Living the Corporate Pilot Life
Dreaming of getting paid to fly, becoming a pilot, and traveling the world? If you're chasing the aviation dream but want to avoid the slog of crowded airport terminals and the general public, the corporate pilot life may be the career for you.
Some of us with broader ambitions than weekend traffic pattern work in the Cessna 172. We dream of living the aviation high-life, flying private jets to unique airports around the world. We dream of beaches, mountains, and world travel. But short of winning a Powerball, most pilots don't have pockets deep enough to fund a private jet-set lifestyle. For those of us without trust funds or millions in the bank, the corporate pilot life provides ample opportunities to fly jets without getting stuck climbing the rungs of the regional airlines' ladder.
What does the Corporate Pilot Life Entail?
"Typical" schedules for corporate pilots may be 7 days on-call followed by 7 days off. Other departments may have 10 days on followed by 5 days off. As trite as it may sound, there isn't a "typical" day in the life of a corporate pilot.
Depending upon the pilot's corporate flight department, there may be a trustworthy, loose, or non-existent schedule. Some flights will inevitably scheduled a week or more in advance. Other flights will pop-up during the course of normal business operation. An executive needs to fly to X to meet with Y yesterday? Expect a call from the Chief Pilot and be ready for wheels up at 0600 sharp.
Corporate pilots need to accept the possibility of these "pop-up" trips at anytime - it comes with the territory. Some flight departments will do a better job than others scheduling flights and assigning responsibilities in advance. Of course, the ability to schedule in advance depends upon the nature of the company's business. Some companies have business requirements that make it difficult or impossible to warn the flight crew weeks in advance.
The type of flying done even varies from month-to-month. One month may require only 1-day trips with minimal flight time. Another trip may be a 10-day trip across the country.
Time Away From Base
"Away from Base" equates to nights spent in a hotel room - think of it as nights away from home, family, and friends. The corporate pilot life's unpredictable schedule bleeds beyond irregular trips. Most corporate pilots expect at least a few days away from home each month, but the number of nights away from base varies between corporate flight departments.
While one senior corporate pilot may have the luxury of flying only out-and-back day trips 6 days of the month, other pilots will spend 18-22 days per month away from home. While many pilots manage to balance the demands of home responsibilities (significant other, children, home maintenance), this is difficult when flying for a demanding corporate flight department.
How Many Hours do Corporate Pilots Fly per Month?
As with the variable schedule between corporate flight departments, the number of hours corporate pilots fly per year varies. Some corporate pilots may log as little as 9 hours per month. Others may log upwards of 600 hours per year, though most corporate pilots log between 100 - 300 hours per year.
Unlike flying for major and regional airlines, corporate pilots may not fly at all when they're on duty. A pilot working a 7 on/7 off schedule may fly a leg for a executive retreat on a Monday, spend Tuesday and Wednesday exploring the local area, and fly back Thursday. Although the pilot worked 4 days, she may only log a few flight hours. When on-duty at a regional, pilots can expect to log hours everyday.
Pilots eager to build flight time may consider a trip to the regionals rather than the corporate pilot life. Many regional airlines guarantee a minimum of at least 70-75 hours flown per month, or 840 - 900 hours per year. With create scheduling and overtime many regional airline pilots fly well over 1,000 hours per year.
Keep in mind the number of hours flown per month doesn't mean much to those outside of aviation. Your significant other and kids don't care what goes in the log book, they're instead counting the days and nights you spend away from home. Pilots should ensure what matters most to them. For some pilots, that's flight time. For others, that's nights spent at base.
Duties on the road
A corporate pilot's "duty day" is limited to anything work related - whether that's flying, training, hanging in the hotel, or sitting in meetings. While on the road, corporate pilots can expect their responsibilities to remain limited to flight preparation - filing flight plants, coordinating with other pilots and crew, arranging catering, etc.
Corporate Pilot Life - Pay
We get it - you've got bills to pay.
How much do corporate pilots make?
PayScale.com puts the average corporate pilot life salary at $97,042.
Those familiar with professional aviation compensation may note PayScale's figure is overly simplistic.
Like many professions, experienced pilots earn more than their junior counterparts. Though unlike other careers, pilot pay scales very widely based on seniority, title, and the type of aircraft flown.
Seniority is more common among unionized workforces. The impact of seniority on corporate pilot pay will vary from department to department. Some companies may offer their pilots profit sharing agreements or stock options. There is one guaranteed commonality among corporate flight departments - the aircraft type impacts Captain and First-Officer take home pay.
According to Pilot Job Central, corporate pilot life is a lucrative career. But like all other facets of professional aviation, pay varies widely.
Inexperienced aviators may make as little as $42,000 flying turboprops. Though, as their experience builds, they can earn upwards of $80,000.
Big bucks come with bigger responsibilities, experienced corporate pilots flying large jets can expect to earn between $120,000 - $200,000.
A Month in the Life of a Corporate Pilot
Talking with some hanger friends unveiled an interesting schedule for one corporate pilot. As previously mentioned, this is by no means typical. But, it is possible.
- August 1-10: Off Duty
- August 11:
- 10:00 - Arrive at airport before 11:00 departure, confirm fuel on board, and enter flight plan
- 10:30 - Await passengers arrival
- 10:50 - Board passengers
- 11:00 - Fly 4 hours to destination
- 15:00 - Arrive in New York, unload passengers and bags into their transportation
- 15:30 - Head to hotel, enjoy the city for next 3 days
- August 15:
- 07:00 - Prepare for return trip
- 07:30 - Await passengers arrival
- 07:50 - Board passengers
- 08:00 - Fly 4 hours to home location
- 12:00 - Arrive back home, deplane and head home
- August 16-17: On Call 07:00-18:00, no flights
- August 18: Fly day trip, 3 hours total flight time
- August 19: Fly day trip, 3 hours total flight time
- August 20: Fly day trip, 2 hours total flight time
- August 21-31: Off Duty
How to Land a Corporate Pilot Job?
Okay, you're sold on the corporate pilot life. Getting paid to fly jets and travel the country (or world*) sounds like a pretty sweet gig. As with most good things in life, finding the way into a good corporate flight department takes years of experience and networking.
Compared to the airlines, most entry-level corporate pilot jobs require more experience, particularly more turbine time. Many pilots end up flying regionals, majors, or charter to build flight time before stumbling into the perfect corporate pilot job. Corporate hiring managers look favorably on 5 years spent building second-in-command and pilot-in-command time at a regional.
Building your professional network is also important. Many of the people operating corporate flight departments spend at least some of their time hanging at FBOs around the airport. Connecting with local flying clubs and schools can be a great way to build your professional aviation network. Student pilot? Add your instructor on LinkedIn - you never know where your connections will end up later down the road.
Learn More About the Corporate Pilot Life?
I discovered an incredible YouTube channel while researching this article. As you may have guessed, it is titled Corporate Pilot Life. Unlike this article, the channel focuses on the actual flying aspect of one corporate pilot's life. I've only checked out a few of his videos, but this one is my favorite so far - check it out!