Flying is great fun, but wouldn’t it be even better if you were paid to do it? While this may be true, choosing a career as a pilot comes with inevitable ups and downs. An aviation career isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle, and there are some things you need to be aware of. Today we look at the good (and bad) sides of a professional career in aviation so you can decide if it really is for you.
Is Being a Pilot a Good Career? The Quick Answer
A career as a pilot is a great job. It is varied, fun, and exciting. The average pay for a pilot (according to glassdoor.com) is $106,627 per year. It is an environment where you’ll never stop learning, and there are plenty of opportunities to diversify within the industry.
However, some things need to be considered before starting this career path.
Really, like what?
There is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ job, and there are a great many things that may dissuade you from a career in flying.
Let’s take a look at the things that make a career as a pilot great and also provide some ‘real world’ perspective with some of the downsides (some of which aren’t obvious).
What Are the Pros of Being a Pilot? 11 Benefits to Being a Commercial Pilot
We’ve all seen that scene in ‘Catch Me If You Can. You know, the one where Leonardo Di Caprio strolls through the airport looking a million dollars, flanked by beautiful air hostesses.
Wait, you haven’t seen it? Check it out!
Is this what a career as a pilot is really like?
However, there are lots of things to love. Here are some things that make a career in the sky worthwhile: –
1. You Get to See the World!
Imagine entering your ‘office’ in one country and leaving in another?
As international travel goes, the quickest way to get anywhere is by airplane! Depending on your chosen career path, you could expect to travel around the globe as a pilot. You could have lunch on one continent and dinner on another!
Pretty neat, right?
Even domestic pilots get to travel extensively. Short city hops are just as much fun as longer flights.
If you enjoy experiencing various cultures and places, then a pilot career could be the way to go!
2. Pilots Earn a Good Salary
On average, becoming a pilot comes with a great salary.
Well, that all depends on who you ask and how far you are willing to go in your career.
According to Indeed.com, pilots earn, on average, around $85,000 per year. However, this amount can vary depending on the nature of your role.
If you intend to fly big jets, you’ll start your career as a first officer (also called a copilot). Salary expectations for copilots are lower than those of Captains. However, over time you could expect to be promoted.
According to Salary.com, Senior Captains earn an average of $144,825 annually!
That’s quite a nice check to take home for doing something you love.
3. Amazing Views!
Ever sat in the office on a grey day? Not much to see?
For professional pilots, this is a rarity. There are seldom days where you see nothing from the flight deck.
To put it in simple terms…
The views are amazing.
The world looks a different place from 36,000ft. Sunrises, sunsets, mountains, lakes… You name it. As ‘office’ environments go, an airplane cockpit has unrivaled views. And you are being paid for the privilege!
4. Its Fast, Fun, and Exciting
Let’s be honest.
Few jobs will have your heart pounding (in a good way).
Aviation is one of them.
Putting the power on at the start of the runway, making a smooth takeoff, battling crosswinds, and making tricky approaches are all par for the aviation course.
Since jet airliners travel at around 80% of the speed of sound, few jobs will allow you to travel so fast and so far on a regular basis.
Flying an aircraft for a living is a fun way to earn money. On a good day, you’ll want to pinch yourself that a company actually pays you to fly!
5. Non-Stop Learning
Ever felt stuck in a rut or wished you could progress further?
If this sounds like you, an aviation career might be just the ticket.
There isn’t a pilot on the planet who knows everything. (In fact, the best pilots readily acknowledge this fact).
From your first training flight, you’ll embark on a career where the learning never stops. There are numerous pilots’ ratings to acquire, different types of aircraft, and different flying disciplines.
Even if you are flying only one type of aircraft, there is still a huge amount of information to learn. Check out this Airbus Flight Crew Operating Manual. Every Airbus pilot you meet will have read and learned it from cover to cover (and will have been tested on it too!)
There is a lot to learn when flying; it isn’t all about ‘stick and rudder’ handling. There is a large element of theory too!
Academic pursuits aside, there will always be a ‘next step’ on the ladder when it comes to being a pilot.
Within a single company, there will be various ways in which you could ‘branch out’ from your main career. Want examples of how many different roles exist within the catch-all term of ‘pilot’? Here’s a quick list of roles within roles as a pilot: –
- Flight Instructors
- Training Captains
- Simulator Instructors
- Crew Resource Management Instructors
- Flight Data Monitoring Analysts
- Test Pilots
- Ground School Instructors
- Pilot Management Positions
- And many more…
6. Constant Variety
As pilots, we can tell you that there are never two days that are exactly the same.
You might be flying to a new destination or on a new aircraft type. Your colleagues will be different every day. The weather might be changeable. You might have to work your way around a technical problem.
A career as a pilot is really varied. Each day brings its own set of peculiarities. It isn’t always relaxing, but it most definitely is interesting.
7. You Are Your Own Boss
Once aloft, the aircraft commander is the master of their own destiny.
According to 14 CFR, the pilot in Command (that would be you) is directly responsible for and is the final authority as to the operation of the aircraft.
