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I want to be a professional (non-airline) pilot when I grow up

Uncle Fester

Robot Pimp
Super Moderator
What’s the trip up on the poly? People lying or just having shit in your past? Do they require Boy Scouts who never broke a law or just someone that hasn’t smuggled too many humans across the border this week?
I’m not supposed to divulge much of anything about it. Suffice it to say they asked a bunch of shit that had little to no bearing on the job. The contrast with the DoD CI poly I took a few months before was stark. The number I heard tossed around was a 60% failure rate; I doubt there are that many undiscovered felons or cartel plants applying to CBP. And the FBI and USSS (along with every other Fed LEO organization) have to do pre-hire polys, without nearly the same fail rate. I won’t speculate any further. But they definitely won’t get the big expansion in the agency that the administration wants as long as the current rules and procedures are in place. As @wink relayed, they’re taking whoever can get through the poly.

As of last year, one of the hiring managers said they were pushing for SECRET to also be exempt, but I have no update. I'm sure I'll learn more at HeliExpo. Interestingly, last year, CBP had a presence at the Mil-to-Civ transition seminar, but this year, they're actually presenting.
The poly requirement is set by Congress, so it literally takes an act of Congress to change it. I’m not holding my breath. Even though what’s required for CBP amounts to a “Public Trust” (ie, less than Secret) clearance.


Well-Known Member
Site Admin
What’s the trip up on the poly? People lying or just having shit in your past? Do they require Boy Scouts who never broke a law or just someone that hasn’t smuggled too many humans across the border this week?
Whether true or not, as it was relayed to me by the hiring manager, the issue was that you have various individuals who have served their country honorably and then have their motives questioned. That doesn't make the process "right," but as it was explained, part of the failure rate was that reaction to a lack of respect for previous service.

The poly requirement is set by Congress, so it literally takes an act of Congress to change it. I’m not holding my breath. Even though what’s required for CBP amounts to a “Public Trust” (ie, less than Secret) clearance.
Yup, and as it was told to me (again, a year ago), they were trying to push a change of that requirement through Congress. I remember hearing some noise about it in the press about 3 months ago, specifically when some CBP (non-Air and Marine) scandal came to light about trying to increase force numbers and how SECRET clearances were still not exempted. Until an update, we can only hope (or lament).


Well-Known Member
Here's some dated gouge on the CBP Air Program.

I was in it as a Customs Pilot, then an ICE Aviation Enforcement Officer, then a CBP Air Interdiction Agent - all the same job - and then as a supervisor for 22 years total, retiring a few years ago. I conducted lots of job interviews, gave lots of check rides, spent some time in DC, all culminating in a fair amount of knowledge as to how the program was run.

My knowledge of the current workings of the program are now limited, but some things undoubtedly still hold true.

1. It does indeed take a long time to get hired, but it takes much longer to get fired. For almost all pilots/agents, it is a guaranteed lifetime flying job. Go ahead, buy that house and put in that pool (after you are off of probation). Plus, the money isn't bad - much better than flying helos offshore but much worse than a senior captain at an airline.
2. The mission of the agency changes over time. I started out chasing smugglers over the Caribbean and into Florida in the mid 80's. As smugglers altered their tactics to find the course of least resistance, we focused more on aerial surveillance of bad guys in vehicles moving around cities. Later on, flying missions out of Panama and into Central and South America became our focus. Then, chasing illegal aliens and drug smugglers along the souther border became sexy. Throw into that airspace security missions, starting with the '96 Olympics and ramping up after 9/11. The job as it exists today will be different in 10 years. With absolute certainty you will be able to someday say "This isn't exactly what I signed up for."
3. The job and aircraft vary by location. Some guys fly P-3s exclusively, and the USN patrol culture is strong in those offices. Other agents will fly Citations, King Airs, Blackhawks, Astars, Cessna 210s, and other aircraft based on location. If you get assigned to Miami or New Orleans, expect air and marine interdiction missions. If you get hired in McAllen or Yuma, expect to work everyday with the Border Patrol.
4. Some of the flying will be challenging (some of it was as satisfying as my Navy flying.) You will never spend time worrying about passengers, except to ensure that they are securely handcuffed and properly restrained. The only cargo you will deal with will be boxes of seized contraband worth a few mil (and that you signed for). There is a great amount of autonomy in the cockpit and you will be making mission decisions and changes while airborne.
5. CBP pilots like to bitch, just like all junior officers, pilots, and cops. The level of complaining varies inversely with the workload. Most offices are a mix of former military (some remaining in the reserves) and corporate pilots and the comraderie is strong. A thick skin helps.
6. You will be trained as and designated a federal law enforcement officer. You will carry a gun and badge, but most of your day-to-day focus will be on pilot stuff.

