The best Government Job Source


Significant Points
  • Regional and low-cost airlines offer the best opportunities; pilots face strong competition for jobs at the major airlines, which offer better pay and benefits.
  • Many pilots have learned to fly in the military, but growing numbers have college degrees with flight training from civilian flying schools that are certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
  • Newly hired pilots at major airlines typically have about 4,000 hours of flight experience.
Nature of the Work

Pilots are highly trained professionals who fly airplanes or helicopters to carry out a wide variety of tasks. Most are airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers who transport passengers and cargo. However, 34 percent are commercial pilots involved in dusting crops, spreading seed for reforestation, testing aircraft, flying passengers and cargo to areas not served by regular airlines, directing firefighting efforts, tracking criminals, monitoring traffic, and rescuing and evacuating injured persons.

Except on small aircraft, two pilots usually make up the cockpit crew. Generally, the most experienced pilot, the captain, is in command and supervises all other crew members. The pilot and the copilot, often called the first officer, share flying and other duties, such as communicating with air traffic controllers and monitoring the instruments. Some large aircraft have a third crewmember, the flight engineer, who assists the pilots by monitoring and operating many of the instruments and systems, making minor in-flight repairs, and watching for other aircraft. The flight engineer also assists the pilots with the company, air traffic control, and cabin crew communications. New technology can perform many flight tasks, however, and virtually all new aircraft now fly with only two pilots, who rely more heavily on computerized controls.

Before departure, pilots plan their flights carefully. They thoroughly check their aircraft to make sure that the engines, controls, instruments, and other systems are functioning properly. They also make sure that baggage or cargo has been loaded correctly. They confer with flight dispatchers and aviation weather forecasters to find out about weather conditions en route and at their destination. Based on this information, they choose a route, altitude, and speed that will provide the safest, most economical, and smoothest flight. When flying under instrument flight rules—procedures governing the operation of the aircraft when there is poor visibility—the pilot in command, or the company dispatcher, normally files an instrument flight plan with air traffic control so that the flight can be coordinated with other air traffic.

Takeoff and landing are the most difficult parts of the flight, and require close coordination between the two pilots. For example, as the plane accelerates for takeoff, the pilot concentrates on the runway while the copilot, scans the instrument panel. To calculate the speed they must attain to become airborne, pilots consider the altitude of the airport, outside temperature, weight of the plane, and speed and direction of the wind. The moment the plane reaches takeoff speed, the copilot informs the pilot, who then pulls back on the controls to raise the nose of the plane. Captains and first officers usually alternate flying each leg from takeoff to landing.

Unless the weather is bad, the flight itself is relatively routine. Airplane pilots, with the assistance of autopilot and the flight management computer, steer the plane along their planned route and are monitored by the air traffic control stations they pass along the way. They regularly scan the instrument panel to check their fuel supply; the condition of their engines; and the air-conditioning, hydraulic, and other systems. Pilots may request a change in altitude or route if circumstances dictate. For example, if the ride is rougher than expected, pilots may ask air traffic control if pilots flying at other altitudes have reported better conditions; if so, they may request an altitude change. This procedure also may be used to find a stronger tailwind or a weaker headwind to save fuel and increase speed. In contrast, because helicopters are used for short trips at relatively low altitude, helicopter pilots must be constantly on the lookout for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other dangerous obstacles as well as low-flying general aviation aircraft. Regardless of the type of aircraft, all pilots must monitor warning devices designed to help detect sudden shifts in wind conditions that can cause crashes.

Pilots must rely completely on their instruments when visibility is poor. On the basis of altimeter readings, they know how high above ground they are and whether they can fly safely over mountains and other obstacles. Special navigation radios give pilots precise information that, with the help of special charts, tells them their exact position. Other very sophisticated equipment provides directions to a point just above the end of a runway and enables pilots to land completely without an outside visual reference. Once on the ground, pilots must complete records on their flight and the aircraft maintenance status for their company and the FAA.

The number of nonflying duties that pilots have depends on the employment setting. Airline pilots have the services of large support staffs and, consequently, perform few nonflying duties. However, because of the large numbers of passengers, airline pilots may be called upon to coordinate handling of disgruntled or disruptive passengers. Also, under the Federal Flight Deck Officer program airline pilots who undergo rigorous training and screening are deputized as Federal law enforcement officers and are issued firearms to protect the cockpit against intruders and hijackers. Pilots employed by other organizations, such as charter operators or businesses, have many other duties. They may load the aircraft, handle all passenger luggage to ensure a balanced load, and supervise refueling; other nonflying responsibilities include keeping records, scheduling flights, arranging for major maintenance, and performing minor aircraft maintenance and repairs.

