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What's it all about, Alfie?

Just cruisin'

Sometimes, younger folks ask me how to go about gettin' into the flyin' biz.  Hmmm.  Well, just exackly which flyin' biz are we talking about here?  There's the corporate flying biz, the design, manufacturing and test flying biz (like Boeing, Cessna etc), the flight instruction biz, the piloting/airplane maintenance biz, the airline biz, the bush flyin' biz, ag- flying biz, military flying etc.  Lotsa different kinds of flying and lots of them are all intertwined and mixed up together. 
Life just never seems to be as simple as it looks on TV or what they told us in school.
When I was a kid I always did exactly what I wanted to do.  Still do.  I don't mean I was pampered by my parents (or anybody else) or given all I asked for, far from it.  I've just always been a bit of an independent sort who's always followed his own path.  I've never understood why anyone would do something just because somebody else said they should, or could, especially you had to beg for it, or if it was couched in terms of a "favor," as in "I'll give (big favor) you a job (slave stuff) so you can work at wholesale while I sell your efforts at retail."  Or something like that.  Of course, there are lots of good jobs out there.  But lots of "work" is just slave stuff for an uncaring massah, sometimes that's all you can get if you haven't prepared yourself, sometimes the world goes south.  Sometimes it can get a bit lonely out there on the range.  Still, No Thanks, don't need no McJob.  Sometimes greed takes over at the expense of the rest of us--see Great Recession, continuous layoffs, retirement fund thefts, no medical coverage, "globalization" etc, big bonus for CEO.  But not always.  Life really is what you make of it.  You can make your dreams come true--but it may take a while.  Sometimes there are opportunities staring you in the face, sometimes life can work out even better than you hope--sometimes the job is what you really want to do.  Education and experience are what you need to help you avoid the slave stuff on the way to finding the path that will take you to where you want to go.  Get all you can.  Keep your powder dry and your eyes open.  Don't do stupid things like drop into default mode--and don't give up no matter what.
Anyway, that's the way I've always approached life and the flyin' biz, a bit headstrong, trying to make my own way.  That's not to say I've never "worked" for others.  Flipped many burgers, dipped many fries.  It means I always had goals of my own, that "working" has always been a means to an end, an "end" of my own design and making.  I've always wanted and liked to be independent.  Maybe that's not what you want.  There are many paths open.  It just depends on what you want, how you prepare and what comes along.
The military (money, actually, yours and mine) has always been the driving force behind aviation.  Once, I wanted to be a military engineering test pilot (see my blog about Scott Crossfield), the guy in the pointy end, making first flights into new territory.  So I studied all of the engineering sorts of things in school--for a while.  School just wasn't what I thought I wanted or needed--I got bored, disgusted and discouraged.  I lost my footing and fell into default mode--sometimes growing up does that to you.  I quickly realized I didn't have and wasn't going to get all of the "right stuff" needed to be the hero I'd read about and watched on TV--and especially not unless I took the military route.  No degree, no military flying etc. etc.  Ooops!!  Screwed up on that one!!  Ouch!  And education wasn't the only thing I needed--engineering test flying is only available to a select few with highly specialized training and experience and I realized I wouldn't make the cut.  It takes specialized training and experience in both engineering and flying--things you don't get just anywhere or overnight to get into the engineering test flying biz--the NBA, NFL and World Series of the flyin' biz.  Only a very few make the grade, only the very best with the absolute best resumes.  Viet Nam convinced me the US government and its military may not always be the arm of righteousness I was led to expect, even if the military did offer some fantastic training and experiences for some.  (Likewise Iraq.)  The Arab Oil Embargo and the decade-long econimic slump that followed didn't help, either.  It killed opportunities for airline flying, too, though that was never what I wanted to do.  But I made a big mistake:  I became discouraged.  I didn't give up, but I learned very quickly that you can't do everything yourself, on your own terms--sometimes you have to do what others want in order to get the opportunities you've dreamed of, sometimes you need a little help from folks you hope will become your friends.  I was just too stubborn.  It took way too long to get over that (ha ha!) and I had to pay a pretty big price.  But you know what?  Sometimes you just have to follow your own road and I don't regret anything.
So it goes.  So I left that one behind.  So long, mach 6.  Oh, well.
