Aviation: From Hobbyist to Career
The aviation industry is undergoing many changes at a rapid rate, and it’s an exciting time to transfer a passion or hobby regarding aviation into a career. It’s easy to assume that the only place this can happen is in the cockpit, but occupations abound for those who love the world of airplanes and aeronautics. No matter what kind of hobby you enjoy, it probably has an application in aviation.
Translating a hobby to a career might take some time, and those new to the industry usually work for at least a while for low wages. But with hard work, professionalism, and patience, it is possible begin to make inroads in working your dream job in aviation.
The rise of drones offers many new opportunities in aviation careers. More than just a fun hobby, the world of drones is a fast-growing one. Drones are used in military operations, the film and media industry, and many other applications. If you enjoy working with drones, you may have wondered if it’s possible to work as a drone operator.
As of 2016, the FAA requires drone pilots to obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate in order to operate their drones. Drones must also be registered with the FAA under Part 107. This involves learning the rules and regulations surrounding personal or commercial drone operation, and must be taken at an Airman Knowledge Testing Center. The courses required to complete the certificate usually run between $3,000 and $5,000, and you are not required to have a college degree to complete it.
Real estate and insurance companies, agricultural concerns, and energy interests all use drone pilots to gather information and monitor specific areas. Experienced drone pilots can make between $40,000 to $90,000 a year depending on the duration and complexity of their work. Those who offer specialized skills in such technical areas as thermodynamics can earn well into the six figures. As the technology behind drones continues to become more advanced, the drone industry will grow along with it.
What if you love to travel, but are short on funds and don’t have a lot of technical training? Those outside of the aviation industry assume that pilots and flight attendants enjoy free travel with the airline for which they work, but that’s not the whole story. Most full-time employees—such as ticket agents, ramp workers, and administrative staff—usually enjoy what’s called “non-revving.”
Non rev (short for non revenue) travel is a valuable benefit for those who choose to work for regional or major airlines. For those who work for regional airlines, non revenue travel is usually possible on the parent airline. When non-revving, employees are permitted to join a revenue flight for free as long as there is space in the cabin. While this is a tremendous money saver and can open the door to exciting travel adventures, space on a flight is not always guaranteed, and non-revvers attempting to reach their destination by a specific time are often frustrated by full flights, especially during holidays or high travel times.
Some airlines also permit company retirees to nonrev or fly at a heavily discounted rate. Others include the opportunity to distribute “buddy passes” to friends and family, which typically offers a flight for the price of the taxes on the ticket. Pilots and flight attendants who have completed background checks and security training are also normally permitted to ride on the cockpit jumpseat.
Jobs such as administrative work, customer service, marketing, and working as a ramp agent are just a few which might lead to travel benefits with an airline. These positions are usually on the lower end of the pay scale, but they can result in upward mobility in the company and provide strong job skills and experience for future careers.
If you have a way with words, you might be able to leverage this skill as a way into the aviation industry. All aspects of the airplane world—engineers, subcontractors, manufacturers, airlines, and even the FAA itself—are in need of technical writers to compile manuals, produce white papers, and assemble requests for proposals. On the legislative side, lobbyists and lawmakers are in need of people with strong communication skills.
Those with experience in journalism or marketing can become part of the aviation world in other ways. Aviation fans with an interest in history might find a home in one of the United State’s many flight museums. They might also help with marketing or working for news agencies that specialize in aviation updates or information.
Plane Following/Plane Spotting
Perhaps you’re fascinated by the action in the skies, and enjoy time at airport viewing sites, watching the airplanes come and go. Maybe you even pass some happy hours tracking flights, watching the nation’s air traffic controllers at work.
It’s an optimum time to turn these hobbies into careers. In past years, it was extremely difficult to become an air traffic controller. Controllers were expected to hold a bachelor’s degree and to have completed a specialized training program at one of a handful of FAA-approved colleges. They’d then take a difficult placement exam, and wait up to a year or more for a call that a position at the FAA training academy in Oklahoma City was available. This is no longer the case, and prospective air traffic controllers are now not only hired off the street, but work experience can be accepted in lieu of a college degree.
If you don’t fancy the life of an air traffic control, consider a career as a flight dispatcher. Dispatchers distill multiple streams of data into flight plans for captains and first officers. They then track the airplane while it is in flight and offer options to the pilots in the event of medical emergencies or severe weather. While training to become flight dispatchers, candidates learn about meteorology, air traffic control procedures, and FAA regulations. But with hard work, professionalism and patience, it is possible to begin to make inroads in working your dream job in aviation.