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As the aerospace industry steadily recovers from the decreased demand for air travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are traveling by plane and increasing the demand for large-scale commercial aviation and smaller or private air travel.
The resulting increase in demand for qualified pilots to fill the roles necessary for safe and successful flights makes finding pilots for hire challenging, even if you’ve written the perfect job posting and published it on a hiring platform such as ZipRecruiter, where you can send jobs to 100+ boards with one click. Hiring the right pilot for the job can be daunting, but with the right steps and resources, it doesn’t have to be.
Keep reading to learn the best way to go about hiring pilots, including a look at common types of pilots and what they do, where to find qualified pilots for hire and what you can do to ensure your search for a pilot candidate is successful.
What do pilots do?
No matter the type of pilot, all aviators are responsible for operating aircraft safely and efficiently in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations. They’re responsible for planning, filing and navigating flight routes, and communicating their flight details, including the number of passengers and crew, fuel levels and expected time in the air.
Among handling other tasks to ensure a safe flight while underway, pilots are responsible for reporting their speed, altitude and heading and any details such as turbulence or adverse weather conditions that other pilots may need to be made aware of to air traffic control towers as needed.
Common types of pilots to hire
While many pilots may share similar skills, specialization is expected in the profession, and there are many distinct types of pilots. Some roles require more training and experience, while others may require specialized skills that can be difficult to acquire.
Acquainting yourself with the various types of pilot specialties can help you make more informed decisions about attracting and recruiting suitable pilot candidates for your needs. Common types of pilots include:
- Commercial airline pilots: Commercial airline pilots are a well-known type of pilot and the first thing most people think of when hearing the word. Employed by large airlines, commercial pilots are responsible for flying passengers and cargo on established domestic and international routes. All commercial pilots must have a commercial pilot’s license and meet the airline’s requirements, which can vary from carrier to carrier.
- Cargo pilots: Over 52 billion tons of cargo are transported by air annually, according to the International Air Transport Association. The pilots responsible for transporting it via specialized cargo planes are also commercial pilots, but are commonly called cargo pilots. Within the industry, they are often referred to as “freight dogs.” Like commercial pilots, they must also have a commercial pilot’s license and meet the requirements put in place by the cargo airline.
- Helicopter pilots: One of the more specialized kinds of piloting involves flying helicopters either for private or commercial purposes. Federal, state or local agencies often employ helicopter pilots for assistance with surveying large areas of land or locating trouble situations and providing a clearer picture from the air. Helicopter pilots must also have the appropriate licenses and meet all requirements of their employers.
- Drone pilots: Far from being just a hobby, drones are used in the motion picture industry, by real estate and insurance companies for assessing property values or damages, by fire and safety agencies and in various agricultural and industrial applications, including fire fighting. These are professional pilots, having undergone drone pilot certification and a rigorous drone pilot license procedure, and drone pilot jobs can be quite lucrative.
- Charter pilots: Private or charter pilots are responsible for flying private aircraft owned by individuals, private jet operators or other companies providing private air travel separate and distinct from regular commercial aviation. Charter pilots must have a commercial pilot’s license and a private pilot’s license and, like all other pilots, meet any other requirements set forth by the company or individual for whom they work.
It should be noted that some of these broad descriptors overlap, and the application process for some positions should consider this. For instance, many helicopter pilots work for chartered flight companies, and helicopter pilot requirements for these types of helicopter pilot jobs may be more stringent than commercial or cargo helicopter jobs.
How to hire a pilot
Hiring a pilot can be a challenging and time-consuming process, as the available talent pool is limited and in demand. It’s a specialized career with a limited number of working professionals, considering how long it takes to get a pilot’s license.
Even entry-level helicopter pilots are expected to have flown between 1,000 and 1,500 hours to be qualified, and employers can expect to pay competitive salaries and offer good benefits packages as strategies to retain employees.
Knowing a few important things about how to find great candidates for open pilot jobs can make your search easier and give you a better chance at finding the right pilot for the role as quickly as possible.
Some of the best tips for hiring a pilot include:
Define your ideal pilot candidate
Before beginning your search, defining the qualities that comprise your ideal pilot candidate is essential. Are you looking to hire a drone pilot or a commercial helicopter pilot? Are you looking to transport people or cargo?
Consider the type of aircraft you need a pilot for, the purpose and frequency of the air travel you’re planning, the type and length of experience you’re looking for and any other minimum requirements, special qualifications or certifications you may require.
Write a detailed pilot job description
Defining your ideal candidate will inform the next step of the process, which is developing a detailed pilot job description. Include all salient information about the job, including the various responsibilities, all necessary qualifications and certifications and any other details about the job, including things like planned travel routes and length and frequency of travel.
Promote your career page and job posting
Once you’ve completed a job description, the next best step is to create a career page for optimal engagement on your company website announcing the position. You’ll want to actively promote the career page and job posting on professional job boards and other hiring resources to get the word out about the position.