The simple version?
Essentially, you call the shots while sitting in that aircraft as a pilot! This fundamental principle is also laid down in the International Civil Aviation Organizations’ Rules of the Air’.
It might seem obvious, but when you are aloft, there are no emails, phone calls, or general ‘administration’. As a general rule, pilots are left alone to get on with the task at hand.
8. Your Work Stops at the Airplane Door
In recent times, many have seen that ‘working from home’, is not the panacea they thought it would be. In fact, with many ‘normal’ jobs, combined with advances in communication technology, work creeping into the home can be a real issue.
Want the good news?
If you work as a pilot, you won’t face this problem.
Most pilots will agree that they stop thinking about work as soon as they close the airplane door and leave for the day. Your job is to fly the airplane; fortunately, that airplane has to stay at the airport.
If you enjoy the thought of ‘switching off’ after your working day has ended, a career as a pilot is a great move.
9. A Career in Aviation is a Great Responsibility and Highly Rewarding
Aviation is it if you want a career where you truly make a difference!
The truth is that being a pilot is a hugely responsible job. There are times when literally everyone depends on you to be a professional.
Want to know what exactly the pilot in Command is responsible for?
It’s a short answer.
You’ll be in charge of safety, managing the flight, looking after the crew, taking care of the passengers, and ensuring the flight goes smoothly. On some days, this can be easy. On other days, it is much more challenging. However, when you have got from A to B safely, you get a real sense of pride and achievement!
10. You Get a Nice Uniform
Depending on your chosen career path, you’ll be provided with a uniform which is…
How shall we put it?
Kind of cool.
Pilots’ uniforms, with the wings and the stripes, make you easily identifiable as a professional, and people notice it. Suppose you are the sort of person who enjoys being the center of attention. In that case, a pilot’s uniform is certainly eye-catching.
From a practical point of view, you don’t have to wake up and decide what to wear for the day, and the best bit?
Your company pays for it!
Now, where did we put our Ray-Ban Aviators?
11. It Is a Cool Job
How does it feel to say, “I’m a pilot”?
In a word…
Being a pilot is an interesting and pretty cool job. You’ll be asked questions constantly by all around you regarding your flying experiences. Everybody wants to know what it is like to work as a pilot. If you want to feel like a minor celebrity, a career in aviation will certainly make you feel ‘special’.
We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been asked what it is like to land an airplane (as well as the usual favorites such as “do they just fly themselves nowadays” (hint, they don’t).
What are the Disadvantages of Being a Pilot? 10 Downsides
So, you are sold on the idea of a job in the sky?
Just hold on a minute.
While being a pilot can be awesome, there are some downsides. Like we said at the start, there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ job. Aviation is no exception.
Here’s a list of the things that make a career as a pilot not so great….
1. Flight Training Can Be Expensive
Flight training can cost a significant sum. Most copilots you speak to will have spent the first few years of their career paying back the cost of their flight training.
Why is it so expensive?
Well, flight experience is graded using hours. And, unless you are very lucky, you will have to pay for those hours yourself.
Are there ways to make it cheaper?
While we can’t do much about the cost of hiring airplanes, you can make savings in other ways. Expensive ground school? Forget it. Why not check out good online flying courses instead. Some of them are even free.
2. Flight Training Can Be Hard
We’ll tell you the truth.
Flight training isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be downright challenging.
How hard it is can depend on the individual, but every pilot you meet will have a ‘weak area’ that they have had to work hard to develop.
For some, the handling of the aircraft may have been an issue. For others (that will be us), the theoretical side used to feel like it was written in a different language.
The good news?
There are solutions to every problem, and you can be practically certain that you aren’t the first to find it challenging. While it can be hard, it can become much simpler with the right instruction. Here’s a brilliant resource where we make the difficult much easier.
3. It’s a Huge Responsibility
Wait, we just said that responsibility is a good thing?
Yeah, that’s true, but it isn’t for everyone.
As we said previously, as a pilot in Command, you are pretty much responsible for everything that happens to your aircraft. For some, that pressure is too great and can lead to feelings of stress and anxiety.
Flying an airplane is a huge undertaking; often, it isn’t only yourself you need to think about. If you are someone who welcomes responsibility, then it’s all good. If you prefer to let others do the heavy lifting, it will be beneficial to consider if being a pilot is a good career.
4. The Truth? It Can Be Boring
We are going to let you in on a little secret.
Now and again, a career as a pilot can be a little boring.
Imagine sitting in an 8ft square box for 12 hours with someone who is the strong and silent type. No conversation? Oh well, only another 10 hours to go…
As professional pilots, we can tell you this can and does happen!
And don’t get us started on moody cabin crew and days sat blind in a high layer of overcast. In other jobs, you could take a walk, head to a different desk, or busy yourself with other tasks. In a cockpit, this just isn’t going to happen! You can’t even read a book!
While flying is generally varied and exciting, quiet moments will have you counting the minutes.
See, it isn’t all ‘glam’!
