Building Your Way to Your Dream Job Starts One Hour at a Time as a Low Hour Pilot

You put in the time to earn a commercial pilot certificate. You brushed up on the privileges and limitations that come with it, and now you are ready to go land that first pilot job. The only problem is that during your job search you discover that you have less than 500 hours, and many of the pilot job listings in the United States require more experience.

Before giving up and resigning yourself to taking a job in another field while building more flight time on the side, check out our list of 8 low time pilot jobs that all require you to have logged less than 500 hours.

Table of Contents

1.  Air Tours

An Aircraft GIving a Tropical Flight Tour

An air tour pilot job is the classier aviation version of the tour bus guide in popular destinations. This type of pilot flies passengers over scenic sites of all types, whether in urban areas like Las Vegas and Miami or places with natural beauty like the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls. This can be one of the more fun pilot jobs for a low hour pilot if you are a people person.

Many air tour pilots are people-oriented, so they enjoy entertaining and interacting with their passengers. Passengers are usually tourists looking for a good time and some memorable photo opportunities.

As their pilot, you have a chance to showcase all the best sights plus share interesting stories and the history of the areas you are flying over. As a bonus, wherever you choose to work, you know it will be somewhere with a view that others are paying to see.

Working as an air tour pilot job is an excellent starter job that can require as little as 200 hours of flight time to get your foot in the door. Although the salary is not lucrative, you are still being paid to build flight time rather than having to pay for it yourself. This can contribute to your later training for even better pilot jobs.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • High school diploma
  • Commercial pilot license
  • Ratings dependent on aircraft
  • 200 hours of flight time
  • People person 

2.  Certified Flight Instructor (CFI)

A Happy Student and Flight Instructor Seated in a Plane

One of the ways to crystallize your own skills and push yourself to the next level at the same time is to start teaching at a flight school. For some people, this is one of the best pilot jobs since they can pass their knowledge on to inexperienced pilots. As a certified flight instructor (CFI), you will naturally close any gaps in your own learning and become an expert on the fundamentals of flight. This entry level job is a strong base and will serve you as you continue to advance your career.

As you know, from having gone through plenty of pilot training yourself, the role of a CFI is to guide student pilots through both the academic principles of flight during ground school and the hands-on reality in the air. Like other teachers, flight instructors dedicate additional time outside of lessons for planning curriculum and preparing lesson plans.

If you are interested in becoming a certified flight instructor, you will need to earn your CFI certificate. Prepare for a longer and more challenging check ride than you have previously experienced for other pilot jobs.

During this check ride, not only will you need to demonstrate your own piloting skills, but you must also show that you have what it takes to reliably transfer those skills to your students and to serve as their safety net while in the air.

Some CFIs really love their job and make a career out of them. Others use the experience as a stepping stone to different piloting jobs. Either way, becoming a CFI is a low time pilot job that rewards you in terms of building your skills and capabilities. And with only a few more hours needed for this type of work, this is perfect when you’re searching for 200 hour pilot jobs.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • 18 years of age
  • Have either a commercial pilot certificate or an airline transport pilot certificate and an instrument rating
  • 250 hours of flight time
  • Hold a valid FAA 3rd Class Medical Certificate (or higher)
  • Logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor on the fundamentals of instructing
  • Pass a knowledge test on the aeronautical knowledge areas appropriate to the flight instructor rating sought 

3.  Banner Towing

A Small Aircraft Towing a Valentines Day Banner

We have all seen planes flying over sporting events, festivals, and beaches towing promotional banners. Banner towing pilots spend their days flying back and forth slow and low over designated areas so that people below can see the banner.

It may not be an incredibly glamorous pilot job, but working as a banner towing pilot can certainly pay the bills and help you build flight time. You could even get to tow an engagement proposal, birthday, or other special banners.

One of the most fun and exciting parts of being a banner towing pilot is the low flyby of the airfield to pick up the banner. Pilots must be very precise in hooking the banner without getting too close to the ground. Watch The Flying Reporter’s How Pilots tow banners feature to see this maneuver in action.

To work as a banner towing pilot, you will need your banner towing endorsement. This is where you gain the towing-specific skills required to be a safe banner towing pilot. You also need an additional license so this may not pop up when you’re searching for 200 hour pilot jobs.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • Private Pilots License
  • Commercial Pilot license
  • Instrument rating
  • Banner Towing Endorsement must be obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration
  • 340 hours of flight time 

4.  Aerial Surveying/Mapping

An Aerial View of Land Surveying

Aerial surveying or mapping uses both fixed and rotary-wing aircraft to collect various geographical information about a designated region from the air. Depending on the nature of the survey and the equipment management needs, the pilot may be flying solo or with an experienced systems and sensor management engineer on board.