Some pilots are flight instructors. They teach their students in ground-school classes, in simulators, and in dual-controlled planes and helicopters. A few specially trained pilots are examiners or check pilots. They periodically fly with other pilots or pilot's license applicants to make sure that they are proficient.

Work environment. Most pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because the majority of flights involve overnight layovers. According to the Airline Pilot’s Association, pilots spend approximately 360 hours a month away from their home base. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations, transportation between the hotel and airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses.

Airline pilots, especially those on international routes, often experience jet lag—fatigue caused by many hours of flying through different time zones. To guard against pilot fatigue, which could result in unsafe flying conditions, the FAA requires airlines to allow pilots at least 8 hours of uninterrupted rest in the 24 hours before finishing their flight duty.

Commercial pilots face other types of job hazards. The work of test pilots, who check the flight performance of new and experimental planes, may be dangerous. Pilots who are crop dusters may be exposed to toxic chemicals and seldom have the benefit of a regular landing strip. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue and police work may be subject to personal injury. All pilots face the potential risk of hearing loss due to prolonged exposure to the constant noise coming from an aircraft’s engines.

Although flying does not involve much physical effort, the mental stress of being responsible for a safe flight, regardless of the weather, can be tiring. Pilots must be alert and quick to react if something goes wrong, particularly during takeoff and landing.

FAA regulations limit flying time of airline pilots of large aircraft to a maximum of 100 hours a month and 1,000 hours a year. Most airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours a month and work an additional 140 hours a month performing nonflying duties, which includes waiting for delays to clear and their aircraft to arrive. Most pilots have variable work schedules, working several days on, then several days off. Airlines operate flights at all hours of the day and night, so work schedules often are irregular. Flight assignments are based on seniority; the sooner pilots are hired, the stronger their bidding power is for preferred assignments.

Commercial pilots also may have irregular schedules, flying 30 hours one month and 90 hours the next. Because these pilots frequently have many nonflying responsibilities, they have much less free time than do airline pilots. Except for corporate flight department pilots, most commercial pilots do not remain away from home overnight, although they may work odd hours. However, if the company owns a fleet of planes, pilots may fly a regular schedule.

Flight instructors may have irregular and seasonal work schedules, depending on their students' available time and the weather. Instructors frequently work in the evening or on weekends.

Pilot, GS-2181-09

Assignments characteristic of the GS-9 level involve application of the knowledge and skills required:

  • To fly light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters primarily under visual flight rules with responsibility for such operations as ferrying the aircraft or carrying freight from one point to another.
  • To fly light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters under visual flight rules with responsibility for various kinds of photographic survey work.
  • Assignments at this level involve planning the route of flight, securing the necessary clearance, and navigating by reference to aeronautical charts, compass, and terrain features under visual flight conditions.

    The assignments entail a minimum degree of hazard in that they typically involve:

  • Operating to and from airfields that are fully adequate for the aircraft;
  • Point-to-point flying utilizing normal flight procedures;
  • Operating primarily in the daytime under favorable weather conditions; and
  • Few, if any, demands on the pilot to perform tasks other than those connected with flying the aircraft.
  • Also included at this level are positions undergoing ground and flight training (e.g., as a copilot) to attain the knowledge and skills required to perform more difficult flying assignments.

    Pilot, GS-2181-11

    Assignments characteristic of the GS-11 level involve application of the knowledge and skills required:

  • To instruct or evaluate students in the basic techniques involved in flying light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters under visual flight rules.
  • To fly light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters over unfavorable terrain, e.g., mountains, forest, or deserts with responsibility for operating from confined or isolated areas primarily under visual flight conditions.
  • To fly light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters along established airways with responsibility for transporting passengers and supplies among a variety of familiar destinations.
  • Flight Instruction Assignments

    Instruction assignments at the GS-11 level involve training or evaluating student pilots in the basic techniques of flying one or two models of light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters under visual flight rules. The basic techniques are those required to operate from runways of sufficient size for the aircraft under favorable weather conditions with no load beyond the minimum required, e.g., fuel. GS-11 assignments include responsibility for conducting ground classes from prepared lesson plans; grading and evaluating students' performance and progress; and recommending continuation of students' training or elimination from the training course.

    Such assignments involve a marked degree of hazard due to the fact that the instructor must devote considerable attention to both the proper execution of flight procedures by the student and the flight attitude of the aircraft, and be prepared to immediately assume control should a hazardous situation occur.

    Flying Assignments

    Flying assignments at this level are characterized by the requirement for a higher degree of skill and judgment than is typical of the GS-9 level. The higher requirements may be due to the degree of hazard involved or the level of knowledge and responsibility as illustrated by the following:

    1. Some assignments involve flying light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters over unfavorable terrain such as mountains, forests, or deserts with responsibility for operating from landing strips which are restricted in size or are in isolated areas or both. For the most part, this kind of assignment is performed in the daytime under favorable weather conditions for such purposes as delivering supplies or freight.

