The 10 Things to Know About Becoming a Contract Pilot

During this global Coronavirus pandemic and the catastrophic effects it has had on the aviation industry, we feel that the option of becoming a contract pilot will become a lot
more attractive to certain pilots. A small number of pilots have been actively engaged in contract flying or on demand flying for many years now. Contract flying may become a lot more attractive after this pandemic. It can offer pilots long-term stable contracts without being tied down to a single employer. It can give great flexibility to a pilot’s lifestyle. It can give them opportunities to work in many different geographical areas around the world.

Contract flying can also offer extremely handsome remuneration packages, however, it takes a lot of dedication from a pilot to up sticks and move to a foreign country without the proper research been done. Becoming a contract pilot is a big move, it can be bristling with danger without proper research or proper guidance from an agency who knows these specific airlines and countries inside out.

This article plans to help any pilot who is thinking of entering the world of contract flying. We aim to provide you with the top 10 things to know about becoming a contract pilot.
The main points we will touch on in this article are:

  • Know your market and Your contract
  • Know your contract terms
  • Family
  • Research and investigation
  • Contract extensions
  • Accommodation
  • Distance to airport from accommodation
  • Consider the impact on your family
  • Self Employed/Taxation
  • Finally it’s decision time


We have a combined 26 years’ experience in this industry, we hope this article will give you much needed information in determining whether contract flying is for you or not.

1. Know your market and Your contract: Your contract will be very specific, so unless changes have been jointly agreed, stick to the contract terms and don't expect any more to be offered than has been agreed in the contract between you and your agency. Know your market inside out, for example if you are going to work with an airline in Africa, you should do as much research as possible on that airline. Know exactly the size of their fleet, the type of aircraft they fly, the routes they are operating and their plans for future aircraft orders and route expansion plans.


2. Know your contract terms: Terms and conditions of any contract are extremely important, however, these are commuting contracts so the terms and conditions are even more important. When you see terms like 56 days on, 20 days off, this means that your days off include travelling home time, so if you have to commute for 2-3 days just to get home from the airline base, you will therefore lose 6 days out of the 20 days, just travelling home. This is vitally important when deciding if contract flying is for you, there are many variations of roster patterns out there depending on the airline. What we advise is to do your research, see if it is feasible to commute home on your days of and still have dequate time with your family. Research if the airline fly directly to your home country and what days do they operate these flights on. See do they provide you with tickets home
on their route network, or do they have any codeshare agreements with other airlines which might give you even more options for commuting home on your days off. 

3. Family: It is quite possible that you may wish to bring your family to live with you at the base. We suggest you investigate schooling and work visa's in advance, so there are no disappointments after bringing your family to join you. Also, please understand that during the first few months of training, your work schedules will be very busy, and you will be away from base from time to time. In that case, we suggest getting your training completed before inviting your family over to be with you.


4.Research and investigation: When looking into contract pilot jobs with any airline who provide this option, we advise you to ask as many questions as you can about the airline, the base and the local area, so there are no surprises when you arrive. It is always best to be fully prepared. Some agencies will provide a guide to the area or promotional videos to help give you an insight to newly arriving pilots. We also try to visit as many of the airlines that we are recruiting for as we can, that
way we can give you great insight into the airline, the country, and the way of life in that country.

We can advise you on accommodation, transport, phones, etc. So, when applying for any contract position please ask as many questions as you can. This will help you make your decision on whether it is the right move for you or not.


5. Contract extensions: In the world of contract flying many of these contracts often get extended by mutual consent, so when you are applying ask how often this has happened before and it will give you an idea on this likelihood. This will also help give you reassurance and certainty on the longevity and stability of the contract.

6. Accommodation: Ask the agency about local accommodation, house rental companies. Some offer very attractive rates for pilots, who they know will look after their properties and be ideal tenants. We have often visited proposed accommodation for pilots, so that we can give you a much better insight to this and be able to provide you with all information you need on this subject.

7. Distance to airport from accommodation: When you are deciding on your accommodation in any of these countries where you will be contract flying, we ask you to Consider the travel distance and times for getting from your new home to the airlines base. Some airlines require you to be at the base within 20 minutes journey time. We advise you to also do as much research as you can on this. Most agencies will also be able to give you some guidance on this to, so as stated before already in this article ask as many questions as you can before you take the leap of faith.

8. Consider the impact on your family: When you start flying on commuting contracts it is vital to look at the impact this might have on your family. Most airlines will not change the contract days off, so what is being offered is usually their final offer. If this is not ideal for you or does not meet your requirements that best suit your lifestyle, then perhaps commuting contract work with this airline is not right for you or your family.

9 Self Employed: It’s very important to know that you will be contracted by the agency and be providing your services to the airline. Therefore, it is important to know that it's your responsibility to pay income tax in your own domicile. Agencies are not tax specialists and will not be able to give any tax advice. We always advise our candidates to seek independent tax advice before taking up any contract flying positions.


10. Finally it is time to decide whether contract flying is right for you: While contract flying can be very attractive and offer very handsome remuneration packages it is also not for everyone. It is very important to weigh up all the pros and cons before you make any decisions on this. Some pilots love it and have done it all their lives. Other pilots who are thinking of going down this route have to think about so many other mitigating factors, such as being away from your family and friends for long periods of time and sometimes you might be working in quite dangerous places or hostile environments. Some pilots absolutely love this type of flying and get great satisfaction out of it, some other pilots might find this very overwhelming, compared to working in permanent roles for the mainstream international flag carriers. Most pilots after this current pandemic will be looking for any job that offers them a steady pay check, a decent roster pattern and a stable contract. However, we do advise you to please firstly weigh up all of your options, make sure this is the right decision for you before you take that leap of faith into the wonderful world of contract flying.