Kurt Jahr, 26, is an Air Canada Jazz pilot

Aviation careers start with long days at low pay

Your Job Makes Me Jealous is a weekly podcast with a young Canadian whose career is so neat that people at parties crowd around to hear about it. We talk about the ups, the downs and the pay.

For this inaugural podcast, I interviewed Kurt Jahr, a 26 year-old from Markham, Ont. who landed his dream job flying for Air Canada Jazz out of Toronto’s Pearson Airport. He started in January.

Jahr got the job was after paying his dues in Gander, Nfld. and Timmins, Ont. He’s been flying since age 14 and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in Aviation & Operations Management at the University of New Brunswick in 2007.

Click here to listen to the podcast with Air Canada Jazz pilot Kurt Jahr (4:48)

The transcript:

What was your first job like?

I was employed by Capital Airways and Capital Airways is who I did my training with. They’re coupled with the University of New Brunswick. I worked the ramps, I cleaned planes, I fueled planes, I worked the hangar. I worked as dispatch and then I got to fly, maybe a couple hours every week.

I moved on to instructing a couple months after that, I moved to Gander Newfoundland where I had to teach people how to fly. Same thing. You’re making maybe $25,000 per year and you’re working 12 to 14 hour days, so there’s a lot of work in it. But what you’re basically trying to do is build your hours, get experience for that next job, build experience for your next job and eventually make it up to the airlines.

You’re from suburban Toronto. What was it like to move to Gander?

It was a bit of a culture shock moving to Gander. I wasn’t really ready when I moved there because I just threw everything in the back of my car, drove out there and realized there’s a Wal-Mart, a car dealership and that’s about it. It’s a different experience, but it really forces you to broaden your horizon. Not only to the different types of places Canada has, but it really forces you to meet all kinds of different people as well.

Is flying really as exciting as it looks on television?

I remember one time a plane got stuck in Attawapiskat. The battery exploded. It was minus 50 something and you just couldn’t go out. You had to fly maintenance in. Or I was stuck underneath the plane loading the cargo pod in blistering winds. So it’s days like that I was praying for this airline job. But the flying up there was really enjoyable. I really enjoyed the hands-and-feet flying. In the airline world it’s more… you still hand-fly the aircraft, but maybe for the first couple thousand feet and maybe you hand-fly the landing, but beyond that you’re button pushing. You become more of a systems manager.

Have you ever had any emergencies?

My student sniffed the air. He said “Sir, there’s smoke!” I looked at the air and yeah, there was smoke in the cockpit. That’s when you revert to your training, you run the checklist and you deal with the situation.

What’s the pay like?

In Canada at the regionals you start at anywhere from $40,000 to $45,000 and on top of that $5,000 to $15,000 untaxed of per diems. And that’s an allowance for meals and stuff like that while you’re away, but it shows up as a paycheque and you treat it as such. Pay tops out in the airlines at $150,000 to $300,000 for some of the older legacy carriers. It does take a long time to get there, but I know a few captains at my airline who are making $100,000 to $110,000 and they’re 30 to 32 years old.

How’s the schedule?

I’ll sometimes do two four day pairings back-to-back. So I’ll be here 12 hours in eight days. Just enough time to do laundry and get out the door. So you learn how to live out of your suitcase pretty efficiently. If I had a family right now, it would be a lot tougher.

Is it fun to travel to all these cities or does it kind of get old?

It can grow tiresome, but it’s also kind of cool because everybody has their own favorite little restaurants to go to after work. There’s usually enough time to go to the gym and take some time and wander around downtown and do some shopping, stuff like that.

What was your best day so far as a pilot?

I was instructing, in Gander of course. I remember one day we essentially had free reign on the aircraft that one day before we sent our students back to China there and we had a few hours of extra flight time. They’ve all passed their exams and all that so we could use it in a more fun way, as opposed to training hard. So what seven of us did. Seven students and seven instructors. We flew all around Newfoundland in formation. It was really cool because it’s one of those days when you look out the window and you realize “hey, I’m getting paid for this.”

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