Real Answers from Real Pilots

Aircraft Upgrades at the Majors

(Eric Kollat) #1


I’m looking to become an airline pilot. I’m currently a senior in high school and will attend ATP after I complete an Associates Degree program with ERAU, but my question today deals with aircraft upgrading at the majors.

Once you go through the regionals, get hired by the majors and get placed on one of their smaller aircraft I presume, what is the process for you upgrading to a larger aircraft? Does it require you to become captain on your current plane? Do you get to choose the next plane you’re placed on?

I ask this after seeing the diagram of career progression on Envoy’s career page:

Now, that diagram shows you becoming an American 777 Captain only 18 years after being hired by a regional. Is that really possible?

Thanks for the time you all put in to answer our questions.

Kind regards,



To begin with, I want to be very clear that you will need a bachelor’s degree, an associates degree will not be sufficient for the major airlines. You should plan on getting a four year degree right out of high school.

No, you do not have to upgrade to Captain on your current airplane before you move onto the next one, in fact most people don’t. I have moved from the 737 to the 757 and back again a few times, all as a First Officer. At the airlines you will bid your position based on what seniority holds, that might be 777 FO or 737 Captain, it just depends on what your goals are at the airline. Some people chose to stay senior as First Officers because they enjoy good schedules and many days off. Others chose to upgrade as a junior captain in order to make more money, it just depends on what is important to the pilot.

I think that being a 777 Captain in 18 years is being a little optimistic, but in theory it could happen. My uncle upgraded to 777 Captain at American in less than 18 years, his timing was very good. That being said, I think their model of flowing to mainline American in seven years is pretty realistic and is what really matters the most.

Interesting link, thanks for sharing it.


(Eric Kollat) #3


Thanks for your response, that pretty much covered it.

Although this is more on the topic of education; I do understand that I will need a 4 year degree to get into the majors but I’m looking to make the most out of my finances. My original plan is to get only my associates to have something to get into ATP, then once at the regionals I plan to finish the last two years for the four year degree. This is feasible for me at least since the program I’m looking to get myself into is ERAU Worldwide’s online campus and I think that would work fairly well with a pilot traveling and all.
I’m not sure if that will make a huge difference in terms of money but the concept of paying more money for school while also making more money sounds good to me.

Kind regards,



Your plan sounds pretty darn good, just make sure that you are able to follow through with completing the college degree. Just don’t let yourself get sidetracked.

I looked at that Envoy program again, the flow through to American without even having to interview looks really promising.




To add to what Chris said, don’t assume when you get to a Major you’ll automatically be assigned to the smallest plane. Again EVERYTHING is based on seniority. In general yes the larger airplanes draw higher pay and often attract the senior pilots BUT no always. There are many factors (not just pay) that determine what a pilot determines is desirable. It may be the routes the plane flies or the lack of movement (if the plane is super senior a pilot might never gain noticeable seniority). Bottomline initially you’ll be assigned the aircraft where there’s an opening, after that you bid what you want and will be awarded what your seniority will hold.

Good plan btw.



Good points by Adam. In fact, in my new hire class at Continental half of the class was assigned the 757 and the other half ther smaller 737. In the past there had even been new hires assigned to the 777.

(Kevin Taylor) #7

I’m glad that I read this particular thread because I didn’t know that the majors still absolutely require a 4-year degree. I’m planning on attending ATP in the future after I get a few things situated. I currently have a 2-year degree but my grades were pretty horrible and my degree is a general AA degree, so I’m planning on going back for 2-3 terms to get a 2-year degree in Accounting so I can boost my grades and my competitiveness at the same time. I guess since the 4-year degree is still required, I’ll finish be doing the online degree while at the regionals too.

On a side note, Envoy is doing some great things and they are my first choice of who I want to fly for. The flow through to American without even an additional interview seems quite amazing.