When most people think of a career in aviation, they picture flying for a major airline as a commercial pilot. But there’s more than one way to make a living from flying. Here are just a few unexpected yet rewarding career paths for pilots:
As a private charter or air taxi pilot, you’ll be hired to fly passengers to a specific location or a series of destinations. Charter flights are usually short in duration in single-engine or light twin-engine aircraft. Depending on the company you work for, you could even fly the same routes on a set schedule. In many cases, charter flights take place during daylight hours, so pilots are often able to return home at the end of the day.
If you’re looking for an exciting flying job where you’ll meet new people every day, you might enjoy being a jump pilot for a skydiving company. With a commercial single-engine certificate and specialized training, you’ll be responsible for flying skydivers to the “drop zone.” Depending on the day, jump pilots can fly upwards of 12 flights per shift. Although repetitive, flying as a jump pilot can help you build hours quickly and master your takeoff and landing skills.
Also called “crop dusters,” aerial applicators fly small propeller aircraft at low altitudes to spray fertilizers, fungicides, and pesticides on fields of crops. Today’s ag pilots fly purpose-built agricultural aircraft equipped with the latest in GPS technology and computerized delivery systems for aerial application. Flying as an aerial applicator is a unique, dynamic, and challenging career that requires knowledge of agriculture as well as aviation. While it takes a high level of skill and precision to stay safe while flying at such low levels, it’s all a part of a rewarding job that’s necessary to keep farms running and communities thriving.
Aerial firefighters are needed to combat destructive wildfires all over the world. They are responsible for supporting ground crews by delivering supplies, transporting firefighters, and dropping water or fire retardant to suppress fires and contain burning terrain. They may also fly observation missions to locate fires and minimize risks in areas that are only accessible by air. Aerial firefighters must be skilled in low-level flying techniques and understand fire behavior and suppression tactics.
Becoming a flight instructor is not exactly an unexpected career path for pilots, but it is a rewarding and essential role for the future of the aviation industry. Amid the pilot shortage, there is a high demand for flight instructors to train the next generation of professional pilots. Pilots with teaching experience often have the advantage of gaining more Pilot in Command (PIC) hours, which may help open doors on the path to an airline career. Even if you’re not planning on taking the airline route, teaching and mentoring aspiring pilots can be a highly enjoyable and fulfilling career choice.
Thousands of pilots who started in general aviation have turned their passion for flying into a career. If you’re interested in learning more, be sure to check out the AOPA’s Flying for a Career page for more helpful tips and resources.