Frequently asked Questions

Not a week goes by that I don't get calls/emails from pilots (& Flight Attendants) who are "thinking about doing some contract work" or"starting their corporate aviation career".  The questions are pretty much the same, and my advice is always the same.  The questions and answers listed below are my own personal observations and opinions derived from my 13+ years as a full time professional business aviation contract pilot and 35+ years in Business Aviation.

Susan Anderson, President
Pilots4Rent, Inc.


The Hard Cold Facts of Reality in Business Aviation

I'm retiring from the airlines inXX months.  How do I start my "Corporate Career"?

I'm furloughed from the airlines...

What Type rating should I get to do contract work?

How much work can I expect to get?

If I sign up on Pilots4Rent.com,how many calls can I expect?

I'm tired of my current corporate job and I want more time off, what can you advise me about becoming a full time contract pilot?

I want some extra cash.  What should I charge to just sit in the "right" seat?

Should I sign a Training Contract?

Business Contracts & Expenses

Attitude Check


 

 

 

Hard, Cold Facts of Reality in Business/Corporate Aviation

FACT #1: Training on Business Aircraft is far more expensive than training on airline aircraft.  Perhaps it's because of the volume of pilots or the fact that most airlines own their own simulators,but it's a fact.  The larger the business aircraft the larger the bill.  Thanks to the post 9-11 insurance requirements--don't forget that the same folks who own the training vendors also own the Aviation Insurance vendors--you can count on that big bill coming around every 12 months, and probably for EACH aircraft--REGARDLESS of what FAR 61.58 states.

Beware of the operators that will pay for your training and force you to sign a payback contract if you leave.  Be very sure you are able to stay the 12-24 months they will require, or that you have the money to pay them back with--or the legal fees to fight it with.   Checkout the section in this web page regarding Training Contracts.

Most Business Aviation operators want"turn-key" corporate aviation pilots. Even charter operators are now asking you to show up with experience and a current 8410 Check ride form in your portfolio.

20,000+ hours, and/or 20+ years of airline experience do not equate to any corporate experience.  If you just retired from the military or the airlines with no recent post 9-11 corporate aviation experience,you are starting at the very beginning, again.   The hard cold fact is that Corporate Operators do not care about any experience except corporate experience.  A Business Aviation Manager friend of mine once interviewed a former Space Shuttle pilot for a job.  The conversation was lively and interesting, but the bottom line was all those hours of Rocket time did not equate to what was required for that particular job.  (My friend did get the Shuttle pilot interviewed with a manufacturer's Experimental Flight Test dept., who did hire him, and they remain good friends to this day.)

Reversion:     Corporate/Business Aviation is not just a stepping stone to get into the airlines nor is it a lifeboat for retirees to keep flying. Business Aviation is a totally separate industry from airline (or military) flying.  It's more complicated than the airline job,frequently far less support, but it is a solid career path for those who choose to follow it. (SHOCKER: Career Corporate pilots do not "revere" airline pilots as greater than themselves.)  Beginning corporate pilots usually make the transition to the airlines easily, while the older corporate pilots are harder to "assimilate".  Conversely,Career airline/military pilots that successfully transition into corporate aviation are rare, but it does happen.

Corporate Aviation Pilots frequently have the ENTIRE job of getting the airplane ready and the trip on the road. Many small flight departments have no maintenance or dispatch support.  Common duties include:

Filing Flight Plans  Checking weather
Weight & Balance computations

loading bags/cargo

ordering/serving catering making hotel & transportation arrangements
Cleaning & Stocking the aircraft & lav Updating Charts
All Pre-flight Functions Monitoring & coordinating Maintenance& Insurance
Scheduling Training Applying for LOA's for RVSM/MNPS Ops
Writing & implementing Ops Manuals All Dispatch functions & Employer interface

Part 91 Operating Rules do not have any duty time limits.  If you are unfortunate enough to get a job with a private operator who does not respect safety or your health, you could find yourself coping with very long duty days.  "Normal" opted to be 12-14 hrs.  "Long duty days" are in excess of 14 hrs.   I've personally seen as much as 21hrs with private owners.  Some of the contract professionals on Pilots4Rent have reported being asked to perform23 hr duty days with less than 6 hrs rest before the owner wanted to fly again.  At some point, you have to start educating the owners and learn to say "No"...diplomatically of course. 

