

 

There are other more  permanent, year round survey jobs that operate different schedules such as, week on - week off. This is where you airline to the plane and pick up with whatever project the previous pilot left off at. 

Some survey companies I can recommend are:

- Landcare aviation (this is where I worked!)

- Aero Graphics 

- Digital Aerial Solutions 

- Precision Aerial Recon.

- Keystone Aerial Surveys Inc. 

There are MANY more Aerial Survey companies nation wide. All you have to do is dig a little, have a flexible schedule, and get ready for some serious sight seeing!

2. Pipeline Patrol 

A patrol pilot flies at low altitudes over power lines or pipe lines looking for damage, vandalism and other problems. These flights can occur over mountains, wooded areas and hazardous areas where pipe lines and power lines cross. This kind of flying requires a great deal of skill because the pilot must not only pay attention to flying the aircraft and navigation, but also be aware of low altitude flight hazards while at the same time observing the pipeline or power line she is tasked for.

There are several additional advantages to this kind of career. As with Ag Aviation, flying patrol can lead to the opportunity to build your own company, purchase your own aircraft and build equity for the future.

If owning your own business isn’t where you would like to be, once you have the flying skills many other high paying flying jobs open up like emergency medivac operations, fire fighting operations and more.

You are generally based in the same area and operate out of the same airport daily. Weather can sometimes dictate your day but what more could you ask for to build some serious time and hone in on perfecting your flying skills? 

I definitely know companies based at KMAF and KODO in West Texas are always looking for good Pipeline Pilots! If you find yourself out that way, look for me! I currently travel there weekly for oil work! 

Photo credit to @flipflopflyboy

3. Banner Towing

From my understanding, banner towing positions require the following:  Safety is your primary responsibility (well duh, that's a given in any flight position). You must safely setup and breakdown banners (Billboard and Letter Banners). Properly Pre-flight, Operate, and Post-Flight company aircraft in accordance with all applicable FAR’s and Company Rules & Regulations as stated in the Training & Operations Manuals (sort of another given with all flight positions). Pilot Candidate must be available to the Company to tow banners 7 days/week (primarily Thursday-Sunday) and moat definitely holidays. 

This kind of flying position will most likely be available around larger cities for sporting events, beaches and water ways where mass crowds can see the banner. 

If you live near a major city or water front, check out this banner training company to get you started. 

4. Ferry Planes for Maintenance Facilities

After my Aerial Survey job, I had enough hours to start working for other various companies. One really big learning curve was ferrying Mooneys for a Mooney Maintenance facility. Mooneys are a unique kind of single engine aircraft because there are SO MANY different models! And not a single cockpit is the same. They are all custom and retrofitted to the original owner. 

This job was a tad more stressful because, well, airplanes eventually need maintenance. I was either picking up broken airplanes, delivering planes fresh out of maintenance or chasing owners around to get access to their planes in order to fly them to the facility for maintenance. 

To get into a position like this, you will need to be a little more creative and actually just walk into a local maintenance shop to see if they have a need for a ferry pilot. 

The pro's to this kind of position is the vast amount of experience you get in different aircraft as well as developing a better understanding of aircraft ferrying regulations, learning different avionics systems, understanding the unique quirks that come with each individual plane, and meeting new potential clients that may just hire you for contract work.  

Stay humble and remember where you started

5. Safety Pilot

Again, this is getting creative, but I have been paid by many small aircraft owner/operators to simply, fly with them in their own plane! They may be a brand new private pilot, bought a new plane, and just need to build their confidence, or wish to enjoy the trip and learn from a commercial pilot without the stress of a "CFI".

 

To get into a possible position like this, it simply takes exposure at your local FBO, popping in and out of hangars, meeting small aircraft owner/operators and offering them your services as a safety pilot. 

PRO PILOT TIPS FOR YOUR FIRST FLYING GIG

- BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR SCHEDULE!!! After all, you CHOSE to be a professional pilot. When do people most want to go places? Holidays and weekends! (darn millennial's and their silly requests for time off!) 

- If you want to land a unique job and potentially better pay... BE FLEXIBLE WITH YOUR LIVING ARRANGEMENT! I moved across the country from Michigan to Texas not knowing a soul for my second flying job and I went from survey in a C172 to Second In Command of a Citation Jet! But I was willing to take that leap. 

- Aviation is a very small industry. RESPECT EVERYONE! Your reputation will bless you or haunt you for your entire career. Think before you speak, don't be cocky, and stay humble. You will go far with this little nugget of wisdom, I promise!

- Dont be afraid to SAY NO. If you are not comfortable with something, at the end of the day, its your pilot certificate and your life. They can get another pilot, you can't get another certificate or another life. Never be intimidated. I have been "fired" time and time over for saying NO to some *cough* enebriated or irate *cough* clients, but was praised (and kept my job) when they heard about that tornado that touched down during the time they "HAD TO GET HOME NOW!" lol. 

- And finally PAY IT FORWARD! After all, not a single one of us in aviation has gotten where we are, without the help of another fellow aviator that believed in us!