Real Answers from Real Pilots

Career change at 38 years old

I am 37 years old, married, with 4 children. Our family is participating in a church plant, and planning to move from Illinois to southern California next summer. I have been involved in a successful family car dealership for the last 20 years, but have always had a passion for aviation. Having some savings built up and a few years of “safety net” available to change careers, what are the realities of pursuing a commercial pilot career? Also, how many weekends per month should I plan to be away from home the first few years flying at a regional airline? Lastly, how long does it take to work “up the chain” with seniority to have more weekends off?

Mike,

Thirty seven is not too old, but it is certainly not young either. If you were to start today you would probably be able to make it to a major airline at some point, but your career expectations will be limited. There is a detailed discussion about this in the FAQs section. You didn’t mention if you had a college degree or not, you will most definitely need a four year degree to apply to the majors.

In the beginning, you should plan on working every single weekend, whether it be at a regional or a major. It can take several years to work up the ladder to having every weekend off and then the clock will start all over when you upgrade to Captain. If your concern is having Sundays off for religious reasons, know that the airlines (and really any union company) are prohibited from accommodating your personal religious preferences as it would abrogate the seniority based system.

Let us know what other questions you may have.

Chris

Thanks for the reply and the information. I have a 2 year degree, but not a 4 year. I had read recently that the 4 year degree requirement for some majors was possibly changing.

How long does it normally take to have at least 1-2 Sundays off per month at a regional? I do not have to have every weekend off by any means, but it would be best to have a balance and not work every Sunday for years at a time.

Mike,

I have seen articles like that mention the degree requirement going away as well. I don’t buy it for one second. There are thousands of regional pilots out there that have degrees, when the airlines are looking at who they want to pay $300k per year to and trust with pieces of equipment that easily cost $30 million or more, this is again an easy way to sort through the pile of applications. The good news is that you are half way to a degree and it should be relatively easy to finish it up while you are flying for the regionals.

I would say a good 2-3 years for the time off that you are asking, but even when I was really senior, I still ended up sometimes working weekends, it is just the nature of the industry. I really hesitate to even put that time frame on things as so much can change in the industry. The closest comparable I can think of is asking you in 2007 how many cars you were going to sell in 2008. Things changed rapidly and I bet your estimates were way off. The same can be easily true with the airlines. I am not trying to disregard your question, I just don’t want to make you promises that might or might not pan out. Take a look at Tory’s schedule. He has been with his airline for a little less than a year, so it is reflective of what a new hire pilot at a regional is getting for a schedule.

Chris

Mike,

Just to add my 2 cents regarding weekends the real answer is there is no answer. There are simply too many factors. When I was at ExpressJet I was based in EWR (which was where I wanted to be). Fortunately for me it wasn’t where most people wanted to be so EWR was a very junior base. I gained seniority quickly and had a pretty good schedule with many weekends off within months. BUT, I had friends who were hired the same time as me and wanted IAH which was the most senior base. They NEVER got weekends off, EVER. Factor in airlines with different aircraft types, gaining business, losing business there simply is no way to guess. Honestly you best bet is to count on NEVER holding weekends and then when/if you do you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Adam

Just to add…my schedule is actually unusual for a new hire. I was lucky
enough to be hired into the second training class for the e175. Because of
this, I am sitting at number 11 on the seniority list of 50+ FOs. My
friends at SkyWest were hired around the same time and they’re still on
reserve.

Tory