So You Want to be a Contract Pilot - Part 3

Read Part 1 and Part 2

Clint White  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