Sunday, 18 September 2011

Getting a pilot job in Europe

Don’t hold your breath, I am not announcing a major pilot shortage and I don’t think this will ever happen, at least not in Europe.
A lot of schools are advertising their courses with some very misleading comments such as “now is a good time to train, airlines will desperately be looking for pilots by the time you complete training”.
In the past decade, this has been half-true for not even a year, around 2007. They were certainly not desperate but a lot were hiring and the requirements were quite low.
This hasn’t lasted long though and rather than waiting for this sort of economic climate to come back, if you are looking for a job you should focus on what you can do in the current, fairly poor, climate instead.

This post is my own thought on the topic, hence not everyone will agree and share that same opinion. I may have very little experience in the industry, this process did help me get several job opportunities, and this is also the sort of attitude some of my friends had when they got their first pilot job.

Most pilots fresh out of school will just send a couple hundreds of CVs and wait until the phone finally rings. It sometimes works, it did for me, but there are a lot more things you can do to get a pilot job.

Right, first thing first, let’s talk about LUCK.
There isn't any absolute solution, there is no key, but luck does happen and it can be triggered.
Don't think luck doesn't come to you because you are not that kind of person.
Luck is not a simple character trait, it is a skill in its own.
Of course, you can get lucky or unlucky but those who tend to come across luck many times in a row most likely act in order to make it happen.
I'm not blaming those who are not in that position, just enlightening that the lucky ones tend to be the ones who create a positive environment.
A famous Professor did some work on that, you can look it up or google it: Richard Wiseman, Book: The luck factor.
Basically, one way to do that is to trigger opportunities. Which is, to get to meet the right people in the right place, listen to their expectations and position yourself on this demand.
Having a stable and steady life isn't really going to help you get opportunities, for a start.
Create a network, get to be the one that creates links between people (one of them being well-positioned) and help others before expecting others to help you.

Right, how do you do that in terms of real life?
You don’t look for these people, you don’t sell yourself to them. In fact, you shouldn’t need to, you just have to place yourself in a positive environment.
Here are a few examples:
- I worked on a big soaring airfield for 5 months. Within this lap of time, I met at least 50 retired airline pilots, got to talk to them and I eventually met other pilots who heard my name during random conversations. That’s a good start.
I met a Boeing 757 Captain well placed in his company to pass on my CV.
- Just a few days before I left, I received a phone-call from a chief pilot flying light twin-turboprops in remote islands. He got my contact details via a retired pilot I talked a lot with, one of those guys you could spend hours and hours talking to without getting bored as they have so many stories and life experiences to share.
Anyway, this chief pilot was looking for a pilot with glider towing experience because he operates on small trips with steep approaches, the kind of things you do as a tow pilot (I later learnt he had been a towing pilot himself a couple of years back). I realised I didn’t even applied to them as they were asking for a lot more hours than I had.
I turned the job down, having already signed my contract on the 737, but I kept him in my contacts.
- Other experiences, other luck? Probably. I recently met a nice guy at an airshow, I was one of those wearing a yellow high-vis jacket on the other side of the fence, as a photographer. We started talking about photographic equipment, and it is only after a while he presented himself as a member of the recruitment team of a corporate airline. Luck stroke twice, his company was looking for a Learjet first officer.
I am not saying that’s the way you get a job, but that’s at least a good way to get an interview.

Second tip, you need to plan everything.
Do not rely on a single project, you’d better have a second plan and even a third one.
Try to act in order to make things happen, and if they don’t, move on.
You should get organised with a Plan B, a Plan C and a Plan D. Once you have sent in your CVs worldwide, just put Plan A on the side (Plan A: an airline or small operator will eventually get back to you regarding your application, and call you for an interview). Don’t rely on that because it may well take years or even never happen.

