Whether you're ready to travel for your long-awaited tropical vacation or waiting for your online order to be shipped from halfway across the world, the Aviation industry plays an influence in everyone's life at some point. As commercial pilots, our priorities and responsibilities include ensuring our passengers and freight are transported most safely and efficiently. As a commercial pilot for a charter and medevac company in Ontario, Canada, I'll be sharing some insight about a career in Aviation as a commercial pilot and the pathway I chose, as well as other opportunities available in pursuing the career of a pilot.
I was born into a traditional middle-class family, being the eldest of three children, my parents prematurely had high expectations for me to attend university and fulfill the dreams they had for me. Growing up I was always intrigued by cars and heavy machinery, coupled with residing in a neighbourhood near Pearson International, I would look up to hear the roar of the various aircraft on takeoff and approach and knew no other job could compete. Once in high school, it was upon me to manifest my dream of becoming a pilot by creating my pathway through researching what options were available. Countless hours of researching flight schools and programs and obtaining the required medicals and licenses to begin the process of flight training, I weighed out the pros and cons of each option before presenting my plan to my parents to put my dream into motion. After careful consideration, I opted to pursue flight training with a background in Aviation Management in college, which economically and academically was better suited for me.
It was not an easy task persuading my conservative Tamil parents that I wanted to leave the ground for a living, taking into consideration no one along my family tree has been involved in aviation; coupled with battling the negative mindset the Tamil community has developed about attending colleges over universities, and finally moving 1500 kilometres away to live on my own out of high school were among the many battles I fought while forging my path.
Once in college, I was beginning my journey with no prior knowledge or experience in the field of aviation, as a result, the majority of the hurdles I encountered were primarily academic-related issues. I was forced to break away from my quiet, introverted personality and make friends in an attempt to learn better, which in turn led to a better social life. What any pilot can attest to are learning curves; plateaus in their flight training; racking your brain over rules, and rough landings. Slowly but surely, after two and a half years of waking at the crack of dawn, cold winters and the occasional rough landing, I graduated from my program and completed additional ratings to be a Multi-IFR Commercial Pilot. After many months of scouring the internet for job listings, firing off resumes, and continuously building my network and reaching out to recruiters, I was fortunate to land an opportunity as a First Officer at a charter and medevac company in Northwestern Ontario, serving all of North America with a focus on Ontario. On my days off, I like to play and watch sports; be outdoors; participate in online courses; recently attempted to learn the guitar and whenever I can, I visit my home city.
Some general advice for anyone intrigued by the profession or on the fence about becoming a pilot, the primary step is to understand your character and whether the occupation suits you. The profession is mentally, physically and emotionally demanding, it encompasses a lot of stress and responsibility both in the air and on the ground, and mistakes can result in severe consequences, but if you’re looking to be challenged every day in a fast-paced environment with multi-million dollar technology, than few other jobs can compete.
The next step would be to research what opportunities are available for you in your area to pursue flight training, as well as the required licenses and examinations. There are various pathways to undertake that can lead to becoming a commercial pilot, the two common pathways comprise of enrolling at a flight school solely for flight training, or enrolling at an institution that offers a blend of flight training with an academic portion. Other options include cadet programs, airline pathway programs (may or may not include a bond), or the military. Each pathway will have its pros and cons, but only through your due diligence of exploring the assortment of flight schools and institutions, networking within the aviation community, and getting involved within the field will you be able to decide which pathway best suits you. Factors such as finances, resources and accessibility should be taken into consideration when deciding what the best pathway would be for you.
Undertaking flight training is an expensive journey, and a decisive factor is the financial concerns associated with the expenses of flight training; however, as daunting as all the bills may seem, there are solutions available to aid with finances such as government subsidies and loans. For myself, I chose to attend a government-subsidized program as it was economically the best for me given my circumstances at that time, the tradeoff was being far from home and obtaining additional ratings independently from my college program. If pursuing flight training exclusively, working part-time, investing, and/or a line of credit are popular methods to support finances; all this being said to emphasize the point where there’s a will there’s a way. A recommended third step would be to treat yourself to a familiarization flight. The purpose of this flight is to determine whether flying is for you by undertaking some air exercises with an instructor in a small aircraft to provide some exposure as to what to expect from flight training. It is an effective measuring tool for determining whether you’re interested in pursuing this career before deciding to spend a significant amount of money and time.
