10 Ways Pilots Can Build Flight Time

Asian male experiencing airplane cockpit
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If your goal is to land an airline pilot job and you've earned your commercial pilot certificate and instrument rating, your next priority is to put in the flight time that job requires. Maybe you've logged 350 hours of the minimum of 1,500 hours—including at least 50 hours of multi-engine experience—you'll need before you can seek out that job. You've still got a lot of hours to get in, but they're doable. There are multiple ways to reach that threshold.

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Tow Banners

Banner towing might not be glamorous work, but it's a good job for beginning pilots because it has lower hour requirements than other aviation gigs. Nonetheless, it requires high skills, because banner-towing pilots often fly around water, over beaches, and at sporting events.

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Tow Gliders

If you're in an area with numerous glider operations, you might consider becoming a tow pilot. Towing gliders is also a great way to hone your skills, as tow pilots must fly their own aircraft safely in addition to being hyperaware of the glider's movement.

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Fly Skydivers

For those with a commercial pilot certificate, flying skydivers is a popular option for building hours. Like tow pilots, jump pilots must be adept at multitasking: They have to focus simultaneously on the safety of their plane and the skydivers. It can be a demanding job.

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Fly Scenic Tours

A more routine job for fresh commercial pilots is flying a tour plane. Tourist areas like the Grand Canyon and ​the Hawaiian Islands are popular places for sightseeing flights—and for new pilots to gain hours—but they're far from the only locations that offer sightseeing flights. Search the region where you live for similar opportunities.

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Fly Aerial Photographers

Aerial photography flyer isn't as common a job as some of the other time-building methods, but those hired for an aerial photography operation can find it to be rewarding. You'll likely fly low and slow over areas that are being surveyed or that contain properties owned by a client.

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Get a Job at the Airport

If you've ever heard a pilot say that he "handed over his paycheck for Hobbs time," then you know renting a plane is one of the more popular ways to gain flight hours. Working at an airport will get you close to the rental plane for extended periods of time and could also snag you a discounted rate on the rental and maybe even on instruction time. So it's a good way to build flight time on the cheap.

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Hang Out at the Airport

Hanging out at the airport is one of the best ways to get free flight time, especially for new private pilots. Often, pilots and aircraft owners are just looking for someone to keep them company, and they'll offer you a ride if you happen to be hanging around during the preflight.

Private pilots, flight instructors, and even corporate pilots are known to offer the second-in-command seat to someone willing and able to fly with them. But you have to be in the right place at the right time.

As a bonus, hanging around the airport can not only get you hours; it might also get you hours in really cool aircraft. That old man who's been working on the P-51 in the hangar for the past six months will be eager to show it off to other pilots when it's ready to be test-flown.

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Be a Friend ... and a Safety Pilot

Your pilot friends will need safety pilots to fly with them from time to time so they can keep current on various skills. But many pilots just want a co-pilot to serve as a second pair of eyes while they fly around.

If you're a good pilot and a good friend, you'll get invited to go on flights with fellow pilots. Maybe they're going out for a weekend flight to grab a $100 hamburger. Or maybe one of them is going on a solo cross-country flight to visit family. You'll get asked to log a few hours this way if you're nice to people.

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Share Flight Time

Sharing flight time can be difficult in a remote area, but if you're in an area with a semi-large flight school, you should have no problem finding someone who is willing to share flight expenses. You can both log the time, but the bill is cut in half—a nice bargain if you're out flying around anyway.

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Join the Military

Military flying isn't the right option for every pilot, but for those who are willing and able to work hard and sacrifice a few years of their lives to live at the whim of the armed forces, it's a great option.

If the airlines are your goal, then a military flying career will get you there easily. Air Force and Navy pilots learn valuable life skills along with gaining that turbine pilot-in-command time that's so highly sought after by airlines. And you'll travel the world at the controls of some really cool airplanes.