Airline pilots must be well rested and focused before they are legally allowed to take off. Read on for 7 ways to prevent pilot fatigue to keep you flying.
Did you know that pilot fatigue is one of the biggest threats to air safety?
That's right, being well-rested is one of the most important things you can do as a pilot to ensure a safe flight.
However, the life of a pilot doesn't exactly go hand in hand with rest. Crazy schedules, time zone changes, and other factors can all take a toll on the body and lead to fatigue.
Unfortunately, if you are fatigued at the start of a flight, it's only going to get worse. That's why prevention is the best way to combat pilot fatigue.
But what exactly can you do to prevent pilot fatigue? Read this article to find out the top seven ways.
First, let's take a quick look at what causes pilot fatigue, as this will help you better understand how to prevent it.
Pilot fatigue may be caused by:
- Excessive physical or mental exertion
- Poor sleep quality
- Inadequate sleep quality
- Circadian rhythm disturbances due to working nights
- Circadian rhythm disturbances due to jet lag
- Medical Conditions
- Medications or supplements
1. Fuel Up On Food
Food is energy. And just like a plane can't run without the appropriate energy stores, neither can your body.
So, you need to make sure you are eating the right food, in the right amount, and at the right times in order to prevent pilot fatigue.
First of all, you need to avoid sugary, processed foods as much as possible. We realize this can be incredibly difficult when you're on the go, but eating the right foods is essential for keeping your energy levels up.
Focus on eating wholesome foods, like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, and seeds.
You'll also want to load up on foods that are high in complex carbs before a big flight. Some options include potatoes, lentils, beans, pasta, and oatmeal. These foods will help keep your glycogen levels in check so you don't crash (no pun intended).
Also, because the life of a pilot is physically demanding, you want to make sure you are eating enough food as well. You can use this calculator to determine how many calories you should be eating a day.
2. Shed Extra Weight
Ok, even with the physically demanding lifestyle, you still may be packing a few extra pounds around the waist.
Staying in shape while traveling so much can be tough, and before you know it, extra pounds can creep up on you.
Shedding this extra weight can make a huge difference in energy levels. Look into revving up your exercise routine or cutting back on your portions to help shed these extra pounds.
And not having access to a gym is no excuse- here's an 11-minute fighter pilot's workout you can do anywhere.
3. Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration is perhaps one of the biggest energy zappers out there.
And prolonged dehydration will put you on the fast track to pilot fatigue.
So, drink water. Lots and lots of water.
While most people try to follow the "eight glasses a day rule," this amount actually doesn't work out for everyone.
Bigger bodies need more water, and smaller ones need less. Therefore, you should be drinking until your pee is almost clear.
4. Take a Nap
According to NASA, 26 minutes is all it takes to significantly improve performance and alertness.
Try to squeeze in one of these naps before briefs or flight operations in order to combat fatigue and improve your performance.
Just make sure you set a timer or have someone wake you up. You don't want to nap too long, as this can cause grogginess and lead to more fatigue.
5. Get Enough Sleep
This one's obviously easier said than done.
Getting enough sleep is a tricky business for everyone, let alone those who are dealing with wacky schedule changes and different time zones.
The recommended amount of sleep is somewhere between 7-9 hours a night. If you are getting less than this, you will most certainly experience performance deficits.
Make use of ear plugs and sleep masks in order to make sure you aren't being disturbed if your schedule requires you to sleep during daylight hours.
It's also a good idea to keep a log of your sleep hours so that you don't accumulate too much sleep debt.
Typically, you can erase sleep debate by getting in a third of the accumulated debt. For example, if you accumulated 9 hours of sleep debt, you should be back to normal with an additional three hours of sleep.
Try to get these hours in as soon as possible. If you can't, take care of it over your weekend.
6. Take Care of Jet Lag
Jet lag is pretty much what you sign up for when you embark on a career as a pilot.
However, in order to combat pilot fatigue, you'll want to take steps to rid yourself of jet lag asap.
Tips for preventing jet lag include:
- Switch your watch to your destination time a few days in advance
- Slowly switch your wake-sleep cycle to as early as possible
- Seek daylight during wake time hours
7. Be Smart About Caffeine
We all know how awesome caffeine is.
However, a healthy relationship with caffeine can quickly spiral into a dependency and a mask for sleep deprivation.
