Real Answers from Real Pilots

Changing Careers

I am new to this website and was referred to this website by ATP. I’m considering a career change at the age of 43 and flying has always been an interest to me. I love flying traveling and would like to make it my career, but I have a couple of concerns. My first concern is my age and being able to get a job as a pilot in my late 40’s…I’m just not sure that airlines are more into hiring younger pilots? How long would it take to become a captain? Is it worth my time if I start at 43 years of age? Do they have physical standards you must pass, for instance I’ve had asthma since I was a kid…will this prevent me from becoming a pilot? And the proverbial question…what does a co-pilot or a captain make for salary per year? I’ve been looking on line and finding a wide variety of salaries ( from $40K to $250K) so I’m not sure what to trust. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

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Robert,

Welcome to the forums. To begin with, you should have no problems getting hired on at a regional airline at your age. Now is a great time to be entering the industry as there simply are not enough pilots. There are plenty of stories of pilots your age or older being hired at the airlines.

It is important that you have realistic expectations though. The airlines are driven by seniority, meaning the pilots that have been at the airline the longest get their first picks of position and aircraft type, and so on down the list. While there is a good chance of you making it to the major airlines I would say that it might be tough for you to upgrade to captain there. Don’t get me wrong though, I feel like you have plenty of time left to have a great career in aviation.

As to what pilots earn, check out this article that I wrote about that topic:

Let us know what other questions you have.

Chris

Thanks for the info Chris…this is very helpful. I noticed in another topic you stated that you have to have your private pilots license or a 2 year degree prior to going to ATP. Are there any other schools that you can get into with you these degrees? I’ve been a business owner for 15 years and never went to school so this would set me back a couple of years. If not, is there a pilot school you could recommend on the west coast?

Hi Robert,

I’m unofficially the “old guy” on here. I started at ATP when I was 39. While that’s a few years younger than you are the industry has changed considerably over the years. As Chris said the biggest thing is you need to be realistic about your expectations. If you started now you could be at a Regionals by 45 which would give you 20 yrs as a pilot which isn’t bad. Figure 4-6 at a Regional so you’re looking at maybe moving to a Major around 50 (I got to Hawaiian at 49) so it can be done. The question is would you want to. Yes the pay is better but initially it would mean a pay cut and more important going back to the bottom of a seniority list with a lousy schedule etc. Even then chances are you wouldn’t be a 777 Capt ever. Is that ok? For some the answer is yes others no.

Btw, you mention you love to travel but you didn’t say if you have any flight experience other than sitting in the back? If the answer is no than you really need to take an intro flight and see for certain. Trust me the back of an Airbus is VERY different than the front of a Cessna!

Adam

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Hey Adam,
No official experience flying…only as a traveler or with people who have their license. I’m okay with not being a 777 Capt, but would eventually like to be a Captain, or maybe eventually a private corporate pilot also. I also like the benefit of being able to travel with the airline on vacations with my wife…everything about flying appeals to me at this point in my life and not just for the money. I would be taking a considerable pay cut the first few year, but that okay also as long as in 3-5 years i could be making more than 30k a year. I haven’t had a job with benefits and retirement for 15 years and that would be nice too. Overall, I would like to make decent money, get some benefits and travel…its all very appealing to me. Any suggestions on schools on the west coast?

Two years of equivalent work experience also meets the criteria for entry into the program, you should be good to go.

Robert,

Listen current first year pay at the Regionals has almost doubled since I started and is now in the upper $30s (not to mention there are signing bonuses of up to $20k plus retention bonuses to keep guys around). Things can and often do change but right now most Regionals are quoting under 5 yrs for upgrade to Capt where you’ll eventually top at around $100k which isn’t terrible. 401Ks, medical and travel are also part of the deal and I know many pilots who decided to be lifers at the Regionals and are very happy. Honestly ego seems to be the biggest issue?

That all said I really can’t stress enough the importance of getting up in a small plane before you seriously consider any of this.

I’m on this forum so obviously I’m a fan of ATPs. I did a ton of research before I took the plunge and there really is no better or efficient route to the airlines. The training is second to none and their reputation is well established in the industry. I recommend you give them a look. Oh and schedule an Intro flight with ATP while you’re at it!

Adam

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Chris,
2 years work experience in this field, or any field?

Adam,
Very useful info. I will definitely get up in a small plane before I make any decisions. I’m more interested in doing something I love than $$$, but it would be nice to make a decent living also. I’ll definitely check into ATP more…but my dilemma is I live in Oregon, but I suppose a move to Phoenix or Daytona wouldn’t be horrible (no snow) especially if it’s only a 2 year program. Are the any health restrictions to being a pilot such as asthma? I’ve been plagued with asthma since I was 3 years old and I know many jobs have health restrictions…

Robert,

There obviously are health restrictions which is why I also recommend before you quit your job you locate a local AME (aviation medical examiner) and get a First Class medical. While you only need a Third Class to do flight training you obviously wouldn’t want to find out after investing all that time and money you can’t get a First Class and therefore can’t work for an airline. I know a number of pilots with asthma so it’s definitely not an immediate denial. I’m assuming as long as it’s “controlled” you’ll be fine but again I’d consult an AME to be 100% certain.

Adam

Adam,
I will definitely do that before I make any decisions. Thanks again for all the advice!

Two years work experience, it does not have to be in aviation.

Do keep in mind though that while you will not need a four year degree to get hired on at the regionals you will definitely want to get one at some point as the majors do require them.

So if I want to be a pilot with the majors I will need a 4 year degree and my pilots license?

To be hired on at a major airline you will need a four year degree, your pilots licenses and thousand of hours (several years worth) of flight experience at the regional airlines.

to be hired at a regional you will need your pilots licenses and 1,500 hours of flight experience.

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Understood. Thanks for the advice. I’ve been reading a lot on the internet about various aviation jobs, one that was mention is a ‘cargo pilot’…does this require the same degree and hours of flight time? Also, I have a interest in becoming a corporate pilot, what are the requirements for this? Sorry for all the questions but I can never seem to find all these answers on google!

“Cargo pilot” generally means FedEx and UPS, those companies have the same requirements as the major airlines do.

Corporate pilots are a whole different category onto themselves. The requirements vary widely and really depend on the company in question. There is no one definition of “corporate pilot” like there is “airline pilot”, but generally it means flying for a corporation or individual. The requirements for these jobs vary so widely that it is hard to really put a number on them.

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Understood. Thanks again for all the advice…I will be looking into all of this.

Anytime. Ask more questions as you think of them, that is what we are here for.

Robert,

I have many friends at Atlas. Atlas is a cargo carrier but not quite at the level of FedEx or UPS. They don’t pay as well but they do pay more than the Regionals and they don’t require a degree. They also allow you to live anywhere and will pay for your travel to your base. The down side is their pilots can be gone up to 2 weeks at a time. Just FYI.

Adam

Adam,
Thanks again for the info…this is all very useful to me to make my decision!