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What do you do for a living?Corporate Pilot

Corporate pilot/Director of Aviation Safety

How would you describe what you do?

My main job is flight operations for a corporation, flying corporate jets for the company employees and perspective clients as well as executives of the company itself. The safety manager side, I’m in charge of ensuring safe flight operations for the travel department as well as the ground crew and our internal travel department, I conduct safety audits, establish a safety reporting system, developing a safety manual and complying with all Federal Aviation Regulations and NBAA and Flight Safety Foundation guidelines.

What does your work entail?

Everything is based off of duty time and duty time is one hour prior to the flight that day and then one hour after the flight.

The other day, I left at eight o’clock in the morning, went to San Diego and back, and was home by one, then went to New York City that night. There’s not a whole lot of people that say they’ve been coast to coast in one day, and then you end up hanging out in Times Square that night, so that’s pretty good living.

If I count just my duty time alone, it’s about 50 hours a week and I normally work about four days a week. A lot of times my weekend is Tuesday, Wednesday or Tuesday, Thursday. And then the safety manager part is about another 20 hours a week. Normally I spend in the air a week, probably about 15 hours.

How did you get started?

I went to school at Kansas State University and went through their Aeronautical Science program. It’s supposed to be a a Bachelor’s of Aeronautical Science degree, but I actually did a Bachelor’s in Aeronautical Engineering. You go through your ground school and flight lessons to private instrument commercial multi-engine and then flight instructor, flight instructor instrument, and then multi-engine instructor. It’s normally a four-year program. If you don’t have a whole lot of money and you’re paying out-of-state tuition, you can get it done in 17 months. Then you’re just basically hoping to get hired on by somebody to build multi-engine time and gain experience.

What do you like about being a corporate pilot?

Probably the best part about what I do is actually flying the airplane. I’m an instructor in the airplane, so any time I’m in the airplane, I am the Captain, I am the pilot-in-command whether I’m sitting in the left seat or the right seat. Flying the airplane, going to different destinations, you see different types of weather, you see different runways.

The number one thing people need to know is it’s not just getting up there and flying a plane. It’s not just like getting up there and driving a car. Flying a plane is extremely easy, but knowing the systems, knowing how to interact with your crew member, knowing the weather, and knowing your limitations and the airplane’s limitations are pretty much where it’s at because, if you don’t know that, then you are going to kill yourself and you’re going to kill yourself real quickly. It’s — Aviation is very unforgiving. If you make a mistake, your likelihood of survival is about 10%.

extremely challenging and extremely rewarding at the same time. The other day, I left at eight o’clock in the morning, went to San Diego and back, and was home by one, then went to New York City that night. There’s not a whole lot of people that say they’ve been coast to coast in one day, and then you end up hanging out in Times Square that night, so that’s pretty good living.

What do you dislike?

The parts that I dislike is there’s a kind of uncertainty. Like right now, I’m home and I haven’t flown today. They could call me right now and I would have to be in the air in two hours. There is not a whole lot of ability to plan. Now, on the days that I know I have off, I can plan something. So, it has its pros and its cons, but the main part is just the uncertainty. But that’s pretty much aviation. You hurry up — Hurry up and wait. And sometimes, you end up sitting around and waiting and waiting and waiting to pick people up just for them to call you and say, Hey, we’re not done. We’re going to need you to spend the night.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

I’m a salary position. I get all benefits, stock, 401k, life insurance, health insurance, all that kind of stuff. I can make overtime as well. If they call me to fly on my day off, I can tell them no or I can tell them yes. If I tell them yes, I make $500 cash. Just for flying that day. And it might be like to Kansas City and back and I’m gone three hours. Or they could fly me all day, and if they fly me over 12 hours, they have to pay me $700. If they fly me over an 18-hour duty day, it’s almost a grand.

How much money do you make as a corporate pilot?

I make a $95,000/year salary.

What education or skills are needed to be a corporate pilot?

90% of the time, they like for you to have a Bachelor’s Degree in just about anything. They don’t even care what it’s in. They just want a Bachelor’s Degree. Skill-wise, you have to have the appropriate ratings and the appropriate type ratings for the position. For my position, you’d have to be a commercial pilot, multi-engine, flight instructor, and then have the type ratings for each jet you fly. I have my APP and type rating and I’m a check airman and a multi-engine instructor.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Most challenging about what I do are the decisions you make in regards to weather, the decisions you make in regards to the approach. You’re ready to shoot into an airport, sometimes the weather gets so bad that you have to make that decision and say, This is bad. We need to go somewhere else, and you have the CEO on the plane and he needs to get to that airport so he can get to this meeting within 30 minutes, and you have to fly somewhere else that’s an hour away and he’s not going to make the meeting.

The number one advice I would offer is if you decide that this is something you want to do, go at it as a sprint, not a marathon. Get done as quickly as you can and be as thorough as you can and do not put off getting your ratings. Try to get all of your ratings done in two to three years. The longer it takes, the more expensive it becomes and the greater risk that you will not finish. Get in there, get it done, go pay your dues, and get doing the deal.

