There are two or three typies of pilot positions with any airline or company: Captain, First Officer and Flight Engineer. Compensation and even some benefits at airlines and most companies (corporations and charter companies) are based on “seniority.” Seniority at an airline is based on a pilot’s date of hire by that airline. When a pilot is hired as a First Officer or Flight Engineer, he or she is immediately assigned a seniority number at the bottom of the list of pilots. Over time, the pilot will advance on the seniority list, as pilots retire, resign and are removed for other reasons. Advancing on the seniority list results in better work schedules for the pilot, more selection in aircraft flown, job promotion (such as upgrading to Captain), route assignment choice, vacation time preferences etc. United Airlines Captain Ken Bradley, who is spokesman for the Air Line Pilot Association (ALPA) has over 35 years of experience as a commercial pilot. He said “in the public aviation industry, everything is based on seniority. For that reason, pilots become affiliated with their companies, often for life. Changing companies means starting all over.”
What kind of pilot do you want to be? There are several general types: Agricultural Pilot, Test Pilot, Major/National Airline Pilot, Regional/Commuter Airline Pilot, Air Freight/Cargo Pilot, Helicopter Pilot, Corporate Pilot, Air Taxi or Charter Pilot, Flight Instructor, Military Pilot, Ferry Pilot, and Astronaut. There are other pilot jobs also, such as Stunt Pilot, Traffic Control Pilot, Pipeline Patrol Pilot, Flight Navigator, Check Pilot, Aerial Sight-seeing Pilot/Guide, Flight Simulator Instructor, Skywriter, and Banner Tow Pilot.
What are the educational requirements for being a pilot? It varies. For example, to be an agricultural pilot, you need a high school diploma, special training and pilot license. You will typically work for agricultural operations or large farms. To be a test pilot or an astronaut, you need a Bachelor’s Degree from a university, and sometimes even a Master’s Degree in a technical field. You will work for the FAA or another country’s aviation regulatory agency, the military or aircraft manufacturing plants. To be a Major/National or Regional/Commuter pilot, you may need a Bachelor’s Degree or you may not; it depends on the airline and also what their current hiring needs are.