Real Answers from Real Pilots

If You Were Me

I always wanted to fly, but sadly, never went down that path. I am thinking that now at my age, it is time to do it or it will be too late forever. Nay to that I say… so I’m excited!
However, at the same time, I’m anxious about it. Is it worth it? It certainly seems like it would be, but man, the more I read about it, the more I am uncertain as to whether or not it might be too late for me. So even though I think it’s not too late, I don’t want to be naive and end up wasting money I don’t have…or waste time that I could have focused elsewhere… so I must weigh this decision carefully. I turn to you for advice, oh captains my captains.

I’m about to turn 35. I have only a few college credits and no degree. I have been at the same job for 10 years at a M-F 9-5 full-time job. I am unmarried but live with my girlfriend of 7 years and her two teenagers, so basically I have a family.

  1. Commercial airline pilot vs. corporate jet pilot… Most of what I have looked up appears more directed for a major airline pilot career. What is the different level of training programs and requirements between the two when looking for a career? How are the job outlooks between the two in the coming years? I like the idea of flying private jets but I also hear that it’s more of an aviation field that requires you to have great connections in order to get a job… is this true?

  2. The military is out of the question now… so does that leave me with full-time flight schools like ATP vs. independent flight training, such as Fly Carolina in Concord? Are there other options?
    I am aware that schools like ATP put you on a fast track, but even if it takes a little longer, would the instruction received elsewhere look just as good on an application? Is the price about the same? This may be the toughest decision I make as I would have to quit my job to make the time for it, I guess, or if I chose the pay as you go method, It would take longer as I’d only have weekends available. I am hoping that someone could tell me what would be better at my age, or if there is even another option that would make more sense for me. Knowing what you know now, what would be smarter at my age?

  3. Will I need to re-learn math before schooling or is it not necessary… as in will the math I need be taught to me?

  4. If I chose to pursue being an airline pilot, I’m aware that I’ll likely need a four year degree. Is this to be a PIC or can I do this while working as a co-pilot? Should I just get loans for both flight instruction AND college all right now? Are degrees required for other aviation fields, such as the aforementioned corporate pilot (I assume it depends)?

In conclusion, I need to make a decision and don’t want to make the wrong one. I would love to hear the advice of experienced pilots, especially those that came into later in their lives compared to most. What would you do if you were me?

We are pretty much in the same boat. I can answer some of your questions except that the first one. I looked into aviation 10 years ago when my wife was pregnant with our first child. I had a I guess you could say “mentor.” He was a corporate pilot. Chief pilot for Hawkair which was the aviation department for Wachovia bank. While I don’t know the requirements to fly for them I do remember someone saying something to the effect of you could fly for them with the right certifications but with less hours. I could be totally wrong about that but I think I read that somewhere. Corporate pilots do not have the type of schedule that airline pilots have. There is far more uncertainty with when/where you are going. At least that’s how it was explained to me. You said that you were 35. The military is not totally out of the question for you. They accept enlisted members up to 39 years old. Military aviation is however out of the question. Trying to get accepted into the Air Force flight program was why I joined the Air Force but I was to old and way to far from a degree. You could still join the military and do the shortest enlistment and go to flight school after. It is going to set you back time wise but, most of these pilots are going to tell you to go to school first. This way you can possibly get your AS degree while enlisted and take very few classes (at least in the AF you could). As long as your enlisted you can use tuition assistance to pay for the AS degree and use your GI Bill for your BS. Also the GI Bill will pay for all of your flight training after you pay for your private. I’m not positive but I think that you pay for it up front and they will reimburse you up to $10,000 a year. Also not certain but I’m about 99% sure any math you need will be taught to you. I would say to get your AS degree then do your flight training. Build your time and get to a regional job and once there get your BS degree. Once you have that you can look into the majors when you reach the required time. That is pretty much my plan. Financing is my only set back. There are other flight programs out there that have accelerated programs but they do not have the placement numbers or the set price that ATP offers. I don’t work for ATP or attend the school. Just a guy on here doing my research and trying to find out what’s best for me and that’s what I have found from this forum. With a wife and kids you have a little more freedom than me but sounds like not by much. I see that you mentioned Gly Carolina in Concord, you live near there?

Hi Ryan,

Lots of questions and concerns so let’s see if we can’t clear things up.

  1. Pilot training is pilot training and there is no difference between the licenses and rating for either Corporate or Commercial. The only real difference is that in 2013 they passed the Airline Safety Act which in addition to many things now requires ALL airline pilots to have their ATP (Airline Transport License) which means a minimum of 1500hrs. In the past you could get hired with just your Commercial license and far less time and only needed your ATP when it was time for Capt upgrade. Corporate jobs do not have that requirement BUT. The BUT is a big one since “Corporate” aviation can mean anything from flying some guy’s Beechcraft Bonanza from Boise to Wichita twice a week to flying a Global Express from NY to Tokyo. The better jobs obviously pay better and require much more experience (and yes connections). The reason you find most pilots at least starting at Regional airlines (even if they eventually want to fly Corporate) is because there’s simply a TON of Regional pilot jobs, they pay pretty well and they’re the best way to gain jet time fast.