If you do not have an engineer on board, part of your job as an aerial surveyor will be to operate the imaging and other equipment yourself, so computer and technical skillsets can be useful.

Multiple pieces of hardware are typically used to conduct a survey, and they must be mounted or properly positioned in/on the aircraft. As an aerial surveyor, you will use technology like calibrated aerial cameras, laser scanners, magnetometers, radar, and hyper-spectrometers. The data will be georeferenced using additional equipment like a global navigation satellite system (GNNS) and inertial navigation units.

Pilots considering applying for a job as an aerial surveyor should be sure they are up for the challenge of flying with the precise accuracy needed and for long stretches of time.

You will have to fly a specific route at an exact altitude to successfully meet the needs of the survey. An advantage of this type of low time pilot job is that it helps pilots to practice and enhance their precision and instrument flying skills which will prove useful in future jobs.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • Multi-Engine Commercial Pilot Certificate
  • IFR Rating
  • Valid passport and driver's license
  • Professional aerial mapping experience as a PIC
  • Experience to safely conduct flight operations.
  • 500 hours total flight time, 50 multi-engine hours

5.  Pipeline and Powerline Patrol

Aerial View of Pipelines

Companies that own pipelines and powerlines must conduct regular and emergency services of their lines. While the ground crew will walk or drive the lines doing more detailed inspections and conducting repairs, pilots are also contracted to fly overhead. A pipeline or powerline patrol pilot flies low over the pipeline or power line route conducting surveys and inspecting for signs of leaks or damage.

If a power outage or potential leak is reported, depending on the location, it can be easier and faster to send a pilot out to pinpoint the source rather than having a ground crew inspect a large length of the line.

One of the hazards of working as a pipeline or powerline patrol pilot job is that you are frequently flying over remote and rugged terrain. This means that emergency landing area sites may be minimal and alternate airfields may be further away. Patrol pilots gain plenty of practice doing careful preflight planning to mitigate these risks.

Pipeline and powerline patrol pilots may be hired directly by the power/pipeline company, through a survey company, or through an air patrol company that contracts with the power and pipeline companies. This kind of piloting job will most likely be found when looking for 500 hour pilot jobs.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • Commercial Single-engine Land
  • 400 hours of flight time
  • Commercial pilot license
  • Instrument rating
  • Must Be Current and Proficient in a Cessna 172 

6.  Glider Tow Pilot

A Small Yellow Plane Tows a White Glider

The roll of a glider tow pilot is an interesting one because, according to the FAA, it can be performed by anyone who holds at least a private pilot certificate with the appropriate category rating and who has logged a minimum of just 100 hours as pilot in command of that category of aircraft.

To qualify as a glider tow pilot, the pilot simply needs to log their 100 hours, receive tow training, and have a logbook endorsement from an instructor or qualified pilot. Training must include just three tows as sole control manipulator.

To maintain the currency, in each twelve-month period, tow pilots must make three tow flights under the supervision of a qualified tow pilot. Alternatively, suppose the pilot is also a glider pilot. In that case, he or she can meet the tow currency minimums by making three flights as a pilot in command of a glider during the twelve-month period.

The relatively low barrier to entry and ability for a private pilot to be tow certified can make it sound like the job of a glider tow pilot is an extremely easy one and perhaps not worth paying someone to do.

Thankfully, there are still paid tow pilot jobs out there, and the Soaring Safety Foundation notes that just because a pilot satisfies the FAR requirements, that does not mean that said pilot is truly qualified and competent. It takes skill to coordinate with the glider pilot, and there are unique dangers like kiting accidents to be aware of and watch out for.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • Holds at least a private pilot certificate with a category rating for powered aircraft
  • 100 hours of pilot in command time in the aircraft category, class, and type,
  • A logbook endorsement from an authorized instructor who certifies that the person has received ground and flight training in gliders and is proficient in:
    • The techniques and procedures essential to the safe towing of gliders, including airspeed limitations
    • Emergency procedures
    • Signals used
    • Maximum angles of bank. 

7.  Skydive Jump Pilot

An Aircraft with an Eager Skydiver in the Air

Skydiving is an adventurous and thrilling activity that is on many people’s bucket lists. Before jumpers can make their breathtaking dive, they need a pilot to get them and their gear up in the air. That is where you come in.

Working as a skydive jump pilot can be a fun low hour pilot job because your passengers are all very excited, enthusiastic, and a little nervous to be there. They are looking forward to a memorable experience, and you get to be a part of that. If you are not already a skydiver, you just may become one after spending so much time watching the action.

In an interview with boldmethod, skydive jump pilot Jeremiah Johnson credits his job for helping him to hone his stick and rudder skills. He notes, “It’s a great first piloting job because you really can’t be slack in your procedures…there’s a whole lot of multitasking involved from the pilot’s position.” Johnson explains that the pilot must compensate for the wind to ensure the jumpers are set up to land on target.

