A flying career in troubled times: the three Golden Rules

Ian Seager

Ian Seager, managing director of FLYER, Pilot Career News and Pilot Careers Live, and with more than 25 years of experience in the industry, offers advice to anyone wondering about their career in aviation.

Throughout the world airlines are parking airframes, furloughing pilots and cutting costs wherever they can. And that’s just those that are managing to survive.

Most of the world’s governments are spending unimaginable amounts of money to support health services and protect businesses. One day that credit card bill is going to land on all of our doormats, and that will inevitably slow economic activity and the subsequent recovery from these tragic times.

Whether you are about to start commercial flight training, are halfway through or have just graduated and have shiny new MCC/JOC certificates to go with your CPL/IR and theory passes, you’re going to be spending a lot of time wondering about your future.

Here are my three Golden Rules…

1 Do not believe anything you see, read or are told

And yes, that also applies to this. Nobody knows what is going to happen, what things will look like in a month, six months or a year.

There’s lots of information out there, and lots of it will have been created to support the author’s narrative. Schools want to train, aircraft manufacturers want to sell aircraft, unions want to protect their members etc.

Your current task, wherever you are in the process, is to look critically at all information and to start building a picture.

In the cockpit you wouldn’t trust critical data from one single instrument, and you shouldn’t do it in this situation either. Build your situational awareness from multiple sources and review it constantly.

Things are going to keep changing, and your world view isn’t going to age well if it’s not dynamic. Trust but verify.

2 Plan for flexibility

As you probably know, in Europe at least, there are 14 ATPL theoretical knowledge subjects. I think there should be 15, with the extra one relating to life and career planning.

In our collective memories there have been three big upsets in the commercial aviation world in recent times – 911, the 2007-8 financial crash and now Covid-19.

There will have been many more smaller disasters, all of which have been just as traumatic as the biggies for those personally involved.

The point is, the world of commercial aviation is more volatile than most, and if you intend to make it your life-long career you’d better get used to embracing change and all that brings with it.

You need the focus of a Plan A, the security of a Plan B and the backup of a Plan C.

3 Be bloody persistent and stay with it

You’ve dreamed of becoming a commercial pilot since your parents got woke and swapped your Pampers for Terries. For years it’s been the only career you’ve thought about, and for some is the only thing they can do (see Golden Rule 2).

What are you going to do, pivot to Alpaca rearing? Well, if that or something else brings you joy then why not, but for those for whom the sky is the only choice, it’s being persistent that’s going to get you there. Eventually.

You have to stay engaged in the aviation world in any way you can, online (have you signed up for our newsletter?), in person at airfields, at events (when they return), by volunteering, by participating in any way you can.

Do whatever it takes to remain engaged in the aviation world, it’s a big family and you’re part of it.