process of becoming a captain

12 Years Being a Pilot: Pros And Cons Of a Dream Job

Dear my Aviator,

I’m m now working for 12 years in the aviation industry and it is even over 14 years ago that I signed the contract with my former flight school to become a commercial pilot. I take this anniversary as an occasion to recap my time as a pilot. Even though my time as a pilot had a lot of ups and downs it is still a dream job for me. On my social media, everything might look perfect, but this job also has its downsides. Are you ready for the pros and cons of being a pilot?

But let’s start with a little aspect that annoys me about being a pilot. Security checks. As a private jet pilot, I had the privilege to skip security controls at many destinations. But as a commercial pilot you have to pass security like any other passenger with only a few exceptions.

Paris security staff treat pilots like a potential terrorist.

This is so ridiculous when you take into account that all crew members have a valid background check. Once they wanted to see my turmeric powder in my food bag. They tried to check it for liquid?! In the end, had to taste the spice in front of the security staff to prove that it is not an explosive. A waste of time and nerves but I decided to take it with humour from now on.

Flight school 👨🏼‍🏫

After I graduated high school I started right away preparing for the assessment to become a flight student for Lufthansa. I failed the first step of the selection process due to my extreme nervosity at that time.

Back then I was really sad about this but now I see it from a whole different perspective and I am actually happy that I failed the test.

I definitely took a more difficult way to become a pilot. The flight training was self-funded, which made me put so much effort into it so I would for sure succeed. There was no job guarantee after graduating from flight school. It was tough to start my aviation career as a first officer on a private jet. The “Lufthansa way” would have been the easy way but would not have made me the person and pilot I am today.

PRO: You have the time of your life with lots of studying and flying.

CON: No job guarantee with a self-funded training. There is a high risk of not getting a job and the waiting time can be extremely long. 

Pilot Licence 🎟

It is not an easy and inexpensive path to obtain the license to fly commercial airplanes. But in the end, it is “only” a license and not an occupational education nor a degree. Health restrictions could cause your inability to fly, thus you can not pursue your profession further. At least not in an actual cockpit. As a little back up I got a loss of license insurance which is a must for every pilot.

CON: If you lose your medical you lose your license and you cannot fly anymore. In case you did not study you are left without any education. With a contract, the airline pays for your training and keeps all ratings valid. In case of unemployment, you have to take care of it yourself which can get extremely costly. 

PRO: You fly yourself and you are in control of powerful machines. 

Salary 💸

The days of making a fortune as a pilot are over. A good availability of pilots on the market causes that working conditions and salaries to drop as it happens at moment due to the pandemic. Especially as a first pilot, the current time is not easy. My net salary was around 2800€ when I started in 2010. Luckily, I did not have to take a loan for the training, because my parents supported me. Imagine if have to pay back the costs of the license (70.000€) plus the type rating costs (20.000€) it would take ages and would not leave any money left to save.

The salary depends highly on which company you fly for, where you are based, which aircraft type you fly and how well you negotiate your salary.

There are a few pilot jobs out there in which you can make really good money. Especially in the business aviation on a private jet flying for an owner, you can easily earn 20,000€ as captain but those jobs are extremely rare and do not give you a lot of security.

PRO: A captain’s salary enables you to have a good life. But it is usually a long way to the left seat. 

CON: Pilot salaries differ greatly. Even “Pay to fly models” exist where pilots have to pay the airline to fly. You have to invest a lot and work hard to boost your income. When switching companies you lose your seniority or might even fly as first officer again. 

Job security 🦠

Aviation is a volatile business with great ups and downs. The pandemic has shown us how volatile. From one to the other day several ten thousand pilots got unemployed. You are dependent on the profitability of your airline. If an airline cannot cope with a crisis or suffers from bad management pilots are not needed anymore.

PRO: No office day is the same and you do not take any left work home. You can enjoy the good reputation of being a pilot and you get paid to look out of the window. 

