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Low-Time Pilot Jobs

Since 2013 pilots have had a significant hurdle to overcome, known as the 1,500-hour rule. The story of this rule begins when in 2013, US Congress decided to pass a bill entailing that all Airline Transport Pilots (ATP) must possess at least 1500 hours of flight time before attaining certification. Before this, pilots were only required to have a Commercial Pilot Certificate (CAX), which required 250 flight hours, before they could begin ATP training.

While 250 was the minimum for pilots to go to an airline, these pilots were far from competitive candidates. Most airlines wanted a pilot to acquire more hours before undergoing the rigorous ATP training provided by the airline. After implementing the 1,500-hour rule, many pilots were left to find ways to build enough hours to go to an airline, as most flight schools only get students 250 to 300 flight hours.

So what are some options for a pilot to build their flight time?

Out-Of-Pocket Flights

The first option is to self-fund flight time. This would entail a pilot buying or renting an aircraft and flying for recreational purposes to build time. This is typically the fastest but most costly option, as the cheapest options still cost over $100 per hour, making this an unreasonable option for most people.

As paying for flight hours is not an option for us common folk, the only way to attain sufficient flight hours is to find a low-time pilot job.


Many flight schools give students a chance to go through Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) training after completing their CAX checkride. As a CFI, a pilot will instruct other students on flying and, in doing so, gain lots of valuable flight time. Being a CFI is not the most lucrative job in aviation by any means. Pay can vary between $15 and $70 per hour, but work is not always the most consistent, as CFIs can only work when students are available. Being a CFI is also typically the fastest way to reach the airlines. Depending on schedules, most full-time CFIs can reach the airlines within 1-2 years of instructing.

Part 135

Low-time pilots may also find jobs as charter pilots. To qualify for a charter position hauling cargo or passengers, a pilot will need 500 flight hours to fly as Second-in-Command (SIC) and 1200 hours to fly as Pilot-in-Command (PIC). Remember that these are minimum requirements, and many employers want pilots to have far more flight time. However, some companies will hire pilots at 135 minimums. Many of these are small cargo charter operations.

Aerial Survey

There are many aerial survey pilot jobs across the industry. Many of these involve aerial photography and visual surveys. These jobs typically hire pilots around 500 hours and can survey anything from tree populations to pipelines. These jobs are often seasonal but can be a great way to build flight hours quickly.

Air Tour Pilot

Another primarily seasonal job is flying air tours. Air tour positions can be found across the US but are primarily found in areas with high levels of tourism. These jobs do not typically pay very well, but like flying aerial surveys, they can help a pilot obtain flight hours quickly.

Ferry Pilot

Whenever someone buys a plane, and they do not live close to the seller, they must retrieve the aircraft themselves or pay a ferry pilot to fly it to them. This gives many pilots a great opportunity to fly cross country while getting paid to do it. Many planes require pilots to have experience in that plane, meaning that not every pilot can fly every plane, limiting the types of aircraft you can ferry. Nonetheless, it can be an excellent way for a low-time pilot to build flight hours.

Banner Towing

Perhaps one of the most well-known low-time pilot positions is banner towing. As a banner tow pilot, one can expect to fly a regular route back and forth for hours daily. It does not pay the greatest but can be a quick way to build flight time. This job can also be seasonal, as most banner towing jobs are found flying over beaches or stadiums.

Glider Towing

With a little training, a commercial pilot can learn to tow gliders. Also, it is not a high-paying job, but it can be an excellent way to build hours. Unfortunately, the schedule relies on glider pilots needing a tow, which may be a bit inconsistent.

Skydive Pilot

Every time someone posts a skydiving video online, there is a pilot that took them up in the sky. There are a lot of skydive pilot jobs around the US as it is and has been a popular extreme sport for decades. Many skydive pilot jobs have low-hour requirements and are willing to hire low-time pilots. Keep in mind that a lot also have higher hour requirements. Regardless, if you can get on, it can be a fun way to build flight time.

These are not the only ways someone can build flight time, but they are some of the most common. Of every job listed above, CFI is typically the best option for anyone looking to build flight time to go to the airlines. It is not the highest paying nor the most consistent, but CFIs typically get more flight hours per month than their counterparts in different low-time flying jobs.

For questions regarding flight training or pilot careers, give us a call at (262)AX-PILOT, or send us an email at

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