Saturday, February 23, 2008

Flying For Free

A recent Job Post by a Sky Diving Company on the AvCanada Message Boards has sparked quite a bit of online controversy. There have been a number of threads in response to this job post: Here , and Here , and Here , and Here.

The problem with this job ad is that the ad is not for a real job. The skydive company runs a skydive 'course' where it charges roughly $1000 to the dozen or so pilots who sign up. From there, the company will take only a few of the 'graduates' of this course and allow them to fly skydivers for the summer and not get paid for it.

There are a number of problems with this.

To begin with, I have talked to a couple different new pilots over the years who have signed up for this course under the promise that everyone who passes the course gets 'hired' on. However, unless things have changed, it sounds as if the reality of the situation is that very few of the pilots who complete the course actually get hired on. A couple of years ago, one friend of mine signed up for the course. The company knew in advance that he had only 200 hours, however, after the course had finished, they gave him an excuse that the couldn't 'hire' him because their minimum was 250 hours. Another pilot I talked to claims he was promised that everyone who takes the course gets hired, however, after he had paid for and attended the course, they said, thanks, but we have enough pilots and don't need your help - they were still more than happy to take his money for the course though.

At first blush this course and promise of flying can actually sound like a good deal for a new pilot who has just spent tens of thousands of dollars getting his or her licence.

The thinking goes - the promise of 200-300 hours over a summer for 'only' the cost of a $1000 course is a small price to pay compared to the cost of getting a licence. Besides, working for free or 'volunteering' to get these hours will give them experience and a leg up to get a real job.

While I completely understand the reasoning for this type of thinking, it is based on false logic. Although flight training is expensive, the primary purpose of the flight is so that you can learn to fly. At the Sky Dive company, the primary purpose of the flight is to fly skydivers and ultimately make money for the owner. This company is not a skydiving club or a not-for-profit organization (there are, for example, non profit gliding clubs where volunteering would be a slightly different endeavour). This company's purpose is to make money and they need pilots to fly the skydiving planes in order to make money, therefore, the pilot involved should be making money.

Hours in and of themselves are not a form of payment. While true that most entry level jobs are low paying and the primary purpose is to gain experience, you are a commercial pilot and providing your services so that the owner of the company can make money, you should therefore be paid. Skydiving companies are never going to be high paying jobs. In fact, there are a lot of places where pilots only get $1 of every jumper they fly whereas they get $2 for every parachute they roll up! While I think that this is still very low pay, at least it is pay.

As a new pilot, you may think that spending money on this type of course and getting this type of experience will help you in the long run. On an individual level it actually might help someone get ahead. However, there are a few things to think about before deciding to take a non-paying position. This operator, and others like it are known across the industry. This could potentially hinder you in a serach for a job later on. The second thing to consider is that it hurts the pilot profession as a whole. If no new pilots would take a course like this, the operator would be forced to actually pay the pilots that he employs.

Pilots will often take jobs where they don't get paid in order to get experience for jobs that do pay. But, the rub is that the operators that do pay their pilots have to compete with the companies that don't. This could ultimately lead to more unpaid positions.

DO NOT SIGN UP FOR THIS COURSE OR FLY FOR FREE (if it is for a for-profit company)

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