Real Answers from Real Pilots

36 and thinking about career switch to becoming a pilot

Good evening

My name is Senad Pali. I am 36 years old and live in NYC. I have a masters degree in accounting but my line of work has nothing to do with my education. I currently work for the city of NY with 22 year retirement plan, pension and benefits. I like what I do but I don’t feel challenged. It’s hard too give up all that and if I do, my next career has to be worth it. I was thinking about ATP school here in New Jersey which is close to me but I am having a little trouble getting loan approval since I already have loans that I am paying for school. I am sure I may be able to find a way. When I spoke to a recruiter he threw me a little off on the pilot pay. I was told Regional pilots can make up to $100k and the majors make more. I already can make more working for the current job I do now. This is the thing holding me back and was told pilots now retire at 65. By 65, I would already be retired from my current job. Any advice from any pilot in here if at worth me getting into more loans which would prob be over $100k including loans I have now. Thank you

Senad,

For a break down of what pilots earn, take a look at this article that I wrote: https://www.airlinepilot.life/t/what-do-pilots-really-earn

I would encourage you to do a lot of research into this profession, there are a lot of great websites out there, including this one. It sounds like you have some tough personal decisions to make. On the retirement front, pilots have to retire at age 65, but can retire sooner if they are financially able.

I can’t tell you if flight training is worth it or not, only you can make that decision. We are happy to help answer your questions though as you explore this career possibility.

Chris

Senad,

To be clear, it is possible to earn over $100k/year at a regional, but that
requires a minimum of 10 years at a regional to reach that pay scale. That
timeframe may be reduced by a couple of years if one decides to have
additional responsibilities, such as, being a check airman or sim
instructor for the company. Even then, you’re looking at no less than 7
years.

The first 5 years (or more, depending on what you’re used to earning) of a
pilot’s career requires a lot of sacrifices.

Tory

Senad,

As Chris said it’s totally your call. If making money and early retirement are your goal there are probably better career paths. The airlines operate based on seniority and NOTHING else. While Regional starting pay has improved dramatically you’d still be looking at 2yrs instructing making less than $30k and your first few at a Regional around $40 (plus bonuses). To break $100k (as Tory said) you either need to be a very senior Capt and/or in the Training Dept. Chances are you’d rather try for a Major but that also means a trip back to the bottom of the seniority list with lousy schedules and trips. What I’m saying is for this job to work for someone (particularly someone in their mid-late 30s you need to love it. I’m not trying to dissuade you but that’s the reality.

Adam

Adam/Tory/Chris -

I share Senad’s hesitation. I’m also in NYC area in a similar boat albeit I’m a couple of years younger. It’s a very hard setback to go into aviation with such a lifestyle adjustment. I happen to be already a 750 hr pilot with PVT/INST/COMM-MULTI but I’m unsure what salary really looks like first year at a regional. I saw this from Air Wisconsin:http://www.airwis.com/content/pilots/PilotBubble.pdf. It’s a bit high considering your benefits are included in the package — but is it realistic you’ll make $80k first year regional pay?

Thanks

Samuel,

The Regionals are desperate for pilots and are offering many incentives to recruit. The short answer is not really. If you look at AW’s first year breakdown the $5000 for your type comes right off (unless you’re coming from another airline) and the actual salary is about $36k so the rest is Insurance, 401K etc. That said this is still amazing considering just a few years ago starting pay was under $20k total. This is an unprecedented time in the industry. Getting hired is cake and the earning potential is as high as it’s ever been. Regardless the first couple of years training and instructing will still be lean and you will still have to make some serious lifestyle changes. Frankly if that’s too much to deal with then you shouldn’t do it. In the past pilots gave up much more to get much less. We did it because we wanted to fly.

Adam

1 Like

Adam -

Thanks for your quick response and good answer. Better asked — what is a realistic salary to expect? I understand actual salary is $36k but all the bonuses added what exactly is a realistic figure someone should expect first year all-in? $60k? Does that include overtime etc? I’m hoping to get a real answer of someone in the trenches vs some marketing scheme.

Making a lifestyle adjustment is possible but agreeing with Senad it’s hard to see we are able to make the shift without data that is realistic

Thanks for your help

Samuel,

Take a look at this article:

https://www.airlinepilot.life/t/what-do-pilots-really-earn/?source_topic_id=10097

Chris

Samuel,

I am a first year FO at Horizon. My base salary is $36k, but with bonus and
extra flying I will make about $55k gross.

Tory

1 Like

Tory -

Thanks — and appreciate the honest feedback. That’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out — how honest the advertising is — and whether it’s worth personally to make the lifestyle shift

Anytime.

Tory