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Most new commercial pilots don't have a lot of flight time, so won't be hired by the airlines or corporate operators.

A lot of operations require an air carrier certificate (even though they are a "commercial" pilot, they can't just start flying people around)!

What can they do to build time while (hopefully) getting paid to fly?

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For a commercial pilot (without a CFI rating) you've got some options, but the real golden goose of time building is flight instructing. Most folks I know who are time-building accumulate the minimum amount of time until they have enough to get the CFI rating, then go out and instruct to get to their end goal (time / types).

Without the CFI rating, some things to look in to include:

  • Banner Tow (if available in your area)
  • Crop dusting (again, if available in your area)
  • Glider towing
  • Skydiving
    The FAA has a page on skydiving operations this that's worth a read.
  • Ferry Piloting (if you don't mind the travel)
  • Photo work - anything from costal erosion photos to event coverage depending on your location.
  • News work - Hand in hand with Photo work, but also traffic and the like.
  • Sightseeing flights
    AOPA has a page on this which is worth a read, take care as you almost certainly want to be sure you fall under Part 91 and not Part 135!
  • Deliveries.
    Someone needs a wedding cake moved across the state? You can often do that in a Cessna more efficiently than they can by car, and as a commercial pilot you can even charge for it.
  • Corporate Flight Jobs
  • Sightseeing within 25sm of an airport

There are some outfits that will "sell" you SIC in their cargo twins. It's a way to build TT, but it's considered an unscrupulous practice.

Many of these will probably require the very time you're looking to build, or experience in specific types of aircraft, but it can't hurt to investigate.

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    $\begingroup$ To add on to voretaq7's answer, it also never hurts to hang out at the airport and meet people. I picked up quite a few extra hours as a newer pilot just by being in the right place at the right time. Even if it's just unloggable, ride-along time, it's still good experience. Plus it keeps you in good standing with the other local pilots. $\endgroup$ – Shawn Jan 9 '14 at 0:38
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    $\begingroup$ I think delivering multi-tier wedding cake in a GA aircraft is a lot harder than helping the about-to-get-married couple elope. $\endgroup$ – Farhan Jan 14 '15 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Farhan Just keep thinking "smooth air" :-) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 14 '15 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ Flying a wedding cake (near the end) adn.com/article/recap-flying-wild-alaska-tundra-taxis $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 14 '15 at 13:43
  • $\begingroup$ @rbp Ah, you found my reference! $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 14 '15 at 18:28
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Another option that you can look at is the Civil Air Patrol. They mostly do disaster reconnaissance flights, though they have several other aviation odd jobs they do for the government. It can be really helpful if you know how to use a DSLR style camera because most of their reconnaissance work is done with that type of camera.

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One of the most common ways to build time is to instruct. You will need to get your CFI Rating. I know you can also tow banners, and possibly sky divers (Not too sure on this one.)

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    $\begingroup$ IMHO, this is one of the potentially negative unintended consequences of the 1500 hour requirement. Not everyone is cut out to be a good instructor. It also creates a conflict of interest in that the instructor needs as many hours as possible and the student is trying to get it done without going broke. $\endgroup$ – Peter Hansen Jan 14 '15 at 15:53
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Flight training facilities such as CAE or FlightSafety have right seat programs. You volunteer your time as the right seater during training events. A great opportunity to learn a jet aircraft and become very familiar with emergency checklists, as well as, networking with a multitude of flight departments. After a specified number of training events they will type rate you in that aircraft for no cost. It may be an unpaid position but the experience and networking potential is priceless.

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Some EAA chapters share ownership of homebuilt airplanes and members can build flight time by using these planes. Flight time is flight time and in many cases it doesn't matter that it's a homebuilt (for example, cross-country flying, navigation practice, tail-wheel practice, seaplane practice, basic aerobatics, etc). Homebuilts also give an opportunity to do some aircraft maintenance & repair. It's all good experience.

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