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…