You should treat caffeine as an extra boost to promote alertness, not as a necessary medicine you're throwing back every hour.
Pure sources of caffeine, like coffee, tea, and dark chocolate, are your best bet. Avoid sugar energy drinks and sodas as much as possible.
Also, make sure you are sticking to the recommended dosage of 100-200mg every 5 hours.
Pilot Fatigue Wrap Up
You may think you have nothing to worry about if your fatigue is only minor.
However, even the slightest level of fatigue can lead to a huge decline in human performance.
Remember, fatigue can quickly lead to:
- Dramatic decline in attention
- Decreased ability to reason and evaluate
- Increased irritability
- Deterioration of fine motor skills
- Poor judgment and poor concentration
If the above prevention methods are not doing the trick, it may be time to see a doctor. You may have an underlying medical condition that is causing your pilot fatigue.
Got questions about pilot fatigue or any extra tips you'd like to share? Drop a comment below or contact us today!
Lessons Learned In a Bad Situation by Clint White
Every pilot in his or her career makes mistakes. It is said if you don’t scare yourself in the air at least once you haven’t really flown. There are few replacements as good as experience for a teacher and especially during early in my career when that lack of experience put us in a situation that could have been dangerous, but what is important is what I learned from that situation…
In the late 1990s pilots didn’t have all the weather tools that are available now. Computer modeling on app and other items we take for granted on our app based phones simply did not exist. XM weather in the cockpit was still in the future. In many cases we predicted weather models looking at the prog charts and maps posted in the FBO or flight school. (WSI did exist however).
I had student doing a cross-country flight for his private certificate during a summers day in Michigan. The weather was clear with a chance of thunderstorms both at our departure in Pontiac and our destination of Indianapolis with a return in the evening. The charts did show some storms, but not necessarily the forecast of what was to come. We decided the trip was a go as the student also was close to their check ride and we wanted to check the “cross country” box. So we departed in a Cessna 172P (no GPS or Radar). Everything was “steam gauges” then.
Departure and arrival at Indianapolis was uneventful although the WSI was showing a building line of thunderstorms near Pontiac. My student and I decided that we would have enough time to arrive back that evening before the weather hit and departed Indianapolis late in the afternoon under a hazy sky…
On the way back the Convective Sigments began. The way ahead looked more and more threatening as we pressed on. Realizing the situation was not favorable we started to look for a way out by turning around. Unfortunately our way back was blocked as well and the line of thunderstorms were closing all around us with no good alternates. The situation looked bad…
Actually we were trapped!!! Severe weather all around us (you could see the lighting in the dimming sunlight) and no way forward or back. It was time for some quick decision making for the situation we got ourselves in! This was a true emergency!
I quickly got on the radio with ATC and called for help. We made our VFR flight an IFR flight and I took over the controls. We asked for help around the weather. By a stroke of luck an Aerostar was ahead of us on the same route with weather radar. He quickly became our “pathfinder” and we basically followed behind in the few holes in the weather. We could easily see the lightning all around us as we were hard IMC at this time. Needless to say we were neverous…ok downright scared
After about 40 miles of picking through the weather we broke out near Pontiac at night to VMC weather and could see the airport with extremely violent weather approaching from the north. Basically constant lighting. We quickly executed a short (visual) approach to the airport, landing smoothly JUST before the rest of the line of weather hit us while taxiing. It was a CLOSE call!
What are the lessons learned from this situation….
First of all, have not ONLY a plan A but a plan B and C too. As soon the weather turned we simply should have landed at the nearest available airport rather than pressing head.
I should not have been influenced by the need to complete my students training the need to “complete the mission” was too big a influencer in the “go-no” decision.
In addition, the best decision sometimes is to simply not do the trip at all. We could have stopped at any time especially in Indianapolis, but we trying to “beat the weather.
Lastly, DON’T be afraid to call for help! If have an emergency, state it! It much easier to fill out the paperwork on the ground (if necessary) then potentially putting yourself in a fatal situation because you “don’t want to deal with it”. ATC can and IS a valuable resource. They want to see you complete the flight just as safely as you do. Frankly they saved our bacon that day!
In conclusion, we ALL have had situation that have scared us good. It’s the lessons we take from those situations that makes us better pilots in the future.