    A marked degree of hazard is present in the assignment requiring a high degree of skill and judgment, e.g., to fly light airplanes to and from airstrips where only one-way operations are possible, or to operate helicopters from forest landing pads with minimal clearance.

    2. Assignments to transport passengers and/or supplies at the GS-11 level typically involve flying one or more models of light twin-engine airplanes. Flights regularly include trips made to a variety of familiar locations. These flights are made both day and night utilizing Federal airways and require skill in the use of instrument flight techniques.

    Except for unpredicted storms, these flights are made under favorable weather conditions, and are characterized by a minimum degree of hazard. Assignments at this level involve a higher degree of skill than assignments at grade GS-9 in that they involve flying to a variety of different locations applying instrument flight techniques. Also, planning trips requires more skill in analyzing present and future weather conditions along the route of flight, avoiding unfavorable weather, and considering alternate routes and destinations.

    Pilot, Maintenance Test Pilot, and Flight Instructor GS-2181-12

    Assignments characteristic of the GS-12 level involve application of the knowledge and skills required:

  • To instruct or evaluate students or rated pilots in the flight techniques required to fly tactical operations, such as shortfield takeoffs and landings, flight formations, or aerobatics in light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters under visual flight rules.
  • To fly light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters at low altitudes and speeds over unfavorable terrain with responsibility for making patrols and operating from confined or isolated areas.
  • To fly heavy multiengine transport airplanes to various destinations, using instrument flight rules, for the purpose of transporting supplies and equipment.
  • To fly a variety of light twin-engine airplanes or helicopters to a variety of locations, some of which are unfamiliar, for the purpose of transporting passengers. Flights include both day and night flying and the use of instrument flight techniques, generally in favorable weather conditions.
  • To conduct functional flight checks of light airplanes or helicopters following repair, maintenance, or the installation of approved modifications to aircraft systems.
  • Flight Instruction Assignments

    1. Flight instructor assignments for light single- or twin-engine airplanes and helicopters involve training or evaluating students in the advanced techniques required, for example, in short-field takeoffs and landings under maximum loads, flying in formation, performing evasive maneuvers, and aerobatics. Students are taught the procedures to use in emergencies such as engine failures and malfunctions of hydraulic and electrical systems over rough terrain, e.g., hills and forests both day and night. Assignments at this level include responsibility for reviewing students' basic training and determining their ability to progress to further advanced courses; determining through evaluation if students should continue or be eliminated; and recommending additional training for students whose progress is unsatisfactory.

    Assignments at this level are distinguished from those at the GS-11 level primarily in that very advanced techniques are taught at this level. Responsibility for also training or evaluating students in the basics of instrument flight (i.e., training pilots to takeoff, fly straight and level, execute turns, climb, descend, and recover from unusual altitudes, and fly prescribed patterns using basic flight instruments controlling attitude, altitude, speed, and direction) will not remove a position from the GS-12 level. Such assignments entail a substantial degree of hazard. In addition to the factors influencing hazard in instructor work, assignments at this level involve flight maneuvers and techniques which are more difficult to perform safely and consequently entail a higher degree of risk.

    2. Some assignments involve instructing military student pilots in advanced flight techniques such as those which would be employed by helicopter pilots in combat situations. The instruction program includes training pilots to perform flight maneuvers which take advantage of terrain features or vegetation to prevent detection by a potential enemy. Assignments may also involve training and evaluating pilots in tactical flying at night, under various lighting conditions, including flying with the use of night vision goggles. A substantial degree of hazard is present due to the fact that flight instruction involves flying the helicopter at or below treelines, and in very close proximity to ridges and hills. Such assignments require a very high degree of vigilance on the part of the instructor to monitor actions of the student, maintain the position/location of the helicopter, and to be prepared to assume control should that become necessary.

    Flying Assignments

    1. Some flying assignments at this level involve operating light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters at minimum controllable speeds or at low altitudes, or both, over unfavorable terrain for such purposes as: observing tracks and signs made by aliens entering the United States illegally, tracking game, determining how well equipment for spraying insecticides functions, spotting and observing and dropping retardants on forest fires, directing air tankers in dropping fire retardants, or making patrol of powerlines to identify and inspect maintenance problems. These assignments often involve making flights over uncharted courses and using meadows or roads for landing strips. These assignments are distinguished from the GS-11 level by the greater degree of skills and judgment required to fly at low altitudes over unfavorable terrain. Flying low in desert heat is difficult, for example, because air currents vary at that temperature making aircraft behave unpredictably. An additional factor of difficulty is that the pilots must direct their attention outside the aircraft for sustained periods of time. Moreover, at low altitudes there is little chance to maneuver to a favorable landing site in the event of trouble. Such assignments are characterized by a substantial degree of hazard due to the flight regimen of the aircraft, the environment, and the demands on the pilot.

