Be careful when applying for pilot jobs. Not every employer has a job-hunting pilot’s best interest in mind.
My first flying job was as an instructor. I had 300 hours and was locked-and-loaded to set the world on its ear as an A-1 Aviator Extraordinaire. The first resume I mailed out was to an unknown flight school in a large city sixty miles away, “American Aeronautics.” Whoa! Now a place with that heady of a name must be a class operation! I showed up at the appointed time for the interview and a guy named Joe (who wore those tinted glasses like Hollywood depicts used car salesmen wearing) told me I was hired on the spot. Other than the earnings I would eventually see that would exceed my present non-flying salary by 100% I wasn’t told much else. He told me all the instructors were out but he “had to fire” one for safety reasons and he was really in a bind. I said sure. Then he asked me to stick around and answer the phone “till the girl gets back.” If anyone comes in for a flying lesson, they were mine. I was elated although somewhat perplexed by there not being even so much as a cursory airplane checkout.
As I sat in this former aircraft engine shop, I waited for students, the phone to ring and “the girl” to get back. While I listened to the grinding of bearings in the furnace blower, I began noticing hand-made posters hanging everywhere. GET YOUR HELICOPTER RATING HERE. LEARN TO FLY A SEAPLANE HERE. NOW’S THE TIME TO GET YOUR ATP. INSTRUMENT RATING IN TWO WEEKS AVAILABLE NOW. Meanwhile, I am sitting there with my commercial, instrument and CFI-A wondering what I would say if anyone came in and said they wanted to start training for any one of those ratings. Perhaps Joe subscribed to the “if you can spell it, you can teach it” methodology. Late that afternoon, Joe returned wondering where “the girl” was and said I could leave. Day #1, 7 hours invested, pay: Zero. After advising my new boss that I had the next two days off from my regular job, he cheerily said I could go home early today and “See you tomorrow at 8 AM.”
Day #2. Up at 6 AM to drive the 60 miles to American Aeronautics, barely arriving on time. Door locked. I waited outside until Joe pulls up in his sports car at quarter till 9. “The girl called in sick…could you answer the phones till I get back? If any students come in, they’re yours.” Surely I was going to see some real action today and I planted myself in a position to answer any questions from budding potential student pilots. I noticed more posters: B-727 FLIGHT ENGINEER RATING AVAILABLE NOW. Wow. This place could be my ticket to United! Joe leaves, saying he’ll return in a couple hours and we’ll fly to a nearby airport to pick up his partner and it will double as my checkout in a low-wing Grumman something-or-other in which I had never before seen. Mid afternoon comes and Joe returns and tells me to go preflight the Grumman something-or-other. I go out and make an honest attempt checking what I could figure out how to check and Joe arrives, telling me to get in the LEFT seat. Left seat for an instructor check out? H-m-m, OK. Maybe he wants to see how I would do teaching a CFI student. He starts the engine and away we go with me at the controls pitching, rolling and yawing our way to our destination. We get to the airport and I slam the Grumman onto the runway. Guess we’ll do the stall series et cetera on the way back. We pull into an FBO and a 156-year old man comes out, Joe tells me to get in the back seat and the two of them fly back to the home base airport. Check-out complete. Some checkout.
The story goes on for two or three more days. No “girl.” No other instructors. No students. The phone never rang. No money earned. Fortunately, I landed a job at a large highly respected school at the same airport a week or two later. That school had 23 full-time instructors and all were busy every day. My career there started with a two week long check out to teach only commercial pilot ground school. Yes, they were thorough. Then I went through their standardization check-out of teaching in the airplane for commercial students only. Two more weeks. They then put me on the schedule and, when I wasn’t teaching, they used the free time to pair me with one of the other instructors who prepared me for getting my CFI-I. It was a finely tuned pilot training machine.