Have you had a “close call” or a situation that gave you a good scare in the air? What did you learn? We would love to know in your comments.
by Clint White
Will New Models and Innovation Stop the Sales Slide?
Owner and operators of airplanes are always weighing speed and payload versus cost, especially in the post recession world. For a fairly long time, if you wanted a fast airplane you had to sacrifice the amount you could carry. A good example would be during the “Baby Jet” era before the recession. Aircraft like the Eclipse and Citation Mustang were supposed to be the new “thing” in aviation, but while very good airplanes, high by-in costs and limited payload and range made potential owners look for other options.
On the other end, the person who was looking for a plane that could carry “a lot” could choose a turboprop like the Caravan or Kodiak, but they aren't the fastest things in the sky. A 800 mile trip might take 5 hours or more and that's without refueling. Fortunately, Pilatus had long since had its answer in the PC-12 and more recently the PC-12NG offering speeds nearly twice that of the Caravan and Kodiak with ample passenger and cargo payload, plus higher operating altitudes and the comfort of pressurization.
Cessna has now recognized the potential of the turboprop single market and had decided to fill that niche with the new Denali. While still a mock-up at this point, it offers nearly identical speed, range and cargo capacity to the Pilatus. These aircraft also sport some new features which owners and pilots will enjoy…
-The PC12NG since 2008 has had the Apex avionics system which is similar to the Falcons in some ways, Cessna has countered with the state of the art G3000 systems which like the G1000 is finding its way on more and more airplanes. Pilots may find it easier to use the G3000 if they originally had Garmin experience, but both airplanes now have the full suite of TCAS, EVS and of of course ADB when available. Single pilot operation in either aircraft should be breeze.
-Both airplane use the every popular PT-6. This engine now over 4 decades old has proven it's safety and reliability on countless airplanes and of course as a turboprop is burns less fuel than the jets. Also, as any turboprop pilot or owner knows there are no shortage of shops that can work on the PT-6 for maintenance. Both airplane have or will offer a composite prop for weight savings.
-On the owner side, operating costs are expected to be MUCH LOWER than those for jets.
Variable operating costs are said to be in the $620 per hour range. Interiors will be offered in utilitarian and executive configurations with options like USB ports, WiFi and other amenities. Both airplanes also offer the ability to land on shorter runways (not Caravan or Kodiak short) but still able to get into a majority airports.
by Clint White
The flying profession has always had a certain stereotype attached to it. The image of the ever confident pilot, leather jacket, scarf around the neck with a glint in his or her perfect teeth launching into the sky without hesitation or fear. There is a perception that we sit in the cockpit and laugh in the “face of danger”.
The reality, as almost every pilot knows, is vastly different. We don't live the same age of one pilot, test flying an airplane. Almost every pilot with a paid flying job has not only their responsibility to themselves but also to their passengers which can number in the hundreds. The fact is that we sweat ALL the little details. At least the good ones do.
While I have yet hire an additional pilot for my company there are things that I look for in a good candidate. One of those qualities is what I call that “nervousness” inherit in good, careful aviators. This is completely apart from fear of flying. To be a “fearful” pilot invites paralysis and is can be dangerous, but the “nervous” pilot is one who like to double check the little stuff. They understand the difference between cocky and confident and they know and understand not only the airplanes limits but their own.
Personally I have been flying for nearly 30 years, about 20 professionally. I still have that little bit of concern when I know things like the weather is going to be bad or the the winds high. I double check charts, fuel loads, forecasts. I use my “nervousness” not to paralyze me, but to make me do that extra work to mitigate the risk as much as possible, especially since I am flying single pilot. This is what I look for in other pilots as potential hires.
My advice when you sit down with the potential candidate is to ask, not only real world questions but also ones like “Have you every really scared yourself flying” The answer should be YES because we ALL have given ourselves a good scare (at least) once. That should be followed up with “What did you learn from that scare” Hopefully your candidate will talk about how that experience helped them become a safer pilot. Perhaps they took additional training or other courses to enhance their safety. I also think it is good when you give a “scenario” type question to construct it so that it is right on the border line of go or no go. I want to SEE how they make that decision. Do they take into account that little bit of “nervousness” that extra bit of time and effort to conduct or NOT conduct the flight.
In conclusion then, give me the (slightly) nervous pilot any day or some overconfident aviator. THAT is the person I want flying my aircraft and my clients!