So you tell him, and he says, Then I’m not going to make that meeting. There’s no point. Okay, well, you hope that you’re not very far and you can make it back and not have to stop for fuel, but if you can’t you’re still in the same situation except now you have to find a good fuel stop and a good place where the weather’s not crappy, that you’re not increasing the risk of stopping anyways. It basically comes down to the decisions that you make due to weather and adverse conditions.

What is most rewarding?

The most rewarding part for me is, since I am an instructor, of the 14 pilots we have, I have been the primary instructor of 10 of them, and I see things that I do in 10 of those pilots. And of the 10 pilots that we have there, we’ve had the least problems and the lowest safety risks with those 10 guys. And the two of the guys that we see the most safety risks with are guys that were not under my direct training. So, the rewarding part for me is taking the guys from walking in the door to flying by himself.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

The number one advice I would offer is if you decide that this is something you want to do, go at it as a sprint, not a marathon. Get done as quickly as you can and be as thorough as you can and do not put off getting your ratings. Try to get all of your ratings done in two to three years. The longer it takes, the more expensive it becomes and the greater risk that you will not finish. Get in there, get it done, go pay your dues, and get doing the deal.

How much time off do you get/take?

I don’t know, maybe 160 days a year. The guaranteed days I will not work are 120 days a year. Those are days that I can pretty much count on not working and then I have 35 days of vacation a year. So, if I play my cards right, given my days that I’m guaranteed off, if I play my vacation correctly, I could essentially take two full months off. And be paid for it, and if they call me in to work extra, they have to pay me on top of my salary. That’s the huge advantage of flying corporate instead of commercial.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

That pilots make a ton of money. That’s the number one thing. If you’re a pilot, then you’re going to make a ton of money, and that’s not the case. If you want to make six digits as a commercial pilot, you will spend 15 years getting there. If you want to make six digits corporately, you’ll spend 10 years getting there. But your salary caps out faster in corporate than in commercial.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

In this career, eventually be the Chief Pilot of a major flight department and then eventually to a Director of Operations for a flight Department. And I would like to see myself retiring at about the age of 50 and then just become a FAA check examiner and give check rides and sign pilots off and do that kind of stuff.

What else would you like people to know about what you do?

The number one thing people need to know is it’s not just getting up there and flying a plane. It’s not just like getting up there and driving a car. Flying a plane is extremely easy, but knowing the systems, knowing how to interact with your crew member, knowing the weather, and knowing your limitations and the airplane’s limitations are pretty much where it’s at because, if you don’t know that, then you are going to kill yourself and you’re going to kill yourself real quickly. It’s — Aviation is very unforgiving. If you make a mistake, your likelihood of survival is about 10%.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Adam G. August 7, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Hello my name is Adam and i am 17 and have been flying privately for the last 2 years in a little Cessna and whatever else i can get my hands on. I was wondering if you know of any way i could shadow a corporate pilot and see how i would like flying something with a bit more nuts and bolts then the little propeller planes im flying so far.

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D. rivers April 5, 2011 at 10:06 am

My name is Mayo and I am in the military. My current job is an aviation technician on the Harrier Jet. I’m getting out soon and I plan to go to Embry Riddle for school and become a pilot. My first question is how difficult or how long did it take for you to get your job as a pilot for the company you fly for? What kind of plane do you fly? Are you ever able to take your family with you when you fly somewhere? Do you always have a co-pilot? And how did you become a captain as a pilot?

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ryan jackson March 22, 2011 at 7:17 am

my name is ryan jackson i am in the 6th grade and i would like to be a polot
and i would love to get some thing back may be start early on
training so when i go to the big airports i will be readey so that will be good if i can get something back

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chloe cole January 6, 2011 at 1:12 pm

or a corporate pilot.

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chloe cole January 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

i was wondering were i can job shadow a pilot? specifically a commercial pilot for an commercial airline like united or AA. please help me its for school and my career! :) ).

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Scott POrras December 4, 2010 at 5:25 pm

Hi Dustin, im not a corporate pilot but it is also my goal to become one. Im a freshman in college working on my aeronautical science degree and a certified pilot. I have a few friends that are corp pilots, one being the chief pilot of a large food distributors flight department flying a King Air 350, and another being a big time ex-chief corp and ex-airline pilot (retired). They both say that its best to have a 4-year degree in anything, preferably in aviation or business.

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dustin allen September 8, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Heeey , Im dustin from lancaster sc. Since my early childhood air aviation has always been a top interest to me. I have considered going into many other proffessions but now i believe flying is my main calling . I am also a senior in high school and am in my final year of cosmetology school right know and shall be recieving my license for that within a few more months. Just a brief intro…, i have been doing lots of research and I know for sure that flying for a corporation and owning a salon is really what i want to do and is my dream. I have narrowed my search down to two schools to get me in the air. One is EmbryRiddle Aeronautical University where i can recieve a bachleor in aeronautical science and Phoenix East Aviation academy both of daytona, florida where i can finish all training and gain most of the ratings within 13 months. I would really like to know which would be most benificial to becoming a corporate pilot , having the 4 year degree or the 13 months training?

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