Using my own experience, once I finished training, I knew I wanted to build my hours to fulfil the requirements of various operators asking for 500 to 700 hrs.
In case I wouldn’t get a place as a tow pilot, I applied to ground crew jobs on various airports.
I talked to a guy who told me his flying club would be happy to have me for the season, as a tow pilot. I relied on that, and when I went to the airfield, a guy got the place before I did and was already trained. Because the soaring (glider) season had already started, most of the gliding clubs had already found a tow pilot. I applied everywhere, called every single flying club, until one told me “I know this one place that’s looking for a pilot”. That was the National Soaring Centre, offering the best (or should I say, the least worst) conditions in the country.
I got the Chief pilot’s number and called him straight away. He told me they had not far from a hundred of CVs already and a few guys coming at the end of that week, but if I wanted I could pop up and bring my CV the following Monday, a week later.
The next morning at 6am, I was on a train to the airfield, a CV and a headset in my bag. Once arrived, I asked to have a chat with the Chief pilot, who was away for the morning, I waited and finally got to talk to him briefly around noon. He appreciated the move but told me he had already arranged appointments with other pilots the next day. I insisted, told him I was ready to go fly, and probably with a CV as good as the others'. He went flying and I waited until late afternoon for him to land, insisted again and finally convinced him to let me have a go. We went flying and did some general handling, various stalls, steep climbs and steep approaches, short landings and precision landings. Well fun despite the day-long wait, after what he offered me the place without any more delay.
A lot of positions in the aviation industry work like this one, you have to fight for it. If you don’t, someone else will.

Also, be realistic.
I highly doubt more than half of those who train to be commercial pilots will ever get a flying job. Pilot schools either hide statistics or make them look like if everyone is getting jobs. This is really not the case, the fact you complete a pilot course in no way means you will ever get employed as such.
For this reason, when there is an opportunity, whatever that is, don't turn it down unless you have a very serious alternative or very good reasons to do so.
Stop dreaming on excellent and very rewarding Terms&Conditions, as a low-timer non-experienced pilot you stand very little chances to start with more than decent working conditions.

Right, how about if you can’t get a hold of a flying position?
Getting yourself a ground job such as flight dispatcher will certainly help you more than working at MacDonald’s or going back to your old job in a civil engineering office.
Why? I can see two reasons. The first one is the experience you will gain as a ground crew, this is usually not a requirement from the airlines but they do appreciate this kind of background. For you, this is also a good opportunity to discover the airline world from a different perspective, not to mention the fact you’re still seeing airplanes on a daily basis. Then there is the possibility to network. Depending on what company you work for, you may come across lots of pilots working for a lot of different airlines. Some will be uninterested and some others might be training captains or chief pilots, you never know. Always carry a CV with you, in a folder.

- The following story happened to a great friend of mine, he had been dispatching on a busy European airport for a while when he got to see several times the Chief pilot of a major airlines. Having a CV on him as always, he kindly gave it to the chief pilot and mentioned how much he’d like to have a formal interview with him. Unfortunately, the latter refused. On the third occasion he saw him, he suggested again the idea of an interview, and when the chief pilot declined, he told him “right, I’ll keep the load sheet then, unless you changed your mind?” (in a humorous way, of course). He got called for the interview a week later…

So, how about what you read on the internet? In particular, web forums such as PPRuNe?
Those forums surely can be useful as they broadcast aviation news, which is a good way to stay current, knowing who’s recruiting, who’s not and who may well be in a couple of months. You will find there a wide range of interview questions and sim profiles as well, very useful when you finally get that phonecall inviting you for a selection.

However, you will also find a huge amount of gloom and doom, bullying and trolling. If you feel turned down or need some motivating perspective, don’t go on there.
Bear in mind a lot of those people spreading depressing (and often false) news are not pilots themselves, some of those who are pilots may have failed to get employed for various reasons. Some others may have dreamt to become pilots but never tried.
To compensate, they feel better telling you how bad it is.
You’d better spend your time actively looking for a job and networking than wasting it reading depressing comments on PPRuNe.

A lot of these people saw a light when they came across an advert for a pilot school. They were not interested in aviation in the first place, but imagined they just had to pay to get their licences and will soon land a very well paid job on a big shiny jet, full of prestige and glamour. For most employed pilots, this is utterly unreal.
You may land a job on a twin engine jet, but you better be happy to fly single props because this is most likely what you’re going to end on for quite a time, before actually getting your hands on a jet or a turboprop.
You need to be realistic. For a lot of pilots, their lives are nowhere near what people think they are.