Remember…there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots!
Do you still have the same nervousness when you fly? How do you deal with it or use it to your advantage? Please let us know.
CAN JUDGEMENT BE TAUGHT?
by Clint White
Recently, the way pilots are trained has changed. For instructors using the old PTS (Practical Test Standards) there is a new training guide known as the ACS (Airman Certification Standards). Student must still learn maneuvers, but now there is more emphasis on knowledge, experience and correlation. Also among these standards is the use of decision making and safety. These changes are quite positive, but can we actually “teach” a student to use proper judgement or is it just something that you just possess?
Each day, as pilots we are faced with a multitude of decisions. Ideally we try to gather as much information to decide wether we can complete the flight efficiently and safely and then continue to use our “situational awareness” to adapt to changes during the flight. Yet incidents and accidents happen usually due to “pilot error”the result of poor decisions that create the accident chain. For example….
The other day, I flew my client in to Tamami from the Bahamas. The forecast called for thunderstorms and indeed there were many in the area. As we approached and landed at the airport we arrived ahead of the weather, but it was closing on the airport on both sides rapidly. As we taxied in, a student pilot called ATC and ask to be cleared for a takeoff and departure to the south which plainly had a massive roll cloud approaching the field from a severe storm. The controller did not tell the student not to do the flight but DID warn him about the weather. After some time (an prodding by the controller) the student (who I believe was not with his instructor) decided not to do the flight, but why would he make such a poor decision to want to go in to such bad weather? Does he just have bad judgment or can it be corrected?
My answer in almost all cases is the judgement CAN be taught. Hopefully the instructor of the above student will take him to the side and teach him once again about using all available information (including looking out the cockpit) in his go or no-go decision. I taught dozens of students over the years and truly believe that if you teach a culture of safety, risk mitigation and logical decision making, most people will use proper judgement. Are there people who might not “get it” yes, but over the years I can count on one hand those kind of people.
As instructors adapt their teaching to the new Airman Certification Standards, it is my hope that students will understand that a logical and cautious approach to each flight can mitigate their risks and their training will lead to proper use of judgement in each phase of their flight from takeoff to landing.
What do you think? Can judgement be taught? We would love to hear you opinions on this issue.
THE REGIONAL AIRLINE DILEMMA
by Clint White
The aviation industry has seen vast changes over the last 10 years. Everything from security issues, fuel prices and often draconian cost controls, these have been difficult times, especially for the regional airline industry.
Now the “Regionals” are facing their own dilemma, a labor shortage. The imposition of the 1500 hour rule and other requirements has more than one regional struggling to fill its cockpits with pilots. As recently as Monday, some signing bonus are now nearly $15,000 and at least one Regional has declared bankruptcy, but the issues are deeper than just regulations and will harbor perhaps a new era in how the Regionals operate.
As a recent FORBES article pointed out when talking about the Republic Airlines bankruptcy. It's a bit of misnomer to call these entities “Regional Airlines”. When is the last time you bought a ticket specifically on Republic or Endeavor? The answer is, you can't. These companies operate as subsidiaries of the larger carriers and their struggles are the result of some following reasons.
- The Regionals Operate Under Strict Contracts With The Majors: Basically the major airlines decide where and when they need capacity. The also are very conscious of the seat-per-mile cost for each route. For the first time perhaps in the industries history, airlines are very reluctant to add any new capacity. On the contrary, many are cutting capacity during the slow months. Since the majors impose such tight cost controls, it is difficult for the Regionals to just raise salaries arbitrarily since they don't compete directly that way. That's why you see signing bonuses rather than increases in pay, other then when they negotiate with their unions. Airlines are more than happy to give up on unprofitable routes and abandon certain areas all together than to have a regional serve that area. This has driven an increasing amount of traffic to the “hub” cities more the main lines operate rather than to the smaller airports of the Regionals.
- Airlines are quickly moving away from the Regional Jet model: Ten or 15 years ago RJ’s were all the rage. They replaced the Saab and other prop planes the regionals were using. It was thought that these 50 seat planes would be more efficient and faster, but even with falling fuel prices, the airlines have quickly found it is MUCH more efficient (and profitable) to pack more people in to larger aircraft. Models like the 737 in all its forms have become the mainstay of airlines for longer and longer routes and for the shorter ones as well. There is little reason to expect that this will not continue. The RJs are simply not large enough and profitable at a time of strict capacity controls and the fleet with likely continue to shrink. We have already seen even on the larger side the elimination of most 4 engine aircraft for even the longest routes.