5. You May Be Away from Home a Lot
There’s nothing nicer than getting home from a hard day at work and collapsing in your own bed.
How would you feel if this wasn’t a possibility?
While some ‘premium’ companies may put their pilots up in the finest hotels, you may find that you are living out of a suitcase in less than salubrious locations for days at a time.
And there’s something else to consider…
Regardless of the standard of accommodation, as a pilot, you will have to accept that occasionally, however much you want to be at home, you simply won’t be. For some, a ‘life on the road’ can be fun and adventurous. For ‘home birds’, flying as a career can be challenging.
6. Relationships and Family Life as a Pilot
While being a pilot is a fun job, it can also be emotionally draining. Being away from home can be testing on your personal relationships.
If your kid’s first day at school, nativity play, or anniversaries are your top priority, you may want to look away now.
The truth is that, as a pilot, it is highly likely that it will cause disruption to your ‘normal’ family life. The same can be said for your personal friendships, specifically with people who work a ‘regular 9 – 5’.
As a pilot, you are subject to the whims and rules of your roster. If it says you are working the holidays, the weekend, or during a big game, then that is what you will be doing. Working while everyone else is off!
7. Being a Pilot Can be Lonely
Traveling as a pilot can often be fun, interesting, and exciting.
There are many times when you will be an anonymous entity living out of a suitcase.
The truth is, it can be a lonely existence. Living in and out of hotel rooms can leave many feeling disjointed and homesick.
8. Fatigue and Tiredness
Not working 9 – 5 is a good thing.
Are you sure?
As a general rule, as a career pilot, you’ll either be getting up super early or going to bed super late. As a one-off, this isn’t so bad… Doing it 5 times a week soon starts to take its toll. When you combine this with the fact that flying an aircraft is mentally draining, you’ve got the perfect recipe for fatigue.
And let us tell you…
Fatigue is dangerous. So much so that the Federal Aviation Administration has programs to guard against it.
When you throw in the mix of different time zones and jet lag, it is safe to say that being a pilot can be a tiring job.
9. Career Instability
There’s a funny saying that you’ll hear all the time in aviation: –
“You aren’t a real pilot until you’ve lost your job at least once”.
Almost since the dawn of its creation, aviation has been a volatile industry. It follows a predictable pattern of ‘boom and bust’. Pilots and aviation professionals tend to be the collateral. Aviation often utilizes a system called ‘seniority,’ meaning if you were the last in, you’d be the first out!
While flying is a well-paid career, it isn’t always the most stable. This, combined with the cost of flight training, means that you could very well find yourself out of a job as a pilot and with a huge debt at the same time.
10. Constant Tests and Checking
If you don’t like tests, you need to think carefully about embarking on a pilot career.
Professional pilots are tested constantly.
Each pilot has to undergo a routine medical, sometimes as often as every 6 months. If at any point they are found to be medically unfit, their license can be suspended or entirely revoked. On top of this, there are several other checks commercial pilots have to undergo. They can include: –
- A yearly line check
- A biannual simulator competency check
- Crew resource management training
- Dangerous goods and safety training
- Aviation security training
- Aircraft technical training
That’s a lot of checks that must be passed for a pilot to continue flying.
Pilot Career FAQ
Still, wondering if being a pilot is a good career? It’s a huge step, and there are plenty of questions. Here are some of the things that we are most often asked by potential pilots.
Are Pilots in High Demand?
While aviation can follow cycles of boom and bust, the outlook for pilots is remarkably good. According to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics, the pilot job outlook over the next decade is set to increase by 6%, which is similar to other ‘regular’ careers.
How Long Does a Pilot Stay Away from Home?
How long a pilot stays away from home depends on the type of flying they do and the airline. Long-haul flying can see pilots away for up to a week at a time. Domestic carriers typically have roster patterns that create night stops between 1 – 3 days.
Does Being a Pilot Get Boring?
As with any career, your fulfillment as a pilot will depend very much on your motivation. Many pilots branch out into other areas within the industry while also flying their roster. You may face short periods of boredom daily, but generally, there is always something to do.
Is Being a Pilot Safe?
According to the National Safety Council, the risk of being injured in an aircraft accident is too small to calculate. While pilots fly more than most, the odds may be slightly increased. However, this is still minuscule.
Aviation is a safe profession that carries no more risk than for those who work in other forms of transportation. In fact, some may say due to the high level of regulation and oversight, it is inherently safer than other forms of transport.
Is it Worth Becoming a Pilot?
While there are things worth considering, there are more pros than cons in becoming a pilot. You get to work in an exciting and varied job, get paid for the privilege, and there are always opportunities to diversify further. Oh, and there is a great view!
What’s not to love?
Is Being a Pilot a Good Career? Final Thoughts…
Is being a pilot a good career? Absolutely! You could work far harder for far less. It is an interesting job that will allow you to go and see the world, experience new cultures, and meet different people, and it is generally very exciting. There are downsides, and it is up to each individual to decide if these ‘cons’ are something they can live with.
Your journey starts with a first step. Why not take yours today? This introductory aviation course is 100% free!