Arguably, securing your first commercial pilot position is the most difficult challenge of your career, and no flying training organisation offers absolute guarantees.
Bear in mind that the training path takes approximately two years, and as aviation is extremely volatile, the job market can change drastically between commencing and completing your training.
Before embarking on a costly and time-consuming training programme it is important to ask some key questions:
- What is the likelihood of securing a commercial pilot position upon graduation from training?
- Where are the growth areas going to be in the future – if these are outside the UK, am prepared to move and live abroad for significant periods of time?
- Am I going to be able to secure a position that will service any training debts sufficiently?
- Will the financial commitment I need to make in my career be a worthwhile investment in the long term?
- Does the profession offer me the rewards and lifestyle I am looking for?
- Is the profession able to give me the security that I would need if I have a family to support?
While it may seem odd that BALPA would highlight the lows of the profession, the degradation in terms and conditions, coupled with the increased flexibility required and lack of security in certain respects, should be fully considered when making such a commitment. There is still a good career to be forged in commercial aviation, but unfortunately it now can be somewhat risky.
Our members ultimately love the job and still have a huge passion for the profession. However, we are keen to ensure that this passion does not lead them down the wrong career path and individuals are fully aware of the challenges that lie ahead before the commitment is made, rather than when the point of no return is reached.
Traditionally UK airlines will start hiring in the autumn so the correct numbers of pilots are in place for the following peak summer season. Ideally, to prevent a possible break in currency (keeping your licences current) your training should be planned so that you will have completed by the end of the summer. This will give you time to write and send your CV and make the follow up calls and emails. Recruitment departments usually ring to schedule an interview, so it is imperative you are contactable during this time. Ensure you reply to any emails and complete any online application steps promptly.
Airlines can change their requirements at very short notice, so just because you didn’t meet their requirements initially doesn’t rule you out entirely, so you must keep in regular contact.
If you are unable to secure a position immediately upon graduation we recommend that you try to get temporary employment in an aviation-related environment. This will help you to keep informed of changes in the industry and make important connections.
Airlines receive large numbers of CVs from pilots, so you must ensure you meet their expectations in terms of presentation. Time should be spent after graduation preparing for interviews and ensuring you meet all the selection criteria – not just on technical flying skills. Your socials skills play important part, and often an airline recruitment officer will state that the ultimate deciding factor was whether they would like to spend 10 hours in a cockpit with that individual.
Perseverance is a key to getting a job. Individuals must be prepared to proactively market themselves. Some pilots have taken up to five years to secure their first opportunity, but one to two years is a more normal time-frame.
Career Guidance Services
BALPA offers a careers guidance service, including techniques for interview preparation and job searching. This booklet is aimed at individuals who are about to start training, so more detailed advice and guidance is not appropriate at this point.
TIP: CV and interview advice is available via the careers section of the BALPA portal. You can access this with your nextGen membership.
“Contracts are changing and the big salaries associated with being a pilot are disappearing fast”