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Aviation Jobs: An Inside Look

Aviation Jobs: An Inside Look

Do you want to know a secret? There are a lot of pilot jobs available right now. I know you’re probably thinking, “No kidding. Tell me something that I don’t know.” Okay, I will. The prime jobs aren’t where you think they are.

Did that get your attention?

That’s right. Legacy airlines make up about 10 percent of the total aviation industry. When we hear about airline jobs, the focus is almost exclusively on legacy carriers. Legacy carriers are the largest and most well-known carriers. These are American, Delta, Southwest, and the like. These are commonly referred to as the tier 1 carriers in the industry. Tier 2 carriers are also large and well-known. These include airlines such as Allegiant, Frontier, and others that don’t have as many aircraft as the tier 1 carriers but are still widely recognized. An airline’s annual revenue is the primary determinant of its tier level.

Tier 3 and 4 carriers are those carriers that most people don’t know about. Tier 3 carriers are smaller carriers that usually operate in the background. This is my favorite tier because they have smaller pilot pools and fewer aircraft, and they offer the most opportunities for upgrades on a variety of popular aircraft.

Let’s look at the numbers. There are roughly 1,000 officially recognized commercial airlines in the world. Of those, approximately 70–75 are considered to be tier 1 and 2 carriers. So, when most people considering a flying job are focused on those airlines, they’re missing the opportunities available with the other 950+ carriers.

In addition to tier 3 and 4 carriers, many flying jobs are available to pilots outside of the U.S. These “expat” jobs offer ways for lower-time pilots to fly larger aircraft, often with higher pay, than they would be eligible for in the U.S. These jobs are also a great way to see the world.

There are many benefits to being an American expat pilot, especially for young new pilots who aren’t tied to any one geographical location. The starting salary for an expat first officer is around $5,000 per month, depending on the location. Add this to a lower cost of living and the tax benefits of living abroad, and you can start to see the financial incentives for being an expat pilot. Many of these pilots get to fly much larger and faster aircraft than they would initially be able to fly in the U.S. The upgrade times are also generally faster because fewer pilots are in the pilot pool. Many pilots also choose these jobs simply because they enjoy living abroad and experiencing the world.

Expat pilot jobs are some of the best-kept secrets in the world. I have helped many pilots get these jobs over the years, and many, to their credit, saved as much of their salary as they could. Some saved as much as 70 percent of their salary because they worked for an airline that provided housing. One pilot that I stayed in touch with saved over half a million dollars by the time he decided to return to the United States to work.

There are also many benefits to flying with tier 3 and 4 carriers in the U.S. Many pilots get jobs with these carriers only to leave as soon as they have enough hours for the legacy carriers. However, the ones who stay usually experience significant opportunities when it comes to pay, access to upgrades, and the types of aircraft they get to fly. One example I witnessed personally was a cargo airline that, for a long time, only flew Boeing 727s. I watched as many pilots came and went. However, there were a handful who stuck around. After a while, the airline replaced all of its 727s with 767s. The pilots who remained are now flying major wide-body airplanes.

And how, you might wonder, can you access these jobs? There is no simple answer. It takes a lot of research and creativity. In aviation, there is a concept that states, “It’s not what you know but who you know.” This couldn’t be any truer than it is for the tier 3 and 4 carriers. Most prime pilot jobs with tier 3 and 4 carriers are obtained through word of mouth and through various industry job boards such as,,, and more. Do an internet search for pilot jobs, and you will see thousands listed.

The point is that you never know where the pilot opportunities are. Don’t simply fall in line with everyone else and focus on name recognition. Do some research and find opportunities that meet your goals, fit with your lifestyle, and offer you a career parallel to your hobbies and interests. It may take a few nights at home doing research, but I promise you it will pay off in the long run.