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Careers With Airlines



At the end of this block of study, you should be able to:

6.13 List the ways a person can learn how to fly an airplane.
6.14 identify the responsibilities of workers in the airline industry.

Airlines have stimulated the direction of national economies and have reshaped the way world business is done. The airline industry is an international business because jets have turned Europe and the Pacific Basin market into a familiar stop for American tourists. In 1989 International Air Transport, the largest sector of aviation, experienced huge orders for new aircraft and a growing shortage of airport capacity. The upsurge in demand for new airliners continued. All three major international airframe builders, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas in the United States and Airbus Industry in Europe, saw their order books grow as they tried to increase production rates.

Airlines are considered to be common carriers. A common carrier is a person or company that provides the public with transportation of passengers or goods for hire. The common carriers include railroads, steamships, buses, taxicabs, motor freight companies, and pipelines. The airline industry is expected to take delivery of more than 3,300 aircraft until the year 2005. Of course, some of the new aircraft will replace aging craft.

Airline cockpit crews were flooded with so many flight and operating aids in the form of sophisticated computers and automated devices that manufacturers were beginning to develop simplified electronic systems that displayed only what the pilot needed to know, such as the proximity of other airplanes and immediate course or speed changes The purpose was to reduce the pilot's work load and improve his or her awareness of the immediate situation. This need was especially apparent in two-person crews which did not have a full-time flight engineer for reading and responding to instruments monitoring the aircraft's operations.

High school students who become pilots will not only learn to fly 727s but may have an opportunity to fly the aerospace plane. The aerospace plane will be a hypersonic airplane that is projected to be flying by the mid-2000s. This airplane will have two different power systems The normal hypersonic system would use methane and would fly Mach 5, or up as high as Mach 7. It could get you from the Midwest to Tokyo in less than three hours. The same airplane with a liquid-hydrogen engine system will be able to go Mach 3.5. Designed this way, it can take off from normal runways, yet serve the space station much more cost-effectively than the space shuttle.

U.S. airlines are contemplating adopting a high-tech microwave landing system (MLS) as a replacement for the long-used instrument landing system (ILS). The cost of installing MLS is from $250,000 to $500,000 per aircraft.

There are going to be great opportunities in the airline industry This section will focus on careers as a pilot, flight engineer, flight instructor, meteorologist, etc.


Since aviation activity is expected to grow in particular fields, you should carefully evaluate your capacity to fit into the growing area of employment that best suits your interests and capabilities. In planning for a career in aerospace, it is necessary to understand that there are many careers that require the same basic qualifications as that of a pilot. Almost all aerospace careers on the ground and in the air require a technical education. To satisfy the demands of technology in a selected field, college is almost a prerequisite for high-paying lobs of any kind in aerospace.

In 1941, at the beginning of World War II, airlines faced an unprecedented expansion. More aircraft were purchased, routes were extended, and hundreds of new pilots were employed. These pilots were in their twenties and have since retired.

Pilot vacancies in the 1930s occurred in ever-growing numbers, and the airlines found it difficult to find competent copilots. Age is a most important factor in hiring a new pilot. In order for the airline to realize maximum utilization of a pilot's talents, he or she should fly over 30 years. If you are interested In becoming an airline pilot, you must learn to fly while you are young so that you reach your experience level early and are able to get on the employment seniority list as soon as possible.

Pilots should possess the following traits: professionalism, superior skill, reasonable judgment, responsibility, and good physical and mental health. Pilots are not born with all these attributes, but they are developed as they study and practice to become expert pilots.

Professional pilots must have extraordinary physical coordination to maneuver the aircraft from takeoff to landing, sometimes under confusing and difficult conditions. They must have mechanical aptitude to understand why an airplane flies and how the power is produced. They must have the educational background needed not only to solve navigational problems in a practical sense but also to cope with theories and mathematics of navigation.  Pilots must develop a retentive memory to assimilate radio procedures at locations hundreds of miles ahead and be able to apply these to conditions that arise in flight. They must be able to "communicate" with a set of instruments that can tell them much if they understand their language. They must be able to translate and execute instructions from the ground, which may mean giving further orders to crew members. All of this must be accomplished In an atmosphere of relaxed competence, knowing that few decisions are reversible once they are put into motion.

