Thanks to Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Director of Enrollment Marketing, Jill Meridith, for the following content.

The 2016 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook projects a need for more than two million commercial airline pilots, maintenance technicians and cabin crew between now and 2035, so there’s never been a better time to study for a career in aviation and as a professional pilot. For most travellers, the commercial airline pilot with his epaulettes and cap embody the image of a professional pilot, calm and capable, ensuring safe travel for thousands of people each year. It’s a glamorous life of travel, and the pay can be significant with the average commercial pilot salary in 2015 hovering just above $100K, according to the 2015 Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are certain challenges as well. Pilots must earn a flight time to earn a place as captain in the left seat of an airliner. Hours can be long, and pilots are away from home for much of the time. But for those who make their home in the skies, the rewards far outweigh the disadvantages. The demand for pilots doesn’t stop with the major airlines. There are many other pilot careers that offer personal fulfilment, opportunity to combine other career paths with flight and pilot positions where the primary advantage is earning that required flight time to become eligible for more advanced positions.

One such time-building pilot position is that of banner tower. Resort towns and major events often include fly-overs advertising local hotspots or supporting philanthropic causes with an airplane towing a message banner. Aerial photography, map-making and crop dusting are also common time-building activities. Generally, these positions don’t offer the highest pay, but the view is unbeatable.

Flight instructing is another common method of building flight time. One of the unusual aspects of flight training is that instruction is generally conducted by a pilot without a lot of flight time rather than seasoned professionals. You’ll find flight instructors working at local fixed-base operators and educational institutions around the country, as well as working for airlines to train pilots for specific aircraft in order to earn the “type” rating required to fly a specific aircraft. Cargo pilots enjoy some perks airline pilots do not, like more time at home. Carriers like FedEx and UPS employ cargo pilots to move mail from point “A” to point “B” on a regular schedule, so generally those flying these routes will be based close to home and will have a good deal of predictable time off. For those flying cargo internationally, long periods of time away from home may be the norm, but layovers allow for time to enjoy exotic locales.

For those who are seeking adventure above all else, flying charter flights can take passengers and pilots to little known destinations of luxury and beauty. Popular charters fly to tiny islands inaccessible by other means, private homes and secluded businesses where most people just dream of visiting. It’s definitely a life for the spontaneous since charters are generally unscheduled and duties can require several stop-overs and long stays. For more serious-minded pilots, law enforcement positions marry flight with fighting crime. Border patrol, helicopter fugitive pursuits, riot control and search-and-rescue operations enhance the ability for police departments to tackle crime effectively. Corporate pilots represent yet another category of career options and, unlike airline pilots, flights are generally unscheduled as flights are planned according to a company’s daily operational needs. Corporate flight departments can be relatively large, like Wal-Mart’s which includes 22 corporate jets and accommodates about 23,000 of the company’s employee flights each year, to smaller corporate flight departments that may operate only one or two aircraft. Corporate pilot positions may entail duties in addition to flight, such as scheduling, cleaning and stocking aircraft and even aircraft maintenance. Corporate pay rates vary greatly from one operation to the next and are based on a variety of factors including the type of aircraft flown and pilot’s experience, but generally pay levels are lower than the major airlines.

Perhaps the most exciting – certainly the fastest growing – sector of the industry is that of unmanned flight. Drones have dominated the news recently, and new legislation has opened the door to operations around the nation. The advantages of unmanned flight in terms of costs and flexibility have been recognized in a variety of fields – from delivery services to government surveillance operations. The advantages of unmanned aircraft use is in its infancy but the potential is virtually unlimited.

Every pilot’s career takes a different trajectory and some may serve in more than one of the categories listed as a pilot’s career progresses. A typical career path may include flight instructing for a couple of years followed by flying a regional jet until earning enough hours to be eligible to fly for the major airlines. Each pilot position has specific requirements in terms of licenses, ratings, certifications; understanding the difference between licenses, ratings and types can be a little confusing and the terms are often used interchangeably. But in technical terms, a license grants a permission (like a driver’s license) while a certificate shows that one has fulfilled certain requirements.

There are six types of U.S. pilot certificates, sometimes referred to as grade:

• Sport pilot: limited to one passenger, prohibited from flying at night, above 10,000 feet or in Class B, C or D airspace • Recreational pilot: limited to flights of less than 50 nautical miles from the departure airport, and, like sport pilots, can only fly during the day and in limited airspace • Private pilot: the most common certification prohibits flying for commercial purposes just as sport and recreational pilots, and allows for broader training and permissions when paired with appropriate ratings • Commercial pilot: allows for paid flying and transport and involves additional proficiency in flying complex craft • Flight instructor certification: requires the pilot to have an understating of advanced flight education and teaching concepts; not all pilots choose to secure this certification • Airline transport pilot (ATP) certification: the highest certification allows for the most privileges while also requiring the most completed flight time as well as the highest level of medical certification. In general, pilots must have 1,500 hours and be at least 23 years of age to be eligible for the ATP although a restricted ATP with lower requirements is available for some pilots, like military or students graduating from approved universities.

Ratings reference what aircraft a pilot can fly and how (the how being VFR or visual flight rules as opposed to IFR or instrument flight rules that require the pilots to have training allowing them to fly in bad weather, at night or in any scenario that requires instrument flight). Ratings cover aircraft category (airplane, rotorcraft, glider, etc.), class of aircraft (single or multi-engine) and type (this indicates type of aircraft including weight).

So whether you’re driven by salary or service, travel or time off, the many options available to qualified pilots can provide a career some only dream of. The career path for pilots can be challenging, but the rewards are out of this world. If you think a flight career is for you, start with an observer flight at a local FBO. Be aware of the life choices that can prevent you from achieving your aspirations for pilot career. Consider a collegiate flight program that will provide flight skill as well as the added security of a bachelor’s degree and, in some cases, an added advantage when it comes to flight time and ultimately earning the ATP. Furthermore, the outlook for over two million commercial airline pilots, maintenance technicians and cabin crew between now and 2035 does not include all the other career opportunities that will be needed along with these in order to keep airlines and companies up and running.

Additional career options such as operations, military pilots, flight instructors, professors, and social media will be introduced and covered by experts in the industry at the Student Education and Careers in Aviation conference April 19th 2018 in Orlando, Florida as part of the World Aviation Training Summit (WATS).

WATS is the leading global meeting of the airline training community and attracts over 100 airlines, 80 suppliers and regulators in which attendees of SECA will have an opportunity to take part in, along with time designated to careers and career paths from industry leaders.