Depending on your career choice in aviation, a typical day can change very dramatically. It’s almost like there are many different careers inside of the career of an aviation professional. Let me begin with the most common, the commercial airline pilot.
The Airline Pilot
If the pilot has a base close to home, this will involve packing up the vehicle with enough clean laundry and supplies, pens, headset batteries, and personal items to last the duration of the pairing they have been assigned. Typically a pilot will work a block of days, sleeping in a hotel each night, until that pairing is over.
The arrival at the airport is planned so you can be at the gate about an hour prior to your first departure. Once arriving at the airport, your vehicle gets parked in crew parking which is typically farther away than paying passengers. After walking inside the terminal, we will go through security like everyone else, but it is a more streamlined process for flight crews, we skip passenger lines and have a separate screening area typically.
After getting airside, we head over to our gate and meet the other pilot you’ll be flying with, as well as the flight attendants. Our bags are taken into the plane shortly after and we begin to set the airplane up. On the first flight of the day, an Auxillary Power Unit (APU) will be started to provide power and heating or cooling to the plane to make it comfortable for our passengers. Flight plans are loaded as the flight computer is programmed and the crew will begin running checklists.
Once the plane and crew are prepared for departure, a gate agent will be notified and the crew will begin to receive passengers. The pilots typically get a bit of a chance to know each other here before they end up in operations together. A bit of a coffee break.
The plane loaded with people and bags, we push back from the gate and begin our first flight. Depending on the day, this usually happens a few times. Planes make money flying people places so minimal time on the ground is the goal. There is typically very little time between offload and reloading before the plane is back up in the sky. The second meal of the day is most likely enjoyed while in cruise to the next destination.
Upon completion of the days’ pairings, the crew will get a shuttle ride to a hotel, check-in, and be put on rest. This gives us time to grab a meal, shower, and hopefully connect with family before calling it a night, only to be doing the same thing the next day.
The Corporate Pilot
The corporate pilot typically doesn’t have a schedule, it’s more of a notification of a flight type of system. They most often live close to the airport and are at home until a flight comes in. While on days off you are still free to go where you want, but on active possible flight days, you’re required to be dispatch ready in about an hour depending on client needs.
The pilots typically have a ready bag packed and by the door. Anything they need to be away for a week is in the bag. Once called for a flight, they will usually check the weather, order fuel, and plan the trip. This may include fuel stops, rental cars or booking a hotel that their client prefers.
Upon arrival at the airport, they go to the general aviation side, which has different security standards. Their pass will allow them to open gates to go directly airside, typically assisting with pulling the plane out of a hangar, and ensuring all items required for flight are loaded, fuel, oil, covers, plugs etc.
They too will power up the plane with an APU to make it comfortable for the clients. When receiving the clients, the pilots will help load the bags, and ensure guests are comfortable. Unlike an airline pilot, as soon as the parties arrive, the flight gets underway immediately. Pilots usually work together and know one another well.
When arriving at the destination, the crew will ensure the plane is again looked after for the duration of the stay before heading on their way to a hotel. Here the pilots end up with free time wherever they are staying, anywhere from a single night to a couple of weeks. The client decides. You’re free to explore most of the time unless there is uncertainty about the next departure.
Once the trip is over, you’ll plan your way back home or onto the next destination. Planning all things like customs, transportation, and catering or just overseeing it to make sure your clients have a pleasant experience every time is paramount. After returning home, you’ll typically get a block of days off until the next planned event.
The Float Pilot
This career is something totally different, especially if you live in a place where the lakes freeze. If not, a float pilot can have a career much like an airline pilot, but be home every night. If they work in a climate where the lakes freeze for winter, they often entertain 2 careers, floats in summer, and maybe ski flying in winter.
Float pilots often live away from home at a base for a large duration of months. They begin their flying day by being a jack of all trades, fueling their own, loading their plane, planning, docking the plane, and everything in between. The advantage to this career is the great outdoors. You’ll see a bunch of the untouched places left on this planet.
Long hours, hard days are the norm. You’ll get chunks of time off maybe once a season for some much-needed rest and relaxation, but for the most time, you will maximize every duty hour. It’s a year condensed.
The Medevac Pilot
The medevac pilot has a much more block type of schedule, 7 days on, 7 days off type scheduling. When on their days on, the medevac pilot lives in a crew house with the other pilots they fly with. Crews work much like a fire hall. Community kitchen and facilities.
Their day begins with a large-scale weather brief for the area they operate in. You never know where or when you need to operate, just what the boundaries are. Preparing for just about anything inside that area is crucial. Airplanes are confirmed ready for dispatch by each new crew to make sure they can depart at a moment’s notice.
While not on a mission, crews play games, drink coffee, and do just about anything but must remain around for the shift. When the phone rings and a trip comes in, pilots will check airport weather, and make sure they can execute the mission. Medical teams are boarded, and the flight is underway.
At the arrival, pilots will help with the offload and plan for the next leg of the flight to drop off the patient. Coordinating medical services is relayed to the dispatch center based on your eta, accurate flight planning is important, someone’s health is involved. After the patient is offloaded, the airplane will return to base, if not already there, and be restored to the ready state.
The Instructor Pilot
A flight instructor has a pretty nice advantage with scheduling, they get to pretty much decide what days and when they want to work, as long as it works with the students. This job is an entry-level pilot job that will likely be the same place the pilot got their license.
The day begins by helping remove airplanes from storage and getting the apron set up for the day of flying. Instructors will begin by briefing their students based on their training records and performance. They supervise the walk-around of the aircraft, then head out with the student for the flight lesson. Flight durations are typically around 1 hour, ending with a debrief and an update to pilot records.
During the time between dual lessons, flight instructors will sign out solo students, and monitor their progress. This ensures the student makes the most out of their airplane time and gets value from their flight hours. Lessons and briefings continue until all of the days’ flight students are done.
The Aerial Applicator Pilot
Another high load seasonal job, most of these pilots work long hard days in the summer months and take the winter off. The day starts early, usually very close to home, these pilots will arrange their chemical and fuel loads for the day with dispatch and start out shortly after first light.
After their airplane is loaded with the chemical and fuel needed for their trip, they will fly to the destination, begin to do perimeter and obstacle passes then program the GPS while spraying. This ensures chemical and time is not wasted during application.
This job is extremely active, there is no autopilot, this pilot operates close to the ground, starts very heavily loaded, and dodges obstacles all day. High attention and maneuvering are always on the go in this position. After some experience, pilots get into a rhythm and get more efficient. Some get bored of going back and forth and don’t make it a long-term fit, while others enjoy the sharpness and demand and make a business out of it.