What does the life of a pilot look like?
Day-to-Day Life of Commercial Pilots
What’s good about being a pilot and what you may not have considered . . .
What is the Day to Day Life Like as an Airline Pilot?
Being a pilot can be a very rewarding career, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction, but it is important to know both the ups and downs of the profession. It’s also important to know what you are looking for in a piloting career as this could significantly impact on the type of flying you are best suited for and the airline you should aim to work for.
Airline Pilot Pay
Flight crew undertake intensive and expensive training to develop a highly unique and perishable skill set. As a result, pilots are generally well paid, typically earning significantly above the average salary – varying between around £30,000 to over £200,000 depending on seniority, aircraft and airline. The remuneration can vary considerably from company to company, but generally speaking, low-cost carriers tend to pay less than the flag carriers, and as one might expect, the bigger the aircraft and the further you fly, the higher the pay.
Staff Travel Discounts for Pilots
Most airlines will also offer excellent staff travel packages, with flag carriers typically offering 90% off their ticket prices for you and your family. This means you might be able to travel from London to New York in First or Business Class for as little as £150.
One of the obvious challenges for a pilot is their roster. Being up at 4am or going to bed well past midnight is part of the territory.
A typical day for an airline pilot can vary considerably depending on the airline they fly for and the type of operation. Days can be very short or very long, be very busy or even be a bit boring.
Time Off as a Pilot
As a pilot, you do tend to get quite a lot of time off to allow you to recover between flights. The numbers of hours pilots can work a day/week/month/year are limited by regulations to avoid fatigue.
The job typically offers more days off than your typical Monday to Friday 9-5 job, and better holiday allowances. The downside to this is that you may find yourself seldom having a free weekend; little or no summer leave and bank holidays are just another normal working day. Whilst this may seem minor to some, having to miss Christmas or family a member’s birthday celebration year after year can take its toll.
Maintaining a normal social and family life can be a challenge as you may often find you have your time off when your friends are at work or your children at school.
The Aeroplane & the View
Being trusted to be part of an exclusive team which go to work and operate a state of the art multi-million-pound aircraft never gets boring. The satisfaction of flying a big commercial jet full of passengers to their destination, particularly when the conditions are challenging can be incredible.
You also get to see some truly fantastic sights from the air – sunrise at 35,000 feet or seeing the Northern Lights is something you will never tire of.
Health Implications for Pilots
There are ongoing debates about the occupation’s impact on long term health. Having a continuously changing body clock, being up during the circadian low and regularly experiencing jet lag (long haul pilots) all has negative effects on health.
Equally, spending a lot of time at a pressure altitude of 8,000 feet can be very fatiguing.
Other theories about contaminated cockpit air and cancer associated with solar radiation continue to circulate.
Short Haul Low Cost Pilot Life
Short-haul pilots for low cost airlines typically start and finish their day at their allocated base. They do not tend to do night stops and therefore can expect to be back at home for the night. Technical problems or weather issues down route can of course have an impact on the operation which could result in an unscheduled night stop.
Short haul flights might last anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. Medium haul is defined as 3-6 hours.
There are usually two pilots on short haul flights, a First Officer and a Captain.
The roster is usually fixed with set days off, and this gives you the advantage of being able to plan your life in advance. The short haul rosters vary in stability depending on which airline you are working for. At some airlines, rosters might seldom change after they’ve been issued, but at other airlines, your roster might change reguarly which can limit your ability to plan your life.
Typical Short Haul Pilot Roster
Different airlines offer different opportunities. For example, a well-known European airline offers a 5 on 4 off roster at most of their bases, and there are no scheduled overnight stops. For some this can be great if you are at the base of your choice and want to be back home with your family every night, but can also be very challenging if you are based a long way from home and are commuting back and forth on your days off.
Rosters usually alternate from week to week, for example you will be on an early shift pattern one week, then switch to a late shift pattern the next.
Depending on the duration of the flight, short haul pilots can expect to fly between 2 and 6 flights a day. This has the advantage of having the opportunity to do plenty of manual flying (less use of the autopilot!) compared to operating on a long haul fleet where opportunities are less frequent. Short sectors can be demanding due to the high workload demanded on the flight crew – you have to fit a lot in a short amount of time.
As a low cost short haul pilot, you will operate to a range of destinations, often to smaller airfields that are less well equipped. This might mean having to fly visual approaches with less use of the autopilot.
Long Haul Pilot Lifestyle
A long-haul flight is defined as having a flight time of more than 6 hours.
Long haul pilots fly all over the world and can spend a lot of time away from home. Trips can last from a few days to over a week. The constant changing of time zones can be very fatiguing.
Long haul pilots will typically get more days off than short haul pilots due to the amount of time they spend away from home and thus the need to rest and adjust their body clocks.
