People must often travel to destinations where big-name commercial aircraft do not fly or at times when they are not scheduled. Air taxi pilots cater to such individuals by offering transportation whenever and to wherever it is needed -- though primarily over short distances in small single- or twin-engine planes. Such pilots typically share a few core characteristics, including a concern for safety, a desire to provide suitable transport to fare-paying customers, and a sincere love of flying.
Work Duties & Conditions
Air taxi pilots are hired either directly by the customer or through an employer to fly passengers or cargo whenever service is needed, often on short notice. Most single-engine flights occur during daylight hours and cover short distances, allowing the pilot to return home at the end of the day rather than having a layover. If a pilot works for a small fleet, they may be required to wear a uniform and find themselves flying the same routes on a regular basis. They are responsible for updating themselves on flight regulations and air traffic control procedures, determining if weather conditions are suitable for flight, and ensuring their aircraft is in good working order.
Experienced pilots with a strong foothold in their region may operate independently, depending only on local advertising and word-of-mouth to bring in business. However, if a pilot is new to the industry, finding employment through an established air taxi operator provides the chance to build flight hours through a reliable influx of customers. Most air taxi operators are situated at airports due to sufficient passenger traffic, space to accommodate a fleet, and the high percentage of business generated through interline agreements with major airlines.
Training & Health Requirements
Before becoming an air taxi pilot, 40 hours of flight training through an FAA-certified school are required. Coursework covers aerial navigation and flight regulations, with 20 hours of supervised flight instruction and 20 hours of solo flying. The flight instructor judges when a pilot is ready to take the written and flight exams for the basic pilot's license, which are administered by FAA officials. Additional instruction is then required to earn a commercial pilot's license, allowing a pilot to work for hire and gain an Air Transport Rating. In addition, routine physical exams must be taken and strict medical standards must be met in order to retain licensure.
Salary & Economic Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pilots of fixed-wing aircraft on non-scheduled carrier routes constituted 34,990 total jobs and made a median annual wage of $80,140 in May of 2012. Avjobs.com claims annual salaries start as low as $24,000 for beginners and can reach as high as $215,000 for seasoned veterans. The BLS expects employment of airline pilots to grow 11 percent between 2010 and 2020, near the national average for all jobs, with small low-cost carriers offering the most abundant opportunities as air taxi usage increases.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Pilots will discover career opportunities growing as both flight hours and skill set increase. Some potential employers want to see several hundred hours of flying experience, including simulation, night and cross-country flights, while others may be concerned with the specific models of aircraft a pilot is familiar with. Over time, enough experience is gained to qualify as a corporate or air taxi co-pilot; then as a pilot on small charter planes. After several years, pilots may elect to either open their own air taxi business or work for a major airline as a flight engineer, which could ultimately lead to a position as an airline captain.