When asked what I ‘do’, I used to feel reluctant to say “I’m a pilot”. It wasn’t a case of pride, or rather a lack thereof; nor was it a case of ambivalence to the profession. Rather, it was because my career as a ‘pilot’ has not really turned out as anyone, least of all myself, would expect.
My journey hasn’t followed the usual script, at times the old ‘imposter syndrome’ has kicked in; everyone assumes ‘pilot’ means wearing a neat uniform, gold bars on the epaulets and exotic destinations from week to week. But it can mean much more than that because aviation and the profession of being a pilot is broader than the left seat. Indeed my journey as a commercial pilot thus far has seen me working primarily on the management side of aviation.
So it begs the question, what does it mean to be a pilot?
Airlines are not the only choice.
Do you have to fly a certain amount of hours a year, for a certain type of operator in a certain type of aeroplane? In my view, it isn’t that straight forward. Being a pilot can involve all the things pilots often take for granted; managing scheduling, business development, company leadership and industry representation. It is common for most pilots to seek a position with a mainline carrier as their career goal, but there are far more careers available in aviation that can provide pilots with equal, if not sometimes greater challenge and reward. The key is: It all depends on what YOU are looking for in YOUR career.
Ask yourself ‘what do you want out of this profession?’
It’s easy to let the excitement and dare I say it, ‘ego’ associated with learning to be a pilot get the better of you, but at some point everyone needs to ask themselves; what is it I want out of this profession? For me the answer wasn’t what most pursue; I didn’t want to fly for an airline, not right away at least. Instead I wanted to gain management experience whilst building my flying experience in General Aviation. To gain the ratings and licences needed to build hours in GA, one needs money, so I set out to earn some of that doing aviation management work – it seemed like the logical choice given my career ambitions. I’ve since found my path moving rapidly towards a long-term career in aviation management and advocacy.
It hasn’t been easy, but it is something I really enjoy; there are challenges everywhere, complicated problems to solve and most importantly lots of great opportunities and experiences.
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It’s not as if I haven’t got options to return to a traditional pilot career whenever I want. Indeed in the middle of a pilot shortage across Australia, I, like most Commercial Pilots am being sought for all manner of pilot work. I’ve also continued building flying experience such as undergoing an instructor rating course. At this point in my working life, I am enjoying the management side of aviation – I’m here doing what I want, and it’s by my own choice. I’ve forged my own version of a career as a ‘pilot’ and I’m loving it. I use my flying skills and knowledge every day in my aviation work and my commercial pilot training means I can make a meaningful difference to aviation, even though I’m not on the flight deck that often.
So if you are considering a career in aviation, remember; how you go about it is your choice. There is a lot more on to being a pilot than thousands of hours a year on the flight deck.
Lea Vesic, AMRAeS
Corporate Partnership and Community Outreach Chair
WAI Australian Chapter Incorporated (Women In Aviation)