How to get low hour pilot jobs in 2024 – Your first pilot job

Landing your first pilot job as a low hour pilot is one of the biggest challenges we all face. Find out how YOU can get your first job as a pilot.

Landing your first pilot job is one of the biggest challenges we all face. Having low hours puts you in a difficult position, and can make it tough to get your first paying job as a pilot, but it is definitely possible – I did it, so have many others, and so can you. With the right strategy, hard work, and persistence you will eventually get your first job, and feel the accomplishment of hitting a big milestone as a professional aviator.

Make no mistake, there are low-hour pilot jobs available, and we’ve found the places for you to look for one.

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How many hours do you need to get a pilot job?

How to get low hour pilot jobs, Pilot flying hours, pocket watch
Flight time and experience are two of the most important aspects when considering which pilot job to go for

The number of flight hours you have will be a big factor in determining what aircraft you get paid to fly, here are some rough numbers for what a general aviation (GA) career progression could look like

  • 200-300: VFR light single-engine piston ie Cessna 172
  • 300-1,000: VFR Heavy single-engine piston ie Cessna 210
  • 1,000+: IFR single-engine Turboprop ie Cessna Caravan
  • 1,000+ IFR Light piston twin ie Beechcraft Baron
  • 1,500+: IFR twin ie Cessna 406,
  • 2,000+: IFR high performance turboprop ie Beech King Air or Pilatus PC-12

Past 2,000 hours, you will generally require an ATPL license for flying as a pilot in command of an aircraft above 5700kg doing regular passenger transport RPT services. Second in command (copilots) only require a CPL, but airlines may have additional requirements. Pilots typically start these operations with regional airlines flying aircraft such as the SAAB Metroliner, Dash-8 or ATR.

With further experience, one can then progress into the major airlines flying jetliners domestically such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, and then internationally flying aircraft such as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A340 or A380.

This is really just a guide though, and as always there are exceptions to the rule. Progression is normal, and savvy pilots will choose to apply and work for operators with a larger fleet that has different aircraft types that allow for progression within the company – this may accelerate your progression to captaincy on larger and more complex aircraft.

Be Realistic

Be realistic about what you apply for. There is no point in applying for a job with the major airlines if you are a bare-bones commercial pilot license graduate with 200 hours. It’s typically not going to happen – unless you manage to score a Cadetship or other specialist graduate entry scheme. These do happen infrequently, and it is worth researching individual companies and reaching out to their HR departments to ask for more information.

For the majority of pilots, however, getting your first job is part of the natural progression through increasingly complex General Aviation machines on your way to the big jets.

There are awesome stories of young pilots scoring great jobs flying in the corporate jet sector as copilots (Second in Command) from the 1,000 hour mark, so it’s worth considering these types of roles and throwing your hat in the ring, even if you don’t meet minimum hour requirements

Qualifications to consider getting

two pilots in cockpit checking paperwork
Getting the necessary qualifications can you stand out from the crowd

The next consideration for what type of pilot jobs you can get is your qualifications. Some pilots spend a lot of money getting a lot of qualifications at the start of their careers, but this is not necessarily the best or most efficient way to tackle the problem. There are some basic qualifications that you’ll need, and there is an optimum time to get them.

License type

If your goal is the airlines, then you will require at minimum a Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) and eventually need an Airline Transport Pilots Licence (ATPL). In my opinion, it’s worth having at least the required ground school and exams for the ATPL completed if you can bear it. A competent and astute pilot can knock these over easily in as little as two months, but a more attractive option for most is to study these part-time during your initial few jobs.

Whilst putting it off might seem like a good idea, it’s going to be a large distraction while you’re trying to learn the ropes of your new flying job(s), and something you will likely have to ask for time off to complete. This means it’s very easy to procrastinate and rationalize putting them off. If you are truly committed to your goal, then completing the exams is a relatively small amount of effort compared to getting your first pilot job

Flying ratings and endorsements you might want to get

Whilst not required for many initial jobs, having completed certain flight ratings and endorsements can be very useful to have up your sleeve; especially if you plan to progress within a company that operates a varied fleet, or onto a new employer altogether.

Single engine vs multi-engine

Multi-engine flying is not something you will likely do until after 6-12 months of your initial role. The best use of funds would be to concentrate on single-engine flying, but keep enough savings to complete a multi-engine endorsement if required. If you’re applying to a potential employer that operates a mixed fleet of single and multi-engine aircraft, however, an initial multi or multi-engine command instrument rating may be the key to a foot in the door.

I would recommend you complete the following as part of your initial pilot training, mostly for the sake of your own competency and safety reasons;

Other qualifications to get

The following suggested relevant qualifications may assist you in getting your commercial pilot certificate, and certain ones such as a medical and security clearance are required for all roles.

