Pilot Career Options?

     I am currently pursuing a Professional Pilot degree in college and am trying to figure out what all jobs are out there. I've already figured out that I'm not really interested in the airlines. I enjoy nature a lot and would like to find some way to combine aviation and nature in a job. Air tour is something that interests me. I also think bush flying would be cool although I've heard that involves having some ability to fix things when they break which I am inherently bad at. I also don't know much about outdoor survival. I believe I've heard that there are people that fly around counting animal populations? And I know there are some National Parks that employ pilots, but I don't know if I'm supposed to have some kind of prior experience with environmental sciences to be eligible for things like that? Thanks!

- Shelby
23 Replies
Sorry if I hurt some feelings out there over my airline pilot comment. I hope each of you “do your thing” and live the lives you want. Bus driver, system manager, airline pilot, sky writer...if you are doing it and you are happy then ALL points go to you for doing that thing. Me. I’ll do my thing. 
Anyone that thinks airline flying is a bus driver in the sky, has never been an airline pilot.
I have flown crop sprayers, fire patrol, instructed, flew charters, flown Corporate and airlines.
Airline flying for me was the best! Great equipment, great people and when you set the parking brake, your work was finished!
Hi Shelby,

I totally understand your dilemma.  

I had the US Navy teach me to fly, and after surviving naval aviation, I'm enjoying a career as a Captain at the world's largest airline.  My daughter, who is 21, is earning her instrument ticket right now, and plans to be a professional pilot.  She's aspiring to be a factory demo pilot, which is also involved in sales, and is customer-facing.  She's really great with people.  She's not very interested in airline flying right now, but I tell her the same thing I'll mention to you...it might not be interesting or exciting at this time in your life and training/career, but at some point everyone starts looking beyond their flying life.  Airline flying has allowed me to have a safety net for providing for my family, it's providing for a safe and healthy retirement savings, and allows time and the ability to pursue non-aviation interests (currently, mountain biking and photography...both fairly expensive, but things I'm very passionate about).

Pursue the kind of flying you enjoy now, but always keep a door open in the back of your mind for life changes.  I know many female pilots at my airline who are able to balance raising a family with a flying career.  Things change when you look into your child's eyes, and suddenly want to send them to college etc.

By the way, airline flying is not boring bus-driving...I hate that line of thinking.  It doesn't matter what's behind the flight deck door...you're still hurtling yourself and hundreds of thousands of pounds of aerospace-grade materials through the atmosphere at the speed of a bullet, navigating the weather map.  It's always a challenge.

Good luck in your future endeavors, and remember to stop and smell the roses occasionally.


When I was young I also didn’t want to be a “glorified bus driver” as I put it.  Glad I got over that.
I am one of the types who understands the “no airlines” thing. After time flying in the military I had/have no desires to be a bus driver in the sky...no matter what the pay or time off might be. 

Right now, today, there are no fewer than 10 flying jobs with land agencies within the federal government (USAJOBS, search pilot). Toss in FAA pilots and the number climbs substantially. The issue for you is flight time. Most jobs require about 1200 flight time so I imagine some instruction time will be in your future. In any case, there is law enforcement flying, fire suppression flying, land management flying, tourism flying, and all sorts of ways to make aviation work with nature. 
My PPL instructor at KDXR went to work for a charter company.  I also have several friends who fly for corporate flight departments.  Another friend makes a great living managing aircraft for local businesses and flying the owners on demand.