He also must maintain altitude and airspeed even while jumpers climb out on the wing struts and create drag. As the jumpers move around and exit the plane, the center of gravity shifts, so the pilot gets plenty of experience adjusting pitch and trim. Since jump pilots do roughly 2 takeoffs and landings per flight hour, you will quickly perfect those skills as well. This is one of the most rewarding pilot jobs available.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • Commercial Pilots License
  • High-Performance Endorsement
  • Complex Aircraft Endorsement
  • FAA Class II Medical
  • Min 250 hours pilot in command
  • Insurance approval 

8.  Traffic Watch Pilot

A Pilot Sitting in the Cockpit Staring Out His Windshield

In large cities, television or radio stations may hire pilots to perform traffic watch and traffic reporting flights. These pilots fly above crowded roads and potentially in marginal weather to gain an aerial view of conditions on the ground. They then relay that information to the reporter or radio host in the studio so it can be passed along to viewers or listeners.

Due to the nature of the work, traffic watch pilots are often scheduled to fly during morning and evening rush hour. They can also be called on to monitor holiday and special event traffic or conditions during types of inclement weather or civil unrest. Some government and local law enforcement agencies may also request the services of a traffic watch pilot.

Requirements for this Pilot Job

  • 500 hours of flight time
  • Commercial license
  • Instrument rating 
Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is considered a low time pilot?

    Pilots who have a low number of flight hours, usually not much more than 500, and wish to build their hours while earning an income. These individuals can seek out pilot jobs that best suit their hours. 

  • Is 32 too late to become a pilot? 

    It's never too old to start pursuing your dreams. One of the many great advantages of becoming a pilot is that while there's a starting age, there's no age limit! There are plenty of pilot jobs for all ages. 

  • How do low time pilots build hours? 

    There are many ways in which you can build your hours, including becoming a certified instructor, joining a flying club, or getting a job at your local airport. All of these activities can help build up your flying time. 

  • What are the minimum flying hours for a pilot?

    A person applying for a private pilot certificate in airplanes, helicopters, and gyro-planes must log at least 40 hours of flight time, of which at least 20 hours are flight training from an authorized instructor and 10 hours of solo flight training in the appropriate areas of operation; three hours of cross country; three hours at night, three hours of instrument time; and other requirements specific to the category and class rating sought. 

  • Are there jobs available for low time pilots?

    Yes, there are pilot job listings specifically designed for low time pilots. These jobs provide opportunities for them to gain experience and increase their flight hours. 

  • Where can low time pilots find pilot jobs? 

    Low time pilots can find jobs through various sources such as aviation job boards, pilot networking events, and contacting flight schools or aviation companies directly. 

  • What types of pilot jobs are suitable for low time pilots?

    There are several pilot jobs that are suitable for low time pilots, including flight instructing, aerial surveying, pipeline patrol, banner towing, traffic reporting, and skydiving operations. These jobs often have lower hour requirements and provide valuable experience for aspiring pilots. 

  • How can low time pilots enhance their chances of getting pilot jobs? 

    Low time pilots can enhance their chances of getting pilot jobs by networking with industry professionals, volunteering for aviation organizations, attending aviation conferences or trade shows, and continuously improving their skills and knowledge through additional training and certifications.

Takeaways

As a newly minted commercial pilot, you may not have accumulated enough hours to qualify for your dream job, but that does not mean that you cannot get paid to fly.

There are plenty of low time pilot jobs available to pilots with under 500 hours. Some are starter jobs, while others could be made into a full-time career. There are even pilots who hold more than one type of low time pilot job at the same time.

Consider spending weekends as an air tour or banner towing pilot, then doing aerial surveying or pipeline and powerline patrol during the week.

Scheduling as a flight instructor could be flexible and work around your traffic watch schedule. Perhaps a local airfield supports both glider traffic and skydivers, so you can serve two client bases out of the same location.

If you're looking for pilot job listings in the United States, there are various resources available online where you can find opportunities that match your qualifications and flight hours. Websites like aviationjobsearch.com, pilotjobs.com, or the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) job board can provide valuable listings for entry-level pilot positions.

Remember that entry-level pilot jobs often require you to gain experience and flight hours, which can contribute to advancing your career. While these roles may not be your ultimate goal, they can serve as stepping stones towards becoming a pilot in command and pursuing higher-level positions.

With dedication and persistence, you can work your way up the aviation career ladder, and that first step can start with low hour pilot jobs.

Whatever you choose to pursue, know that having a limited amount of flight time does not have to stand in the way of getting paid to do what you love: flying.

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