Polygraph problems? I don't have a clue, but I have read lots of horror stories about them on LEO forums. Back in the day, I was hired sight-unseen, no check ride, no polygraph, after two late night phone calls that were more like friendly conversations than an interview. Customs canines underwent pyschological testing, but not Customs officers. For the first decade we were "blue jean jet pilots" operating under very few restrictions, then things changed. The program grew rapidly, new leadership came in from outside, and Customs/ICE and Border Patrol flight programs merged. Nobody was happy. Through all the changes, style seemed to trump substance. I have no doubt that the BS level is higher than it every was in my time, but there is some BS everywhere you go.


I am recruiter/AIA for Air and Marine. Below is a thread I recently posted on Baseops.net, it should answer most of your questions? If not, please post your question and I will answer it in a day or two. If you are interested in applying, do not use USAJOBS. Send me an email, [email protected] and I will apply direct for you. It is much easier, the customer service is better, and it is 4-6 weeks quicker.

The only polygraph waiver is for TS/SCI and you must be read into a program, waivers are not approved for secret clearances yet. The legislation is out there, but it sponsored by Jeff Flake who is retiring this year. We are not optimistic.

Below is my OP:

Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations (AMO), is actively hiring military and civilian pilots for their Air Interdiction Agent Positions. AMO is CBP's law enforcement wing and is located along the borders, Puerto Rico, and certain urban locations.

I have assisted with Air Interdiction Agent recruiting and attended multiple recruiting events. Inevitably, the same questions are asked time and time again. The purpose of this thread is to provide the answers to these frequently asked questions. The position is very military friendly and offers benefits many civilian employers do not. The biggest is the ability to buyback your military years into our retirement system if you separate from service.

Below are the answers to the most frequently asked questions, the reference, and if a reference is not available I provided the best answer I have. This is not an “official” forum, I am giving you my best answer. If you have additional questions, please post them to the thread or email me directly at [email protected]. I am not a full time recruiter, I am a line pilot who assists with recruiting. Please allow a day or two for a response.

If you would like to apply, please contact me at the email provided. DO NOT APPLY THROUGH USAJOBS! I can submit your application directly, it saves you time and establishes a clear line of communication. The hiring process can be very frustrating, we are doing our best to keep applicants informed.

How many hours do I need before I can apply?

Flight hours can be waived down to 1000-hours for specific experience, contact me for more specifics.

I am over 40 years old, can I apply?

Yes, if you are a veteran. You are permitted to complete twenty years as a federal agent to receive a retirement.

“In instances where the maximum entry-age is waived, the corresponding mandatory retirement age for these individuals will also be higher because it will be reached after 20 years of Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) service for the entitlement to an immediate enhanced annuity.” See below, it is under Age Qualifications.


Should I get my ATP before I apply?

It is not required.

Do I have to take a polygraph?

Yes. If you have a TS/SCI clearance you are eligible for a waiver. Legislation is currently in the Senate which permits applicants with a Secret clearance with a reinvestigation in the past five year to apply for a waiver. https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/595

Are waivers guaranteed?


Does Air and Marine administer the polygraph?


When will I get called for my interview and checkride?

Once your background investigation is complete.

Where is my checkride and what does it include?

The process includes an interview, oral evaluation, and flight check. (Similar to a commercial checkride.) It is conducted in Oklahoma City.

How long does the process take?

4-6 months

When can I apply if I am in the military?

One year from your terminal leave date, you can attend the academy on terminal leave.

When will I find out where I am assigned?

Approximately 2-3 months prior to your academy date.

When will I find out my academy date?

Shortly after a successful checkride/interview.

Do you carry weapons?

Yes, we are federal agents and serve in a law enforcement capacity.

What assignments are available?

See USAJOBs and search “Air Interdiction Agent.” Location, requirements, etc are listed in the announcement.

How long do I have to stay in my first assignment?

Minimum time is three-years. After three-years, you can apply to relocate to locations with a vacancy.

Am I guaranteed the transfer?

No, however agents leaving “hard to fill” locations take priority for assignment. FAA ratings, aircraft at the requested assignment, and manning will also be considered.

What is a hard to fill location?

Laredo, TX, McAllen, TX, Sierra Vista, AZ, Puerto Rico, North Dakota, and one or two other Southwest border locations.

Will I be force transferred?

Everyone signs a mobility agreement and transfers have occurred. Generally speaking, most transfers occur to agents who choose to pursue leadership positions.

What is my rank/grade? When do increases occur?

The position is entry level GS11 journey to GS13; GS11 your first year, GS12 your second year, GS13 year three. After GS13 you increase in steps unless you choose to pursue a leadership (GS14) position. Increase in GS level is dependent on satisfactory performance.

