Question:

Hi, personally I am curious to know what it is like to be a pilot in Panama, besides that I want to study to be a pilot, and I would like to know how the environment is, how to handle them and things related to work in general.

Answer:

How are you doing? I am a pilot. At this moment I and many of my colleagues are completely paralyzed, many who were entering the industry without a job and with little hope of getting one. The industry is very cyclical, but this pandemic is by far the worst situation we have experienced in the aviation industry in the country.

However, if you come in at the right time (pre-pandemic), you would be well positioned. I studied in the USA, and along with many colleagues as soon as we returned to Panama, we applied to Copa and were accepted. The training at Copa is rigorous, as you go from flying propeller planes with 150 horsepower to flying jet planes at 0.8 mach. If you make it through (many stay), you work for the airline, and eventually you have the option to become a captain (with better pay) or go abroad with your flying hours (which in the aviation world, are your experience).

As I told you, at this moment the situation is much more difficult. The competition is very high, because there were many pilots who had finished their licenses just before the accidents of the Boeing 737 MAX (at the beginning of 2019), who have not even been called yet, but all the pilots who have run because of the pandemic. The company is not hiring anyone since early 2019, since they had bought about 60 new MAX that are now gathering dust either in the desert in the US or in Boeing’s factories.

Outside of Copa, Air Panama has not been hiring for a long time. You can sign up to be called up from time to time (months sometimes) to go as a co-pilot in smaller planes and get some experience. These are usually unpaid flights, but you can sign up for your flight hours. Aeronaval contracts by leverage. Certain pilots who work for the government (those who fly the presidential plane, for example) are ultra leverage. DHL and freighters are leverage. Private aviation is leverage too.

Right now, Copa is demanding 350 flight hours to apply by the way. It used to be 250 but with the MAX they increased it to 350 as they had so many applicants (apparently, the guys at ALAS weren’t measuring up either by going with 250).

My recommendation is that, like many of your fellow students, study another career that you like and that you can make money from while doing your flying hours. There are rumors that Copa is going to start demanding a college degree to fly on the airline (American airlines already demand it). If you have any other more specific questions, I would be more than happy to answer them.