    2. Assignments at this level also include flying heavy multiengine transport aircraft to transport personnel, supplies and equipment to a variety of points throughout the continental United States. Flights may involve a pattern of routes and destinations, and vary according to the demands of the assignment. Typically, the flights are made day and night in generally favorable weather and require considerable skill in instrument techniques. Flight planning responsibilities and associated knowledge requirements are similar to those described at the next lower grade. Such assignments differ from those at GS-11 in terms of the requirement for extended flights and the aircraft involved. Flying assignments of this type are characterized by a minimum degree of hazard.

    Maintenance Test Assignments

    Flight test assignments at the GS-12 level involve performance of functional check flights of light single- or twin-engine airplanes or helicopters after repair or replacement of damaged or worn components, extensive maintenance has been performed, or approved modifications have been made to the aircraft systems. Repair or replacement means that like components are used to replace faulty items or the repair involves restoration of the aircraft to its original configuration. Approved modifications are those which have been developed and flight tested prior to being incorporated into the aircraft.

    For these types of assignments, the pilot performs standard operational tests to determine whether the aircraft systems are functioning correctly, and to verify that predetermined flight and performance characteristics have been restored. The extent of testing that must be conducted depends on the nature of the repairs or modification work performed. These assignments require a thorough knowledge of the operational capabilities and limitations of the aircraft. The degree of hazard involved is minimal when the tests involve such operations as testing newly installed navigational equipment. A higher degree of hazard is present in the work when major components, such as a replaced engine, are being tested.

    Pilot, Flight Instructor, Airspace System Inspection Pilot, and Flight Test Pilot GS-2181-13

    Assignments characteristics of the GS-13 level involve application of the knowledge and skills required:

  • To instruct or evaluate student pilots in advanced instrument flight technique; to provide combat training to rated pilots in the operation of a variety of advanced military aircraft; to instruct fixed or rotary wing pilots in methods of instruction and evaluate their proficiency to engage in flight instruction; to instruct and evaluate test pilots, to perform special projects involving a comparable responsibility and skill; or combinations of these assignments.
  • To fly heavy twin-engine or multiengine aircraft equipped with electronic devices used to inspect air navigational facilities, and to evaluate the safety and practicability of terminal and enroute flight procedures.
  • To fly heavy multiengine airplanes on extended flights, with responsibility for transporting passengers and/or cargo to and from a wide variety of domestic or foreign points.
  • To test aircraft with substantially modified systems.
  • Flight Instruction Assignments

    1. Instrument flight instructor assignments at the GS-13 level involve training and evaluating student or rated pilots in the advanced techniques and procedures for flying fixed and rotary wing aircraft using instruments. Advanced instrument techniques include training in instrument flight planning, precision handling and maneuvering of the aircraft, instrument flight using aircraft navigational instruments and systems (e.g., radio directing and position finding systems) in conjunction with air navigational aids (e.g., omnidirectional radio ranges), area navigation, air traffic control operations and procedures and pilot interface with those activities, instrument approach and departure procedures, holding procedures, and use of instrument landing systems. Students are also taught emergency procedures used in, for example, missed approaches and radio failure. The instructors plan, schedule, and conduct cross-country training flights which require reliance on precision instrument flight techniques because they involve flying along the Federal airways. As at lower levels, the instructors grade and evaluate progress of their students.

    These assignments entail a marked degree of hazard due to the demands for concentration characteristic of instrument flight.

    2. Other flight instructor assignments typical of this level entail providing refresher and mission related training to pilots in the reserves flight training programs. Aircraft in which instruction is provided range from high performance jet fighters to heavy multiengine transport airplanes. Assignments cover both ground instruction and in-flight training and evaluation. Instructors train pilots to fly the full range of aircraft maneuvers or capabilities necessary to accomplish the unit's flying mission. Combat mission related training for fighter pilots requires extensive aerobatic maneuvers, close formation flying, high-speed low-level flight, aerial refueling, two or more ship aggressor and defensive combat, and practice over gunnery ranges with heavy ordnance. Transport and tanker pilots are trained to deliver and airdrop cargo's and personnel or rendezvous with and refuel airplanes within the United States and overseas. Overseas flights can entail transporting very heavy loads into short or marginal airstrips or shepherding and refueling fighter formations in long distance delivery operations. The instructor monitors progress during training, and advises when the pilot is considered ready for formal flight evaluation.

