By: Brian Carhide
Business aviation is an important component to the aviation industry, and many pilots aspire to become one of these elite group of aviators. Corporate aviation is more challenging to get the proverbial “foot-in-the-door”, and takes a unique set of networking skills to advance one’s career into this sector of the industry. Unlike the airlines, corporate flight departments do not consist of thousands of pilots who are constantly trying to grow and advance to the next level, and there is no forced retirement age. Often I get asked, how does someone become a successful corporate pilot? Like many accomplishments in life, there is no one easy answer. Becoming a corporate pilot takes times, knowledge, networking, and immersion within the world of business aviation.
A pilot who is seeking a career in corporate aviation needs to start early in their career. Even if it means finding a part-time job, while going to college and flight training, at a local Fixed Based Operator (FBO) pumping fuel and tugging an aircraft around. I spent 2 years managing an FBO and became well acquainted with several corporate pilots who would fly into the FBO on a weekly basis. If you have ever walked into a pilots lounge at a major business aviation airport, like Teterboro, NJ, I am sure any one of the pilots lounging around in a Lazy-Boy recliner would be more than happy to show you their airplane and talk aviation to break up the monotony of the day. Volunteer at a local airport during an airshow or major sporting event, such as the Daytona 500, where several corporate flight departments are using it to access the event. If you have family or close friends who work for a large corporation like The Coca-Cola Co., or Walmart, ask them if they know anyone in the flight department – this is immersion and networking.
The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is a prominent organization in the industry and is a great resource for evolving your corporate aviation career. The NBAA hosts an annual conference typically held in Las Vegas, NV or Orlando, FL. and I strongly encourage anyone interested in business aviation to attend. However, this is not the only event they host. Visit the website (even if you are not a member) to view other regional events they hold around the world. At many of these events, there is a static aircraft display at the local airport and provides you an opportunity to meet the pilots from these organizations – another networking opportunity. The NBAA also provides scholarships and professional development courses for those seeking a career in business aviation. Again, all ways to immerse yourself in the industry.
Another strategy I have learned, from personal experience, is to seek a flight position with a Part 135 on demand scheduling company. These type of operations will typically hire pilots at the 1000-1200 hour range, so after a year of time building, you can begin immersing yourself in business aviation. Part 135 charter operators are scattered all over the country and provide a wide range of opportunities in a diverse fleet of aircraft. However, you will most likely not see these companies at a convention, job fair, or even have a position posted on-line. You may have to resort to some old fashion methods, like knocking on doors and face-to-face networking. Once you spend a few years flying with a Part 135 operator, you will become more marketable to large corporate flight departments, such as Procter and Gamble, and not only will you have gained valuable flight experience, but you will have learned the culture of business aviation.
Corporate aviation can be a very exciting and adventurous career path, and with hard work and networking, the opportunities are endless. Even with the ubiquitous “pilot shortage” in the industry, no company is going to come knocking on the door. The success of your corporate aviation career depends on the efforts you put forth.
Brian Carhide has more than 20 years of professional aviation experience. He spent many years as a professional pilot, including experience as a charter and airline pilot. He has been a leader in guiding young aviators in higher education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is the Director of Pilot Careers in the Career Services Office.