- Less young people are entering the industry: With the long hours, lower pay and great responsibility that comes with being a Regional pilot (no to mention the training costs), aspiring pilots are being lured away to industries that simply pay better with less responsibility or sacrifice. The new generation simply doesn't want to be working long hours for low pay in the “hope” of that mainline job. Many pilots became discouraged during the recession years when they were “stuck” in the Regionals by a perfect storm of a bad economy and a rising retirement age. Now that those pressures are decreased there is simply less of a “pool” of pilots for the Regionals to hire, while others have moved on to other careers.
- Flying Has Become More International: Many ERJ pilots are now being lured away with much higher pay by overseas airlines (especially China). For the young and single, it is very tempting to spend a few years overseas at a much higher pay rate for a foreign airline where growth has been rapid. Whether that will continue will be a function of how healthy overseas economies remain.
This is not to say that the Regionals will be disappearing any time soon. For those pilots willing to make the sacrifice it is a GREAT time to be hired by a Regional. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten either emails for post cards advertising pilot fairs for the Regionals. For those with the time it can be a great segway to a flight career. Keep in mind that this “shortage” of pilot flows up and unless oil spikes or the economy tanks it is likely the majors will also be hunting for cockpit crew soon. So if you are applying for a Regional your chances are about as good as they have ever been.
Are you a Regional airplane pilot or want to be one? What are your thoughts? How do you see the state of the industry?
by Clint White
THE RECESSION REALITY - FOR PILOTS
HOW TO REINVENT YOURSELF IN A TURBULENT MARKET
The last decade has certainly not been kind to aviation. After the disastrous years following 9/11 and just as it seemed the industry has recovered we went through the devastating “Great Recession” of 2008. The effects are still being felt today. Many are worried with crashing oil prices, low paying jobs and and overall economic stagnation (especially of the middle class) that another recession is right around the corner.
While its hard to predict the future, it is important to us as pilots to stay on top to these things and to adapt to the rapid changes that are coming. In the last economic downturn I personally had to completely change who I was in the industry and “reinvent” myself. It wasn't easy, it took hard work and time, but hopefully I can help others through my experience and advice….
Prior to 2008 things were going swimmingly. I was newly married, had a good job and house was making good money. Almost overnight the job disappeared, the house was worth half what I paid for it and the other two were putting tremendous stress on my marriage. I made sure that my little “pity party” was short as I needed to be responsible for my family, but frankly at the time I didn't know where to turn or start. You couldn't buy a job by the fall of 2008…
My very first idea was to adapt to new technology, especially social media… At that time Facebook was growing rapidly and Twitter and LinkedIn were quickly becoming the social media norm. I didn't cover up I was out of work and needed help, but I also didn't beg. What I did was start my first profiles online and networked with others. I also took advantage of any platform I could use to get my name out there. I was fortunate to appear at the time on CNN “30 second pitch” through Facebook which put my on national TV and also making contacts with others who found themselves out of work but looking to use social media to get themselves coverage and opportunities. I worked tirelessly on both.
There were many false starts and dead ends, but each step took me closer to finding a great new job and the ability to pivot in to new technology allowed me to expand my talents. I also started a blog on Wordpress at the time “helpclintfindajob.wordpress.com” to gain additional exposure.
The technologies of today are expanding at an ever faster rate. Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram can allow a person (if done properly) to get additional exposure and make additional contact. These platforms are often seen as less professional and more personal, but I am finding that with the current generation there is less formality, though I have yet to see it in aviation. Also, these platforms allow you to show potential employers that you are more than just another resume.
I did what it took to make money if I wasn't flying….Despite what you may hear from the politicians, unemployment doesn’t pay well. You aren't going to make your car payment or mortgage on unemployment. One thing my father taught me is that when things get tough you need to “hustle”. That means take a job, any job that will (LEAGALLY) make you money. I've never said there is a job beneath me. I was able to find contract work to make some money on the side. Frankly, I would have even sold my blood if that what it took (which I had done once in the past). Don't be too proud to take care of yourself and your family.
