As a pilot, you have two major career paths to choose from: private and commercial. While there’s a lot of crossover between the two, they offer different benefits and challenges, so which is best depends on your situation and preferences. You have to know the differences between private and commercial flying to make the right choice.
In that spirit, here are five key differences between private and commercial flying.
One of the biggest differences between private and commercial flying is your schedule. Private flights don’t follow set schedules as commercial ones do, so you must be ready to leave at a moment’s notice. Some companies require pilots to live within 90 minutes of the airport so they can leave as quickly as possible.
In contrast, commercial flights are more predictable. Pilots have some control over their schedules and usually know when they need to leave and where they’re going ahead of time. This can vary depending on the airline, but generally speaking, the commercial path is steadier.
While travelling is part of the job in both career paths, you’ll get to enjoy it more as a private pilot. When you fly someone to a destination, you’ll stay there for as long as they do. Commercial pilots, by contrast, often have to leave shortly on another flight, limiting the time they can spend at their destinations.
Private flights also go to more unique and exciting destinations than commercial ones. While commercial planes must fly to larger airports, private planes often go to smaller ones in different locations.
3. Work Environments
Your workspace will look significantly different between private and commercial flights, too. Commercial cockpits are sealed off from the rest of the plane, and you’ll work with a larger crew.
On a private aircraft, however, you may have an open cockpit and could be the only crew member, leading to more face-to-face interaction with clients.
Working on a smaller plane will feel different, too. Some private aircraft pressurise their cabins as low as 6,600 feet, making them feel more comfortable than larger commercial planes. Overall, though, which work environment is best comes down to your personal preferences.
Another one of the biggest differences between private and commercial flying is the workload. Piloting is hard work in any context, but private pilots often have to take on more responsibilities. Without an airline or large crew, you’ll play a larger role in maintenance, fueling, and customer service.
These extra responsibilities can be stressful for some people, especially since one in five adults experience a mental health issue each year. However, if you’re prepared for and can manage these workloads, it can be a rewarding experience.
Since private flying is a more luxurious experience, you may expect private pilots to earn more, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Both private and commercial pilots make six figures a year, with average salaries remaining within the same range. How much you’ll make in both cases often depends on your experience and how long you fly.
The bigger difference in salaries is how you get paid. Many private pilots are contractors, so their earnings can vary depending on how much work they take on and what jobs are available. In contrast, commercial pilots are almost exclusively full-time employees with more predictable pay but possibly fewer options.
Find the right career path for you.
Aviation is a more diverse industry than you may realise at first. You have many options as a pilot, and which is the best depends on what you want from the job.
Knowing the differences between private and commercial flying can help you learn which path best suits your needs and preferences. You can then choose the career that’s most fulfilling for you.
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Author: Oscar Collins, Modded Founder and Editor-in-Chief