    Initially, assignments may involve a minimum degree of hazard. As the instruction involves more difficult maneuvers (e.g., low-level high-speed gunnery practice or high-gravity combat maneuvers), the hazard increases to a substantial degree.

    3. Other flight instructor assignments at the GS-13 level involve training and evaluating rated pilots in methods of instruction. Assignments which involve training other instructors include, in addition to in-flight evaluation, monitoring classroom instruction to evaluate other instructors' techniques and procedures; checking instructors' grade books to train them in correct grade book procedures; formulating lesson plans and instructional material used in classrooms; and revising methods of instruction and other training procedures in use. Also characteristic of this level is the performance of periodic in-flight examination of other instructors as well as evaluations of the instructor's subject-matter knowledge. Some positions may have an additional responsibility for evaluating an organization's performance in terms of the application of safe and accepted flight procedures, and recommending corrective action or additional training. Assignments to train and evaluate other instructors entail a marked degree of hazard. While those being trained are rated pilots, the flight evaluations include the most difficult and hazardous maneuvers and procedures.

    At this level, instruction in flight test techniques is for flight testing characteristic of this level or lower levels. Flight test instruction involves a substantial degree of hazard.

    Flying Assignments

    1. Some assignments at this level involve flying heavy multiengine airplanes (including those classed as "jumbos") over very long distances to a wide variety of locations in this country and overseas for the purpose of transporting cargo and/or personnel. Flights typically involve distances that are significantly greater than those for similar assignments at the next lower grade, except that overseas flights require that the pilot be familiar with international flight procedures and terminology, and the air traffic control procedures applicable in foreign countries. Since such flights typically involve extended over-water flying, they are characterized by a marked degree of hazard. These assignments are distinguished from similar work at the GS-12 level primarily by the weight of aircraft flown and by the variety of different areas and destinations to which flights are made.

    2. Other assignments at this level involve the operation of high performance jet aircraft in law enforcement work under substantially hazardous conditions. Assignments include operation of aircraft equipped with sensor and radar equipment to intercept aircraft suspected of being involved in smuggling activities, performing surveillance or shadowing of suspect aircraft to obtain their identification, and tracking the aircraft to the point of landing. Flights are made both day and night with a substantial portion of the flights made over water. Such operations frequently entail prolonged periods of flying as suspects attempt to avoid apprehension, and require constant attention to the movements of the suspect aircraft. The work requires constant coordination with other aircraft involved in the operation, ground units, and controlling activities. Such assignments are characterized by a substantial degree of hazard due to such factors as high-speed intercept operations, flying in extremely close formation to suspect aircraft, prolonged periods of flying, and operating at night without lights and in all weather conditions.

    Flight Test Assignments

    Flight test assignments at this level involve aircraft with substantially modified systems and are characterized by a substantial degree of hazard. Such assignments require the application of a very high degree of skill in determining aircraft performance and flight characteristics under critical flight conditions of loading, speed, and maneuvers. Substantial modifications are those which are significant enough to influence the flight characteristics of the aircraft to a pronounced degree. These assignments are performed, for example, to certify aircraft as meeting prescribed safety standards after substantial modifications. They require an exceptionally wide background of experience and training to evaluate aircraft operational procedures and mechanical deficiencies and recommend new procedures or corrective action. Assignments involve compiling reports on the suitability, functioning, and general practicability of the aircraft and components or systems.

    Air Space System Inspection Assignments

    Assignments to conduct in-flight inspection of air navigational facilities involve evaluation of the quality of the signals emitted from navigational aids for the purpose of determining conformance to operational standards and verifying facility integrity. Flight evaluations are conducted both day and night, under visual or instrument conditions, using turbine powered airplanes with sophisticated computer equipment to evaluate the quality of the signal throughout all of the facility's parameters. The air navigational facilities inspected and certified include, but are not limited to: very high frequency omnidirectional ranges, tactical air navigation facilities, instrument landing systems, nondirectional beacons, precision approach radar systems, surveillance radar and air traffic control radar beacon systems, microwave landing systems, Loran C, global positioning systems, and communications systems.

    Assignments that involve inspecting air navigation aids require a complete knowledge of instrument flight procedures and their impact on users operating different kinds of aircraft, many types of navigational aids and equipment, and the flight inspection ()) equipment and procedures used. These assignments require the skill to position the aircraft with extreme precision in order to sense, record, and evaluate the accuracy, adequacy, and reliability of air navigation aids; determine facility performance while in flight through the analysis of computer generated readouts; evaluate the safety and practicability of flight procedures used in air traffic movement; and apply sound judgment in making decisions to certify the navigational aid as accurate and reliable for continued use, to restrict usage to specified parameters, or to remove the aid from service.