These days especially we now have the “sharing economy” or “gig economy” basically the decline of full time work for more “contract” or “on demand” style work. It benefits are still to be measured but especially with services like UBER or LYFT there is now another way to make income. These platforms haven't come without their detractors, but I WISH such things had been available when I was unemployed in 2008. I would have had much less debt that I am still working through 8 years later.
Also, if you have another talent, MONETIZE IT! Can you paint, sell drawings…can you write…blog and gain an audience someone just might pay you for it. It called having multiple sources of income with the uncertainty of aviation ALWAYS have a fallback.
I learned to be flexible in life…cut your losses if it's bankrupting you…There were many difficult decisions during that time. I gained employment in two other jobs only to have both businesses fold within 6 months. My wife could only find a minimum wage job, but it was something. We even spent a short time on food stamps, but when opportunity came in 2010 we knew we needed to be flexible. That meant two things…go to where the work was (In Miami for us) and…cut our losses. Our house was a tremendous source of stress and I was never going to get back what I paid for it. We made the difficult decision to “short sale” the house, but it was the smartest move we ever made as we were able to downscale our life in Miami. We have NEVER looked back.
Realize Aviation is Changing…..Drones, driverless cars…driverless planes? Perhaps not for a while, but there is a tremendous amount of momentum to remove the human element from much of transportation and that means the pilot, perhaps single pilot airlines in the future. There are already single pilot business jets. What it means for you the pilot is that while I believe flying is STILL A CAREER. You MUST be flexible, LEARN ANOTHER SKILL. Learn how to code, or use a drone. One piece of advice is learn how to sell. I just don't see a future with a robot salesperson in most industries. The more skills you have the less likely you will find yourself out of work in the next downturn. We no longer live in a “one-job” one skill world. You need to be more “well rounded”. Things can and do change quickly. I've lived it! Embrace it.
Economies rise and fall as do careers sometimes. It's how we adapt to adversity that determines our success for failure.
How have you been able to adapt since that last downturn? Do you think another is on its way? We would love to hear your comments.
Read Part 1 and Part 2
by Clint White
There are few better feelings than when the phone rings or you receive an email from someone looking for contract work, especially when they want you. You might want to run out and fly for them ASAP, especially if you bank account is running a little low. As they say, though, “haste makes waste” and what you don't know can REALLY hurt you. So before you run out and say YES here are some good points.
- I have personally found phone calls from potential clients to be more reliable, but as always beware of scams:
Many of your contract flights will start as a phone call from the prospective client. It is NOT unusual for them to be in a hurry. I can't tell you how many times I have gotten a call from a place that needs a pilot…NOW! That is the business of contract flying often. My advice to slow down and ask more than a few questions. Things like, where is the aircraft located? Do I need to fly out via airline? What is the destination? Of course the important questions like “what is the rate your are paying?” Per Day (if very short term) or per week? What about aircraft insurance and its currency?
A reputable client should have no problem answering these questions. Above all DON’T FLY FOR FREE. This isn't volunteer work! You are a professional that DESERVES to be paid for your service. It isn't just the pleasure flying the shiny new jet.
I also STRONGLY suggest you get EVERYTHING IN WRITING. This can be as simple as an email (which is a legal document provided there is name is on it). Make sure you get something in black and white. Promises are just that…..promises. I know personally of a pilot who had a 30 day contract with a client and was asked to fly 3 extra days, even though it wasn't in writing. They paid him for his 30 days but NOT for the 3 extra days! Always protect yourself legally. Many companies may want you to pay for the airline ticket or the hotel. If they promise to reimburse you make SURE you get it in writing!
Beware of scam emails from companies overseas that look legitimate. I've received a few with phony names and realistic but phony titles. When in doubt CALL THE COMPANY DIRECTLY (not on the phone number on the email). Anyone who asks you to pay is obviously just out to take your money.
- With overseas or long term contracts, read them CAREFULLY and it might be a good idea to have legal counsel that deals in aviation contracts review it.
If you are flying overseas (for instance China) your contract may be long, perhaps 2 or more years. There may be regulatory requirements for each country to make you legal to fly. If you are offered a contract (probably after considerable paperwork) go over it LINE BY LINE. The contracts can be quite long and should spell out things like transportation, housing, days on and off and of course salary. If you don't understand something DON’T SIGN! Seek out legal counsel to get a better understanding of what exactly you are agreeing to. Pay careful attention to things like termination clauses. Can they just end it whenever or do they need to give you notice? How are they going to pay you and will it be in their currency or US dollars. Each part is important and it is crucial you know what you are walking into.
