Until a few years ago, permanent employment contracts with airlines were the norm for pilots. However, this has changed dramatically in the past several years. Today, in addition to permanent contracts, pilots can benefit from freelance contracts and temporary contracts.
There are 3 types of contracts to look out for regarding pilot positions. It is usually not something you choose but what is being offered. As recruiters in this area, we’ve observed that many pilots do not understand the differences between each type of contract and the benefits of each. Let’s clear that up right now.
Contract pilots work as a kind of overflow labor. Airline operators might need temporary help in the cockpit for a variety of reasons. Often, these contract positions are provided by an external company and not the airline directly. A contract position is usually for a limited period, for example, a 2-year contract. This is a great way great to go if you want to take short contracts to gain experience in different continents such as Asia.
Let’s say for example that you are employed by CAE and you are contracted out to airline ABC for a period of 2 years. In this scenario, CAE will pay your salary, provide your benefits, and if you have any issues regarding HR, you will go to CAE for that as well. However, anything operational such as rostering will come directly from the airline.
Contract positions offer great benefits as you will have a dedicated HR person looking after you, instead of emailing a general HR department. Should something happen to the airline and it gets into financial difficulties, you will still be paid by the third party. On the other hand, if the contract length is not renewable or if you want all the same benefits as pilots who are directly employed by the airline, you may not want to choose this route.
A permanent position is often a long-term position directly with an airline with no expiry date on the contract. Permanent positions are great for a pilot who plans to stay in the airline for a very long time in their career and would prefer to deal with the airline directly. The airline will provide your salary and benefits and you will go directly to HR with any issues you have. Everything operational will be done directly with the airline as well. You may use a recruitment agency for the recruitment process. However, once you have been given your contract, the agency will step back, and you will be fully in contact with the airline only.
As a freelance/independent contractor, you work for yourself but through a contract with an airline. This type of contract is great for a pilot who wants more autonomy and wants to work short contracts. As a freelance pilot, you will need to invoice the airline, look after your own tax, and instead of going to the HR team if you have issues, and you will need to negotiate your terms with the airline directly.
Freelance contracting is more popular in business aviation than in commercial aviation. There are licensed pilots, who freely decide to work this way and to sell their services to an airline for a limited amount of time.
There are advantages to each type of contract employment for pilots. In some cases, you can work for multiple operators. In others, you aren’t tied to a seniority system. Contractors also earn more per day than full-time employees. In addition, contractors aren’t tied to a seniority system either. Ultimately, the choice is up to the lifestyle you want to have and what’s most important to your career.
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