One day in the instructors’ break room, I met another instructor named Dennis. We started talking about pilot jobs and the path that led to this job and I mentioned my experience with the previous “school.” His eyebrows lifted and his mouth dropped and he said, “You’re not talking about Joe and American Aeronautics, are you?” I said yes. He said he was embroiled in a lawsuit against them for two months of pay he never received. And what about Joe and the 156-year old partner who owned the company? Dennis revealed neither one held a pilot’s license.
I told you this protracted story to illustrate that there are scammers out there. When you’re courting different pilot jobs, beware of shuck-and-jive artists who will not only take advantage of you but also put you in situations that will be legally or physically dangerous.
If you are unfamiliar with a company that wants to hire you, call the local FAA FSDO and find out what you can about them. During one of my many forays into hunting for pilot jobs, I did just that and was glad I did. I was offered a job with a Part 135 MU-2 operator who was desperate to hire me; literally that day so I could fly a charter for them that afternoon. They told me they were “in a spot because we had to fire our other pilot.” I learned later from the FSDO that “the other pilot” had filed a complaint that he was fired because he refused to fly unless the airplane was de-iced first! I also learned that they had had a fatal crash a year prior to this and since then had a second fatal accident before the FAA shut them down.
If a prospective employer is too eager, look into them carefully. If the prospective employer makes outlandish claims or you detect false claims in their advertising, put them under a microscope. If the prospective employer does not appear to be organized as a business and expects you to sign on with ambiguous terms and conditions, watch out. Make sure they clearly spell out what you’ll be paid, when you’ll be paid and expect you to fill out the appropriate IRS forms. If they’re offering way more salary than is customary, tip-toe softly.
During a period when I was between pilot jobs, I did contract flying. At the time, most companies were offering $200/day for my co-pilot services. At 5 AM one morning, my phone rang and the gentleman on the other end told me my name had been given to him as a contract pilot. He needed somebody today for a trip on his Sabreliner and he would pay $400/day. I told him I have no experience in a Sabreliner and, besides I was already scheduled on a trip for someone else that day. I told him I would like to establish a relationship as a contract pilot but would first want to study the manual on the aircraft prior to doing my “three bounces.”1
Grudgingly he agreed, and a few days later I visited him to pick up a copy of a FlightSafety systems manual. He instructed me not to study it but was providing it only because I asked for one. Huh? Several days later he called to schedule a trip that left at 8 AM and told me to be at the airport by 7:30. I said, “What about the 3 bounces?” He said, “Don’t worry about that. It’s not necessary.” I told him I would not fly unless we met the regulation and he unenthusiastically said, “Well OK…be at the airport at 7 and we’ll get them done.” The entire relationship was sour. I flew two trips with this character then advised him I was no longer available to him. A few weeks later, I bumped into a crew for a company in the hangar adjacent to the Sabreliner operator and one of the pilots said, “You look familiar. Are you based at our airport?” I told them about the Sabreliner experience and he said, “Wow! You did TWO trips? That guy goes through contract pilots like crazy and never gets one who is willing to come back a second time.” He then told me that Sabreliner operator had run out of fuel over the Atlantic and crashed in the water a few years prior. One can probably predict that happening to guys with those kinds of attitudes.
If their primary business phone is a cell phone, look out. Even if you see that they own aircraft, if they are operating only under FAA Parts 61 as a school or 91 as a company owner, scrutinize them carefully. Don’t misconstrue what I just said. Most Part 61 and 91 operators are legitimate and solid. But those two subparts of the FARs are the ones that dubious characters find easiest to operate under.
Companies with integrity looking to fill pilot jobs will check you out. Pilots with integrity will check the companies out equally. A good “fit” will only occur if both parties like what they find while doing their checking. When you are just starting out on your career’s journey in aviation, it is tempting to bite down on the shiny lure of pilot jobs that appear to contain a great, big fat worm. But the shiny lures often have hooks that will quickly dispense the pleasure of that tasty meal.
1 – FAR Part § 61.55 (B)(2)(i) requires the Second in Command pilot to perform 3 take-offs and landings in addition to other things prior to acting in that capacity.
Featured Image: Toby