- If you find yourself doing many short term contracts keep in touch with your client base:
By far the hardest part of contract work is, of course, getting work in the first place. If you can establish a good client base you may be able to get repeat business (an referrals). As you build your reputation for safe, efficient flying you should hopefully get that repeat business and get new clients in the future. Having letters or emails with recommendations dosent hurt either.
If you do get a great client with a long term contract. TAKE GOOD CARE OF THEM. In my case that is just what I have, a wonderful client who treats me well, pays me well and respects my quality of life. Those are the clients we live for an we also need to show them the same respect that they give us.
- Lastly have fun, be safe and take time our for yourself and your family:
Contract flying can be hard on families and relationships with considerable time away and last minute trips. It can play havoc with the family schedule. Give yourself some time to relax and enjoy life. You may find you work hard overseas for a few years then come home and rest a bit (hopefully with a full bank account). If you do several short term contracts, make sure to put “blackout dates” on your profile. Times you won't work. Flying is tough job, but don't miss your child's birth over it.
Again, welcome to the contract flying world. Much of this is common sense advice. There are many good articles online that go in to the contract flying world in much more detail than I describe here. I suggest you use them. A good pilot is always learning….
Have you been on a long or short term contract recently? What was your experience? What did you learn, good or bad? We would love to know in your comments.
Read Part 1 and Part 2
by Clint White
Now that you have decided to be a contact pilot it is imperative that you set yourself up as a business. Keep in mind your new “employer” is NOT going to be responsible for healthcare and especially taxes. The money that you make is going to be subject to a “self-employment” tax of 15.3% and if you don't structure yourself correctly that can be a BIG shock at tax time.
There are several ways that you can have your business run. I will go over a few, but I a not a tax attorney and each case is unique. Have a qualified tax planner or attorney go over your case as you begin, but here are a few ideas:
The tax code is MUCH more favorable to corporations than to “sole proprietor” business:
Basically setting yourself up as either an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) or a full Corporation will give you many more tax benefits or advantages than simply adding the income as a “sole proprietor”. It also gives you a level of legal protection from lawsuits of which your tax attorney can be more specific and additional deductions for your business.
Setting up a Limited Liability Corporation is rather easy and not expensive. The laws vary by state but setting one up and establishing an account can be done online. Many resources are available and can easily be searched online
Once you have your business set up and Tax ID number, GET A BUSINESS ACCOUNT:
Once you have your corporation set up with the state you will also have to get a tax ID number (EIN) from the government as well for your business. With this complete, I believe it is VERY important that you set up a business account at your preferred lending institution. That way, those who contract with you can pay your through your business account and you will also have a record of spending from your business account. In addition it would be a good idea to also set up online accounting with software such as QUICKBOOKS or FRESHBOOKS to keep track of all of your expenses. Keeping things in order will benefit you greatly at tax time.
So you are set up, got your business going and are typed and current so now what?
As a potential contact pilot you will have many questions on whether you either “go it alone” and put yourself out there or signing with a company like ACASS or others that provide contract pilots. There are several pluses and minuses and you have to weigh each of yourself. Going it alone can have pitfalls, especially for the inexperienced.
However, sometimes you do get lucky, but the key to any job, especially contract is to NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK! Aviation is still a small community and the more people you know that more likely you are to get work. Like any other business it all about reputation and you want to build a good one. In my case in particular, I was able to network through Facebook and found my current long term contract job through a contact on the social media site.
If you do go with a contract pilot company, be sure to research each one. There are some good ones out there and they can provide you with an extra level of protection, but always do your homework before signing with anyone and ask around.
To recap, make sure you have your business set up, get a business account and decide whether going it alone or signing up with a contract company fits you best. In Part 3 we will talk a bit about the contract process and what to look our for.