CON: You are only needed as long there are flights and aircraft. This profession is highly specialized you can only fly aircraft and you are type rated on one special aircraft.

Social life and free time 🏄🏼

Do you have a social life? I have been getting asked this question many times. Of course, I do like everyone else.

But it requires good organization and planning to see friends and family.

You often have free time during the week when the majority of the people has to work and has no time. But one aspect I exceptionally like about the job is that you do not take any work home.

PRO: I have more than ten off days in a month. (German law requires a minimum of eight) Sometimes it is even half of the month that I am not working. Between duty days I can at least enjoy four off days in a row without taking leave. In which kind of job do you have this?

CON: You are not home. About half of the month you are not at home, so you will not be able to attend all family and friend events. It is not possible to attend weekly classes regularly like language or dancing classes. 

Layovers 🗺

In the past 12 years I have been to hundreds of different locations in Europe, North Africa, Middle East and Russia. As a private jet and as an airline pilot I am having layovers outside of my home base. The time I get to spend at one destination ranges from minimum rest (10 hours) up to two days. The destinations were varying all the time as a private jet pilot. I really liked the fact that I got to choose the crew hotel myself. You can imagine that I did not stay in the worst places. 😉

PRO: I have a fixed flight schedule and I know how much time I have at one destination. I can really use my rest time to do activities. (airline pilot)

CON: When the network is limited you get to stay at the same destination more often. (airline pilot)

Working hours ⏰

The pilot job has probably one of the most irregular working hours. Aviation does not know weekends or public holidays. There are some days you only have one flight and there are others you have up to five legs. Instead of four duty hours up to 16. Fortunately, I did not have to deal with jet lag, since I have been flying mostly within Europe. As a private jet pilot, I flew primarily during the day since VIPs do not like to get up early. As an airline pilot, I also got to fly at night, which is a lot of stress for your body and you have to fight against fatigue.

PRO: I like the irregular working hours. I do not have to get up at the same time every day. Some flying days are long some are short. The work remains on board and when I have off I have off.

CON: Due to the irregular working hours I have to take good care of my body. That is why I have a healthy diet and do regular body exercises to stay fit.

Crew life 🥳

Becoming a pilot means you become part of a big family. Crews all share the same passion which connects everyone easily. To guarantee a safe flight requires the crew to work in a team in a small environment. I think that is why you won’t find this energy and enthusiasm in other jobs. Crews take care of each other and support each other. The well being of each crew member ensures the safety of each flight. Nevertheless, there is a lack of diversity in aviation.

Especially in the cockpit, you will not find many members of the LGBTQ community.

I have met great, open-minded, and modern thinking pilots. Most of them belonged to the younger generation. Unfortunately, there is still a huge percentage of pilots that are not tolerant and have an old fashioned mindset when it comes to sexuality.

PRO: Colleagues can become friends. To share the flight experience and to spend the layover together is double the fun.

CON: During work, I am not staying at a nice location with my beloved once. It still remains work. Every crew member has their own daily routine so it happens that you only spend time together in the cockpit and the rest of the time everyone does their own thing. 

Upgrade 👨🏼‍✈️

One aspect I really love about my job is that you constantly need to learn to be the best pilot possible. Whether it is to improve your flying skills or to review system related knowledge. Aviation requires you to be up to date on new procedures and regulations. Even after flying an aircraft for thousands of hours, you will find out something new about it.

With the first day of your first officer career, you start your training to become a captain one day.

PRO: You never stop learning as a pilot. That is a really nice fact which makes this job so interesting.

CON: Switching companies means you lose your seniority. So you usually have to fly as first officer again even though you flew as captain before. Becoming a captain can take up to 10 years.

What would I have done differently?

I would have done everything exactly the same, except one point. Before starting with the flight training, I would have studied to get a degree or at least studied in parallel to the flight school. Keep this in mind when deciding to become a commercial pilot.