A prime example would be a colleague of mine who considered becoming a pilot after switching gears from physiotherapy and took the opportunity to undertake a familiarization flight at his local flight club and immediately knew being a pilot is what he wanted to pursue. It's important to understand straight out of flight school with a limited number of hours and experience, your options for a first job are limited. There is an assortment of low-hour flying jobs, the common options include obtaining ratings for the specific nature of flying such as a float rating, or an instructor rating. Other options include working a ground-to-flight line position, or depending on the nature of the flying and/or if you have built connections in the industry a direct-entry flying position. Regardless of where you start, it's imperative to understand everyone has a unique pathway; biding your time will only benefit you, and to set and achieve goals for yourself as an individual and a professional.
The aviation industry is distinct from other fields, it’s dynamic, volatile and can be very rewarding. There are very few careers available that can compete with the role of a pilot, including flying multi-million dollar aircraft and travelling the world; however, there is a dark side to aviation as well. With various factors continually impacting travel and transportation, employment as a pilot can be unpredictable, the most relatable and current reason as a result of the pandemic. The lifestyle and workload can be very demanding and will take a toll on your mental, physical and emotional health if an individual is not engaged and proactive about their well-being. Relationships can become strained if both parties aren’t invested and committed, taking into consideration lengthy workdays and potential time differences for long-distance relationships. Although all of the above-mentioned hurdles sound discouraging, through commitment and effort, improvements and solutions can be formed to lead a healthy lifestyle with flourishing relationships to ensure optimal mental, physical and emotional wellness. I am fortunate and grateful for my family and friends who continue to serve as a refresher away from aviation, followed by my colleagues with shared experiences and lifestyles enabling us to rant for hours. With any profession, troubled times are bound to occur where quitting becomes an easy way out, but surrounding yourself with an amiable crowd including your family and friends can create a positive environment where even the toughest tasks become routine.
The aviation industry's continuous growth and constant demand for travel have resulted in consistent improvement in safety; security and technology; however, every so often as a result of industry-altering events a new chapter is written. As a newcomer to the industry, joining at a transforming time, it’s exciting to witness and be included in the positive trends occurring throughout the industry including the increased emphasis on cockpit synergy, the exponential upward trend of female pilots and in senior positions throughout the industry, and acknowledging the importance of mental health to name a few progressions.
As a pilot and from the outside looking in, it’s easy to get lost in the lifestyle, the travelling, and technology that we sometimes forget to take a step back and understand that we as humans were not meant to fly. Yet we consistently do the extraordinary by travelling across the globe in record time and comfort, with the one constant remaining: your devoted and prepared pilots. It takes a certain grit and attitude to be a pilot, constantly dancing a fine line between confident and cocky. You’re constantly honing your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, remaining situationally aware of your circumstances knowing it all can change in a matter of seconds. Above all else, when everything else is burning down to the ground and all eyes are on you, it falls upon you as the pilot-in-command to be calm and composed and make your call. Whether you are flying a wide-body aircraft across the world, or slamming on the reverse thrust in a short, gravel strip, or just getting started in your trainer aircraft, the magnitude of doing the extraordinary should serve as a reminder to smile and enjoy the ride.
The purpose of this article was to provide some insight into the world of a commercial pilot, and how to begin the process if you're interested in pursuing the profession. Beyond that, it was also meant to inspire pursuing whatever it may be of interest to you regardless of experience, financial, societal, or any other issues discouraging you from pursuing your dreams. A boy born into a traditional, lower-middle-class family to immigrant parents working as a chef and a baker, who forged his path to do what few people in the Tamil community do, it's only fair to grin when you tell people you're a commercial pilot.
Thanks for reading this article! Hopefully, it provided some insight into the Aviation industry and the lifestyle of a commercial pilot. Thanks to my colleague Mitchell Barden for his insight and inspiration. Feel free to reach out to me through TamilCulture or Instagram for any questions or to chat!
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