When it comes to being a pilot, there are four ‘tiers’ of aviation. Every pilot fits in one of these. Many pilots dream of going all the way to the top – the fourth tier of aviation. What tier are you in???
The first tier of aviation is generally where the newest, most inexperienced pilots find themselves. This is when you pay to fly. Every time you want to go turn a wheel, you’re bleeding money. Learning to fly is expensive, even in small airplanes. You pay money for an airplane, money for an instructor, money for ground school, and so on. In the first tier of aviation, you’re paying to fly.
The second tier of aviation is where pilots sometimes find themselves after getting a private license, maybe an instrument rating, or even a brand new commercial pilot certificate. You’ll fly for free. At this point, you have enough ratings and experience that you might be useful to someone with an airplane, or at the very least not get in the way or be dangerous. They might let you ride along and get some stick time in their light twin or even biz jet. Finally you’re not paying anymore. In the second tier of aviation, you’re flying for free.
The third tier of aviation is where pilots finally find themselves making a living flying. You might start out squeaking by on flight instructor pay working your rudders off, but you’re getting paid anyway. These jobs progress into the regional airlines, and even the majors. Corporate jobs often qualify, as does freight. This is where the bulk of professional pilots find themselves for most of their careers. In the third tier of aviation, you’re getting paid to fly. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any better…
The fourth tier of aviation is the holy grail of many a pilot. But what could be any better than the third tier of aviation, you ask? In the fourth tier of aviation, you get paid *not* to fly. 😉
I’ve been through all four tiers in my career. I most often reside in the third tier of aviation. But there are those rewarding moments when I get paid… not to fly. It can be sitting around the house on reserve, really long layovers making per diem and trip rig pay (maybe I need a ‘how pilots get paid’ entry???), or there’s the time I even got paid rig pay and overduty (a pretty nice override) sleeping in my own bed at home. Truth be known, I still enjoy flying (sometimes), but getting paid not to fly really is hard to beat 😉