Real Answers from Real Pilots

College student looking for fast track

I’m a 17 year old African American female aspiring to become an aerospace engineer and airline pilot. I am currently enrolled at a community college working towards an associates degree in Engineering and I would like to start my flight training as soon as possible. I haven’t decided if I want to become a private pilot or an airline pilot, and I understand that those require two different licenses. What are some pros and cons of both careers? Is there any way for me to travel around the country while flight training?

Emily,

When you say “private” I’m going to assume you mean “corporate” (flying planes for individuals or corps) vs airline (and not a Private Pilot which simply means you can fly yourself and your friends but not get paid). If that’s the case you’re somewhat mistaken. Pilot licenses are pilot licenses. To work and get paid as a pilot you require a Commercial pilot license. In the past this was satisfactory for both for many years but in 2013 they changed the law stating that ALL airline pilots must have their ATP (Airline Transport Pilot) license. Now while you can still technically get hired flying corporate with just a Commercial license, to work as Capt (and due to insurance requirements) most corporate gigs require an ATP as well.

As for the pros and cons it’s really a matter of personal taste. Many people equate it to the difference between being a limo driver or a bus driver. Sure driving a limo can be cool BUT if the owner of the limo is some diva who feels everyone else is beneath them the coolness wears off fast. Many corporate pilot are on call 24/7 and you’ll be gone as long as they say. Corporate flying also obviously involves more personal interaction and attention to the owner, client etc. Often you’ll be called upon to carry/load bags and other non-flying duties as well as being in charge of all the flight planning. Flying for an airline (while perhaps less glamorous) all the planning is done for us and we simply fly the plane. Anything else related to the passengers is handled by others. We also have schedules and fixed days off so you can have a life. Again it comes down to what appeals to you most. One thing I never cared for in corporate is every now and again you hear a story of an owner threatening a pilots job if they didn’t do as told. I have friends who fly corporate and are very happy but some aren’t but you can say the same for the airlines.

Finally most flight schools don’t allow students to leave the state when training. One of the neat things about ATP is during the X-country time building face they will send you flying across various states. That said you’ll go where they tell you and not where you want.

Hope this helps,

Adam

1 Like

That helps tremendously! I think the corporate route would be the best way to go for me. Could my engineering degree help me with that career choice in any way?

Emily,

I have a very good friend who’s a pilot and has an engineering degree from GA Tech. At her pilot interview it came up:
HR: "I see you have an engineering degree from GATech huh?"
My Friend: "Yes I do"
HR: "Well that’s $150K you didn’t need to spend"
An engineering degree will serve you well as a back up plan and look nice on a resume (and education is always valuable) but the truth is aviation is not engineering and engineering is not aviation. You need to learn to fly if you want to be a pilot.

Adam