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So you want to be a corporate/charter pilot? page 5

Career profile by Jock Williams

Crew scheduling is another area that bears examination before you sign on any dotted line. Some companies employing many pilots can afford to create a cast-in-concrete schedule so that a pilot knows in January that he or she will be in the Bahamas on June 14. Others call you on the morning of the 14th to go. Some pilots thrive on the unpredictability of the latter, others dream of the predictability of the former. Most of us fall somewhere in between.

I worked for one company that seriously seemed to believe that it owned me 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and could call me at any time for departure within about an hour. Of course, this totally ignored certain Transport Canada rules regarding flight duty times and mandatory time off, but the owner and management considered themselves beyond the law. I eventually suggested to them that they didn’t own me–they simply rented me–and I was no longer for rent.

Nice trick if you can do it, but if you’re not equipped with a couple of pensions and some good savings you might want to get working conditions written into your initial contract. Both you and your employer have needs and aspirations–but it’s amazing how seldom these are actually discussed in the pre-employment interview!

My current employer gives its pilots three firm days off after six days on duty. This, coupled with the fact that often there are five or six days between flights anyway makes for a goodly amount of time off except for the inconvenience of being on call. I have plenty of time for reading books or writing, but can’t just dash off to the cottage. I have to be available to answer the pager or cell phone. They don’t call on short notice very often, but I have promised to be available if they do. This past year, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve were work days. Both were lovely flights, but I am fortunate in having a very understanding wife. Some of my friends might have had an unpleasant scene on their hands shortly after the callout message was received.

The rewards
Oddly, straight pay is not usually a major problem. Most pilots know pretty well what their skills will command on the open market. Most employers know this too, and pay disputes are not terribly common. A corporate pilot can expect $60,000 to $100,000 a year plus benefits, a copilot half that, more or less. It seems that probably 300 hours of flying a year would be an average. “Work more, get paid more” seems a rule of thumb here as it is everywhere else–the only glitch being industry-wide disruptions such as 9/11 which placed large numbers of pilots on the market. We all know in our hearts, however, that the industry will recover and that the laws of supply and demand will re-enter the picture.

There are other considerations which may or may not prove critical to job satisfaction. One is “per diem”–the amount of money which you get to spend on meals and other costs while on the road. Some firms simply provide a set sum per day when you are away–and leave it up to you to spend or save it. Others will pay all expenses–but only if you provide receipts. The difference between the two philosophies may seem small, but in one firm I worked it kept the pilots in a continuing state of near mutiny. I often saw pilots order the most expensive meal on the menu with no intention whatsoever of eating it–just to get back at management for their shortsightedness.

Leadership is not a term you may associate with aviation management. Too bad! Those firms where leadership is demonstrated have great employee morale and a high level of productivity. Those that lack this vital element are at best marginally productive and have a high turnover. Unfortunately, it is hard to explain to an employer–who has never had a pilot stay one day beyond the minimum contract period–that a little team building would yield financial as well as morale benefits. Companies can save a lot of money, or increase their profit margin greatly by reducing the number of initial checkouts that have to be paid for. Some employers know this intuitively while others never get it at all.

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