Real Answers from Real Pilots

3 Year Plan

(Geddy Whalen) #1

Hello Everyone,
First off, I love this forum. It’s nice to see that people who are actually involved with ATP are here discussing it.
Any way, I’m making a 3 year goal for myself, to put myself in a position to attend atp. I am a 34 year old single dad, and in the next three years, I’m setting the goal to pay off my student loans, car and other bills… So that way I could attempt to attend atp and follow my dream. Here are some concerns and questions I have.
What is the “best” location to train at? I want the biggest “bang” for my buck.
I’ve read many negative reviews on the instructors. Back 15 years ago when I originally did my first round of flight training, my instructor was amazing. I don’t want to get into something where I have some 22 year old instructor sitting right seat just to get hours.
How realistic is it to go from 0-9 months and be ready to apply for an airline job? Also- are there other means to getting those hours aside from instructing?
When I started my training back then, right seat pilots were making $19k/yr. It seems this has changed? If I’m going to commit such an immense amount of money, I want to make sure the return is worth it.
Lastly- given my brief explanation of my three year plan, when would you kick this process off? Does atp have tours of the facilities? How does the job market look in the next five years?

Thanks to all for reading!



First off at 34 I wouldn’t be delaying my training but I understand people need to do what works best for them.

  1. The “best” location is the location that works best for you. ATP strives for standardization throughout ALL their locations. If there was a single best then everyone would go there and that would defeat the purpose of having 37.

  2. You may very well have a 22 year old (or a 37 yo, or a 25 yo or a 50 yo) sitting next to you who just wants to get hours. Do you want to be a flight instructor? I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I was a bad one. People instruct to build time as will you (will you be a bad instructor?). It’s an entry level position and the means to an end. Young people have enthusiasm, are newly trained and are generally pretty sharp. By far the vast majority of people who complain about ATP are those who couldn’t keep up and washed out. It’s much easier to blame the instructor for your failings then yourself. Sorry but if you want an old crusty career flight instructor then ATP is not for you.

  3. Not sure I understand your question? After 9mos you will not be ready for the Airlines, you’ll need to build the required 1500hrs. The airlines will take your application and interview you at 500hrs, some as soon as you get your Private. Why wouldn’t you be ready? As for other ways to build time there are other low time jobs (lt cargo, 135 charter, etc) but even those usually require at least 500hrs (unless you know somebody). You’re free to search but instructing is the most common and actually one of the best for building your skills. Sitting right seat and raising the gear doesn’t make you a better pilot.

  4. Salaries have more than doubled. Starting pay is closer to $40k plus there are now sign-on bonuses getting you up to $60k. There are no guarantees but provided you do well in training and have no major blemishes (DUI, criminal record, multiple checkride failures) you will get hired.

  5. As I said at the beginning at 34 I wouldn’t be waiting. Seniority is EVERYTHING at the airlines and you have a finite amount of years you can work as a pilot and make the top salaries. Every year you wait can potentially cost you $300k+ in future earnings. My only regret is I didn’t start sooner. Further while the current pilot shortage is forecast to continue for many years, the airlines have already started catching up a little and some new pilots are waiting for classes. Back in 2000 the market was also very strong, then 9/11 happened and the industry literally shutdown. Bottomline is no one knows the future for certain.


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(Jordan Lascomb) #3

Couldn’t have said it better than Adam did. Only thing I’d like to add because I see this popping up a lot, and many here reading are not versed in how the airlines work. The 500 hour interview statement is NOT true across the board. It really varied with each airline. SkyWest would let you enroll in tuition reimbursement at 500 hours which is basically signing on to the airline, and there was still a final logbook review which was essentially a brief interview. If you are just applying there as a normal applicant, we would not interview someone until they were within 3 months of starting class - which was usually around 1300 hours. I know this is just one regional, but there are a few others who require you to have more time before interviewing as well. So don’t want people getting their hopes up that 500 is the magic number.

