Updated: Jan 20, 2021
My Aviation Career
I truly have a passion for aviation and never would have thought I would be where I am today. The aviation field is full of uncertainties as well as ups and downs. I believe it takes passion, dedication, perseverance, and hard work if you plan on becoming an aviator.
My inspiration started back home by watching my neighbor takeoff and land from a small lake with his float plane. I caught myself always looking up in the sky and watching the jets move toward the horizon. It was then that I knew I wanted to pursue a dream of becoming a pilot. After some research, I found the University of North Dakota (UND) Aerospace program online and pursued a bachelor’s degree with a major in Commercial Aviation. I met a lot of great people and made lifelong friendships along the way. I have always believed that pilots are only as good as they are trained, and UND’s flight school is the best in the world.
I was hired by UND Aerospace to instruct for the program after I completed my flight instructor training. Instructing can be filled with long days and even weeks of work between your students’ schedules and the weather. Like I always tell my future aviators, “Do what you love then you’ll love what you do.” I really enjoyed instructing, which can be very rewarding when helping others achieve their goals. I stayed on for six-and-a-half years and decided I wanted to continue my own professional development. Most of my colleagues went off to pursue a career in the airline industry. As I talked with friends and mentors trying to figure out what my next step would be, I knew the regional airline route would not be a good fit for me. Being near home was important, so I decided to look around the local area, and that’s where I found Corporate Air.
Corporate Air is a Part 135 contract cargo carrier for FedEx that has bases in Fargo, ND, Salt Lake City, UT, Casper, WY, Great Falls, MT, and Honolulu, HI. You can choose the base you want to live in if they have a pilot slot open. Fargo is our largest base of feeders. We fly the Cessna 208 aircraft to seven different locations out of Fargo. After my first few days of meeting my coworkers and learning more about the company, I knew the “freight dog” lifestyle would be for me.
A Typical Day in the Life
My alarm clock goes off at 0500 and showtime is around 0630. That can change depending on when the mainline FedEx jet arrives. Normally, I wake up and check Flight Aware for delays. The aircraft has to be preflighted one hour before scheduled departure time to assure it is ready to load. When I get to the hangar, I check to see what my assigned aircraft will be for the route I will be flying. I call Flight Following (Corporate Air’s aircraft dispatchers) and give them my fuel load, alternate airports, and any maintenance discrepancies my airplane may have.
Preflighting the interior and exterior of the airplane usually takes fifteen to twenty
minutes. While the FedEx jet is unloaded, I wait for my “freight can” as I have to be there to monitor the load to ensure it is within weight and CG limits of the aircraft. I also need to review and sign paperwork for any dangerous goods. Once the load is complete, I wait for my on-load control paperwork from FedEx, get the airplane secured, monitor de-ice if needed, and get ready for engine start. After I arrive at the destination, I wait for FedEx to offload my cargo as I get my airplane secured for the day. If I’m route support and not assigned to fly the return flight to Fargo later in the day, I can depart and head back immediately.
A Cargo Feeder Schedule
What I love about this company is the schedule. You have a lot of free time for a salaried position. Schedules can vary depending on what route you have. Our work schedules are five days on and two days off, Monday-Friday or Tuesday-Saturday. Most pilots start out as “Floaters” and fill in as needed (similar to pilot reserve schedules at most airlines). This type of schedule has a lot of short days during the week. You most likely will be there for standby duty/route support. If no extra plane is needed, then you can head home for the day after the last flight departs. At the one-year mark, you qualify for reserve weeks. Reserve weeks include a paid week off for every six weeks of duty. If they need you to fly, you will be paid extra for each day flown. However, you can choose to take your week off from work, if desired. When you add in yearly vacation, this allows for more of a relaxed lifestyle.
Duty days depend on whether you are scheduled to fly freight out and back for the day or you are scheduled as “hot standby” or “cold standby.” During hot standby, you show one hour prior to the first scheduled departure and wait until the final aircraft departs the airport. This ensures that a supplemental pilot is available in the event someone calls in sick or encounters any scheduling issues. With cold standby, you can remain at home. If you are needed, you will likely be called no later than the night prior.
If you are scheduled to fly the backhaul (the return flight from the outstation back to the main base), you will fly into the outstation and sit until four or five in the evening. The downtime during the day is yours and meant to be a period of rest away from the airport. Our pilots usually choose to head to lunch, the gym, conduct errands, take a nap, or even work a part time job. The company gives you a rental car and a hotel for the day at the outstation. You also receive per diem if the travel period is greater than eight hours. Scheduled arrival times back into base are usually around seven thirty to eight at night.
Challenges and Rewards
Flying the Caravan single pilot can be very enjoyable and difficult at times. As Pilot in Command in a single pilot airplane, you have to be very diligent on the job. Managing the pressure of getting the job done and taking the time to follow the company’s Operations Specifications (Ops Specs) are the keys to success. It is also important to communicate with your flight followers, Chief Pilot, Lead, and FedEx if any problems should arise. Talk about getting thrown right into the fire!
I believe a pilot’s lifestyle gets overlooked – and what I have now at Corporate Air really fits me. The thing I like most is the family-oriented culture of the company and the camaraderie between the pilots. Time off is almost always given, and any scheduling conflicts are dealt with immediately. Overall, it’s a solid group of pilots and a great place to start a professional career.
Clear skies and tailwinds,