Real Answers from Real Pilots

Is age 40 to old to start?

(Randy Larson) #1

Hi guys, thanks for taking the time. I’m 40 yrs old with 30 hours of flight time in a 172. Based on the 24 month course and the 74,000 in debt it looks like I will rack up, is it too late to start if I have to retire when I’m 65? i see Eric started when he was 37. Appreciate your thoughts.


I am 33 years old and want to start pilot I too old to enroll in the course and become future pilot for bigger airlines?
41 yr old looking for career change

Hi Randy and welcome!

Well I started when I was 39 so there! I’ve actually known some FO’s who started in their 50’s. Short answer, no it DEFINITELY is not!

When I started my training I was looking at my 39th birthday and decided I wanted to get paid to fly airplanes. To me that meant instructing or maybe some charter gig. People said I could get hired by a Regional and I thought that was nonsense. Two years later I was flying for ExpressJet (Continental Express). People would ask if I wanted to go to a Major and I would respond “of course but I’m too old”. In the past when guys like you asked if they were too old I’d say no BUT you need to manage your expectations. You can fly but you’re never going to fly a heavy to Tokyo. Well I fly an Airbus A330 (heavy) for Hawaiian Airlines (oldest Major airline in the US) and I went to Tokyo last month for the first time at age 52.

The airlines are hiring like mad, get trained and you’ll get hired. Only thing I can’t promise you won’t spend WAY too much time wondering why you didn’t start sooner? :grin:



Welcome to the forums! Your question is one that we get asked alot. My answer is always that it depends on what your goals in the industry are.

Of course these numbers are an estimate, but they are based on what I have seen watching this industry for well over a decade. Let’s say that you start training and then finish the program at age 41. The FAA requires that pilots have 1,500 hours of flight time before they can fly airliners, most people chose to flight instruct to gain those hours. Should you be interested in instructing at ATP you can read about the job here: So now you are 43 or maybe 44 and ready to be hired at the airlines, meaning you have a twenty year airline career in front of you.

Right now most pilots are spending between 2 to 4 years as First Officers at regional airlines before upgrading to captain, so lets say that happens at 47 for you. !,000 hours of captain time seems to be the magic number to get hired at a major, so lets say two more years, 49 years old. Now with 11 years left to your career you have a choice to make. Do you stay at the regionals and enjoy being a captain and the seniority that you have earned, or do you apply to the majors and start over as a First Officer? There are benefits to both and it is a choice that only you can decide. Realistically speaking you will probably not have enough time to be a captain at a major airline, but you might end up as a First Officer flying wide body international trips.

Certainly you will have a more condensed career than most, but there is a lot that you can accomplish in twenty years. The days of airlines staying away from older pilots are long gone, I know that at my airline it is not uncommon for pilots to be hired well into their fifties.

If you want to read more about pilot compensation at the various levels and positions check out this article that I wrote: What Do Pilots Really Earn?

I hope this helps, please feel free to post more questions as you think of them.


(Eric) #4

This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


Eric bud I’m really sorry! I didn’t realize you were MY Eric! That’s awesome and congrats on Shuttle and the Embraer. The 175 is DEFINITELY the REAL DEAL!

Now get back to those flows! “CHECK…?..I mean SET…I mean ON…” :joy:

(Chema H) #6

Hi, I just registered to say HELLO! I’m 40 and studying just now ATPL theory (first exams in one month) after doing PPL. I’m from Seville, Spain.


(Joel) #9

Hello, I’m 43 years old already and planning to study pilot, is there any hope or a chance for me? can I still have opportunity to fly an airbus? thanks



Take a read:


(Joel) #11

Wow adam nice read, i hope be like you someday, thanks buddy

(Wendell Sappio) #12

Hi Randy,

I’m 43 and I’ll start my training in one month!!

I’ve sent messages to the HR of some regional airlines and all responses were good regarding hiring a new pilot after 40s and in my case immigrants.

I’m really scared, but I’ll do it, it’s my dream and I’m going for it.

Regards and awesome 2018!

Wendell Sappio

(Erin Tripp) #14

This I really a super helpful threat to so many of us. Thanks to all of you reading this for taking the time to reply - know there is someone out there reading what you wrote, and thanking you for it!

I too have been contemplating the “is 40 too old” question for awhile now. Although not yet 40, I am 38. The problem with taking the sky dive is not for a lack of love or enthusiasm - I got my private pilot’s license last year and love flying as much as I thought I would!

Rather, I have a very great and very secure (tenure track) job as a university professor. I love what I do, and I LOVE the benefits and schedule freedom. But I work like an absolute dog. Anyone in academia knows exactly what I am talking about - impossible to turn off at any point, night or day, 365 per year. For an 85k annual salary, I certainly wouldn’t be here if I didn’t love my profession. But it is absolutely exhausting, and on too many occasions have I realized that I could work fewer hours in a week, make twice as much money, and still have a very high quality of life.

Then there is the job security issue. If I left my job tomorrow, paid my dues, wracked up the 1500 hrs, would I actually land a solid job with great benefits? Right now, I am basically guaranteed one for life…

So - that’s my “is 40 too old” conundrum. Sufficiently complex, but I guess life wouldn’t have it any other way.