  • Drivers license
  • Specialist license: forklift, loader, etc
  • First aid certificate
  • Police check
  • Drug and alcohol awareness certification, as well as a clear test result
  • FBI or relevant security check (validity period applies)
  • Aviation medical (validity period applies )
  • Working with children/under age minors check

Secondary and tertiary qualifications

These qualifications are by no means necessary but may be able to put you ahead of the crowd. Certain employers like the airlines or the military may impose minimum education requirements such as high school maths and physics, but a tertiary college education is generally not required. Many are of the opinion that it is better to get out there and start practically flying and learning your trade, rather than spending three or four years at a tertiary institute learning theoretical aspects of aviation.

What Flying experience do you need to get an aviation job?

Flying experience is a big factor when applying for a job, second only to the base qualification requirement for the jobs. Generally speaking, more flying experience is good. Having more flying hours in your logbook opens up the door to more job opportunities, but it’s not necessarily the case that more hours means you’ll get the job.

Employers often set hours minimums based on insurance requirements, so once you’re over a certain minimum threshold that’s good. And being competent at your job usually comes with experience which is also good. But employers also know that a more experienced pilot might be expecting to move onto a ‘better’ job sooner, so they might be concerned about people overqualified for the job.

Pilot flying experience, pilots on cockpit on runway
Every bit of experience helps when starting out

For example, consider a scenic flight operator that flies exclusively single-engine light aircraft. These are the most common low hour pilot jobs. They typically employ graduate pilots with bare bone 150 integrated and 200-hour standard commercial licenses.

Flying rate of effort will obviously depend on how good the business is, but legally speaking you’ll max out at around 900 hours a year, but usually you’d be lucky to fly half that – which means you’ve flown at least two hours a day, five days a week for most of the year, factoring in weather, etc for this day VFR role.

This kind of graduate job would typically attract pretty average pay, so it’s obvious graduate pilots would use this as a stepping stone into other roles. If you were lucky, 6 months into this job you would have doubled your flying hours and probably be looking into flying high-performance singles. This means the operator would reasonably expect to get a good 6 months of return on their effort training you into the role; a good return on investment. Statistically, there is a higher turn over of more experienced pilots.

There is a debate that often comes up regarding flying hours and whether would-be pilots should continue training or ‘build-up’ their hours before job seeking. The answer is it depends – yes it’s tricky to get your first job especially as a bare-bones commercial pilot, and more hours do typically open up more opportunities, but self-funding your hours can be extremely expensive and as we continue to mention, hours in the book are not the only thing prospective employers look at.

Hours don’t necessarily translate to competency; for example, 400 hours of scenic flights is a completely different skillset to 400 hours of crop dusting or 400 hours of aerobatic instruction.

Like any role where you are competing with your peers, you need to have some method or way of standing out from the crowd. What I would suggest is that you carefully research your options, and upskill yourself within reason. This might include trying to get some volunteer experience (for example helping wash airplanes and brief passengers at a joy flight operator).

As discussed, I would strongly recommend undertaking an aerobatic rating and instrument rating during your initial pilot training; these two qualifications will make you a more competent pilot and the hours would also put you ahead of the crowd, perhaps around 250 hours, or 300 hours factoring in some recreational flying.

As discussed earlier, a graduate pilot would expect to progress from light singles through to the ‘heavy singles’ before getting into the light twins, gaining valuable multi-engine experience to allow progression into turboprops and multi-engine turboprops. Spending 10 hours or so getting properly trained on a ‘heavy single’ and then getting some command time demonstrates to an employer your commitment and also potentially reduces their training cost to get you online.

There has to be a limit, however, and an excessively long CV and logbook filled with PICUS (pilot in command under supervision) with limited actual commercial experience will not only raise eyebrows as to your suitability for the job but also may have you branded a scab. This leads us to the next topic

Where to find low-hour pilot jobs?

Tracking down the jobs is an important part of landing your first job. Once you really know what your target job opportunity is, jump online and do as much research as you can. Obviously, nothing substitutes physically being there, but that’s impractical in most cases. Learn as much as you can about potential jobs, especially in which airports they are operated out of. I made a giant spreadsheet on Microsoft Excel, as well as marking them out on a big geographical map.

Tips for landing your first Pilot Job

How to land your first pilot job, pilot in cockpit with headset
When starting out you don’t have the experience to lean on so you need to be flexible

Be likable

Like any job, you’re going to be working with people. You should be a team player, and pilots also need strong leadership skills. If this is something you’re weak at, join a local sporting team which will help you work on both, whilst improving your physical fitness

You want to, generally speaking, be the grey man or woman. You should go unnoticed, but if the spotlight comes on you should perform well. Be the guy or gal that people would be happy to hang out with and have you over for a meal with their family.

Networking is arguably the best way to land a job, so make sure to put in the effort and get your name out there. Going out for a night to have a few drinks with other pilots is a great way to get to know them better, and make sure you shout your rounds. Know when to leave though, and avoid situations that might paint you in an unfavorable light (such as drunk and disorderly or assault charges losing you your FBI background check)

Write your CV like a pro

Your CV is going to be one of the first things your prospective employer is going to see in writing when they come to hire you.