The Aviation world is a bit like a lake full of crocodiles.
When a newcomer jumps in the pool, eyes wide open, he has great chances to end up very far from expectations. Some will get interested eventually, and a lot will not.
When those guys end up not getting jobs, while seeing classmates living the dream, they start getting frustrated, they openly blame the schools, blame the airlines and blame those who get jobs.
They also blame the networking or recommending system. It seems unfair to most, because you do bypass the long queue of waiting pilots. Now, you can choose to blame others, or be in the position where others might blame you for succeeding.

Good luck to all those looking for a job.
This certainly is far more difficult than the training itself, and sometimes you do everything you can and it just won’t work. Hang on to it and keep trying.
I know this sounds a lot easier than it is. My advice won’t get everyone a job.
But no book or website dares talking about the real job hunting, how it really happens.

This may open the eyes of those living in a fairy world.

Airborne life continues…


Benjamin T. said...

Merci beaucoup pour ces bons conseils !

Je te souhaite le meilleur pour le futur.

Rayan14 said...

Super! Merci beaucoup pour cette magnifique leçon de vie (si on pourrait appeler ça ainsi)

Bonne chance pour la suite!

Martin said...

Very nice writeup of the things currently on my mind. I have my checkride on monday and then it's off to the game of job hunting. Like everyone else I dream of that nice big jet, but if I have to fly a single prop for years, then so be it. Sure as hell beats sitting at a desk for the rest of my life...

captainbeal said...

Very interesting and well informed post. It is true that the job hunt is probably more stressful than the flight training I think, but it is important to keep your head up and keep going :)

Pierre M. said...

Cela fais un énorme bien de lire des gens optimistes tout en étant réaliste, ce qui change des forums qui tournent aux anti-dépresseurs (pour une minorité bien sur). Merci à toi !

Je te souhaite une bonne continuation au FL330


Anonymous said...

Hello !

On se connait relativement bien :) Je suis content de voir que tu donnes d'aussi bon conseils sur internet. Je te souhaite plein de réussite pour la suite du training. On se tient au jus.


danmannen said...

tThis is so true!

Emiliano Zapanta said...

i have almost the same experience as you :) and i concur with all your points. It's been on my mind all this while but you took it out and put in on writing. Good job. An eye opener for those who never see it that way.

I work in flight ops as scheduler, and was told about an opportunity in a new cargo company. That was 10 months ago.

Now i'm flying B737-300.

Nilcouak said...

Salut GolfCharlie!
Eh bien je dois dire que je reste sans voix face à ce post. Pourquoi? car il est plein de verité. Mon experience dans le domaine rejoint ce que tu as écrit ici. Cela fait depuis deux ans que je me documente sur l'aviation commerciale, en lisant des livres, des blogs et parfois des forums. Depuis que j'ai lu le merveilleux blog de Danny, j'ai rarement vu un post aussi exhaustif qui parle de l'emploi de pilote. Criant de vérité et de bons conseils pour réussir. Moi aussi j'ai remarqué que sur les forums pprune et aeronet on trouve beaucoup de pilotes qui sont frustrés de leur vie, mais qui ne sont pas capable de se remettre en question et d'avoir la bonne altitude, qui permet d'attirer la chance, c'est pour cela que le les visite avec prudence. Ce qui m'a vraiment appris, ce sont les blogs comme les tiens et les témoignoiges de pilotes , car comme ils on eu ce qu'il voulaient, ils connaisssent donc les stratégies de la réussite et parfaois ils ont la faculté de les transmettre (comme ici, encore bravo à toi!). J'ai aussi compris que un pilote est avant tout un passionné d'aviation. Ce n'est pas une fin en soi de devenir pilote dans le sens ou c'est un moyen comme un autre de vivre sa passion. Alors, à ce moment là, pourquoi ne pas piloter d'abord des petits avions et travailler dans un aéroport, cet endroit fascinant qui communique avec le monde entier? J'ai toujours pensé et je suis toujours convaincu que les choses saines et durables se font petit à petit. Lundi je vais piloter pour la première fois de ma vie un avion pour de vrai!. Je suis vraiment excité à l'idée de prendre les commande de cette merveilleuse machine qui nous fait rêver, et surtout, nous donne parfois la volonté et la force d'esprit d'aller au bout de nos rêves. Comme l'ont fait beaucoup de pilotes pendant l'âge d'or de l'aviation, et comme le font ceux qui sont vraiment passionés d'aviation.
Bon vols à, et merci pour ce merveilleux blog.