Intensive training is a vital part of the development of a professional pilot. This training is not crammed into a candidate but is absorbed in properly timed stages. Long before candidates are ready to take the controls as student pilots, they must rely heavily on classroom studies in such subjects as trigonometry (as an aid to navigation) physics (to help with aerodynamics), geography (another navigational aid), meteorology (to cope with weather), language (for communications), and electronics (for understanding communications and navigational equipment).

In general, the bulk of flight training is carried on by privately operated, FAA-approved flight schools. The most important thing you cam do is to obtain as much education as possible. Some airlines specify college as a prerequisite. Other airlines adjust their hiring policies according to the labor market.  If there are many new pilots available, they may eliminate those without a college degree, but when new pilots are scarce, they may accept a high school diploma. You need to discuss this matter with your school guidance counselor by the time you reach tenth grade. Take advantage of any specific aviation courses that are offered. Enroll in the Air Force Junior ROTC Program. A study in the late 1980's revealed that 74.9 percent of pilots had four years of college, 12.1 percent had two or three years of college, 6.9 percent held a Master's degree, and 6.2 percent had less than two years of college.

Aside from having discussions with the local flying school operator or one of the instructors, you should seek part-time employment after school. Many important things can be learned best on the lob plus you will receive pay while you learn.

Regardless of any preparatory education you may receive in high school, the time comes when you must take flying lessons. Normally, flying schools operate at general aviation fields, where private and corporate craft are based. Part of the flight training is the practice of "shooting" landings, which means taking off, flying around the traffic pattern, and gliding back to a landing.

Flight training falls into two phases, theory and practice. The theoretical phase involves principally studying the manuals supplied by the flying school. A knowledge of the manuals is tested by written examinations. This testing is required before a pilot's license is issued by the FAA after certification by the school.

The practical side of training is far more exciting. You will experience a genuine thrill the first time your instructor takes you to the airplane trainer for a flight. The instructor will take you on a walk-around inspection of the airplane and will explain all parts. You will become familiarized with the ailerons, rudder, elevator, landing gear, flaps, etc. You will climb aboard and take your seat, the captain's seat, before the flight controls. Your instructor, of course, will have full flight controls also at hand, ready to take over at any time or to demonstrate maneuvers.

It would be wise to join a flying club if one is available. Clubs, on a nonprofit basis, purchase an airplane, and all members are entitled to fly it at an hourly rate sufficient to pay for the plane, fuel and maintenance, insurance, and hangar rent. You pay as you go, study at home, and rely upon your flight instructor to advise you regarding study material.

Another approach to learning how to fly is to enroll in an approved ground and bight school that offers a curriculum through solo, private certificate, cross-country flights to the ultimate goal, the Commercial Certificate. This includes required ground-school classes and individual ground training. The inclusive courses are expensive, but they are the most complete education available for prospective professional pilots. Banks provide loan facilities through which student pilots can borrow funds to pay for their training and repay the banks out of earnings when they obtain their first job.

Prior to and after young pilots have attained their Private Pilot's License, they may gain much needed flying experience as members of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). CAP gives members the opportunity to gain a foundation of general knowledge in aerospace upon which they can build successful careers.  It is a federally chartered, private, nonprofit corporation and is also the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. The 65,000 volunteer CAP members are all aerospace-minded citizens dedicated to serving their fellow Americans. The three basic missions of CAP are emergency services, aerospace education, and the cadet program.

The number of flying hours logged help fulfill the requirement of airlines and corporate plane owners when they hire pilots. After a combination of flight training and membership in a flying club, you should be ready to qualify for a Commercial License. Then you can apply for a first flight position.

Before you can apply for flight instruction at an FAA-certificated flying school, you must be 16 years of age: must pass a third-class medical examination; have 40 hours in ground school instruction where students learn the principles of flight, aerial navigation, weather factors, and flight regulation; and have flying lessons conducted in dual-controlled aircraft (25 hours or less dual and 10 hours solo instruction).

