Using a Freelance Pilot in the Right Hand Seat – An Operators Perspective

Using a Freelance Pilot in the Right Hand Seat – An Operators Perspective

The majority of aircraft operators employ two pilots in the cockpit, but more and more are now moving to a model whereby they only employ a single pilot and use contract (freelance) pilots to cover holidays, sickness or for when an additional pilot is required for safety reasons or longer flights. The problem that then occurs is how to find a well-qualified, experienced pilot who is available. Given enough time and enough phone calls it is usually possible to find such a person, but it comes at a significant cost of time and effort. Your flight ops department should be focussing on exactly that – the safe and efficient running of your operation, not distracted with timely HR and hiring issues.

And this problem is of course a 2-way street. There is a huge pool of contract pilots, all with different experiences and availability but they want to work. They could be out-of-work business jet pilots looking for more permanent work, pilots moonlighting for extra cash, ex-airline pilots wanting to continue flying on a part-time basis, junior hours-builders or even in increasing numbers – professional contract pilots who choose this as a lifestyle choice so that they can cherry pick the trips they want.

Once you have found a suitable contract pilot they will often undergo some initial ground-based training in your aircraft, which should also include a thorough review of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and the Safety Management System (SMS). But even if you are fortunate enough to have found a contractor for your requirement, it is highly unlikely that they will be available whenever you want them; therefore, several qualified and reliable freelance pilots are required to avoid any disruptions to your schedule.

In the USA where contract operations are perhaps more prevalent, it is relatively easy for someone to obtain a SIC Type Rating (FAR 61.55). For the PIC, acting as a flight instructor, mentor and supervisor during the flight increases risk and workload, for this reason, many operators insist on current PIC type-rated pilots to fill these contract positions.

Even with the best contract pilots, it can be fatiguing, no matter how good they are. Many full-time pilots may want to convince the operations department that the risk factors increase with a series of ‘strangers’ occupying the right-hand seat. However, it has also be proven that by applying the principles of Crew Resource Management (or Human Factors) as part of an integrated SMS, it is possible to use contract pilots effectively and cost-effectively.

At Freelance Aircrew, we don’t pretend that we have found the silver bullet that will solve all of the crewing issues for all operators. However, for minimally staffed operations departments who have robust SOPs and SMSs, we provide a 24/7 service in supplying pilots for short-term or surge requirements. Once you have done a search and found a pilot who matches your requirements, you will also have access to all of their documents (type rating, passport, medical, visa etc…), once again saving you the time and effort of having to ask for them. Search for your next Freelance Aircrew HERE