Ziege said...


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Source: Pilot interview questions

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Steven Prest said...

I agree a 100% with this post. I'm currently training for my PPL and I'm already having problems financially. I know very well that the road to a 737 or any turbo prop is filled with several discouraging obstacles. My father is a pilot and he told me when I started to expect to have those moments in my training where I'd probably think twice about my career path. I'm guessing this is just one of those times but he also told me "how you handle it is what would determine your progress as a pilot". I'm looking forward to the challenges ahead and hopefully I'd be able to share my success stories with the world. I enjoy reading your posts and I'm looking forward to reading more. I recently started a blog to document my training. Hope to get some more writing done this weekend.

Rob said...


Your blog is an incredible inspiration to me, thank you very much for taking the time to create it! Your videos are particularly great - they keep me extremely motivated!

I have a question about airline recommendations. Is there an element of 'who you know' regarding interview selection? I know many pilots who fly for BA, Cathay, Ryaniar and EasyJet (mainly SFO's and a couple of Captains) but have not asked if they would be willing to recommend me once my ATPL is complete. I haven't asked because I don't want to offend them if this is considered bad form! What do you think?



Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your point of view, very interesting indeed. I'm actually searching all ways to get a job as a pilot and to keep at the same time my feet on the ground is, I think, very important.
Anyway, thanks for showing us your perspective !


Anonymous said...

U have been watching all your videos - simply excellent :] I am just finishing my ATPL so going pretty same way as you did.
Holding you thumbs to keep enjoying what you doing and keep posting videos, they are encouraging other people >]

Shawn Michel said...

I have been reading your blog a lot over the past few days and it has earned a place in my bookmarks.Thanks for sharing with us.

Anonymous said...

i want to cry.....

Anonymous said...

long time you did not update your blog...what's happening ? I heard FR hires a lot now, is it true ? apparently the contracts are not good at all, and you change base when they want to. Where are you now ?

adson stone said...

Learning fundamentals from a qualified flight school is a must before you seek your private pilot’s license. You will need to complete a written exam, followed by an oral knowledge and practical, or flight, exam, often called a “check ride,” to meet FAA licensing requirements. As a result, you need flight instruction that includes a mix of flight and ground-based instruction. Practice on a flight simulator is also helpful. To earn a private pilot’s license, the FAA requires you to have 40 total hours of flight time. This includes a minimum of 20 hours of flight instruction and 10 hours of solo flight. Some students can complete the flight portion of their training in the minimum of 40 hours, while other students need more time. You can find focused courses to help you learn all you need to know in a short span of time—often at schools in desirable locations. Check out flight schools in San Diego and picture yourself learning to fly in sunny southern California.
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capnaux said...

I've been digging through your archives, and came across this gem. Good advice! And I agree about "luck" and the creating of your own!

Your story reminds me of mine, when I launched my career with a single phone call--from a buddy who know I'd always wanted to fly in Alaska. Well, his employer asked if he knew anyone and he thought of me. 3 days later, I'm an Alaska bush pilot LOL!

I blogged about this topic recently as well, when I got stranded in the Caribbean after a job prospect didn't quite pan out as expected. Homeless, penniless, desperate, I nevertheless rolled the dice...and hit the jackpot! See my recent post, "Pilots of the Caribbean!" ;-)

Eric "Cap'n Aux" Auxier