Not a great deal needs to be said about the upside of flying as a career - those people that are considering it tend to be pretty driven, and I do think that I have a great way to earn a living. However, before you start thinking how lucky are the people who are doing it, it's worth considering some of the less positive aspects of it.
- It costs a lot to get into - tens of thousands of pounds. If you don't succeed, that money is written off. Unlike all but the silliest vocational university degrees, half a pilot's licence has little transferable value. Furthermore, being a professional pilot is not a transferable skill. I know; I've tried.
- Whilst the technical knowledge you need to absorb and reproduce is not that complicated, there is a LOT of it.
- At the wrong time in the economic cycle, it is almost impossible to get the first job. In fact, you can end up paying more to get a job than you will be earning from it. Seriously.
- If you want two weeks of summer holidays with the family, don't work for an airline. If you don't want to work on Sundays, do something else. If you have regular commitments during the week, give them up. If you want weekends, forget it. Don't underestimate the significance of this. "That Friday feeling" exists - but not generally on Fridays. When your friends are getting married one every couple of weeks, you are likely to miss half of them with work. If your friends are doing regular jobs, their social activities will be geared around Friday and Saturday nights. Yours won't.
- The flight simulator is not "wow! What fun!" You are defending your job, every six months. If you fail too badly, you won't have a licence, which means you won't have a job.
- You have a medical every year. If you fail your medical, you won't have a licence, which means you won't have a job. There aren't many jobs in which you are challenged about how much you are smoking, drinking and exercising every year.
- If you break your arm, you lose your medical, which means you can't work.
- Whilst you may average only around 35 hours work per week (see my earlier post) with some companies, this masks some serious variations. The legal limit is 55 hours duty in any 7 days, 95 hours in any 14 days and 190 hours in any 28 days. Furthermore, when you've got up at or before 4 am, or got in from work after midnight, four days in a row, you seriously wonder if there have really only been 168 hours in the last week.
- You can't turn up to work with a hangover, and in fact for most of the week, you basically can't drink. You can't take a day's holiday at short notice if something comes up. You will miss half the things your children do at school. If delays mean you're missing an appointment, you generally have to put up with it (or organise the appointment better). The work you expected to do will probably be rewritten - more or less often, depending upon the airline - entailing occasional substantial reorganisation of arrangements.
Um, well, that's some of the stuff that nobody told me before I committed myself to this career. I hope it's useful....