So You Want to be an Airline First Officer
When you are in that long process of getting your pilots license, its fun to think about the different jobs in the airline industry that this license might make possible for you. Obviously, the top echelon of being a full fledged pilot is to pilot one of those jumbo international jets. But there is a path between where you are and that job and first officer is a fine goal to start out with.
Of course, one way to quickly become the head of the team on a commercial airline is to go to work for an airline where you will be piloting a smaller craft or to work for a charter airline so you are the only one flying the plane on each outing. That’s not a bad option and it’s a respectable job using your pilot’s license. But sometimes nothing will take the place of climbing the latter in a larger airline so you can enjoy the big rewards of someday being the chief pilot on a large craft going to some exotic route.
If you get to the position of first officer on a large aircraft, that is no small position. It is an “apprentice” position and you are in the position of being an assistant to the captain while you learn the ropes of operating a large and complex craft. But if you are a young pilot and you want to get a good flight log of real life cockpit experience, paying your dues as a first officer is an outstanding time in your career and one you will benefit from tremendously. It won’t pay as well as when you make full pilot but look on it as your “internship” and be glad that by holding down that spot, you are on your way.
Much of the excitement of piloting a major aircraft for one of the big airlines comes to you even as the first officer. And that major airline flight time on your resume is nothing short of priceless as you move forward in your career in the industry. Along with learning the nuances of the aircraft itself and how to respond to different in flight situations from a technical point of view, the time you have working as a peer with an experienced airline captain and crew can help you sort out the culture of the airline of the industry so you can not only navigate the aircraft but your career in the industry as well.
By serving some good months or years in the first officer position, you are putting yourself directly under the scrutiny of the people who make the decisions about hiring for airline captain jobs and other senior positions in the airline industry. Airline captain is not a position that you can just walk off the street and do. And by doing some good time as a first officer and getting noticed for your good work in that position, you will be in great shape when the time comes for you to apply for the top job.
So include a stint as first officer in your career path as you start your ascent through the positions of authority in your airline career. And when you make this first level goal and have a first officer position, don’t be too hasty to rush through it. This is an outstanding time to build relationships and to demonstrate competency not only to the people who might promote you to captain but to the airline staff and your fellow crew members who may one day say “Yes Captain” to you when you sit down to command a big aircraft en route to London, Paris or Rome.