    Assignments that involve development and review of terminal and enroute flight procedures, and evaluation of proposed changes to the airspace system through in-flight evaluation and analysis of data, include: (1) development, maintenance, and revision of instrument flight procedures, including evaluation of such factors as facility performance, the nature and extent of interference from physical obstructions, controlled air space, and communications with respect to applicable regulations and standards; (2) amendment of regulations and aeronautical publications to authorize operational use of instrument flight procedures; (3) testifying as an expert witness at formal hearings concerning regulations and instrument flight procedures; (4) determining the need for new air navigation aids to solve safety problems and improve operational capabilities; or (5) evaluating the effect of proposed obstructions, altered or deactivated airports, and revisions to controlled air space as they affect flight operations.

    Assignments that involve development of instrument approach procedures require a complete knowledge of controlling regulations, policies, and criteria; air carrier and general aviation operations, with particular emphasis on pilot limitations; air navigation facilities and lighting aids; and aircraft limitations and capabilities. These assignments require the ability to evaluate complex flight operations and apply existing regulations, policies, and criteria without jeopardizing safety; and the ability to deal successfully with members of industry and state and local governments.

    In-flight inspection assignments are characterized by a substantial degree of hazard. Flights frequently involve flying at very low altitudes and speeds, and for prolonged periods in high traffic density terminal areas, where the flight inspection work must be integrated with normal terminal traffic operations. These flights are frequently against the normal flow of air traffic and require intense concentration and coordination. Other assignments of a hazardous nature include inspections after an accident, where a navigational aid is suspect and the objective is to replicate conditions which existed at the time of the accident.

    Staff Assignments

    GS-13 flight instructors who perform special staff projects write flight training procedures; review, revise, and develop training texts and evaluation material; and originate new material pertaining to flight training programs such as that needed to instruct in new equipment and procedures. These flight instructors maintain records and compile reports concerning the results of special projects. They evaluate major courses of instruction for ways of improvement and for adjustment of the course to meet revised training needs. Actual aircraft operation in these assignments is relatively limited and so is the degree of hazard involved. That lack is offset by the extremely high degree of knowledge the incumbent must have of the total flight training program and the characteristics of different categories of aircraft, flight simulation, and related equipment. Such assignments as these are more typical of staff positions in a training school environment, or the headquarters organization responsible for managing an aviation program.

    Flight Test Pilot and Test Pilot Flight Instructor, GS-2181-14

    Assignments at the GS-14 level are characterized by a substantial degree of hazard and involve application of the knowledge and skills required to conduct approval tests of new or critically modified aircraft or to instruct pilots in flight test techniques and responsibilities. Flight test pilots at this level may be concerned with the aerospace flight factors of new and distinct aircraft models, which can include turbojet, turboprop, turboshaft, unducted fan, reciprocating, and turbosupercharged propulsion systems; pressurized and unpressurized cabins; and a wide variety of mechanical, electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, and other systems. Critically modified aircraft may include, for example, "stretched" versions of conventional models with newly designed systems, when the modifications are significant enough to materially change the flight characteristics of the aircraft or require certification in the type aircraft. Test flights are conducted under the most critical conditions of loading, speed, and maneuvers.

    Assignments involve evaluation of advanced or unconventional aircraft with sophisticated systems. Qualitative tests include evaluation of such things as controllability, stability, stall, and spin characteristics; mach effects and buffet boundaries, critical engine determination and landing without engine power; systems operation, cockpit visibility and lighting, arrangement and location of controls and displays, natural icing tests, and ground handling characteristics. Quantitative tests include such things as takeoff and landing distance and climb performance, stall speed, air and ground minimum control speed determination, and helicopter hover performance and limiting height-velocity determination. Assignments often require flying the aircraft with minimum familiarization and no formal checkout. Flight tests are conducted at critical configurations to establish maximum weight, center of gravity extremes, maximum airspeeds and operating altitudes, runway requirements, and emergency operating procedures.

    GS-14 test pilots prepare, or collaborate with others (e.g., engineers) in preparing, general and detailed flight test programs for aircraft submitted for certification and evaluation. Evaluations are conducted day and night, under visual and instrument flight rules, during icing and turbulence, in restricted visibility, in strong crosswinds, and under the most adverse anticipated operating conditions. These programs specify the nature and extent of the flight tests required, the order in which the tests are to be conducted to obtain the necessary information, and the nature of the instrumentation to be installed for the various tests involved. The aircraft tests performed also encompass areas of training, engineering, and human factors. On the basis of such tests, GS-14 test pilots assist in determining such factors as maximum takeoff and landing weights, aircraft configuration, minimum takeoff and landing field lengths, and other operating limitations.

    Individual Occupational Requirements


    Minimum eligibility requirements for positions in this occupation are based on possession of the appropriate Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot certificates and/or appropriate military ratings, meeting the applicable flight hour requirements, and possession of the knowledge and skills required for the positions.