What is a step?

An increase in pay for years of service. “Each grade has 10 step rates (steps 1-10) that are each worth approximately 3 percent of the employee’s salary. Within-grade step increases are based on an acceptable level of performance and longevity (waiting periods of 1 year at steps 1-3, 2 years at steps 4-6, and 3 years at steps 7-9). It normally takes 18 years to advance from step 1 to step 10 within a single GS grade if an employee remains in that single grade.”


What is LEAP? What does it do for my pay?

LEAP is “Law Enforcement Availability Pay” and it adds an additional 25% to your annual salary. Remember it is availability pay, it is not required to be worked. Quick example: My work day is 8-hours a day. If I have a 10-hour day for an investigation, I get paid 8-hours for my duty day and the other 2-hours are covered by LEAP.


How much money will I make each year?

Add 25% to the figures provided in this table.


How much leave do I receive annually?

This depends on years of service, which includes active duty years. Ex: If you have 5 years of active duty, look at the 3-15 year column. This is hours per pay period which is two weeks. (Active duty retirees are in the 4-hour column)


Do I get any other leave?

Yes, we get 4-hours per pay period for sick leave. Also, qualifying military servicemembers receive military leave. This is discussed later.

How does leave at the branch work?

Leave is not like the military, we can take 30-minutes to 8-hours. If you want a four-day weekend, you take 16 hours. Assuming you are working a normal Mon-Friday schedule. If you want to take an hour in the morning, take one hour and not 0.5 days.

What is your schedule?

We are required to work 5-days a week for 8-hours each day. Ex: Mon-Friday, Sunday-Thursday, Tuesday to Saturday.

Do I get paid the same for each work day and time?

No, we receive differential pay for night and Sunday work.


Do you travel a lot?

Not like the military, this really depends on your location and mission. On average, I would say 1-5 days a month. This includes missions and all training.

What is my retirement package?

You must complete 20-years of law enforcement (LE) time to receive a law enforcement retirement.

As federal employees we are entitled to the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS). The system includes a defined benefit, thrift savings plan, and Social Security. Explained further below:

Defined Benefits:

1.7% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by your years of service which do not exceed 20, PLUS 1% of your high-3 average salary multiplied by your service exceeding 20 years Ex: 20 years equals 34% of your high three. 25 years is 39% of your high three.

Employees have to pay 3.1% of their salary into the FERS retirement.


Thrift Savings Plan:

Matched for a total of 5% (1% automatic agency, 4% employee match)


Social Security:

Very individual figure, here is what the FERS guide states “You should go to your local Social Security district office to obtain information about your eligibility for and amount of these benefits. “

I cannot stay 20-years, do I get a retirement?

Yes, you recieve a deferred annuity. My understanding, it is 1% per year and begins paying at 62 years old. You must serve a minimum of 5-years to receive a deferred annuity.


Do my military years add to my retirement?

Yes, if you buy them back into the FERS system. (See below)

How much does it cost and what does it add to my retirement?

It costs 3% of your total estimated earnings for a FERS addition of 1% to your retirement per year. Simplifying the process, you send a DD214 to DFAS. They determine how much you made over your active duty career and send it back. Once you receive your estimated earnings, you send it to Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and they calculate your payment. Ex: I served 10 years and made 500,000$. As an employee, you are required to pay 15,000$ for an additional 10% onto your retirement.


Do I have to pay all the money upfront?

No, I currently pay 100$ a pay period. (2-weeks)

Can I stay in the National Guard or Reserves?

Yes, you are also authorized 120-hours per year to conduct military obligations.

Do I lose my years I bought back?

No. If you choose to complete 20-years of military service those years you “bought back” are used for your DHS and DOD reserve retirement. Yes, you get two defined retirements. Good deal.

What if I am deployed while in the military?

You are entitled to five years of military service. It is unpaid and may be “bought back” like other active duty time.

Some information is located here: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/veterans-services/vet-guide-for-hr-professionals/

I am receiving a 20-year active duty retirement; can I buy back years?

Yes, but you cannot simultaneously receive your DOD annuity.


I want to move into a leadership position, how does that work?

Internal announcements are posted for specific positions. These positions are competitive and most are GS-14 positions.

What will I fly?

It depends on the aircraft available at your assigned location. Most locations have one or two of the following rotary wing aircraft: EC120, AS350, UH1, or UH60. Fixed wing, most have the C206 or C210. Less common are the King Air, Dash 8’s, PC12, P3’s and the C550

How many aircraft can I fly?

Up to three, most AIA’s fly two.

I am dual rated and have not flown helicopters (or airplanes) in years, will I be able to fly both?