Which downside would you like the least? Please let me in a comment below and do not forget to like this blog post. 

Happy landings!

Your Pilot Patrick


differences between Captain and First Officer

What are the differences between Captain and First Officer?

Dear Aviator,

you cannot imagine how bad I feel that I have neglected my blog for a while. Lately my travels kept me very busy, therefore my productivity went doen. This fact and the packing are the two things I dislike most about traveling.  

Are you ready for another aviation related blog post? You probably have  questioned yourself what is really the difference between a captain and first officer. How many times have I heard people saying: "Ah you are the captain now, so you are finally allowed to fly the airplane!" In this blog post I will share with you the four major differences between Captain and First Officer.

 

Appearance

Age is not an indicator of whether a pilot is a Captain or First Officer. I have flown with First Officers who were almost double my age. Have a look at the number of stripes of the pilot uniform.  Three stripes stand for First Officer and four for Captain. In genral, the higher the number of stripes, the higher is the rank.

Sometimes you might spot two stripes on a pilot uniform. This is a Junior First Officer who is either still in training or has not reached a certain hours flown. You might have also seen  three stripes with a really thick one. This stands for a Senior First Officer. This pilot is very expereicend  and he/she can fly from the left seat during cruise flight when the captain is taking a break on long-range flight for exampl. Speaking about the seat position. The Captain is seated in the left side whereas the First Officer in the right. These positions must not be interchanged. However, Captains can receive a right seat check out (additional training required) which allows them to fly from the left as well.

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Check out my YouTube channel PilotPatrick for more exciting videos about my trips around the world!

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Duties

How many times have I heard people say: "Ah you are the Captain, so you are finally the real pilot!" What was I before an unreal or fake pilot?! Both crew members regardless of their rank can be called pilots.

This might surprise you: Captains fly their aieplane as much as First Officers. Before each flight the crew decides how is PF (pilot Flying) or PNF (Pilot not flying or pilot monitoring). The PF controls the plane, performs the take-off, controls the autopilot in cruise flight and does the landing. The PNF fills the flight log, communicates with air traffic control (ATC) and supports the PF. Usually, I leave the choice to my First Officers which role they would like to perform. The answer is always the same when the weather is bad or it is getting late: I prefer to do the next flight ;-)

There are cases where the Captain determines that he or she wants to fly due to weather or other special reasons. Addtionally, the there are some circumstances  in which the First Officer is not allowed to fly. (more in detail at a later point)

So why doesn't the Captain fly the whole time?

  • Fatigue is better distributed if both pilots fly.
  • First Officers gain experience they will need as captains.
  • Flying is not always the best use of the Captain's experience, training and time. In cases of abnormal issues such as a system malfunction, it may be better for the Captain not to be tied up flying. That way he/she  can concentrate and coordinate the appropriate actions.

The major difference is that the captain always has the responsibility. From the time the Captain boards the plane until he/she leaves the plane again (no matter who is flying!!!), the Captain is responsible for the flight and is in command of it. The First officer is the second in command.

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Operational Procedures

The commercial operation of an aeroplane requires a high level of standarization. Guidelines, regulations, limitations and procdues on how to operate an aircraft are written in the opertional manuals. This grants a high level of safety and allows a new crew composition to fly with each other since they follow the prescibed operational procedures.

It is the job of the Captain to taxi the aircraft on ground due to the fact that the tiller (steering wheel of the nose gear) is mounted only on one side of the cockpit. The Airbus A300-600 has also a tiller on the First Officer side. This feautre does not automatically grant the First Officer to taxi as well. Most airlines follow a philosophy that it should be only the Captain taxing since he/she is responsible of the aircraft. An outdated philosophy since one day the First Officer becomes a Captain without any practice taxing.

Coming back to the cases in which the First Officer is NOT allowed to fly:

  • Takeoffs below 400m runway visual range (RVR).
  • CAT 2/3. when the weather is below CAT1 which means in most cases an RVR of less than 550m with a decision height of 200m.