There is no Union to fight for your rights,your salary raises, your benefits, or your job.  You are on your own.  Better do some homework in Part 91 Corporate Ops before negotiating your position. 

Seniority of hire means nothing in corporate aviation  The latest trend in corporate aviation is to get rid of "middle management" or even "senior flight department personnel" because they make the higher salaries. 

You are no longer a number.  You are now a real person and your personality counts a lot towards your success in a corporate flight department.  Problem personalities are usually invited to leave.

Many States are "Right to Work" states.  That means that your employer does not have to have a valid reason to fire you with no notice and no further compensation.  It happened to me in Florida by the owner's wife--because she could.  (Approx.40 other employees have experienced this from the same company over 7 years, so I'm not alone!)

Calling in Sick at the last minute is not done in Corporate Aviation.  In small flight departments there are no "reserve" pilots, so finding a qualified substitute takes time.  Plan ahead, and be cognizant of the time it takes to make arrangements.  Oh, and you'd better be VERY SICK, not just playing hooky, or you will likely be looking for a new job.

Holidays, Vacations and Days off with Plans are not sacred.  Some of the better corporate operators do honor these events, but many do not.  A kid's birthday,  graduation or your anniversary are not reasons to have the time off in many flight departments.  This has been proven to be the cause of AIDs....Aviation Induced Divorces.  Many Private aircraft owners travel with family over holidays.  Be prepared.  If you didn't negotiate holidays off when you were hired, this IS your job.

WHO you know in this business is EVERYTHING.  Of course, if you can't perform the job appropriately with the proper attitude, you can know EVERYONE bandit won't help you keep the job.

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I'm retiring from the airlines in __ months.  How do I start my "Corporate Career"?

Well, the first mistake that you've made is WAITING until the last few months before retirement to get started.  If you've read the previous section, you will have already begun to realize that Corporate Aviation is a world apart from Part 121 operations.  You do have a few choices. 

You can try to find someone--preferably a former airline pilot who understands where you are coming from--to work with you to learn the new world and give you a chance, or you might try a Fractional Operator who has a more structured environment.  The bigger Fractional operators include: Net Jets, Flight Options, Flexjet, and CitationShares.  You can try a Charter operator, but be prepared to be "on call" 24/7.

If the number in the blank is in years, and not months you have time to start trying to get corporate experience with someone local to you.  Don't wait!  Start talking to the local chief pilots and see if they will use you.  Obviously, you will have to train on a corporate aircraft, but which one depends on your opportunities.  The days of getting 3 takeoffs and landings and running your hand thru the AFM to be SIC are virtually over.  Post 9/11 Insurance is now requiring Simulator Based Training and usually a Type Rating to be SIC on a Business Jet.  I know of avery few companies that still have flexible insurance, but they are the exception now, not the rule.

 

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I'm furloughed from the airlines...

IF you just went to the airlines from a corporate job you've got a pretty good chance of getting corporate contract work--especially if you still have some training currency left.   The limiting factor will be if training is required and you have no intention of giving up your call back number to the airlines.  The hard cold fact is that you can not expect any operator to invest $10,000+ in you just to have you abandon them and return to the airline job.  This is what has started operators to use training payback contracts.

If you have no recent corporate experience (especially since 9/11), and/or no corporate type ratings...good luck.  Best advice I can give is to check with your local operators and see if anyone will be sympathetic to your situation.  Some will be, most won't.  Don't go "buy" a type rating without a guaranteed jobYou will be wasting your money.

One of the best pieces of advice I give to beginner pilots who want to be professionals is to have a back up career just in case you loose a medical or find yourself unable to fly.  Sometimes furloughed airline pilots who want to go back to the airlines find themselves in this category thru no fault of their own.

