Mark Malmberg moved from CFI to charter flying to piloting an air-ambulance. Medical work, he says, is recession-proof and calls for the most interesting flying.
Beginning Aviation Jobs
“There was lots of room for moving up,” he says, “But then they started re-evaluating their contracts with Delta, so when Red Wing called and offered me a job as a captain, I couldn’t refuse. Now I’m back to flying charters again. But every step is a step up. I’m getting all the PIC time I want, which is what I need for future airline interviews.”
His dream job is to fly Boeing aircraft for Southwest or FedEx or UPS, or a Challenger or G5 for a private company. “I’d love to fly the big heavies. And I’d love to throw some international routes in there.”
Not every pilot wants to carry passengers. Sometimes the hope is to work alone.
You don’t often see a J-3 or J-5 with a 200-horsepower engine, but if you do, it might be Scott Rustad flying it. More likely he’ll be in his own 230-horsepower Stinson 108. Scott has been banner towing for four years. He works for a company that owns several Applebee’s franchises, towing banners that advertise the restaurants. He also flies a Cessna 172 that has an underbelly sky sign. “It’s just like the Goodyear blimp,” he says.
Scott is an aircraft mechanic and flies charters as well. He says he enjoys banner towing and flying with the sky sign. Each year he puts in just under 100 hours with the banners and another 100 at night. “You get to see a lot of very interesting places,” he says. Banners get towed over beaches and sporting events and civic celebrations, so there is always an interesting scene below the wings. “You need to get an LOA — letter of authorization — for this work, so you learn about different local laws too.” Scott says the best way to get into this part of flying is to seek out one of the few companies that offer instruction. “A lot of us learned the hard way,” he says. “But there are companies that take green guys every year. The very best thing is structured learning.”
CFI and Loving It
Sarah Staudt started flying when she was 18. Now she is 26. “I always thought it would be fun,” she says. “When I was 5 or 6, Dad had a friend with a little plane, a single-engine low wing, and he would take us up. This was out in northern Ohio and you could see Lake Erie and everything. Very beautiful. I just thought it would be something cool to do, so when I was old enough, I looked into it, called them up and that was it.”
“Is that when you knew you wanted a flying career?” I ask.
“Oh, God,” she whispers. “I don’t really know. I think it’s always been there. I enjoyed school, but being inside all day was something that got old. In my high school, not every classroom had windows and I couldn’t imagine a life like that. Flying is something that allows me to be outside and kind of have my own schedule to some extent.”
Sarah enrolled at the University of North Dakota’s Aerospace Camp when she was in high school, then enrolled at UND for college and moved quickly through her ratings. Her commercial, instrument and multiengine check rides were all combined. Her CFI and CFII were earned four months apart.
Sarah worked as a part-time instructor before graduation and then full time after, which is fairly common for graduates, but moved to Fargo, North Dakota, 15 months later when she got engaged. There were no CFI positions open at the time — she got a full-time job through an employment agency — yet she quickly got involved with the Civil Air Patrol. The CAP airplane is based at Fargo Jet Center, so she had the chance to get to know many people at the FBO. She kept checking job boards, and “here we are!” she says.
Sarah cannot imagine doing anything else. “I think I’m in a good place,” she says. “I love instructing, and I have a lot of new private and sport students coming in. I really have no desire to go to the airlines or to cargo. I like the education side of it. I get to go on all sorts of local adventures and meet all sorts of interesting people. And yet I’m home and in my own bed every night.”
The Dark Side of Pilot Life?
“There’s nothing like the opportunity to live and work in your home base,” says Jim Corbo. “I was fortunate with Compass to be based in Minneapolis. A 20-minute jaunt to the airport, and off I went. I hear horror stories, especially these days, of commuters trying to make it to and from work. Commuting takes away from your days off. So naturally, pilots try to minimize the amount of time spent going to and from work. That creates a ton of stress — especially now that airlines have cut routes and shrunk airplanes.”