Alternative career options for a Commercial Pilot

Alternative career options for a Commercial Pilot

Becoming a Commercial Pilot doesn’t necessarily mean you have to enter the airline industry. A lesson the Covid pandemic has taught the aviation industry, is there are many other short and long-term career alternatives which not only develop your CV but also develop your knowledge and experience as a pilot as well.

Flight Instructing
Flight instructing has become an increasingly popular career for newly qualified Commercial Pilots. The collapse of the airline market in 2020 saw a surge in newly qualified Flight Instructors, as furloughed and unemployed Airline Pilots searched for a way to keep current while also developing new skills through teaching aspiring pilots.

Becoming a Flight Instructor develops your situational awareness, leadership and character. It also sets a foundation to progress to an advanced instructing career in the airline industry, either as a Line Training Captain or as an Examiner (after accumulating some experience as an Airline Pilot).
The entry requirements to start a Flight Instructor (FI) course typically include the following:

  • To be a current CPL holder, if not, then at least a PPL holder with passes in the CPL Theoretical Exams, alongside having a minimum of 200 hours of total flight time logged in aeroplanes, or touring motor gliders. Of those 200 hours, 150 of them must be as Pilot in Command.
  • A VFR Cross Country flight logged as PIC of a distance of at least 300 Nautical Miles, of which there must be 2 full stop landings at 2 different airports.
  • To have accumulated a minimum of 10 hours instrument flight instruction on the respective category of aircraft. No more than 5 of the 10 hours can be FSTD (simulator) hours.
  • To have logged a minimum of 30 hours on a single-engine piston-powered aircraft. 5 of these hours must have been obtained during 6 months of your skills test.
  • To have accumulated 20 hours of cross-country flying (under visual flight rules) on the respective aeroplane category as Pilot in Command.

The first 100 hours of instructing under a new FI rating holds a restriction. This restriction means you are not able to authorise a student’s first solo flight. However, that being said, you will still be able to send a student solo after they have done their first solo flight. The total cost can vary between £10,000 and £14,000 depending on the flight school.

Cargo and Freight flying

A crucial role to play in circulating the global economy, a career in logistics is an exciting and rewarding alternative to airline flying. As an airfreight pilot, you’ll be transporting hundreds of tonnes of cargo and goods across the globe. The same pilot standards are required for airfreight pilots as airline pilots, however, the only difference is the payload which you are transporting and the scale of operation of which you will work in.

Multiple examples of air freight couriers include DHL, FedEx, Cargolux and UPS. Airlines also undergo cargo operations, such as United (United Parcel Service), Qatar Airways, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Korean Air, Turkish Airlines, China Southern and China Airlines.

Air Freight carriers operate on multi-engine jet aircraft requiring you to have a type rating specific to the fleet of aircraft with which they operate with. Below are the typical requirements for an A300 First Officer with DHL:

Qualifications required for a DHL A300 First Officer

  • Valid EASA Part-FCL ATPL (A) or
  • Valid EASA Part-FCL CPL (A), ATPL Theory Credit, incl. HPL
  • Valid MEP / IR Rating
  • MCC – Certificate
  • Valid EASA Part-FCL Medical Certificate Class 1
  • Completion certificate of training course specified in FCL.745.A. Advanced UPRT course
  • EU – Citizen and/or working permit for Germany with a valid passport without restriction
  • Valid Driver‘s Licence
  • At least a European equivalent High School degree
  • Flight Experience required
  • A300/B757: No specific flight experience required

Like many other airlines, it’s common that air freight carriers will require you to possess a type rating upon application. Usually, this is because it is not within the company’s capacity to offer or bond such training. It is also common for pilots to gain experience within airlines and then move on to flying airfreight to increase their employability prospects.

Technical Operations Flying

A specialised and advanced flying role within aviation is flying for a technical operations organisation, which carry out operations requiring a certain calibred individual. Flying twin-engined small aircraft, you would carry mission-specific operations, such as the transportation of goods and security equipment, test flying and surveillance flying.

A first officer position within this industry commonly employs newly qualified commercial pilots. See below the typical entry requirements for an entry-level Islander BN2T First Officer position with Draken:

  • Eligibility for UK DV security clearance
  • Hold or be working towards a CPL(A)
  • Multi Engine Instrument Rating
  • Multi Crew Cooperation Course
  • UPRT (where required)
  • Greater than 200 hours flight time

Emergency Response Flying for Police

This field of aviation is often disregarded in the fixed-wing sector, however, it is extremely rewarding and has an element of excitement that other commercial flying roles do not have. Even though air ambulances and police roles are primarily rotary aircraft, there are also fixed-wing operations which should be considered when looking into flying careers.

The National Police Air Service (NPAS) is an example of a fixed-wing operator. NPAS crews provide effective aerial support to ground-based officers across England and Wales and in doing so, improve operational response to incidents within the highest safety standards. Working alongside Tactical Flight Officers, NPAS Pilots have the opportunity to make good use of their skills and experience on a variety of police missions including fast-paced, dynamic tasks such as:

  • pursuit of stolen vehicles
  • searching for missing persons/suspects
  • support for firearms incidents

Pilots also fly to pre-planned tasks. This can include support for large public events such as the London Marathon, Heads of State visits and large demonstrations. On occasion, pilots are called upon to land, so the crew can assist people in distress. Due to this role being single pilot, the entry requirements for this particular role include:

  • Minimum of a Commercial Pilot’s Licence (Aeroplanes) with RT Licence
  • A valid Multi-Engine type or class rating (single pilot aircraft)
  • A valid Single Pilot, Multi-Engine Instrument Rating with a Performance Based Navigation endorsement (IR-SP-ME Class SE + PBN)
  • A minimum of 1,500 hours total flying time and be in current multi-engine practice, which must include:
  • 500 hours as Pilot in Command (PIC) single-pilot aircraft fixed wing
  • 100 hours flying time IFR
  • 50 hours night flying of which 25 hours to be PIC
  • English Language Proficiency Level 6
  • Class 1 Medical
  • Ability to work as part of a team and be a self-starter
  • Ability to communicate clearly and concisely to the crew while carrying out other tasks
  • A full UK driving licence

For more information on this type of career, and to find out more about the specific companies who employ these pilots, please visit Prepare to Prevail – Draken , Gama Aviation, business aviation, special mission, technology/outsourcing. Line pilot (fixed-wing) | National Police Air Service (

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