Have you found contract work online? How about through social media? We would love to hear your comments!
by Clint White
In this new age of working, the phrase “gig economy” is used quite a bit. Like UBER or LYFT or a number of other freelance services, the idea of an “on demand” work schedule is supposed to be the new and hot “thing”. However, a small, but growing group of pilots have long been engaged in “on demand” flying for many years. While they can't necessarily have instantaneous schedules or get called out on an phone app (yet), they do want the freedom to work in various places without being tied down to a single employer and able to maintain flexibility in their lives. It can be a good living for some, but it takes time and strategy to execute effectively. Many pitfalls can and have beset contract pilots. Being an “independent contractor” can be a fraught with danger if not done correctly.
This article in a series of blogs I plan to write, will talk about the contract pilot world. As a contract pilot myself, I will talk much about the things that I've done right and some of the hard lessons I have learned.
Want to be a contract pilot? Let's begin….
- Know your market and marketability: Some contract pilots are more in demand than others. Your thousands of hours in that Diamond Jet (as an example) may not get you those coveted contracts like the person who has the same experience in a Gulfstream (in demand). While area and market are often unique, flying is a worldwide endeavor. Demand for certain pilots and ratings can vary, but in general the bigger the “iron” you fly, the more marketable you are. Especially in this worldwide general aviation market.
- BE CURRENT: When was the last time you went to school for your recurrent?. If it's been a few years then you are overdue to go back. Most companies hiring contract pilots want ONLY current and qualified pilots. First of all, they aren't about to pay for your schooling (more on that in another blog), their insurance companies are NOT going to cover pilots that don't have the latest and most current training in the last 12 months (some go as far out as 24 months for the SIC). Under FAR Part 91 your training will work for any of your contracts. Things get a bit more difficult for PART 135 these days in that your training has to be SPECIFICALLY for THAT company (at your expense). So the 135.299 you just got the other day for company A does NOT let you contract for company B.
Another note: DON’T and I repeat DON’T go out and get a NEW type with Zero experience. It really doesn't matter that you spent 30k for a G-V type. The insurance companies and potential contractor are simply NOT going to hire you if you have NO TIME in the type. Save your money and concentrate on the aircraft you have experience in if you find they are marketable.
- REALIZE THAT THIS IS A BUSINESS: As an “independent contractor” you are now going to be responsible for pretty much EVERYTHING!. That means taxes, training, healthcare and other items that an employer is responsible for are now are on your shoulders. It's up to you to make sure that the contract you are about to sign is valid, legal and has all the right wording. You may have to hire an aviation attorney. You MUST look at your contract flying as a business unto itself and structure it that way. The more orderly and thorough you are, the less likely you are to make mistakes along the way. Mistakes that can be VERY costly. You also need to look at your cash flow both in and out, so on top of all of the above you need to be an accountant as well (unless you hire one.)
- Create Your “Brand”: You will quickly realize that you are not the only contract pilot in the world or in your chosen aircraft. You might have the training and the time, but what really makes you stand apart from the rest? Employers take very little time to read resumes, but in the contract world, a good relationship and reputation will bring in repeat business. It's goes without saying that your resume should be organized, free of errors and accurate, but you also need to be able to present skill sets that go beyond your resume when the employer talks to you. It might just get you the job. Your contract piloting is a business and its best salesman is you, since you are selling yourself.
- Advertise: What company doesnt advertise? Very few. You need to get your name out there, NO ONE is going to come knocking on your door without a concerted effort on your part. That means putting yourself out there! Sign up for Findapilot.com under the contract tab and/or other websites. GET OUT AND NETWORK. I've always said that aviation is a very small world. You will often meet the same people again and again so it is helpful they know your face. We live in a world of text, email, FaceTime, etc, but a face to face conversation STILL has the power to land you business and contracts.
- FINALLY BEFORE TAKING THE LEAP DECIDE IF THIS IS “RIGHT” FOR YOU: Not everyone has an entrepreneur mentality and that is ok. Contract flying can come with vast swings in both income and expense. There may be times you might be away from your family for long periods of time, sometimes in dangerous places in the world. It can honestly get downright scary sometimes when it's been a while since you last worked and the bills are coming due. Many find the security of a steady paycheck, healthcare and regular work just fine for them and especially their families. Take a good hard look at yourself, especially if you are quitting a job to fly contract and make sure it's the right decision for you and your family.
OK! Got all that! So now it time to take the leap in to the wonderful world of contract flying! In the next blog will talk about how to set up your business, expenses and whether or not you should go it alone or sign up with a contract pilot company.
Questions…Comments Please add your thoughts below. We would love to know