 

 

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What Type rating should I get to do contract work?

This one is very easy to answer.  NONE!

Regardless of the fact that the FAA says you are "Captain qualified" right out of a Simulator type rating, very few corporate operators (or insurance vendors) will accept this--especially for a contract pilot.  Be prepared. to hear that you need 150 to 500 hrs of time-in-type before anyone will allow you to act as SIC in the aircraft.  If you don't have an operator lined up to gain the experience with, you will most probably be wasting your money.  Do not get suckered in by "Buying" an expensive "corporate big iron" type rating and think that you'll be accepted as a contract pilot because of your total time and airline experience.  Also keep in mind that the BIG IRON training bill will present itself again in 12 months if you want to keep flying it.

Alternative plan:  Start looking for an operator who will agree to use you if you pay for the type rating.  Then go get whatever type rating you know you will get work in.

 

 

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How much work can I expect to get?

If I could answer that one I could quit being a pilot and a web site manager and open up a serious psychic business! 

How much work you will get depends on:

Your total corporate experience and your experience Level in the airplane that you are trying to fly

your personality and willingness to get the job done

Your professionalism, ethics and honesty
Your location and availability--and reliability
How much you market yourself

Once you meet the currency requirements let operators know that you are available and how to contact you.  If no one knows you are out there, no one will call. ( I personally advertise on at least 3 websites besides my own, send out marketing brochures,make phone calls, attend meetings passing out my business cards and join business aviation organizations.

 

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If I sign up on Pilots4Rent.com, how many call scan I expect?

See the above answers from "How much work can I Expect to get?". 
All I can promise about listing with Pilots4Rent.com is that if you are NOT listed, no one will find you on that web site 
Some of the factors that make a difference include:

Quality of your resume and how easy it is to read with the essential elements easy to find
Quality of your picture.  It will be your "first impression"
Your credentials.  If you don't have what the employer is looking for, you won't get the call.
Variety of current aircraft will increase the number of employers that you qualify for
Location and availability

 

 

 

 

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I'm tired of my current corporate job and I want more time off, what can you advise me about becoming a full time contract pilot?

Unless you are independently wealthy, and have enough money to sustain you, your family and your training bills, don't quit!  Becoming a Self Employed contract professional means that you will work twice as much, travel more, and if you're successful, have less time off.   Plus, you now have to pay for your own retirement, your own medical insurance,taxes, etc.

Another consideration is how many type ratings do you have current with at least 150 hrs in type?  It is very difficult to make a living as a contract pilot on one type rating.  Also, what is your total time?  The magic number that many operators are looking for is 5000 hrs total.  Yes,  you can do it on less if you have multiple type ratings and good experience. 

From my observation point on Pilots4Rent.com, the low time pilots do get calls, but usually from operators who think they can pay them less because of their low time.  There is always the exceptional operator who is looking for someone young and inexperienced to train into their organization.  Insurance post 9/11 seems to be controlling the minimum experience level of pilots being hired these days.

 

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Want some extra cash.  What should I charge to just sit in the "right" seat?

This subject is addressed in the article "But just want some pocket change".   In short, don't undercut your full time contract professional colleagues who are trying to make a living doing what you just want extra cash for. 

Also be aware of the liability issues if you do not present yourself as a business!  Your part time employer may be held responsible by the IRS for the taxes on the money you make.  If you do not pay those taxes and report the income the IRS will come after both you and the operator.

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Should I sign a Training Contract?

Training contracts have become popular because some unethical pilots would take a new job,  go to school on the employer's nickel and then suddenly leave the job for a better opportunity or even the airlines.  The employer was left holding the huge training bill with nothing to show for the money spent.  The result was to force a new hire to sign a Training Contract which is actually an agreement to pay back the training if the pilot leaves the employer.  Some employers make the pilot sign a promissory note instead of a contract.  Promissory notes are easier to enforce legally than training contracts.

