Approximately 37,870 commercial pilots (a category that includes agricultural pilots) are employed in the United States, but only a small number are agricultural pilots. There are approximately 1,560 aerial application businesses in the United States, and 87 percent of the owners of these businesses are also pilots, according to the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). Aerial application operations are found in 45 states—all but Connecticut, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Vermont, and West Virginia.
California and the southern states, where the crop growing season lasts longest, are where agricultural pilots find the most work. They also find some work with northern crops and in forests of the northeastern and western states. Federal and state government departments also employ agricultural pilots to assist with environmental, conservation, and preservation needs.
It is not unusual for people to enter this field after gaining experience in the agricultural industry itself, working on farms and learning about crop production while they also develop their flying skills. Others enter with flying as their first love and are drawn to the challenge of agricultural aviation. Once pilots have completed their training, they may find that contacts made through aviation schools lead to job openings. Those who have the financial means can begin by opening their own business. Equipment, however, is very expensive—a single plane appropriately outfitted can cost anywhere from $100,000 to $1.4 million. A number of people, therefore, begin by working for large aerial applications companies before they strike out on their own.
Agricultural pilots who work for a company can be promoted to manager. Self-employed agricultural pilots move up by charging more money for their services and increasing their client base. Another way to advance is to work in other areas of commercial aviation. These pilots may fly cargo and people to remote locations or become aerial photographers.
Tips for Entry
Visit the following Web site for job listings: http://classifieds.agairupdate.com/index.php?category=45.
Aspiring and new ag pilots should participate in the PAASS Compaass Rose Series, which is sponsored by the National Agricultural Aviation Association. The program involves a series of educational sessions led by experienced pilots, who provide information on careers and industry trends. Visit https://www.agaviation.org/compaassrose for more information.
Conduct information interviews with agricultural pilots and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.
Visit https://www.agaviation.org/jobhuntingtips to read the "Dos and Don’ts for Aspiring Ag Pilots on the Job Trail."