Also want to second Adam on the point of not waiting. Although it may seem like you’re saving money, in the long term I honestly think it’ll be costing you. But you have to do what’s best for you! Good luck

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Welcome to the forums and thank you for the introduction.

The best location is the one that is closest to you. ATP strives very hard to standardize locations as much as possible. Locations are generally at similarly sized airports and in places with weather that is conducive to flight training. Every part of the country has months that are better than others for flying, but over the course of nine months, they tend to balance out. I would pick the location that is most convenient for you and not give it any further thought.

Yes, you will have an instructor that is building time for the airlines, which is the exact same thing that you yourself will be doing. I was a CFI for the primary purpose of building flight time, but that did not make me a bad CFI. You will find many hard working CFIs that really strive to do a good job. Plus, I will let you in on a secret, everybody wants to fly with the CFI that cares, so that person will be the one that gets to the airlines the fastest.

You will not be ready for an airline job in nine months. The training program is nine months, which then allows you to start being paid to build your flight time. It takes about two years (with ATP) for a pilot to build the necessary 1,500 hours for the airlines.

New hire airline pilot pay has changed significantly, all of it for the better. Take a look at this article that I wrote not he topic:

Some ATP location are able to offer tours, depending on availability. The true tour though is completing an introductory flight, which is something that you will be required to do as part of the admissions process.

I would start as soon as possible. The airlines are hiring like crazy and while it is not projected to stop, one never really knows. Furthermore, airlines at the top of their profession can make several hundred thousand dollars per year, so every year you give up is a lost year of earnings potential.

I am also a single father. Do you have custody of your children?


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(Tory) #5


Prepare to live frugally for the next 5 years. You’ll make enough as a CFI to put food on the table and that’s about it. Once you get to a regional, things get a little better. First year pay is up to $60k with bonuses. Captain pay is about $65-70k.

I highly recommend signing up for tuition reimbursement to help offset your loan payments.


(Geddy Whalen) #6

I have joint legal and physical. We are really close, and I have her rotating weekends from Friday to Monday, Wednesday nights.



Once at the airlines, you will not have any weekends off for some time until you build seniority. Even with seniority, the rotating visitation schedule you have will be hard to maintain. Hopefully you and your ex will be able to agree to a more flexible arraignment.


(Geddy Whalen) #8

I’m sure there isn’t an exact answer, but what is the time off typically like?


Take a look at the “schedules” section as it will give you a very good idea. Pay closer attention to mine and Tory’s schedules as Adam’s situation is unique.

(Geddy Whalen) #10

Apologies if this has been asked, where do you live? Do you jumpseat or non-rev back home? How do you “commute?”


Here is the 411 on commuting. The airline will assign you a base when you are first hired, after that you will be able to bid for other bases as they open up. Sometimes it takes a few weeks to be based closer to home, other times it can take years.

The airline does not care where you live, they simply care that you show up to work on time. Let’s use my commute as an example. I mostly commute from Norfolk to Newark. Often times my trips start at 1pm or later, so I usually fly up that morning on the first flight of the day. I take the first flight as it usually has available seats and it gives me a few other flights as backups. This means that I am getting on a 6am flight and often flying until late at night, so that first day can be long. Other times I have trips that start early morning, so I come in the night before and spend the night in Newark. If there are bad storms forecast for EWR I usually come up even earlier just to make sure I am in position for work. All of this commuting is on my time.

To commute you need to find a flight with an available seat. There is also an extra seat in each cockpit called a jumpseat that is available for use. Seats are filled in seniority order, so the longer one has been at an airline, the easier it is to get a seat. I usually have pretty good luck, but there are times when I get bumped and have to wait for another flight.

In Newark I could get hotels, but that is expensive, so most pilots go in together on a crashpad, which is basically a house or apartment with a lot of bunk beds that can be used for short stays and does not cost a lot. Think a cross between a college dorm and military barrack.

Now all of this sounds stressful and like a lot of work, which it is, but when I get home to my lake front house in Michigan, it is all worth it to me.