To sum it up: Everytime it gets more challenging it the Captains task to fly , because he/she is trained to operate in low visibilty (LOVIS) and usually has more expierence.

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Money

The topic that everyone is most curious about. Moneywise there is a big difference in the salary of a Captain and a First Officer. To have the entire responsibility for a multi-million Euro jet, the lives of the passengers and the rest of the crew, a Captain gets paid extra. A safe flight depends on the ultimate judgement and decision making of the Captain. As a general rule you can say that a Captain makes about 50% more than a First officer. So if a First Officer makes about 60,000€ a captain makes at least 90,000 €. It can be also more than double or even more than that if company affliliation is a longer or when a Captain has additional tasks and responsibilites (eg. instructor).

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Which question about aviation would you like to have answered next? Let me know in a comment below and don’t forget to like my blog about the differences between Captain and First Officer. 

Safe travels and happy landings!

Your PilotPatrick

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busting aviation myths and answering your top questions

Busting aviation myths and answering your top questions

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Hello my Aviator,

time flies! My blog is now online for already one year. It has been an exciting journey to share my adventures, tips and travels with you. At an early stage, I noticed that you are interested in more than just cool photos and videos on my Instagram. Therefore I launched www.pilotpatrick.com. The biggest motivation is you, my Aviators. I am not only an inspiration for you but also you are an inspiration for me. To celebrate the anniversary of my blog I will give away an original A380 model of Airbus. Additionally, I will answer the most common questions. On top, I will bust some myths about pilots and aviation in general.

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Oh! You are only the First Officer. When will you fly the plane?

I love to hear this statement. Imagine all First Officers would not be allowed to fly. How are they supposed to become a captain one day without having the experiences of flying an aircraft? Before each flight, the decision is made which duties each pilot has. This is split apart in Pilot flying (PF) and Pilot not flying (PNF). PNF means to do the radio communication and to support the PF in his task of flying. The responsibility has the commander at all times even when the first officer is operating the aircraft. The first officer is allowed to take off and land the aircraft like the captain from the beginning on. Restrictions apply when the weather is marginal or other circumstances like special airports require the commander to fly.

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Boeing 747-800 of Lufthansa in Frankfurt (FRA)

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Can travel the world for free as a pilot!

I wish I could! In my past seven years as a pilot, I paid for all my flight tickets the regular price. So far I never had the privilege of staff traveling. It would be great to have the possibility to book ID tickets. This way I would be even more spontaneous to travel to new places. The fare is much cheaper than the regular ticket price. For example, a flight in Business class from Germany to New York (round trip) would only be around 500€. The tickets are only standby so there is the risk of not getting a seat, but on the other hand, they grant you great flexibility.

As a pilot, I have to commute to my home base and the location of the aircraft a lot. Especially during my time as a private jet pilot, I traveled with airlines a lot. For those flights, I am wearing my uniform as well. Most of the time I can use the fast track at security checks or I get free drinks and food on board. I even have been upgraded to Business Class several times. Aviation is like a big family and crews help each other out and make traveling as much as comfortable as possible.

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You are a pilot. You must have good eyes!

Contrary to popular belief, you can fly commercial aircraft wearing glasses or contact lenses, as long as your vision is correctable to 20/20. For the initial Medical class examination, you have to meet a lot of different requirements. In case you are wearing glasses, they need to be in the cockpit and you also need a to bring a spare one. Each year you have to revalidate your examination and proof that your vision is unchanged.

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Pilots earn a fortune! What do you do with all that money!

Pilots make a fortune and for their job, they get paid too much. This is not correct! Especially the first years as a first officer are not paid well. For example, I started as a private jet pilot and for a full-time contract, my wage was 2,800€ a month. I would not consider this a fortune! A big benefit of being a pilot is the extra allowances. I get paid extra for being a way from my home base. Some of the surcharges are tax-free, so it helps to boost the net salary. Just so you know in Germany you have to pay about 50% tax on your salary.