The instructor judges when the student is ready to take the written and flight examinations, which are given by FAA inspectors. Upon successful completion of both exams, the student earns the Private Pilot's License which entitles the pilot to fly passengers, but not for hire. The private pilot can then undertake advanced instruction, learn to fly on instruments, and earn a Commercial Pilot's License upon acquiring additional hours of flight experience. These achievements open up numerous pilot careers because now the pilot can fly for hire. Further study and experience can enable him or her to qualify as an airline pilot.

Before you apply for a position, visit the personnel directors of the airlines for which you would like to fly. They will give you an idea of their requirements in terms of flight time and educational background. With your application on file, you will be compared with other applicants and a personal interview will be arranged. The interview will be conducted by operations personnel who are pilots or have been retired from flying and are in management positions. They will assess your technical qualifications, and you will be questioned regarding the information you supplied in your application. Remember, if your application indicates lack of experience, insufficient flight time, or inadequate basic education, you will not be invited for an interview. Your personality will play an important role in your interviewer's decision. Manner of speech, attitude, ambition, and appearance all play a part in the selection process. You may be asked to take a battery of tests prior to the physical examination.

The average person who is in good health will pass the physical examination. The company usually gives one physical examination annually to its pilots and flight engineers. When the pilot eventually obtains an Airline Transport Rating, an FAA physical must be taken every six months.

Once you have passed all tests and the interview, you are notified that you are ready for your first job assignment, although not necessarily as a pilot. You may be called to serve as co-pilot or engineer. It is in your best interest to accept because it may eventually lead to the captain's seat. While waiting for the job you really want, it may be wise for you to seek employment as a flight instructor or with a corporate aircraft owner, flying as a copilot and later as a captain.

Another method of acquiring flight experience is through pilot training in the armed forces. This training is given at no expense to the student. With some additional study, the military pilot can qualify for numerous civilian pilot jobs upon leaving the service. The military services have been a major source for providing pilots to the airlines. Of the former military pilots, 59.5 percent came from the Air Force, 28 percent from the Navy, 7.6 percent from the Marines, 2.8 percent from the Coast Guard, and 2 percent from the Army based on early 1990's statistics.

A number of colleges and universities offer flight training with credit towards a degree. The graduate may leave school with a Private or Commercial License an Instrument and/or Flight Instructor's Rating, plus a degree.

Training, of course, is a constant companion of the airline pilot. As new aircraft come into use, pilots must learn to operate them. In this way, flying differs sharply from the operation of other vehicles. Certain basics are the same for all flying machines, but there are differences that are numerous and critical.

Airline pilots must have a familiarity with airports. Competent airline pilots can find their way into any field under most circumstances, but this is not enough when passengers' lives are at stake. Before pilots can fly new routes, they must become thoroughly familiar with the elements—visual and radio checkpoints, the terrain of the route, and seasonal weather conditions.

Major airline pilots are paid according to the position flown (captain, first officer, second officer), the type of aircraft flown, aircraft speed, and maximum certificated gross weight of the aircraft. Pay also is determined by whether the pilot flies day or night and whether it is on a domestic or international route. The following data is from the early 1990's: a DC-9 captain may get a basic $80 per hour, plus 3 cents per hour for each 1,000 pounds gross weight (for a DC-9-30 this means an extra $3,24 per hour). Pilots usually earn 3 cents per mile flown, while night flying pays some $3 per hour more than day flying. For instance, a DC-9 captain would earn approximately $7,593 per month for flying 75 hours, plus a base pay.

Major airline pilot salaries start at around $24,000 for the first-year pilots, while the captain's pay tops out at around $130,000 a year. Jumbo-jet pilots earn up to $160,000 a year. First officers usually earn a flat rate during the first year, then start a percentage scale in their second year. In the second year, they will earn some 50 percent of a captain's pay. The pilot's seniority in the company structure will determine vacation time, travel privileges, choice of routes, and base. Pilots normally receive a paid vacation, an insurance-retirement plan, sick leave, and group health insurance.