    Certificates and Ratings:

    For all grade levels and specializations, candidates must possess a current Commercial Pilot Certificate or the appropriate military rating; both meet the intent of the requirement. If an agency decides, for example, not to accept the military rating, the rationale for the decision should be based upon the requirements of the position and should be thoroughly described in agency operating material. For flight instructor positions, the FAA Flight Instructor Certificate or the military equivalent rating is also required. The pilot certificate must include the rating(s) appropriate to the work of the position to be filled. For example, a position that involves flying a multi-engine airplane to various destinations under instrument flight rules would require the Commercial Pilot Certificate with the airplane, multi-engine, and instrument ratings or appropriate U.S. military ratings. Positions that require flying or instructing in flying both airplanes and helicopters require a rating in both categories. Only those ratings necessary to perform the work are required.

    Note: Candidates establishing eligibility based on military flight experience must provide official orders, forms, or logbooks showing their status as a rated military pilot, flight instructor, or flight examiner, as appropriate. Other certificates that meet or exceed the requirements of the Commercial Pilot Certificate are also acceptable, e.g., an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate.

    Flight Experience:

    Candidates must demonstrate possession of the knowledge and skills required for the work by meeting certain minimum flight hour requirements, including recency of flight experience. The categories in which candidates are required to demonstrate proficiency relate to (1) the general knowledge and skills to pilot the aircraft, and (2) the specific knowledge and skills related to the particular position being filled. Only that flight experience that is directly related to the work of the position is required for purposes of establishing minimum eligibility.


    The following flight hour requirements apply to all applicants:

    1. Total Flight Time -- Flight time as pilot-in-command or copilot in aircraft of any weight or category is creditable for this requirement. For inservice placements actions, up to one-fourth of the total flight hours may by waived for candidates who have demonstrated possession of the knowledge and skills needed to perform the work, provided:

      • They hold the certificates and ratings required;

      • They have acquired the pilot-in-command hours and flight hours in other categories essential to performance of the work;

      • They meet the requirements in terms of level and quality of experience; and

      • Their flying history indicates they are qualified for the position.

    2. Pilot-In-Command -- Only flight hours acquired as pilot-in-command are creditable.

    3. Night Flying -- For inservice placement actions at the GS-11 level and above, 25 hours may be waived if the candidate demonstrates the ability to perform the work.

    4. Flying Time, Last 12 Months -- Required only for positions that involve flying. The flight hours specified apply to competitive appointments. For inservice placement actions, up to one-half of the flight hours may be waived provided the individual's total background reflects the ability to perform the duties of the position safely. For positions flying both helicopters and airplanes, at least one-fourth of the total hours must be in either category of aircraft.

      Category Flight Hours
      GS-9 GS-11 and above
      1. Total Flight Time 1200 1500
      2. Pilot-In-Command 250 250
      3. Night Flying 50 75
      4. Flying Time, Last 12 months 100 100

      The following flight hour requirements apply only when the position requires the particular specialty.

    5. Multi-engine Airplane -- When the position requires operation of heavy multi-engine airplanes (i.e., gross takeoff weight in excess of 12,500 pounds) at least 50 percent of the flight hours must have been in such heavy airplanes, except as indicated below. Up to 250 hours flying time acquired in heavy helicopters (gross takeoff weight in excess of 12,500 pounds) may be substituted. For Airspace System Inspection Pilot positions with the FAA, experience may have been in either light or heavy multi-engine airplanes.

    6. Heavy Helicopter -- Up to 250 hours flying time acquired in heavy multi-engine airplanes may be substituted.

    7. Instrument -- At the GS-9 level, at least 5 of the required hours must have been logged in actual instrument weather. At the GS-11 level and above, at least 10 of the required hours must have been logged in actual instrument weather. The balance may have been acquired in a flight simulator or as other types of instrument flight time, e.g., hood instrument.

    8. Instructor Time -- Must be related to the nature of the instruction work and the category of aircraft operated (i.e., airplane or helicopter) in the position to be filled. If the purpose of the position is to provide instruction in instrument flight techniques, one-half of the flight time must have involved instrument instruction in either airplanes or helicopters.

      Category Flight Hours
      GS-9 GS-11 and above
      5. Multi-engine Airplane 100 500
      6. Heavy Helicopter 0 500
      7. Instrument 50 75
      8. Instructor Time 0 500


    For flight test pilots, the minimum flight hour requirements shown for grades GS-11 and above are increased as follows:

    Category Flight Hours
    Total Flight Time 1750
    Pilot-In-Command 1150

    The notes above on Total Flight Time and Pilot-in-Command also apply to flight test pilot positions. Flight test positions also require completion of a flight test course such as a military flight test school or the FAA flight test pilot course, or at least 1 year of experience either flight testing aircraft for engineering approval (civilian or military) or analyzing aircraft performance data.