Should you sign one?  No, not without having an attorney look at it first.  An employer who hires you is responsible for the training that is required for your to perform your duties.  If you have a good attorney and the money to fight it,most Training Contracts will not hold up because of this.  To get around this problem, some employers will require you to walk in the front door with a type rating and current training in order to get the job.

Beware.  Part 135 charter operators require that you attend their specific in doc classes and their specific training courses to be able to put you on their certificates to fly for them.  If you already have an 8410 check ride from another operator,it is sometimes accepted by the FAA, but the training vendor and the course curriculum must be identical to the new operators requirements.  If you are already qualified in the airplane that they are hiring you to fly, why should YOU sign a training contract just because they have to send you back to school to meet their requirements?

My best advice about signing these contracts is either don't do it, or be sure you add some criteria to allow you an escape.  It is not uncommon to be hired for a job that is mis-represented by management.  After you sign the contract, go to school and show up for work you find out that what you were told or promised in the pre-hire stage does not resemble the reality of the job working conditions.  If you've signed a Training Contract without adding some kind of escape clause you are now trapped in a bad job or you have a huge bill that the operator may garnish all future wages until it's paid back.  We are back to that "have an attorney look at the contract" bit again.  There should always be a way for you to leave the job without the responsibility of paying back training IF the job was mis-represented to you in the first place.  Even with the escape clause, be prepared to document in detail as to how the job was mis-represented.  While you're at it, make sure that you don't "mis-represent" yourself or your abilities to get the job!

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Business Contracts & Expenses

Note for Full Time Professional Contract Pilots.   Having a Contract Pilot agreement/contract can be a double-edged sword.  Yes,you absolutely need to have your terms in writing, understood and agreed upon with your client before you go to work for them.  The more formal the agreement, the more recourse you have should the unthinkable happen and you don't get paid.  Unless you carry your own liability insurance--and most pilots can't afford it, make very sure that the customer adds you to their insurance policy.  If the customer doesn't ask for your certificates and training records you probably are NOT on their insurance.

Note:  DO NOT STARTWORKING AS A CONTRACT PILOT WITHOUT FUNCTIONING AS A BUSINESS ENTITY. 

The whole point of being a Business entity is to provide a level of protection for both the operator and yourself.  Can't emphasize the importance of running your business as a REAL Business enough.  Even if you are a business of one, pay your taxes, make federal tax deposits, pay unemployment taxes--yeah, even if you will never use it.  Check into Worker's Comp and your state's requirements.  Some states have exemptions for "officers of the company".  Some states do not require Worker's Comp until you have a certain number of employees.  Some mandate it for a company of one.  This is currently a hot issue.  Make sure you know where your company stands, legally.

Do keep in mind that you are operating as a Business,and your business should have it's own policies.  When a customer tells me that their company policy does not provide Business Class transportation for their employees on long international flights I tell them that MY company policy requires this. (The alternative is that they will have to give me an extra paid day to recover before flying.)  If their company policy does not pay for their employees meals while traveling,  MY Company policy does and the operator will be billed for all appropriate meal expenses while using my professional contract pilot services. 

I am frequently asked about travel expenses and who pays them.  I find it amazing that anyone would think of paying for their own transportation expenses so they can work for a customer!  Normally, you should be paid a daily rate and reimbursable expenses from the moment you leave your front door until you return.  This includes mileage (your car), airfare, transportation costs: cabs, rental cars, tolls, etc.; meals, phone calls if required for the client, hotels, internet connections, and tips.  Also reimbursable should be any expenses connected with the airplane: aircraft service tips, cabin stock, aircraft supplies, Charts, etc.  Having said this,remember to keep it reasonable!  Bar Bills are not "meals".  Entertainment costs should come out your pocket for your entertainment unless specifically directed otherwise by the customer.

Note about Transportation Expenses to former Airline Pilots/Flight Attendants:   Yes, you can probably "sell" your services to a customer by telling them that they don't have to pay for your airfare, but what happens if you get "bumped"?  Wouldn't it be better to have a guaranteed ticket to get to your customer in a timely manner, fresh, and ready to work?  If your services are worth having, the customer will not mind paying for your airfare.  It is simply part of doing business with a Full Time Professional Contract Pilot/Flight Attendant.

