Sunday, September 02, 2007

My Job

I am a commercial pilot, but probably not the sort of commercial pilot that comes to mind when I say those words. I'm not a clean cut male strolling briskly through the main passenger terminal, rolling bag in tow, and I don't wear a crisp white shirt with little stripes on the shoulders, or a captain's hat. "Commercial pilot" means simply that I am am paid to fly aircraft. You've probably never heard of the company that employs me. I do in fact have a flight case and one of those rolling suitcases, but you'll only see me in the passenger terminal if I'm commuting to a job where the airplane is already on site. I work in t-shirts, work pants and sturdy boots. Add a sweater and parka as necessary for the climate.

I fly an airplane, sometimes IFR and sometimes VFR. Sometimes it's in the day and sometimes at night. It's often on short notice, so I have to be ready and have the airplane ready to go.

My responsibilities include finding suitable places for us to base the airplane, and ensuring that the airplane is ready to go when needed. That involves keeping it clean, and arranging for it to be fuelled and maintained when required. I plan flights, make any arrangements required with air traffic control or other organizations responsible for special use airspace, and make sure I have all the proper charts on board. Before flight, I check the weather, calculate weight and balance of the load, detail an operational flight plan, secure any baggage, inspect the airplane, brief any passengers on the safety procedures, contact flight following, and then fly the airplane as required. And of course there's the usual paperwork. Aviation requires lots of paperwork. I need to track time flown by the airplane, my own logbook times, duty times, expenses, maintenance due, and anything that breaks. I also send regular reports to my bosses so they don't think I'm just goofing off out here, wherever it is that I am on any day.

I have amazing co-workers, appreciative management and a real sense of achievement from the work I do. The airplanes are safe and the company safety culture is excellent. I'm not getting rich, but I'm not starving, and I never know where I'm going next. I don't give really specific details about what my company does or for whom because sometimes it's confidential and because sometimes people get funny ideas about what I write and I don't want to say anything that would cast my company in a bad light, even to people outside the industry. These are my adventures.

So next time you hear that someone is a commercial pilot, impress them by asking "what kind of operation?" or "what aircraft?" instead of "what airline?" And if you interact with someone who is flying for a living, don't ask "would you ever want to be a commercial pilot?" As little as her employer may pay her, she already is. It's an irritating question, a bit like asking members of a garage band if they'd ever like to make the cover of the Rolling Stone, but if you must ask it, the words you are probably looking for are, "would you ever want to fly for a major airline?" Most pilots do have that desire at some stage in their careers, but not everyone reaches the pointy top of the pyramid, whether they want to or not.