Jessica Gier learned to fly her father’s Cessna 172 at Gillespie Field in El Cajon when she was 18. By the time she was 23 she was flying for a freight company and now, 10 years later, she is a pilot for American Airlines.
“Flying is the best career I could possibly think of,” she said. “There was a time I thought the industry was pretty bad for pilots, but now, it’s the absolute best job around if you love to fly.”
Over the past four years the airline industry was sputtering, and many pilots were laid off, but now the industry is flying high once again.
According to the aircraft builder Boeing, there will be a need for 466,650 more commercial pilots by 2029 — an average of 23,300 new pilots a year. Nearly 40 percent of the openings will be in the the Asia-Pacific region, but more than 97,000 will be in North America. The average starting salary for a pilot at a regional carrier is only about $21,000 a year, while the most senior captain, flying the largest plane at a major airline, typically makes more than $186,000 a year, according to FltOps.com.
Furthermore, Uncle Sam is looking for a few mavericks to return to fly the friendly and not-so-friendly skies of the world. The Pentagon is short on fighter pilots and it is looking for at least 130 veteran military aviators for nine-year commitments to fly fighter jets. The salary is $34,500 to $97,400. Plus good benefits and a $225,000 guaranteed signing bonus. (Contact: U.S. Air Force by Sept. 30)
Gier was hoping to fly for the Navy after graduating from high school, but her local recruiter told her is wasn’t going to happen. She went with a private company and hasn’t looked back.
“The military probably wasn’t for me, so it really worked out in the end,” she said. “I just wish there were more girls and women who wanted to fly commercial jets.”
Gier may not see many new females alongside her in the cockpit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, just four percent of aircraft pilots and flight engineers are female, a figure that hasn’t changed in a decade.
Harvard economist Claudia Goldin, who has written extensively about barriers that kept women out of certain jobs during parts of the 20th century, wrote in an op-ed for USA Today, that “one of the great barriers to women in aviation was the training that the military gave to men. Many commercial airline pilots start out as fighter pilots, a job that only became open to women in 1993.”
Another reason for the pilot shortage is that many current pilots are nearing the mandatory retirement age for pilots of 65.
“I flew for 34 years and would recommend the job to anyone,” said retired pilot Scott Winslow of Del Mar. “Travel and excitement and a decent paycheck are what you tell people when they ask you why you are a pilot. The real reason of course is because you love to fly.”
According to jetcareers.com, a pilot either has to go through the military, which is an eight year commitment after pilot training, or pay for that training him or herself. In addition to needing a bachelor’s degree (in any subject), a pilot needs a lot of intensive training in the field of aviation itself.
If you’re considering a career as a pilot you will need to be in excellent physical condition. Captains need to pass a physical exam once every six months, and commercial pilots need to pass an exam every year. In addition, pilots are subject to regular drug and alcohol tests. Your mental state also needs to be above par considering you could be flying a metal canister with hundreds of people on board.