For pilots looking to make a career out of flying, logging flight time becomes something of an obsession. Everything is measured against it, and an hour in the air becomes more valuable than many other things.
You could become a flight instructor. It's a flying job that's always in demand. But not everyone wants to, and even instructors are on the lookout for alternative ways to get a few hours. Is it possible to build hours without playing the CFI game? Here's a look at a few fun ways to get a few extra hours in your logbook.
Rent a Plane and Take a Long Trip
If you've got the time and money, take a rental plane on a long cross country. Try a coast-to-coast adventure, or maybe visit a big city you've never been to. Are there any scenic areas nearby you've always wanted to fly over? If you take a pilot friend with you, you can divide the trip into legs. Airplanes are designed to travel, after all. So go traveling!
Get a New Flight Rating
Getting a new endorsement or rating is a great way to put some hours in your logbook and to stay current. If you're due for a flight review anytime soon, a new certificate or rating resets the clock. Some pilots like to collect ratings and endorsements just for the fun experience of flying different aircraft types.
There's a bunch of training experiences you can get in just a few hours of flying. You'll learn something new, see something different, and add a few hours in your book in the process. Get wet with your seaplane rating, or try your hand at hovering a chopper. Tick the box on that high-performance or taildragger endorsement you've always wanted. Once you start looking around, there's a ton of different things you can try.
Maybe one of the best things about this approach is getting to do some networking in the process. Finding a new training niche means a new instructor and maybe a different airport. The aviation community is small and close-knit, so the more people you can go out and meet, the better the opportunities that will come your way later.
Join a Flying or Pilot Club
Many parts of the country have active flying clubs. Some own planes that are offered to members are outstanding rates. Just being in the club is worth it, though, because you'll get to meet other pilots needing flight time. Opportunities always flow from these encounters. Someone needs their plane moved across the state, or they need you to pick them up at a different airport.
If there are no clubs in your area, grab a Pilot2Pilot.com membership so you can meet new pilots in your area and hopefully start flying together.
Fly for a Charity
Charities are great ways to build flight time. Some will reimburse you for your expenses, meaning that it can also be one of the cheapest in some circumstances. Organizations are using planes and volunteer pilots all over the country for patient transport, medical, animal rescue, conservation, public benefit, and educational flights.
One such organization is Patient Airlift Services [PALS], a medical transport charity that matches pilots with medical patients who need to be flown to treatment facilities. Built on a similar concept, Pilots N' Paws gets rescued shelter animals to their forever homes by connecting pilots with animals in need. There are dozens of other charities worldwide, do some internet searches and ask around to see who is active at your home airport.
Safety Pilot Gigs
Hanging around the local FBO is a great way to find some flight hours. Some are paid gigs, and some aren't; you can legally log some, and others you cannot. But it's all a great experience, and just meeting like-minded people is usually more than enough reason to hang out.
There are many pilots out there who just don't like to fly alone. Some pilots own high-performance planes, like Barons, Twin Commanders, or King Airs, and use them to commute between homes. With their family in the back, they seldom enjoy sitting in the cockpit all alone, even if these planes are single-pilot approved.
That's the perfect in-road for a time-building pilot. All you usually have to do is handle the radios and maybe set up the FMS. It's a learning experience, you can share the workload a little with the owner, and all you're doing is acting as a safety pilot.
If you don't have time to hang around the local FBO, consider a Pilot2Pilot.com membership so you can meet new pilots in your area who don't want to fly alone.
Alternative Jobs for Commercial Pilots
You can do most of these things without a commercial pilot certificate. But most people who want to build flight time already have their CPL, so let's look at some of the pilot jobs that are out there other than becoming a CFI.
Commercial pilots can fly for Part 91 operators, and in some instances, work as copilots in Part 135 operations. These jobs are less limited than you might imagine. Here are just a few ideas to get you thinking.
- Take tourists on scenic flights
- Fly aerial photographers
- Take skydivers up
- Tow gliders
- Tow advertising banners
- Fly Part 135 cargo or passengers flights as second officer, usually starting with smaller, local companies
- Conduct survey flights
- Become a ferry pilot and move planes as needed
- Work in aircraft sales for a broker or dealer
Building flight hours doesn't have to be formulaic and boring. You can fine-tune where and when you get your hours. Probably the only constant is keeping your eyes peeled for opportunities and never saying "no."