For the best chance at getting your first pilot job, make sure your CV includes the following:

  • Your photo: mugshot (Hint: Smile!)
  • Your contact details
  • Your height and weight
  • A brief summary of your up to date hours
  • Your relevant qualifications
  • A short career statement
  • Where you trained
  • Any volunteer experience you have
  • Three or four up to date references that you trust to vouch for you
  • Very short about me section: hobbies etc

Include a cover note for each specific employer

So many brand new pilots make the mistake of not providing a personal cover note to each employer, specifically outlining why they are the best candidate.

You must include a cover note with the following:

  • Specifically addressed to the employer you are sending your CV to
  • The job you’re asking for
  • Why you meet the requirements and are suited to the role
  • What special skills you can bring to the role
  • How long you intend to work in the role

Right time, right place

You often need to be there – which means having a savings fund, accommodation, and for most people, casual work in the area

Be Flexible

There are a range of options to choose from when looking for low hour pilot jobs, it’s important to remember is your career starting out and to stay flexible.

Low hour roles can include:

You will need some savings while you’re looking for a job

Realistically, 6-12 months of living expenses. Remember that this might be much higher than you are used to, especially in rural or tourist towns where accommodation and the general cost of living is high. It’s also important to realize your low starting wage means you’re likely going to be literally ‘eating’ into your savings just to stay afloat.

Remember though this is transient, having a large enough buffer to see you through is important and will give you peace of mind, reducing your stress and allowing you to focus on your core role of job seeking and then learning the ropes as fast as you can.

Some practical ways to get by at the start:

  • Stay in youth hostel accommodation
  • Live out of an RV
  • Supplementing your new flying job with local work such as hospitality (pulling beers at a bar or serving meals at a restaurant), or other casual roles such as gas station attendant, or even look into various ways of making money online as a side hustle.

Ways to afford pilot training

Most people either save up from working their job, or take out student loans to pay for their flight training. While scholarships are a great option, and some airlines pay for pilot training (as well as other organizations like the military), they can be highly competitive positions, there are strings attached, such as employment contracts (which might prevent you from leaving to get a better job) – so actually – most people pay for pilot training themselves.

One way you could consider paying for your pilot training is to run a scalable, semi-passive online business like a content website (Just like what you are reading on here at ProAviationTips). This is actually how I retired from full-time flying operations with the military, and now I only fly part-time (working as a certified flight instructor when I want to) as I don’t rely on my flying income to cover my living costs.

I think it’s definitely worth considering how you could start a side hustle such as a blog and scale this to cover the cost of your flight training. I did the Web Dev course and then the Digital Investors course with the eBusiness Institute along with one of my other squadron buddies, and we have both been able to build thriving online businesses as a result.

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Conclusion

Landing your first pilot job when you have low hours is hard, but once you’ve gotten your first gig, and increased your hours, it does get better. The main things to remember are:

  • Be realistic with the jobs you’re going to get to start with- it’s most likely going to be low paying, part-time work
  • Krep an eye on pilot job listings, you never know what may turn up
  • Make sure you have the essential ratings, as a minimum, and have your medical and security clearance
  • Have a good CV and keep it up to date
  • Always include a cover letter when submitting your CV to an employer
  • Make connections and network
  • Be financially prepared – have a good chunk of savings or forms of passive income to help sustain you
  • Stay positive – low time pilot jobs are the first step on a fantastic career

What was your first pilot job? Do you have any tips for new pilots looking to get their first paycheck? let us know in the comments below.

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ken johnson

Ken

Ken is a passionate aviator, a professional pilot and flight instructor. He has over 17 years of flight experience across hundreds of aircraft ranging from recreational, aerobatic, historic, commercial and military aircraft, training hundreds of students along the way. Find out more.

Ken has 124 posts and counting. See all posts by Ken

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4 thoughts on “How to get low hour pilot jobs in 2024 – Your first pilot job

  1. My first job was doing shark spotting at Parafield airport in Adelaide. It was organised through my flying school and I got paid to do about 200 hours all up one summer, which gave my resume a leg up and helped me get into my second (and current job) flying charter in Northern Australia.

  2. i need help. i have 420hrs and commercial multi-engine instrument and single but cant find a job. is the industry gonna really make me pay $65k in aircraft rentals just to get my first flying job?

    1. G’day Jay, you are more than qualified to get a job at this point. It is quite difficult to secure your first job, but perhaps 5 hours in a 206 or 210 could give you a leg up. Most likely you will end up in Scenic flights or Charter, unfortunately due to covid these industries have been whacked, and there is now a large backlog of airline pilots fighting over a limited number of jobs. A lot of pilots will literally get a caravan and head north and stop at every airfield. I wish you the best of luck mate, just keep at it. You may have to pay to stay current, but I wouldnt go dropping tens of thousands of dollars now – you will need those savings to tide you over until you have a few thousand TT

  3. I don’t think it’s true you need a photo or to disclose your weight and height for your resume.
    There is a lot of movement now for low-hour pilots and I would recommend anyone needing or looking for work to email or check out easyaviationtheory website and Facebook page.

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