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Aviation Careers: Haley Howard, Banner Tow Pilot

Starting this week, Boldmethod will begin publishing regular career series articles. We'll show you diverse careers that you can find in the aviation community. If you're an aspiring aviator, this is a great way for you to explore different career options.

Haley Howard is a CFI and banner pilot from Gulf Shores, Alabama. At only 20 years old, she's already well on her way with 1,350 hours of flight time... not to mention her CSEL (Commercial - Single Engine Land), CSES (Commercial - Single Engine Seaplane), Tailwheel Endorsement, CFI-A (Certified Flight Instructor), and Instrument Rating. Today, Haley spends much of her time flying banners in an American Champion Scout, owned and operated by the Shrimp Basket, a Gulf-State chain of seafood restaurants. Welcome to the Boldmethod community, Haley!

Haley Howard

Why You Should Be Interested

I love what I do; It's that simple. I'm paid to fly low and slow over beaches and events around Alabama and other Gulf States. If you're a banner pilot like me, you'll have the chance to build a ton of flight time! Everyday is different and challenging. Operating out of grass fields as short as 1,200 feet can be a challenge, especially when it rains. That challenge is something I look forward to.

The Typical Flight

Unlike many other banner towers, I work for one operator, flying for the owner of the Shrimp Basket in his personal airplane. Many banner pilots fill their working days with short 40 minute circuits with banners, returning after the time is completed to drop-off and pick-up a different banner. Because I work for one company, I'm able to spend longer in the air, doing longer routes, seeing more of the coast. It's not uncommon for me to be sitting in the plane for 6 and a half hours straight. It's not always easy, but I'd much rather spend my time in the cockpit than on the ground!

The Passengers

My passengers are always banners. I rarely fly with other people in the plane when I tow banners. I consistently tow banners for the Shrimp Basket and a handful of other restaurants managed by the same owner. Because I'm alone so much in the plane, I listen to a lot of music.

A Day At Work

My days towing banners rarely start early. Because we advertise for people who are out for lunch or dinner, I get to sleep in a lot of the time. The days are long, with a normal 7-8 hours of tac time registered on the plane daily.

I fly over the beach a lot, but also get to attend and fly over events around the state. For instance, I recently towed a banner over a Veteran's Day Event nearby. When it starts to get colder outside, we spend more time towing banners at events like football games, since less people are on the beach.

The Pros

Well first of all, I just love it. I get to build a ton of time when I tow banners. The views are often the same, but flying low and slow over the beach doesn't get old easily. No day is the same. I'm always improving upon my stick and rudder skills while flying tailwheel airplanes slowly. I love the fact that I work for one company. It lets me develop stronger relationships with the people I work for, which is a ton of fun. The best part by far is getting to fly over the Gulf Coast, and getting paid for it!

The Cons

Your schedule is constantly changing and is rarely predictable, so you have to be flexible. I spend a long time sitting in a tiny plane which isn't always comfortable, but I got used to that quickly. It can be boring flying by yourself at 1,000 feet AGL; I listen to a lot of music. Because banner towing is a fair-weather operation, I don't get much IFR time, so staying current can be an issue. Lastly, you have to be prepared for a mechanical issue or bad weather day which will cancel a banner flight. That means you won't have any income if you're not able to fly.

Pilot Retention And Qualifications

I had my commercial certificate when I was hired, but needed my tailwheel endorsement to fly the Scout. In addition, I needed about 100 hours of tailwheel flying for insurance purposes. I had to train for my banner towing endorsement too, which took some time to master. I love my banner towing job and the hours I'm building, but have some goals for the future too. I want to get my commercial multi-engine rating, and can see myself flying Cessna Caravans or de Havilland Twin Otters one day. In the next few years, I hope to spend a spring season doing some backcountry flying in Alaska.

Salary Ranges And Benefits

I'm paid $30 an hour to tow banners. But just remember that I'm only one example, and salaries can vary greatly from company to company. A typical banner pilot will earn anywhere from $15-$50 an hour depending on how the company trains you and where you're located. I don't have any formal benefits from my job, but the flying in and of itself is pretty cool. Plus, when I go on an overnight trip, my expenses are paid for. On those overnights, I try to go to events like football games if they're nearby.

The Company

Shrimp Basket restaurants can be found across Alabama, Mississippi, and the Florida Panhandle. And with 25 restaurants, if you're on the Gulf Coast, you'll have no trouble finding one. If you spend enough time on the beach, you'll probably see me fly over towing the Shrimp Basket banner.

The Airplane

The American Champion Scout (8GCBC) is an awesome plane to fly. It has large, stiff landing struts, making for some challenging landings after flying a flex-gear plane like the Carbon Cub. Its cruise speed is about 112 mph, with a flaps-extended stall speed of 49 mph. When I fly on a windy day slowly over the beach, it's not uncommon to be almost stopped in the sky, nearly flying backwards with a negative ground speed.

Specific Qualifications

You have to have the right mindset to be a banner pilot. It takes someone with a very flexible schedule that's willing to not work a standard 9 to 5 day. It's not always easy staying in a small plane for hours on end, but with the right attitude, you'll learn to love it!

Thanks, Haley for showing us what it's like to be a banner pilot. This job is perfect for when you're young or retired, and have the freedom to manage a changing schedule. Being a banner pilot is a great job if you're searching for a combination of fun and time building. To learn a little more about Haley's story, click here.

Is this a job you'd like to have? Tell us in the comments below.



Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and commercial pilot for Mokulele Airlines. In addition to multi-engine and instrument ratings, he holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525). He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018. He's the author of the articles, quizzes and lists you love to read every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures at http://www.swaynemartin.com.

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