Most likely, yes. Ultimately, it depends on the needs of your branch and aircraft availability

Will I fly a lot?

Depends on location, maintenance, weather, etc. Most fly from 200-500 hours annually.

Are there additional/collateral duties?

Yes, but one is not mandatory like the military. Example: Firearms instructor, instructor pilot, maintenance pilot, safety, and operations.

What do you do when not flying?

Studying, physical training, computer based training, etc. We also have quarterly, semi-annual, and annual requirements. Firearms, law review, etc

Will they send me to get my fixed wing or helicopter ratings? Flight Instructor?

This is very case by case and I do not know the correct answer. I have seen agents sent to training for their Commercial Helicopter, Single Engine, Multi-Engine, CFI, CFII, etc. Most likely, it depends on your locations needs.

Where is the flight training conducted?

Depends. Most of our training is civilian contractor; Flight Safety, SIMCOM, etc. You are also required to take an annual checkride at your branch.

Where is the academy and how long is training?

Initial training is at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, GA and lasts approximately 14-16 weeks.

Below are a few pictures I got from guys in the field.



Well-Known Member
Site Admin
Although HAI did commission the study. The HAI president was pretty jazzed about the study.

I think it's interesting that it's only 25% of new hires are military off the street. I would have guessed closer to 50%, but I guess when you have such a large population already working at so many different companies, that makes sense.

And man, is CBP A&M excited to hire people. Chuck, if the regionals don't work, you might just be eligible to have that as a backup plan. And no, I'm not joking.


2018 Helo Pilot employment/demand forecast out of HAI Heli Expo toda.

Take the data with some skepticism- UND has skin in the game attracting students to their flight school.


Pretty decent study. Identifies correctly that helo industry employers are now competing with airlines. Potential airline pilots and commercial helicopter pilots history have been two separate pools thanks to fixed wing rating requirements and degree requirements for hiring at many of the airlines. As those factors become less of barriers helo industry employers are going to have to start offering increases in pay/benefits/qol to stop the exodus of qualified helicopter pilots to the airlines.

Also identifies the dead zone between being licensed and being qualified for a job with entry level job opportunities lacking.

Interestingly enough, these rotary transition programs at the airlines are all under a year old and not universal. 500 candidates with a 95% success rates is a strong showing for a concept in its infancy. I’d expect to see further expansion of these types of programs and double to triple the amount of pilots they produce in the next several years moving forward as these programs mature.


Well-Known Member
Site Admin
The RTP table was mobbed at HAI, at least during the transition class. I've been surprised how many Army King Air pilots I run into out there, so there's even more fodder for the transition.

I'm all for it. If everyone leaves, maybe it will push rotary salaries up. Win-win.


Former H-46 Driver
Preliminary NTSB report on the Liberty Helicopters AS350 mishap - agrees with my personal conjecture after I read about the first person accounts.

I'm amazed to see how many of these operators employ non military experienced pilots - not saying that was a causal factor in itself. Just amazed that people spend $60K + in helo training (sans fixed wing training) , instruct to build hours , then move on to seasonal tour jobs flying complex turbine equipment and then engage in challenging passenger operations like these doors off operations.



Living the GeoBachelor dream...
Preliminary NTSB report on the Liberty Helicopters AS350 mishap - agrees with my personal conjecture after I read about the first person accounts.

I'm amazed to see how many of these operators employ non military experienced pilots - not saying that was a causal factor in itself. Just amazed that people spend $60K + in helo training (sans fixed wing training) , instruct to build hours , then move on to seasonal tour jobs flying complex turbine equipment and then engage in challenging passenger operations like these doors off operations.

Lots of companies (Operator, harness, float) open for big fucking lawsuit on this one...


Former H-46 Driver


Well-Known Member
Site Admin
BREAKING - the just FAA eliminated the complex aircraft requirement or the Commercial ASEL and CFI-A checkrides. This change was just published on April 19th. Note - they did not remove the 61.129 requirement for TRAINING in such an aircraft, just the use of one on the checkride.
Commerical ACS (Change 3)
CFI PTS (Change 6):
For those like me that don't have the time to read through this to figure out in the end that it doesn't apply to me...

On April 24, 2018, the FAA issued a notice that outlines a change in policy regarding testing applicants for a commercial pilot or flight instructor certificate, regardless whether the training was received under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61 or 141. Specifically, the notice outlines the policy which no longer requires applicants for a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine rating to provide a complex or turbine-powered airplane for the associated practical test and no longer requires applicants for a flight instructor certificate with an airplane single-engine rating to provide a complex airplane for the practical test.


Former H-46 Driver
The big thing is impact to the Flight Instructor - Airplane practical test (aka "checkride") - you can now do it in a plain vanilla '172.