  2. Ryan you’re funny (but not unusual). You wonder if 35 is too late to start but then you ask about delaying and taking your time. I can tell you that 35 is far from too late BUT it’s not young either. Mandatory retirement is 65 which means you have very finite number of years to fly. The reason me and Chris both signed on to ATP (and are huge fans of their program) is because we both had terrible experiences elsewhere. When you look at the cost of ATP (and other fulltime programs) the numbers can seem daunting, but there’s a reason the airlines and the military train their pilots everyday. Because it’s efficient and it works. Flying skills are built one lesson upon the next. Wait a week between flight and you will have to relearn some things without question (there’s only so much we retain and these are “perishable skills”). Now if you can go every week that’s not so bad but talk to anyone who’s trained at smaller schools and they all have the same story. You have a lesson and it’s great. The next week the weather’s no good, the week after the instructor is booked, week after the plane is out for maintenance and the next thing you know it’s been a month since you’ve flown. This is not only frustrating and inefficient it will without question get expensive. If you’re serious about becoming a professional pilot you need to be serious about your training. While I understand taking the time off can be difficult and challenging, the money you recoup in the future (senior Capts make $300k) will more than justify the sacrifice.

  3. Pilot math really isn’t that complicated and whatever you need you’ll learn during training. The most “tricky” math for most people is reciprocal headings. There are 360deg in a circle, if I give you a heading (a number between 0-360) can you tell me the exact opposite heading (± 180deg, for example the reciprocal of 90deg is 270deg). If you can handle that you’ll be fine if you can’t we’ll teach you some cheats :slight_smile:

  4. To fly for a Regional you need no degree but to fly for a Major you’ll want one. Most people in your position do their training, get hired at a Regional then get their degrees online while working building time and experience. How you finance it is up to you. As for Corporate again that can vary tremendously. Some gigs want a degree, others don’t but seeing how there are far fewer jobs I’d want to be as competitive as possible and the degree can never hurt.

Hope that helps some.

Adam

Jeremy, the military route does sound like a good option as far as I know in regard to financial assistance. I may have to consider that more.

And yeah, I live in that metro area, much further west though. Concord is sort of a hike but nothing I can’t handle so as long as I have that gleam in my eye and song in my heart.
How about you?

Adam, thanks man. I know that was a lot so I appreciate both of you taking the time to read and offer your advice. The ATP route does seem like it would be the smartest, but it’s so risky. I’ll have to have no income coming in and then get paid as a CFI for peanuts. It is kind of romantic though. Living on easy mac and bus fare while chasing the dream with my eye to the sky and all that.

So say I go through the training and then go on as a CFI at ATP while at the same time, starting college online or at night, whichever… is this even possible or will the scheduling of a CFI require more flexibility than allowed for that? If I would have to wait for school until I can get a job, like the regional job, then so be it, but I am curious about that.

Ryan,

No problem. That’s what these forums are for. Another military thought would be to talk to a Guard recruiter. I think my nephew joined for 2 or 3 years. You would have to leave for training but once your done, you still get tuition assistance just like your active duty. He normally only has duty 1 weekend a month. Sometimes it less than that. 9 months is a long time to go without income so I know the issue/frustration there. Especially like in my case when your the only source of income and I work 2 sometimes 3 jobs just to try and make ends meet. It sounds like $60-70,000 is so much money but when you think about the earning potential versus how much you work, it’s kind of a no brainer. I guess that’s if you have the dream to fly like we do. I live in Monroe so I’m about an hour or so from Concord. When I was looking at ATP 10 years ago there was no Concord location. I’m not even sure if there was one in Raleigh at the time. I think it was Richmond. The price was half what it is now but I think the flight time was about a 1/3 of what it is now. Like Adam said when you think about lessons if your only taking them when you can afford to, how much info are you going to retain versus doing it day after day after day? That and the set price is what has me leaning toward ATP. I found a school in Greenville SC that when I get my private, the GI Bill will cover the rest. Only problem is there is no time frame, no guaranteed CFI job and over 1000 hours that I have to come up with a way to obtain (one my own dime.) All that and I added up the costs and with FAA minimum flight times it’s still almost $50,000. I’m not trying to tell you to go to ATP I’m just saying, I’ve looked into this for 10 years and this is what I have learned. If your serious about it, do your research and figure out what’s best for you and your family. I can tell you from experience though that you don’t want to look at it to long without pulling the trigger.

Ryan,

You obviously haven’t gone through ATPs training but it can be intense. It requires a tremendous amount of study and hard work but the good news is your instructor will be with you along the way. Now, I’m certain after laying out that amount of cash you expect your instructor’s full and undivided attention right? Well when it’s your turn your students will expect the same. That was my long answer to say it would be best if you waited till you’re at a Regional to start school. You’ll have plenty of downtime anyway.

Adam

Alright, I’m reaching out to various flight schools for more info. I have a lot to think about. Thank you both for your advice. Wish me luck.