    At the time of initial appointment, candidates for all pilot positions must possess a current first or second-class medical certificate in accordance with FAA regulations; both meet the intent of the requirement. If an agency decides, for example, not to accept the second-class medical certificate, the rationale for the decision should be based upon the requirements of the position, and should be thoroughly described in agency operating material. Staff specialists not involved in the operation of aircraft need only have a medical examination indicating that they are able to perform the duties of the position to be filled. For flight test pilots, airspace system inspection pilots, and Customs pilots, all candidates must possess a current first class medical certificate at the time of appointment.


    Civilian aircraft pilots and flight engineers held about 116,000 jobs in 2008. About 76,800 worked as airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers. The rest were commercial pilots who worked as flight instructors at local airports or for large businesses that fly company cargo and executives in their own airplanes or helicopters. Some commercial pilots flew small planes for air-taxi companies, usually to or from lightly traveled airports not served by major airlines. Others worked for a variety of businesses, performing tasks such as dusting crops, inspecting pipelines, or conducting sightseeing trips.

    Pilots are located across the country, but airline pilots usually are based near major metropolitan airports or airports operating as hubs for the major airlines.

    Job Outlook

    Aircraft pilots and flight engineers are expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations. Regional airlines and low-cost carriers will present the best opportunities; pilots attempting to get jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition.

    Employment change. Employment of aircraft pilots and flight engineers is projected to grow 12 percent from 2008 to 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. Population growth and an expanding economy in the long run are expected to boost the demand for air travel, contributing to job growth. New jobs will be created as airlines expand their capacity to meet this rising demand by increasing the number of planes in operation and the number of flights offered.

    Job prospects. Job opportunities are expected to be best for experienced pilots with the regional airlines and low-cost carriers, which are expected to grow faster than the major airlines. Opportunities with air cargo carriers also should arise because of increasing security requirements for shipping freight on passenger airlines, growth in electronic commerce, and increased demand for global freight. Business, commuter, corporate, and on-demand air taxi travel also should provide some new jobs for pilots.

    Pilots attempting to get jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition, as those firms tend to attract many more applicants than the number of job openings. Applicants also will have to compete with laid-off pilots for any available jobs. Pilots who have logged the greatest number of flying hours using sophisticated equipment typically have the best prospects. For this reason, military pilots often have an advantage over other applicants.

    In addition to job openings arising from employment growth, opportunities will result from the need to replace workers transferring to other occupations or leaving the labor force. Additional openings will result from the mandatory retirement of commercial airline pilots at age 65.

    Employment of pilots is sensitive to cyclical swings in the economy. During recessions, when a decline in the demand for air travel forces airlines to ground planes and curtail the number of flights, airlines may temporarily furlough some pilots.


    Earnings of aircraft pilots and flight engineers vary greatly depending whether they work as airline or commercial pilots. Earnings also depend on factors such as rank, seniority, and the size and type of aircraft flown. For example, pilots who fly jet aircraft usually earn higher salaries than pilots who fly turboprops. Airline pilots and flight engineers may earn extra pay for night and international flights. In May 2008, median annual wages of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers were $111,680. The middle 50 percent earned between $81,580 and $150,480.

    Median annual wages of commercial pilots were $65,340 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $45,680 and $89,540. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $32,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $129,580.

    Airline pilots usually are eligible for life and health insurance plans. They also receive retirement benefits and, if they fail the FAA physical examination at some point in their careers, they get disability payments. In addition, pilots receive an expense allowance, or “per diem,” for every hour they are away from home. Some airlines also provide allowances to pilots for purchasing and cleaning their uniforms. As an additional benefit, pilots and their immediate families usually are entitled to free or reduced-fare transportation on their own and other airlines.

    More than half of all aircraft pilots are members of unions. Most of the pilots who fly for the major airlines are members of the Air Line Pilots Association, International, but those employed by one major airline are members of the Allied Pilots Association.

    Sources of Additional Information

    For information about job opportunities, salaries, and qualifications, write to the personnel manager of the particular airline.

    For information on pilots, contact:

    • Federal Aviation Administration, 800 Independence Ave. SW., Washington, DC 20591. Internet:

    For information on airline pilots, contact:

    For information on helicopter pilots, contact:

    • Helicopter Association International, 1635 Prince St., Alexandria, VA 22314. Internet:

    For information about job opportunities in companies other than airlines, consult the classified section of aviation trade magazines and apply to companies that operate aircraft at local airports.

    Information on obtaining Pilot positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

    Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition and
    OPM's Position Classification Standards for White Collar Work

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