6 professional development tips for aspiring pilots

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The aviation job market has never been stronger. As an aspiring professional pilot, the opportunities are limitless. As a result, enrollment in collegiate aviation programs and flight training academies is on the rise. Pilots are being lured from the high school ranks as well as those longing for a career change. If you’re one of the many thousands who one day aims to make a career as a pilot, there is plenty of advice and helpful tips to be mindful of as you begin your career path that are sure to pay dividends in the future. Here are six tips I wish I would have learned much earlier in my journey.

 

Mind thy logbook. Regardless of your ultimate goals in aviation, a neat and tidy logbook demonstrates that details matter. Attention to detail is a desirable attribute for any pilot and especially those who aspire to the professional level where the logbook may be scrutinized in great detail. While the regulations only require you log in an official record that pilot time being applied toward a certificate or rating or pilot currency (in other words, pilot time to comply with regulations), it’s best practice to record all of your pilot time. And further, it will save many hours and future headache to be well organized in how you document your pilot time as future job and insurance requirements may be very specific in the type of experience you must report. For example, you may be asked to provide anything from complex aircraft experience, to pilot-in-command (PIC) cross-country time, to instrument instruction provided.

Paper vs. electronic? While a paper logbook is still widely accepted and some might even say, offers great protection and assurance in the integrity of your records, there is also wide spread adoption of electronic records. There’s not an industry preferred format if you’re currently preparing for an interview, but no matter the choice, a clean, uniform appearance of your flights is something any reviewer will prefer. Consistency in your recording of flight time is imperative. Be sure to accurately categorize your flights with respect to single and multiengine, day vs. night, pilot-in-command and cross-country experience. These are all individual tallies you will likely be asked to make in the future.  The benefit of an electronic record is that you have flexibility to add categories that may be of interest that may not be pre-published in a paper logbook. For an example, as an instructor, you may wish to categorize VFR instruction from instrument instruction given. Or for any pilot, you’ll likely want to distinguish complex or high-performance, multiengine or even the coveted turbine experience. And later even turbine PIC.

It’s best to begin early in categorizing your pilot time to make the addition simpler in the future. To begin with, a standard breakdown of pilot experience for a first officer position with a regional airline would include total time, PIC, instrument (actual and simulated), multiengine, cross-country and night time.

What about logbook mistakes? No one expects the logbook to be perfect. In fact, mistakes are expected and demonstrate that you had the thoughtfulness to make an honest correct. If a correction is necessary, do NOT use white out on a paper logbook. Use a single line so the mistake is still legible and make a notation in the notes section to further clarify. Add a signature and date for good measure. If there is a major mistake or miscalculation, you may also use an addendum to further explain.

What about training device (ATD or FTD) time? It’s best to document “simulator” time in a specific category, but most employers will wish to see flight time independent of simulator or training device time. The exception to this is if you’ve not reached the airline transport pilot level you should include all legally required experience you may count toward ATP requirements.

 

Know your logbook. It’s not good enough to have tidy records, but not be able to find what you’re looking for. Possessing a working knowledge of major aviation milestones is good practice. When did you solo? When did you earn your Commercial certificate or log your first actual instrument time? The ability to quickly identify these types of events, both in calendar terms and physical logbook location, demonstrates good organization and working knowledge of your records.

 

Balance your time. Diversity in your pilot experience is not only valuable to your developing skills and knowledge bank, it demonstrates to any future employer you’re multi-dimensional and possess vast experience you can draw from to solve unique problems and execute a safe flight. Don’t allow your instrument skills to degrade after earning your instrument rating (it can happen quicker than you think). Resolve to file and fly IFR anytime the conditions allow while building further experience toward Commercial pilot. If you’re on the track to become a flight instructor (also highly valued and regarded), take the next step and earn an instrument flight instructor (CFI-I) and recruit instrument students. Your IFR skills and knowledge of procedures will naturally remain sharp. Remember, your future professional flying will nearly all be IFR.

The same can be said for night experience and cross-country flying. These are the two categories that often hold applicants up for ATP eligibility and can jump off the page in an interview. You don’t want to be type cast as a local, traffic pattern flyer only. Seek these flying opportunities for your own benefit for that of your students if you’re an instructor. Strive to remain legally night current to carry passengers at the very least.

 

Obtain and maintain your documents. I’ll include in this category not only your pilot certificate, but also your medical. If your pilot time builds rather quickly, quite likely, you’ll not reach a time when you’re required to obtain a flight review, but that’s not a guarantee. You’d be surprised at the number of pilots who show up to an interview, or at any given time, may be flying without a current flight review (required every 24 calendar months). While I’m not suggesting you maintain first class medical privileges, it would behoove of you to freshen the medical certificate ahead of an upcoming job interview.

Other documents that may not be on your radar (so to speak) include a passport and FCC Radio Operators Permit. A pilot employer will wish to see that you have both. In the U.S. the FCC issues a Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit for U.S. pilots, but only for international use – it is not required while flying in the United States. Airlines require that applicants possess the Restricted Radiotelephone Operators Permit. The license is a one-time acquisition with no expiration. You can apply electronically with the FCC – https://www.fcc.gov/licensing-databases/forms#605.

If you’re obtaining your first passport, you must apply in person – https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/need-passport/apply-in-person.html. If you’re renewing (valid for 10 years), go here and keep track of your next expiration – https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/passports/have-passport/renew.html.

 

Be kind. To say aviation is a small universe would be an understatement. Be kind to each other. Your fellow pilots can help get you a job, but also prevent you from landing a job. Many airlines allow company pilots to submit recommendations, but also provide the opportunity to offer objections. In private or business aviation, it can be even more personal, with chief pilots or hiring managers often seeking personal referrals or recommendations on candidates. Be kind and network.

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It was his first airplane trip at age seven that made Eric decide to become a pilot. "While boarding the airplane, a flight attendant noticed my interest in the flight deck and urged me to go talk to the pilot. I give a lot of credit to that pilot for my career choice." He earned a bachelor’s degree in finance and went on to an airline career. Eric now heads Sporty’s flight school and directs the University of Cincinnati’s Professional Pilot Training Program. In addition, Eric serves as a Captain in Sporty’s corporate flight department.