Per Diem for meals can be a blessing or a great way to loose money--especially when international. Normally bill actual costs and provide receipts.  Per Diem for meals is an easy accounting  tool when it comes to expense reports but you need to make sure it is reasonable.  No one can travel on $20.00/day per diem.  Per Diem by the hour defeats the whole purpose of making this accounting "easy".  One customer has a Per Diem of $150.00/day (120 Euros), and in some areas of Europe you can still loose money! (I've seen all of these numbers used recently).

When should you charge a customer?  My rule of thumb:  If I can't work for someone else that day because I am traveling for a customer or I'm too tired because of the customer's schedule it's a full day's pay.  This has to be balanced with common sense and good will if you wish the customer to call you to work for them again.  Remember that the customer is paying as much for your AVAILABILITY as they are your skills and experience.  There are only 365 days in a year to work so how many can you afford to discount and still pay your bills and training costs?  I can't afford unpaid standby, so I simply don't do it.  We're back to that AVAILABILITY thing.  If I am traveling from one customer to another, I try to split the expenses between the two customers whenever possible.  Yeah, I could probably double bill it, but I try to promote Good Will with my customers.

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Attitude

I was asked by a Corporate Flight Department Manager who is on leave from a major airline to add this section.   It seems that he had a parade of his airline colleagues cruise through his office EXPECTING to be hired because they were both from the same airline.   This Chief Pilot soon learned that his airline colleagues also expected the new job to be like a mini airline with the same treatment--and union rules--that they had previously enjoyed. They apparently not expect to adapt to the higher work level required of corporate aviation.  Needless to say, they did not last and were invited to leave the corporate job. 

I touched on the Hard Cold Facts in the very first section of this page.  It might be worth reading again.  The Pilot or Flight Attendant that makes the SUCCESSFUL conversion to Corporate Aviation is going to be the one who can pack up all those years of Airline experience and tuck them away like an old scrapbook.  They will be most enjoyable to revisit with old friends and colleagues that shared the original experiences with you, but they might as well be in a foreign language to the Corporate Aviators.  Do yourself a favor and get a new scrapbook that has blank pages waiting to be filled with NEW experiences. 

As a former demo pilot I used to try to compare the airplane I was demonstrating with something that the customer pilot had flown in the past.  This worked really well when there was common airplane in both our experiences.  However, I found that trying to relate to an aircraft that the customer had never flown before was a waste of breath.  They simply didn't understand it and did not want to hear about it.  The same is true of Corporate Pilots and Airline Pilots.  (& Flight Attendants!)

You will also need a new,willing-to-learn attitude for the "new career". 
Analogy: I am a Registered Nurse with a background in Coronary Intensive Care.  Maintain my ACLS credentials and I can still read EKG's even though I do not actively practice nursing.  If I decided to go back to nursing in a different field--say Neonatal Intensive Care--I would be starting over again as though I just graduated from nursing school.  Very little knowledge of my 25+ years of working with adult heart patients is going to transfer to those tiny premature infants.  If I try to treat the infants like the adults I will fail miserably--most likely with catastrophic results.

If you, as a career military or airline professional, attempt to transfer your career knowledge to corporate aviation you will fail miserably.  If you've spent $10,000 to $50,000 on training, you will have lost a significant amount of money that will not be recoverable. IF you have an open mind to the vast differences between the two careers and make the effort to LEARN and function in corporate aviation from the beginner status, you might be one of the few who successfully make the conversion and begin filling in those pages in the New scrapbook.

If you think it beneath you, or you are unwilling to file flight plans, run Weight &Balances, load bags, service the LAV, order the catering, clean the airplane, act as dispatcher, and still smile at the boss who just told you you're taking him and the family to Aspen for the holidays, you might want to rethink wasting your time on a "Corporate Career".  

I once stated that about 1 in every 10 airline pilots would successfully make the conversion to business aviation.  One of your colleagues recently disagreed with me and called the number more like 1 in 100.  Where are you?

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