Most major carriers have probationary periods from 12 to 15 months. It is estimated that less than 5 percent of pilots don't make It through probation, primarily due to an inability to work with other crew members or to accomplish cockpit duties according to airline standards.

Approximately 90 percent of the Nation’s airline pilots are represented by the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), and they pay no dues during their first year as an apprentice member.

There is a prediction that major airlines and regional carriers will need nearly 42,000 additional pilots by the end of the decade.


Career opportunities with the airlines range from those requiring practically no training (cleaners) to those demanding college degrees (aeronautical engineers). In between are dozens of jobs calling for a variety of educational achievement levels, skills, and personal characteristics.

Salaries, working conditions, and opportunities for advancement vary according to the size of the airline. The larger the airline, the greater the opportunities and the competition. Scheduled airlines of the United States range in size from those with less than 50 employees and two stations to those with more than 40,000 employees working in 127 locations. Several U.S. international airlines fly to foreign airports throughout the world. The big trunk carriers span the continent, connecting large population centers A number of these trunk airlines also fly over international waters to Alaska and Hawaii, and to Caribbean destinations. Other airlines are local or regional service carriers that fly within a limited region of the United States, giving service to smaller communities and connecting them with the big cities serviced by the trunk airlines. There also are a small number of all-cargo airlines, numerous carriers flying only within the boundaries of a state, and some supplemental air carriers that fly passengers and cargo on unscheduled charter flights.

Most airline jobs require a high school diploma. All workers, regardless of their jobs, are given some degree of on-the-job training. Some private technical schools offer courses in airline operations such as reservations, ticketing, and flight attendant training. This training may give an applicant an advantage, but as airlines have their own training procedures, interested applicants are urged to check with the airline of their choice to see what pare training is required.

Because of the updating of equipment and working methods, employees occasionally need retraining. The airlines give employees new skills at their expense and keep them abreast of new equipment techniques. Periodic training programs are mandatory for all employees. In some airlines, training personnel will switch places with regular employees, for a short time, to refresh their knowledge of current working conditions and equipment.

Employees enjoy such benefits as paid vacation, holiday and sick leave, group insurance coverage (accident, health, dental, and life), retirement income plans, credit unions for savings and loan purposes, employee suggestion programs with cash awards, and free air travel or air travel at greatly reduced rates for employees and members of their families. In addition, they often receive large discounts for travel on international airlines and for hotel accommodations at holiday destinations.

Promotions are almost always made from within the company as vacancies are filled by advancing the best qualified workers from the ranks. Merit promotions are made periodically on the basis of evaluation of the employees' work.

Shift work is a characteristic of many jobs with the airlines. Aircraft with passengers and cargo travel all hours of the day and night, there. fore passenger and air cargo services must be available. Dissatisfaction with shift work is the most common cause of job turnover, even though hourly wages are increased for workers on afternoon and evening shifts.

Airline jobs are located in every city that airlines serve and even in a few they do not serve. Of course, the larger the city, the greater the variety of airline job opportunities. The largest concentrations of airline career opportunities are found in such cities as New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Washington, Detroit, Denver, fences City, Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, and Seattle. An applicant may obtain career information by writing directly to the airline.

The place of work for flight attendants is in the passenger cabin of an airliner They fly from 75 to 85 hours a month. In addition, they have about 50 hours a month duty time between flights and must be present for the captain's briefing at least an hour before flight time. At the end of the flight, the flight attendant may have reports to complete. The total monthly working time, in most cases, is determined by agreements between the airline and the union.

Flight assignments usually require overnight stays in cities away from home base. Under these circumstances, flight attendants are given hotel accommodations and travel allowances for meal expenses and transportation.

The flight attendants' in-flight duties require them to be on their feet most of the time. They frequently work at top speed to accomplish all tasks that must be done within the few hours of flight. They must deal pleasantly with all kinds of people.

Depending upon seniority, the flight attendant may be under the direction of a senior flight attendant or may direct the work of a junior flight attendant.



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Updated: March 24, 2004