Pilots don’t generally have to spend a great deal of time looking for full-time local employment the way other workers may need to, as it’s such a specialized profession. Many pilots are actively recruited by pilot instructors or at aerospace industry job fairs, which can be other opportunities for hiring. That’s not to say you shouldn’t also add postings on sites such as ZipRecruiter, it’s just that it might not be the main candidate driver.
Evaluate applicants’ qualifications, flight experience and skills
Once you’ve received applications for the position, it’s essential to thoroughly evaluate each candidate’s qualifications, including their flight experience, total number of hours flown, type of aircraft piloted and for how long, safety record and any other information necessary for the role.
Ask the right interview questions
After identifying a selection of qualified candidate pilots, you’ll have to interview them to learn more about their knowledge and experience. Ask behavioral interview questions to help you assess each pilot’s unique work background. Good questions to ask include:
- “What experience do you have flying in different weather conditions?” which can help you determine a pilot’s ability to fly in adverse or challenging conditions if that’s relevant to your reasons for hiring.
- “What safety measures do you take in the cockpit?” This question helps illustrate a pilot’s expertise in safety procedures and familiarity with aircraft controls and preflight checks, as these can differ widely from aircraft to aircraft.
- “What would you do in the event of an emergency?” While most pilots go their entire careers without experiencing a serious in-flight emergency, the possibility is still a reality of the job. Experienced pilots will know what to do in the event of emergencies such as mechanical failure, cabin depressurization, wing icing or other hazard.
Make an offer to the best pilot for the job
Once you’ve selected the best candidate for the job, it’s time to make an offer. Each compensation package will be a mixture of direct compensation through salaries and bonuses as well as indirect payment such as benefits packages or ample vacation time.
Many pilot roles typically involve either a salary or retainer paid regardless of pilot work hours, with additional pay for hours in the air and at intermediary destinations. Many private pilots are compensated for lodging and other travel expenses such as rental vehicles, though this can be either indirectly through more generous salaries or directly via access to company-owned cars and housing.
Begin the onboarding process
After a candidate accepts an offer, it’s time to begin onboarding. Pilot roles typically involve more paperwork than many jobs and commonly involve a background check and waiting period while references are contacted and employment history is stringently verified.
During this process, you can better prepare your new pilot for their job by giving them access to all available resources, including safety and maintenance records and any information about specific aircraft or travel routes.
Where to find qualified pilots for hire
Aviation is a specialized career, and the pool of available pilots looking for work tends to be much smaller than many other professions. Looking for qualified pilots for hire can be challenging, but there are a variety of resources available that can make the task of pilot hiring easier.
Finding the best pilot candidates likely means turning to the best job posting sites for employers. Platforms such as ZipRecruiter can help you find qualified candidates quickly and easily. You can also post the job announcement on your company website or social media pages or search for skilled pilots through aviation websites, pilot associations and pilot schools.
How to hire pilots FAQ
How much do pilots make?
The amount pilots earn varies widely, as there are many different kinds of pilots and many different jobs, including some that are only seasonal or occasional. A freelance drone pilot may earn by the hour or per job. In contrast, helicopter pilot jobs tend to be among the most secure of commercial pilot jobs, as the skillset is highly specialized and in demand.
While the range of pilot salaries across the aviator profession varies depending on the specific role, the pilot's experience and the type of aircraft flown, piloting is one of the best-paying jobs in transportation. The median salary for professional aviators, including pilots, first and second officers and flight engineers, is just over $200,000 per year, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specialized pilots, helicopter pilots and those flying under or into dangerous conditions may expect to earn much more.
How much does it cost to hire a pilot?
The cost of hiring a pilot will depend on various factors, such as the type of aircraft they'll be flying, the pilot's resume, the experience level necessary for the job and how specialized or complex the specific job description may be. Total expenditures will also vary depending on how aggressively the search is conducted.
Contracting the services of outside pilot recruitment agencies may expedite the recruitment process, but may also add considerably to the cost of hiring a pilot. Specialized advertising can also be costly, but these considerations should be balanced against the costs of leaving a pilot role unfilled for an extended period.
If tackling the job in-house, knowing your best options for recruiting software can significantly help the recruitment process. Applicant tracking software is an excellent way to capture all the essential details about pilot applicants. While recruiting pilots is a more demanding hiring process than that in many other professions, leveraging techniques like the best practices for using an ATS can help level the playing field.
How many hours do pilots work?
The number of hours a pilot works will depend on the type of aircraft they are flying and their experience level, as well as any special circumstances of the role that may involve seasonal or special event work.
Generally speaking, pilots can expect to work an average of 75 hours each month, with an additional 100 to 200 hours spent on administrative tasks, planning and safety preparations.
At what age do pilots have to retire?
Summary of Money’s how to hire pilots
Hiring a pilot can be a time-consuming and challenging process, but a more in-depth understanding of the profession and the process of hiring a pilot will increase your chances of hiring a successful and qualified pilot right for the job.
Knowing the steps needed to hire a pilot and where to find qualified pilots looking for work can help identify the right kind of pilot for your needs.