To become a long-haul pilot, you would typically need to gain some experience as a short haul pilot. Long haul pilots might only get to land the aircraft a couple of times a month. To get to a skill level where you can achieve this, you require a good degree of previous experience flying short haul operations where take-offs and landings are frequent. This is why you typically progress from short haul to long haul operations.
There may be a number of pilots on long haul flights to allow the flight crew members to rest in the crew quarters on particularly long flights. Generally speaking, a long-haul pilot can expect to be paid more than a short haul pilot.
Check out our blog of a typical long haul flight from a pilots perspective.
Cargo Pilot Lifestyle
Cargo pilots typically fly at night and work more consecutive days than short haul passenger pilots. However they tend to get more time off as a result. West Atlantic for example, offer a one week on, one week off roster.
Corporate / Business Jet Pilot Lifestyle
Corporate pilots are required to be extremely flexible as they could be called to operate a flight at any time of day or night and to anywhere – you are often completely at the disposal of the customer or aircrafts owner.
Once you arrive at the destination specified by the customer, you could spend a number of days in a hotel without knowing when or where you will fly next. You may also have to do additional duties such as filing the flight plans, loading the aircraft and greeting the passengers. As a result of the flexibility required, corporate pilots are usually very well paid. Whilst they are on “standby” for long periods (often 1 – 2 weeks) you are then given roughly an equal time off.
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The life of a pilot
If you are one of those who as a child watched the planes in the sky and dreamed of being able to fly someday, we explain below what the life of a pilot is like and what it entails to work as a pilot.
First of all, you should know that being a pilot is not only a profession, but a real passion. Few professions exist with such a strong vocational component.
The profession of pilot is well regarded, both socially and economically, but reaching that desired goal requires effort and dedication.
The pilot’s life is perhaps not as you imagine it; it is busy, hectic, irregular, … regardless of the aviation sector you work in; regular passenger airlines, air cargo, aerial work, corporate aviation… what is certain is that, if you expect a sedentary and monotonous job, with fixed schedules and permanent residence in the same place, this is not your job!
Pilots enjoy working in an “office” with the best view imaginable. Even the wealthiest Wall Street financiers have an office with panoramic views as impressive as those enjoyed by an airline pilot from his cockpit. Endless mountain ranges, incredible landscapes, seas and oceans… And everything passes before his eyes at jet speed. It is not uncommon for pilots -especially those who fly short or medium-haul scheduled flights, and those who fly cargo planes- to lose track of where they are in the world, even though they are perfectly aware of the starting and finishing points of each “jump” (this is the name given to the routes in aeronautical jargon) that they are going to make or have made during the course of the day. A day that may have started very early in the morning with the “signing” of the flight, that is to say, with the arrival at the operations office of the base airport of all the members that will make up the crew that day.
Demand for professional pilots
Nevertheless, the demand for professional airline pilots is growing. One of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers, Boeing, stated in its latest market report that around 800,000 new pilots will be needed worldwide between now and 2036.
In terms of employment, pilots, like any other professional, are subject to regulations that determine the maximum number of working hours per month. A year may not exceed 900 accumulated hours of activity. These hours are distributed, depending on the type of routes – short haul is not the same as long haul – determining the days of activity, the days of “imaginary” (availability without assigned flight to cover eventual absences), and days off. In other words, if, for example, the maximum number of flight hours allowed by law is completed in 15 days, the rest of the month would be free.
In practice, this does not usually happen, since it is mandatory by law to establish rest periods between working days, but it does allow for holidays or vacations outside the patterns established for most employees, and for more vacation time in general.
Salaries in general within the range that we could qualify as “high”, especially for those who accumulate more experience, and the possibility of being able to travel on vacation with discounts on airline tickets and hotels, both for the pilot himself and for his entire family, are two of the great attractions of the profession, although not the only and most important ones.
But… in the life of a pilot you also have to sacrifice a lot of things.
As in all jobs, being a pilot is not without its sacrifices. Regardless of the segment in which you work – passenger transport, cargo, corporate, aerial work, etc… – the exercise of the profession is often not exactly a “bed of roses”. Getting up early, getting up at 4 a.m. because the flight that takes off at 7:30 a.m. is scheduled for 5:30 a.m., especially if the weather is bad, or taking off at 9 p.m. for an eight-hour flight (with crew change, of course, during the flight) is not a pleasure for anyone who is not in love with his or her profession.
The pilot’s private life changes radically as soon as he starts working as a professional pilot. The hours that used to be free to be with loved ones and friends, now become working hours; endless days, many of them consecutive days, with no possibility of returning home because they are in another country, or even on another continent, often become part of everyday life. To be able to combine the life of a pilot both personally and professionally can be hard, if there is not a minimum vocation and a supportive family environment, first and foremost. Being able to work in the office with the best views in the world, in a profession that is well regarded and well paid, has a price that is well worth paying to make a dream come true.
02/07/2021 / 0 Comments / by vilax
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