Woud love to hear from any of you 'practicing" ATP pilots out there…



While we can offer you guidance regarding training, life as a pilot etc, what you should do with your life is frankly only something that you can decide. I do find it curious that if you “love what you do” why you would want to change it? Tired of working like a dog? I have to tell you while eventually with seniority you could have a nice schedule until then being a pilot is no picnic. The training is intense and will take all your time as will instructing afterwards. You won’t have any problem getting hired by a Regional but your schedule will initially be pretty bad. No weekends or holidays off and the pay will max out where you are now. IF you make it to a Major the pay will definitely improve but there’s no guarantees you will and again you’d be starting at the bottom with a lousy schedule for a few more years.

You see the best part about being a pilot is getting paid to do something you love (which you already are). But if you’re making the move because you’re looking for higher pay or a better QOL that can and will take a while and again there are no guarantees. Should you do it? That’s a great question to ask yourself.


(Erin Tripp) #16

pretty great response adam. my most sincere thanks for your reply. “why would i want to change it” involves only the hope that 10 years from now, the pace will slow down ever so slightly. i do not see that happening in academia. in aviation, maybe it would, and maybe it wouldn’t. as you say…. IF you make it to a major…. the lack of any guarantee makes this among the hardest decisions i’ve encountered. as of now, i pretty much have a lifetime guarantee. if i make a change, there are many risks, and no guarantees.

very happy for you that you have a job you love (and happy for me too). i just wish there was some intermediate - wish i could fly commercially during the summertime, or on weekends, for fun… AND get paid!

take care adam. great food for my nighttime thought…



Why can’t you? While you can’t be a part-time airline pilot there are plenty of flying gigs out there. Banner tow during the summer, traffic watch in the early mornings, flight instruct on weekends, Truth is I started with ATP when I was 39 and honestly never thought I’d be an airline pilot. I (like you) just wanted to fly and not have it clean out my bank acct. I figured I’d instruct, or maybe find a part-time charter gig or whatever. The folks at ATP told me I could be an airline pilot and frankly I thought they were blowing smoke. They asked I had interest in any of the Regionals and Continental Express’ (ExpressJet) EWR base was close to my home so I said sure them. They asked for my resume and 10 days later I was flying to IAH for an interview. The rest is history. Now I (unlike you) HATED what I was doing. Even though I was making money taking the risk was better than being miserable so I took a shot and I’ve never regretted it.

My point is if you enjoy flying but also really enjoy what you’re doing then why not try and do both? The pilot shortage hasn’t just effected the airlines, it’s trickled down do virtually every flying job in the country. If it were me I’d keep training, get my Commercial and CFIs and see where it goes. Who knows you may find a part-time gig that compliments what you’re doing now, you may decide you want to keep it recreational or may decide you really prefer flying and take the plunge. Me I like options but then again it isn’t about :wink:




Pilots can work incredibly hard, too. I am in the middle of a four flight day and will not finish until 2am. I would recommend changing jobs because you love your new job, not because you are looking for something easier.


(Erin Tripp) #19

super helpful chris - and i apologize to all - i def did NOT mean to belittle the time and very hard work that ATP pilots put in! i know you guys work your __ off!


No offense taken. I was simply saying that if you are looking for an easier job than being a college professor, flying isn’t it. I have been a college instructor teaching several classes per semester, it was significantly easier than flying airplanes for a living.

(Ingthor Ingolfsson) #21

Well…I´m 40. Since I was a child I´ve always wanted to become a pilot - Been addicted to everything related to airplanes and aviation - When I was on „the best age“ to start back in the late 1990s I was told I had to be extremely good in math and physics, have 100% good eye-vision and great grades - now that ship sailed for me.

I went to another industry, IT and computer graphics - 8 years later, at the age of 28 I was told that 28 was little bit too old - again I listen too much to people that actually didn´t knew what they were talking about - or I didn´t think about the option to check if they were wrong.

In 2016 I decided to take the class 1 medical - My health was good so I signed up for the next PPL class that started in summer 2017 - Now… 7 weeks ago on the 1st of June I completed the check ride. When the examiner shaked my hand when I shut down the engine after the flight and said "congratulation… you are now a pilot“, I felt my eyes were about to burst into tears - I tried not to smile too much and keep it together…what a feeling - I ask my self every 2-3 days “Why didn´t I start sooner”… but, I´m so glad I did.

The only bills I payed with a smile were the one from the flight school - Today it´s amazing to wake up, check the TAF and have the option to fly if the weather is good - such a privilege - But in 2 months I´ll start the ATPL which will be a much bigger fish and a huge rollercoaster… but I´ll just take one day at a time

For everyone who are around the age of 40, I woud say just go for it if it´s your passion - specially if you wake up thinking about aviation and go to sleep with aviation on your mind and the pilot dream.

I really don´t care what the salaries are gonna be - I just wan´t to do what I think I was ment to do and get paid for it…



Thank you for sharing your story with us.


(Hayley Ng) #23

Greeting from Italy !
Google brought me here after typing “is it too late start a career of pilot” . Just want to say hi and show my gratitute for the great forum and stories shared here. I got so thrilled !
My bday cake this year has 33 candles topping , being female engineer, almost 200 flying hours…on passenger cabin of course :smile: , am I good for the adventure with the dream since childhood becoming a pilot ?
Thanks and have a nice day !