Over the last years, a lot of airlines practiced some kind of loan „dumping“. To be able to offer cheaper flight tickets and to be more competitive they save on the costs of staff. There has been an oversupply of pilots for a long time and that is why companies reduced the salary of their crews. They even developed a „pay to fly" models, which means that the pilot pays for his work and not the employer the employee. I also know about a pilot of a big German charter company, who still lives at home with her parents because she can not afford moving out. With the upgrade to a captain, the world can look different. Most of the times the salary is almost doubled.

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Welcome to my office!

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Do aircraft have a horn?

I alway thought they do not have a horn but they actually do. But this horn is not used to alert other aircraft, it is used to inform the ground crew that the cockpit asks for communication. In the Airbus this button is called „Mechanic call“. Once the engines are operating you will not be able to hear this horn anymore. The private jet I used to fly did not have this feature.

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What do you do during a long flight?

My longest flight so far was from Teneriffa to London. We had a strong headwind and the aircraft was heavy. The flight was almost 5 hours and this is about the maximum the Citation XLS can do. This flight felt like an eternity because there is not much space in the cockpit. Honestly, I do not know what pilots do when they fly 10 hours straight. On short flights below one hour, you are busy from the beginning to the end of the flight. In cruise flight, the workload is really low. The auto pilot flies the aircraft and the crew monitors the systems. The PNF (Pilot Flying) fills out the flight plan and does fuel checks. The PF (Pilot Flying) checks the weather en route and of the destination. Besides such tasks, I fill out my pilot log book, eat, drink read and take some short snaps for you.

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What do your three golden stripes mean?

The stripes state the rank of a crew member. Three stripes are for first officer and four for captains. At some airlines, first officers also fly with two stripes to indicate their junior status. There is no difference between gold and silver!

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Below the wing of an Airbus A300

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How did you become a pilot and how much did the training costs?

At the European flight academy, formerly called Intercockpit, I became a flight student in 2008. I chose an integrated route which is a full-time course othat takes a student from complete beginner to a position of becoming a pilot at an airline. The course was really intensive at there was not much free time in between practical and theoretical flight training. The training facility organized everything for you and provided you with a monthly schedule. The theoretical phases were quite enduring, which made the practical flight phases even more exciting.

The ground courses took place in Frankfurt and my flight training in Florida and in Croatia. Even though the time was quite stressful and paired with a lot of pressure, I had one of my best times in my life. Already after 18 months, I completed the training. Like everything in aviation, flight training is expensive too. In total, I paid 64,000€ to the flight school. (This did not include housing transport administration fees at the authorities) In case you are interested in an extended version of how I became a pilot, I suggest to read my series on this blog.

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Do pilots sleep during flight?

The simple answer is yes. Certainly not on all flights. In pilot terms, sleeping is called controlled rest, which is taken in the operating seat. Of course only one pilot at the time. This procedure has been proven to improve safety because it improves alertness. The idea behind is that a pilot gets a sleep up to 30 minutes like a power nap and to be more fit afterwards! 

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Do aircraft have a key like a car?

Smaller aircraft do big once do not. The Citation XLS+ has a regular lock and I had a key for every aircraft in the company. You probably think that those were super fancy for a 12,000,000€ private jet. It actually looks like a simple key of a locker. The major reason why smaller aircraft or business jet has a lock is that you could enter the aircraft from the ground without any aids. On a big airliner, the picture looks different since the door is so high up that it is sufficient to remove the stairs to guarantee that no unauthorized personnel gets access.

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Give away of an original A380 model of Airbus (1:400)

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To celebrate the first anniversary of my blog, I am giving away an Airbus A380 model in the size of 1:400.

To have the chance to win the model you need to:

  • Be a follower either on my Instagram/ Facebook
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I am looking forward to sharing my adventures as a pilot. Good luck and happy landings!

Your Pilot Patrick

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