Real Answers from Real Pilots

New beginnings

Hello everyone. First, I want to say that, I have been reading these q&a’s on here for over a year and I have been able to get so many questions of my own answered because of them. I am very appreciative for the time given by the mentors on here to help us all find our way through some of this process.

I am 32 years old. I’ve been a journeyman electrician for 10 years here in Alaska. I worked hard to get my career to a point of being in a position to run multi million dollar jobs and hold foreman positions normally. That all changed a year ago after an injury at work while pulling on several hundred pounds of wire. I ended up with some bulging discs in my thoracic spine and concluded that even after recovering, my days of carrying bundles of rigid conduit over my shoulder needed to end. My back issue is only provoked during extreme lifting/pulling/twisting.

I’m now at what feels like, the biggest crossroads of my life. My wife and I have a couple hundred thousand dollars saved (sounds like a lot but in reality is not that much) and I am starting over.
My dream is to be an airline pilot. There is not another career I’d love to pursue more.
That being said, I want to be very rational and do my best to minimize any regrets as I move forward.

I do not have a bachelors degree. I have been weighing out trying to get one first vs getting one online with ER while working at a regional later.
My fear is that I will use my resources up if I get my degree first. I also fear that I could miss the opportunity to get on at a regional and establish some seniority before this current “pilot shortage” changes or evolves.
Any input?

Also, I do have tattoos on my forearms. I have met with a couple very reputable places to get them removed. Because of their color, it is not really an option. I will be just fine wearing long sleeves throughout my career (whether it was as a pilot or some other professional career) but still want to make sure that at ATP as well as the airlines, I will have the option to wear long sleeves.
Any input?

It would also be fair to ask about what you have seen/experienced regarding back pain in pilots.
Most of the questions I have had have been answered throughout the last year by reading every post on this site. I again, can’t begin to tell everyone how appreciative I am, that you all take time from your own lives to help us newbies navigate thru some of the obstacles and confusion there can be in all of this.

David

David,

Welcome to the forums! Thanks for the detailed introduction, it really helps us to answer your questions.

I would get the licenses first, then the degree. You are by no means older, but in the scope of aviation you certainly are not young either. I would strongly suggest that you get your ratings first, build your flight time to get to the airlines, get hired by an airline and then get your degree online while you fly for a regional. Going to college first will mean three years longer of no income and put you four years further back in your career. Many pilots get their degrees online, it is a very good option while you are actively flying for a regional.

I see no issues with you wearing long sleeves year round. At United this would also mean that you need to wear your uniform jacket year round. Other than being hot in the summer, I don’t see this being an issue.

Back pain can be an issue for pilots, especially with all of the sitting and carrying heavy luggage. I would make sure this issue is addressed before pursuing a career in aviation.

Thanks for the compliments, it is nice to know that what we are doing here is appreciated. Feel free to ask any other questions you can think of.

Chris

Hi Chris,

Thank you for the quick reply!
Your answers were exactly what I was looking for.
I will definitely address the back issue. I need to be confident that my investment will not be a bet against my back.
Do you see pilots using lumbar supports or similar in the cockpit?
I’ve also wondered if there would be less stress on the back if one were doing short haul vs long haul?

David,

I have seen a few pilots bring pillows for the back, it isn’t a big deal at all.

Both long haul and short haul are going to mean significant time in the seat as short haul flights involve more ground time inbetween flights, a lot of that time is spent in the cockpit.

Chris

Thank you sir.

David,

I’m with Chris regarding the degree. This industry can change very quickly. Things are great now but 4yrs can make a huge difference in your career. The back issue concerns me. While long haul means more time in the airplane, the shorter flights usually mean more time in the seat (as you can get up and take breaks with augmented crews). Regardless trips and aircraft are decided based on seniority so in the beginning you might not have much say. While I know many pilots who carry pillows for their backs I also know at least one who had to leave the job because of his back issues. I would def get that sorted out before you invest a whole lot of time and money.

Adam

Thank you for the reply Adam! This is an amazing resource!

The issue regarding my back has been the greatest point of contemplation for me in regards to my choice. It is the choice to pursue a dream and bet against the possibility of losing it. The other option is to pursue something safer (regarding longevity) but always wonder if I could have lived my dream. It’s a very tough decision.

If hypothetically, something regarding my back were to become a problem (let’s say in 10 yrs) what do you think the odds would be of gaining employment as a ground school instructor for an airline?
Just wondering if, worst case scenario, I would have any options that would let me leverage my experience as a pilot to keep/gain employment in the industry?

David,

That could work but I’d try and get into the training dept before you actually need to. Many airlines have contracts that require instructors to be current pilots on their seniority list (to avoid low-cost outsourcing). If you’re a current pilot and instructor and you medical out that’s a different story.

Adam

David,

If your back were to become an issue later down the road you would most likely be covered by your airline’s long term disability insurance. Beyond that, there are many pilots like yourself that end up being simulator or ground instructors because of health issues. There are also positions in the safety department, etc that you could look into.

Chris

Thank you both for your input and advice.
Sincerely appreciated!