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.


Aviatrix said...

Yes, all you people who e-mailed me are right. It doesn't really matter if I blog or not, some people are going to think strange things.

Thank GPS_Direct and John who staged an intervention and took me out to lunch in Jacksonville, successfully persuading me that I was going to have more fun blogging than not blogging.

I'll tell you all about it in timeline sequence.

Anonymous said...

It's great to have you back, Aviatrix!

I suspect that a lot of non-pilots, and maybe even some pilots, think of flying airliners as the big leagues, and everything else, bush piloting, flying freight, flying corporate planes, whatever, as second string.

The pay is probably better in the airlines (I think), and perhaps the prestige, and you get to fly bigger airplanes (but still not as big as the freight pilots who get to fly the Supper Guppy and her ilk), but it really seems like a different skill set.

In one of your early blogs, you quoted someone describing flying for the airlines: "'It's like the army,' my stranger told me, 'They tell them where to go and what to wear and when to sleep for so long, that they cannot be removed from that environment.'"

This seems like just the opposite of what you do. Although the flying part is pretty much the same, it is almost like two different jobs that only have in common the fact the fact that both require a commercial pilot's license.

Be well...

Lynn Grant

Anonymous said...

Thank GPS_Direct and John...

Oh, absolutely!

Thank you, GPS_Direct! Thank you, John!

Gary said...


Good to see you back blogging, Mary and I enjoy your posts!

Anonymous said...

Sitting in SFO on Thursday, looking out of the window at a 747 (as one does....), I wondered to myself: ok, so it has 4 engines, not two, and they are jet engines, not props, but IN PRINCIPLE, is there actually a HUGE difference between what the pilot of that 747 does, and what Aviatrix does in her smaller aircraft?

I'm guessing that much of it is actually the same.....

Anonymous said...

I never miss your posts and am very glad you are back :)

nec Timide said...

Very happy to see you are still enriching our days.

Thanks indeed to GPS_Direct, and John.

Anonymous said...

I've been gone, so I missed the fact that you were gone for a bit.
Don't let the creeps get to you. Some people will start arguments online merely because they like the heat. And some will tell you that you should have done this or that merely to pump their own ego that they know better.
Just tell them all to get stuffed. In flying and life there are few "perfect" answers for anything. There's always up sides and down sides to any decision you make, and no one can make those decisions but you.
I've seen risky pilots that made genuinely bad decisions before, and you're not one.

Anonymous said...

people say things online that they would never say to your face. you've got to take that into account when interpreting what they say.

i enjoy your blog a lot, and i'm glad you're keeping it up.

Lord Hutton said...

So glad you decided to carry on. I never miss them.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! Nice to see you, everyone needs a little vacation sometimes.

As for "commercial pilot" vs. "pilot for the majors". Well, I work at a smaller company (not in airline biz) and I've worked for Fortune 100 corps before, and for smaller companies. And I like the smaller places. There's more flexibility, and less nonsense.

I imagine that working for a smaller air outfit as opposed to the majors has some parallels. Not all of us want to work for the big companies!

Anonymous said...

Welcome back!!!!! glad you had a change of heart.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for taking the time and effort to write your blog, aviatrix. I enjoy reading it for many reasons, but most of all because it takes me back to when I was doing a similar type of flying. I didn't have as much experience as you flying single pilot commercial charters/cargo, but I do like hearing about dealing with FBOs, airports, employers, and the unique demands that come with your type of flying. As another female aviator, I really empathize with a lot of your experiences and thoughts on the industry. As an airline pilot that has been where you are, I have tons of respect for the flying that you do. You have all of the demands of any other commercial flight without the huge support structure the airline or large corporate pilots have. An airline pilot has an operations department handling the baggage and fueling, a dispatcher to file the route and provide weather information on the ground and in flight, a gate agent to handle passenger issues during boarding, flight attendant(s) to handle passenger issues in flight, a maintenance department standing by on call, even a doctor ready to give advice enroute if needed. A commercial pilot at a smaller charter or corporate department has all of those issues but often no one else but themselves to take care of problems. Frankly, I often miss being that involved in the flight and I take every chance I can get to fly charters for my own airline (sports teams and such).

I also remember the "I'm a pilot" conversations when I was flying charters! "I'm a pilot." "Oh, for the airlines or just for fun?" It always seems a struggle to convince people that there is an entire diverse world between recreational flying and airline flying. It doesn't end there, though. When you start out at an airline as a first officer you get asked "So, are you the pilot or a copilot?" Yes, I guess I'm a copilot, but after flying students, people, and boxes for ten years I like to think of myself as a pilot, too!

In any case, I really enjoy reading the experiences of a conscientious professional pilot, so thank you for taking the time to share them.

Anonymous said...

Lynn Grant - airline pilots are required to have ATP certificates, not just commercial ones.

Aviatrix said...

In Canada only the captain of a large, two-crew airplane is required to hold an ATPL. Co-pilots and captains of smaller aircraft can fly with only a commercial licence.

I hold an ATPL.

Eric K. said...

Hey Aviatrix - new blog reader here. I'm not a pilot, but I've got a couple of friends and family who are, so I think I can relate to a lot of what you say. In particular, I have to agree with mongo's comments. I have worked for big companies, and I have worked for small companies (right now, I'm at a mid-size). While the name recognition is certainly nice when working for a large company, the benefits of working for a smaller company far outweigh that. It's nothing for me to walk in to the CEO's office and have a chat with him - something I could never dream of doing at the large companies. And if I want to try something "wild" like teleworking, the smaller companies are much more open to it.

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of years flying all over and being gone a lot. Rarely through the airport terminal, but always with my Jepps and a bag in tow.

Not an easy life, but I think much better than being a chauffeur on an airliner.

I had lunch today with an ex B52 jock who flew for Northwest after he got out of the Air Force and is now working for the FAA in a GADO office.

He told me he is much happier than being in Mumbai and doing more of the flying he likes rather than serving the airline masters.

Interesting, he told me that there is little respect for airline captains anymore, that it is not like the old days.

I love the early days of aviation, and write a monthly newsletter in which I talk about some of these old time heros. This month its about Tex Rankin and his flying circus.

You can find it at:

All Things Aviation

JulesPilotLife said...

I just discovered this a few days ago when i was searching something on google. I began reading and now i cant stop!
I have my canadian CPL, group 3 ifr and am going on Nov 30th for my class 4 instructor ride. so as you can tell im new in the game.
i have a few questions for you though. as i am new to your blog i am somewhat confused. you mention in some posts that you had to keep the heat on full so the computers in the back dont freeze? what type of airplane are you flying? what kind of operations?
how did you get started in this career?
but i have to say awesome stories, keep it up!

Aviatrix said...

Julian, I don't describe my operation in detail, so you just have to follow along and form an idea for yourself.

muso said...

Good to see your notes from the sky and Dreamliner photo. I looked up the guy who started it all - see info at -

fernando said...

Indeed general public think that you are a commercial pilot just if you are flying on a 737 or a 747. They can't understand that a pilot is anyone who is able to fly and commercial pilot are those paid to live and fly. I think many should read more bookas about aviation or we should talk more about a real pilot life and not allow tv to destroy this work

click here