After a few years wandering in the wilderness, I finally found the path I've pretty well stuck to ever since:  flight instruction and airplane horse trading.  I'm good at it, I like it.  I'll never get rich (fine by me), but I have control of my life and enjoy what I do.  Along the way I also worked as a land surveyor (still do--as an "independent" in that biz, too, but mostly just as winter time fill in when the flyin' gets a little slow).  That's how I earned the money to provide for my family and pay for learning to fly.  I mix the two so I can live at a relaxed pace doing what I'm good at and enjoy.  The contrast between the two means I never get bored and it never gets monotonous.  I'm always busy and I like the variety.  Lucky for me, my wife is an extremely patient woman--big smoocherinos to you, sweetie pie!  (Plus, she has a good job--sometimes there's nothing like having a good insurance policy!)
HSAT, I realize that when people ask about getting into the flying biz what they really mean is the airliner piloting biz.  That's actually a pretty straight-forward proposition:  training plus experience, and timing, are important here, too.  But its changing, probably for the better.  Even if we're still trying to dig out from theGreat Recession, things are starting to pick up and soon the flyin' biz will be better than ever.
First, like anything, get all of the education you can.  Always better to be over-qualified--your range of options expands to suit your training.  Get all of the flying experience you can.  Usually, that means getting the ratings and then instructing for a while to get some experience.  Fly charter, take a corporate job.  Most of my life the airlines had the luxury of government regulated semi-monopolies, so they always made money and could afford to pay their pilots very well.  Not any more.  Stupidity, greed, CEO dreams of monopoly and government foolishness (more greed) put the airlines in very difficult straits.  There have been huge cuts in the number of pilots and pay.  But things are changing.  The airlines have been in the midst of wholesale restructuring for many years, Wall Street Monopoly-style.  Takeovers and various financial shenanigans are SOP these days.  Those days aren't over, but there is a bright light on the horizon.  The post Great Recession slump has finally hit bottom and the flyin' biz is going to explode like never before.
The demand for air travel keeps expanding and that means more pilots.  Boeing's new 787 is the most successful new airplane launch in history because there is such huge pent-up demand from the traveling public and the airlines.  Boeing just upped its forecasts for the number of airplanes the airlines are going to need.  Airbus and lots of new players are selling all the airplanes they can build, too.  Order backlogs are stacked up for years.  Every one of those new airplanes is going to need a new pilot (or two), too.
The military doesn't do much training any more--they just don't have that many airplanes and usually can keep the pilots they have--so that  isn't the opportunity it used to be or the source for airline pilots it used to be.
But its a little different now:  9-11 and the subsequent security check froo-fra means air travel isn't very fun or glamorous any more.  Big bus airliners aren't very pleasant to ride in.  Business travelers waste huge amounts of time standing in line and going to "hub" cities far from their real destinations.  All that traffic into a few cities mean lots of delays.  Then you have to take a "feeder" or "commuter" to get to where you really want to go.  That is putting a lot of pressure on the smaller airplane airlines to expand.  It means the boss would rather have his own airplane.  That's why there are so many new biz jets and Very Light Jets coming on the market.  The charter biz is expanding.  Everybody is gonna need pilots.
Soon the demand for pilots will be greater than it has been at any time ever.  Every airline at every level will be hiring.  Majors and mid-levels, feeders and corporates, commuters, charters will all be expanding.  Pay is going to go up.  When Very Light Jets start rolling off the production lines every CEO in the country is going to want one for his own personal use.  That's part of the reason the airlines are bad-mouthing bizjets and pressing Congress to start charging "user" fees for non-airline flying--to make non-airline flying less attractive and more expensive compared to airline flying, to take some of the financial pressure off the airlines so they can make more money at the expense of non-airlines (more monopoly stuff).  Nevertheless, there will be a huge surge in demand for corporate pilots and the pay is going to go up, too.  The airline monopoly on travel is coming to an end and every airport is going to have a fleet of corporate jets needing pilots. 
Nobody will choose to ride the bus if they can take the limo.
So, get at it!  Get all the education you can.  Get an A&P license, try flight instruction, charter and corporate flying.  You don't get to the top of the mountain in a single step, but, hey!--somebody's gotta do it!  Why not you?  You CAN do it.  One foot ahead of the other, one step at a time.  There is more to life and flying than the airlines.  It's a whole new world out there and its waiting for you!  Don't let anybody (not even yourself) tell you you can't live your dreams--GO FOR IT!!!!
Open sesame!

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