How To Transition From The Military To The Airlines

Hot to go from the military to the airlines

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Transitioning from military to the airlines

If you are reading this, chances are you are coming up on your commitment or you’ve finished your time and ready to transition to the airlines.

There comes a point in every military pilot’s career where they need to consider the next step. For some it may be for monetary reasons and for others it may be for family reasons. Whatever the reason may be, it pays dividends to be prepared in advance. 

This seems to be a topic that often gets overlooked, especially in active-duty units. 

Pilots will start considering doing the homework when they are getting close to the end of their commitment or when they are feeling ready to move on, which is way too late.  

Guard and reserve units are known for having the best gouge on this topic since a vast majority will be working part time for their units and also with the airlines. This is good for multiple reasons, but the biggest two would be for retirement from Uncle Sam and seniority in the airlines. 

If you are active duty and thinking about doing just that, we recommend finding one of these pilots and picking their brain. 

Why should I start transitioning from the military to the airlines early?

Military aviators are known for putting in the work and making sure they are always prepared. It is a good habit pattern to be in not only in flying but also in general. 

But, like how we alluded to it earlier, often times, pilots will start the process way too late and the transition time ends up taking longer.

The reason for this is because the application process is a longer process than what one would expect. In the application process, you will be asked certain information that is not readily available. 

This means that you will have to put in time and effort to compile this information. It does not help that fact that most military pilots would have served around at least 10 years at this point.

This means applications have been an afterthought, and secondly, they are out of practice. This is where civilian pilots will have an advantage over military pilots, along with other things. 

Ideally, we recommend having your application ready or close to ready at least a year in advance of expected separation. This will allow you to focus on networking, preparing for interviews, and handling the rest of your business that comes up.

What do I need to apply to the airlines?

This is yet another reason why it is important to begin the application process way in advance to actually submitting the application. To apply for an airline position you will need:

  • An Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Rating
  • Current First Class FAA Medical Certificate
  • FCC Radio License Permit

How do I fill out an application to an airline?

The first step to any application and hiring process for anyone would be the proper homework. 

This starts with figuring out the needs and wants of your family. This is a giant transition and it’ll help out immensely if you and your loved ones are on the same page. 

After handling the family front, you must decide what airline seems like a good fit based on locations, aircraft type, compensation, etc. It is important to go on the websites of each airline and see what the minimum requirements are. 

You do not want to go all-in on a certain airline to find out that they will not even accept your application due to an item such as a lack of hours. It pays to do your research.

After figuring out what airlines you would like to apply to, start filling out their applications. 

It is very common for airlines to ask for information that goes back 5-10 years. You will be asked about previous jobs, residencies, education, and training, etc.  It is important to try to convert your military experience to a civilian equivalent and highlight it. 

For example, a Director of Operations would probably serve a similar role in the civilian aviation sector and also happens to be an upper management position which would make your application stronger compared to someone who did not do the same.

Something we mentioned earlier is to do the groundwork before the application process. Seek out the records office for your branch and get copies. 

If you are a young pilot and reading this, make sure to double-check your records and keep copies throughout your military career. Also make sure to have a backup of your hours incase your files just disappear due to negligence.

It has happened more than once where records have been “misplaced” or altogether lost. Know one cares about your flying career as much as you, so do yourself a favor and keep a backup somewhere safe.

Transitioning from the military to the airlines

How to convert military hours for the airlines

From your first flight at pilot training, you have been tracking your flight hours. You knew that one day it would come into handy when you were applying to Delta. 

One thing that we do not think of is the difference between how the hours are logged for the airlines versus the military.

Yes, there is a difference, and this helps for transitioning pilots to know this so you do not miss out on flight hours. 

In the military, it is common to log from the take-off roll to landing. In the airlines, they log from engine start to engine shutdown. This is also known as “block in and block out.”

Luckily, the airlines offer a conversion factor for military applicants. 

It is the pilot’s responsibility to figure out how many hours they actually have when they also take into account the conversion factor the airline provides. 

Be prepared to present how you came up with your numbers. The airlines will most likely check your flight hours for accuracy.

How to prepare for an airlines interview

If you have made it this far, congratulations, now get ready for some more hard work. 

Most likely, as a military pilot, you are behind your civilian counterparts since you have not been able to practice your interview skills for some time. Just like any check ride, it helps to know what you may be asked. It also helps to seek out gouge.

Most airline interviews are conducted in three phases:

  1. Testing
  2. Personal Interview
  3. Situational Scenario

Take the time to read up what potential questions may be and start formulating responses.

It is very helpful to find someone who has already gotten through this process so that they can give you tips and help you with your interview skills.

You also have the option of using an airline interview preparation service to help you out. These businesses have the benefit of knowing what most airlines will ask you and how they may conduct your interview. 

They also have the benefit of getting personal gouge from previous consumers/students. These services are specifically tailored to interviewing with the airlines and have shown that they can be very helpful.

The actual interview with the airline

All the preparation eventually leads to a few moments with the interviewers. Make sure to professionally conduct yourself during this entire process. 

Though you will only be asked questions for a relatively short period of time, you will be constantly evaluated throughout the day. This is to get an understanding of your entire self and character. 

For the interview, dress nicely, be confident, and answer the questions to the best of your ability in a genuine fashion. 

The waiting game is certainly one of the harder things of the process, but eventually you find out if you were hired or not.

New hire for the airlines, now what?

It will not be long to realize that there are major differences with military aviation and flying for the airlines. 

It is very important to start familiarizing yourself with the different flying rules, Part 121 operations, and also the jargon. Find a buddy who currently flies for an airline and have them walk you through the big things.

When you first get hired, your first year will be called your probation year. It is noteworthy that you are not protected by the union that represents your airline until you are done with your probation. This means that you can be fired without cause, so do not give your employer any reason to do so. 

You will be put into a training class and provided with training resources. It is similar to pilot training in the military and it would benefit you to actually look and study the material.

It is recommended that you memorize the immediate action items and limits, which are similar to boldface and ops limits in the military.

Training will begin with ground training which ends by completing the FAA-type rating oral exam. 

Next is the simulator phase. This phase ends with the type rating progress check and line-oriented evaluation check-ride. 

It is important to do well on these like any other evaluation, if you do fail it is put on your record and you will receive what is called a pink slip. 

Being adequately prepared and being confident in your abilities will help you avoid this most of the time.

In conclusion

This is a very exciting part of any pilot’s career. It is filled with anxiety, fear of the unknown, and confusion. 

Hopefully, this article conveys the importance of starting this process early to avoid as much of that as possible. 

There is a lot of work that goes into transitioning from the military to the airlines and it only benefits you to do your homework and fully prepare for it. Do not shoot yourself in the foot by waiting until the last second.

Good luck!



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