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Time Building

Hours in a pilot’s logbook is the most important commodity when beginning the path to an aviation career. Hiring managers look first at quantity to verify employment eligibility, but being competitive requires having quality experience.  

When first starting out, getting hours as fast as possible is most important. The first few hundred hours will come through flight training on the way to the commercial pilot certificate, and maybe certified flight instructor. After earning those training hours it’s time to focus on how to get from the low 200s to the coveted minimum required for the airline transport pilot certificate.

Here are five ways to build flight time that will help get you to the ATP.

Teach new pilots

Flight instructing isn’t glamorous, and it isn’t easy. But it will get you to the ATP minimums quickly, and more important, it is extremely fulfilling. Most flight instructors say they truly learned to fly after they started teaching, and becoming an instructor will give you the skills and discipline to succeed when you get that first flying job. 

Flight instructors can set their own schedule. Working conditions vary widely, and can range from a salary and benefits with good flying weather to slogging it out on a per-hour basis with minimal pay. When the market is strong instructor applicants have better choices, and can generally pick where they want to live and work.

Required certification: CFI

Tow banners

Towing banners is primarily a seasonal job, although in some parts of the country it can be year-round. The work can be monotonous, the pay not great, and the time not of a very high quality. But most operations are relaxed, the flying occurs in good weather, and the hours come quickly.

Required certification: Tailwheel endorsement

Buy an airplane

If money isn’t a major concern and you want to earn the time as fast as possible, buying an airplane could be a great way to do it. The key is to buy it early enough to train in it, thereby offsetting rental costs, and then continue flying it as if it were a job after training. Schedule yourself to fly a few hours a day, every day. Plan trips away from the local area and make sure the time you’re building is quality time.

Required certification: Nothing additional

Get a job

The ATP certificate is only required for airline flying and pilot in command authority on Part 135 operations, also known as charter. Corporate flying and charter flying as a second in command can all happen before you reach the ATP flight time minimums.

When the market is good these jobs can come easier. Make connections at the airport and you may be earning a paycheck flying for a living long before you thought possible.

Certification required: Commercial pilot

Sign on the dotted line

If buying an airplane is an option for those for whom money is no object, joining the military could be considered the opposite. Get a job flying for Uncle Sam and the government will pay for all your training and pay you to fly afterward. The military is in desperate need of pilots over the coming years, and options range from full-time fighter pilot to reservist flying aerial tankers. The commitment is steep, but the lack of debt and ability to serve are strong selling points.

Required certification: None