Real Answers from Real Pilots

Over 50 & looking for a career change

Hello,

I’ve seen other questions similar to what I’m looking to find out, but I’m currently 52, and 6’7", and looking to see if it would be possible to do a career change to piloting. Like most anyone else on here, I’ve always wanted to fly, but I would be starting from scratch. I’ve worked in IT my whole career, and am needing a change. In nutshell, by the time I got thru training, getting my hours built up etc…Is it still feasible for someone starting so late in life?

Thanks,
James

Hello James and Welcome,

If you’ve read the forum and seen similar than you should know the answer is no you’re not too old BUT you do need to be realistic about your expectations and goals in the industry. If you start now you’ll be in a position to be hired by a Regional in about 2 yrs making you 54. That’ll leave you about 11 yrs to fly as the mandatory retirement age is 65. While you can have a very nice 11 yr career at a Regional, you won’t be flying 777’s to Beijing. I enjoyed my time at the Regionals and if that was all there was I would’ve been fine with that. If you can say the same then I say do it.

Adam

Thanks Adam,

I appreciate the feedback. I was thinking the same thing as you stated. Just needed the confirmation. :slight_smile:

James,

A few years ago I would have told you that your time had passed, but the industry has really changed. As long as you act quickly to start your training and have realistic career expectations (staying at a regional) then I think you could have a good decade of flying. Keep in mind that the regionals are not the commuter airlines of a few decades ago, these are large airlines that fly decent size jets all over the country and into Canada and Mexico. You will have some great experiences flying for an airline and make some decent money along the way.

I say go for it, but don’t hesitate for long.

Chris

Hello Adam,
Similar situation to James although I am 46 now. Is it realistic to think I might get beyond regional before the mandatory retirement age?
Thanks,
Matthew

Matthew,

If I could jump in here a bit. Let’s say you start training at age 47. Training takes you six months and then it takes another year and a half for you to get your 1,500 hours, thus making you 49. At that age a regional will most certainly hire you. This is where the math gets a little fuzzier. Major airlines want to see jet Captain time and it usually takes a few years at a regional to upgrade. I can’t give you an exact number on this because every airline is different and it is constantly changing, but let’s say 3-5 years to upgrade, thus making you 54. After flying as a Captain for about two years you are probably now becoming marketable to a major airline, so 56. As you know airline pilots must retire before they turn 65, so essentially you have eight years left to offer a major.

I have heard stories of people being hired at that age, but I will be honest, they are very few and far between. Airlines spend a lot of money training a new pilot and they want to make sure that they can get a return on their investment.

If you decide to enter this field I would plan on making a career at a regional airline, that way if you do get hired at a major it is just an unexpected surprise and if you don’t get hired by a major then you still met your goal of being an airline pilot.

All of this being said, the regionals can be a great place to work and there is certainly nothing wrong with finishing out a career there. You could enjoy some nice seniority and make a pretty decent income.

Chris

Thanks for the thoughtful response Chris. Things to consider!

Hey Matthew,

Sorry but I was actually flying today (something I do from time to time so I can eat). Chris is dead on except I personally believe as we get deeper into this pilot shortage the Majors too will be more flexible in their hiring. I wouldn’t be surprised if you did in fact want to get on with a Major you could. The question in my mind is would you want to? The wacky thing about the airline industry is with pretty much any move you make you end up back at the bottom. When you upgrade to Capt yes your pay will increase but you’ll be a jr Capt and that generally means a lousy schedule. Same when you go to a Major. If you’re a Capt at a Regional you’ll probably be making pretty decent money and moving to the Major will mean a pay cut and again another lousy schedule. Chances are you’d never see Capt again so why go? The most common reason is to say you made it to the Big Leagues, fly a BIG airplane and go to some cool places. What I can tell you from personal experience is the coolness fades. When I first came to Hawaiian I was flying the 717 interisland which I LOVE! But there was still this pang to fly a big plane so I moved to the A330. It is cool and yes I’m flying all over the world etc but you know what? I’ll be returning to the 717 first chance I get. Fortunately I have that opportunity but if I had left an airline for another just for the big airplane see the world thing I wouldn’t be happy. You can easily jumpseat upfront and fly everywhere without disrupting your whole life. To me it’s really a lot about ego and hopefully at our age we’ve seen there are more important things.

Adam

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Good day Adam,

Thank you for your insights. I will continue to explore alternative paths
to flying commercially. That said the training needed to acquire a job
with either a regional or major is similar until the 1500 hours are met and
multi engine rating is achieved correct?

Thanks again,
Matthew

Matthew,

The training to fly for either a regional or a major is exactly the same, the experience level needed is very different. As to the training, you will need an ATP to fly for any airline, but the airlines will provide you with that once you get hired. What you need to acquire is a commercial multi engine license with instrument privileges and 1,500 hours. Of course there are other ratings that you will get along the way, but that is the big one.

On the experience side, a regional airline is going to require 1,500 hours of flight time, with about 100 of it being multi engine time. A major airline is going to want to see 4k to 5000 hours (or more) with 1000 of them being jet Captain time, plus a college degree.

So while the experience required varies greatly for the regionals and the majors, the FAA qualifications are exactly the same.

Chris

Thanks Chris. That helps clarify things. Matthew

Anytime. Keep asking us your questions as you think of them.

Chris

Does it make sense at age 60 to start a career, even if I’m looking at primarily instructing, not necessarily needing to go to the airlines? I do have my private but minimal hours.

Jim

Jim,

That really depends on what your goals are. Airline pilots must retire before they turn age 65, so there is not enough time left for you to have a career at the airlines. If you want to instruct that is certainly a possibility for you, just make sure that in your mind the cost of flight school will be worth the money that you will make from instructing.

Chris

Thanks Chris! I know I’m way late to the party but simply love aviation and hoping to maybe become a CFI and help share the flying experience with others. Wasn’t sure if a concentrated training school would be smarter than tying to go the slow route through or local flight schools.

Hi Jim,

While I was a little younger than you when I started, I really had only planned to maybe do some instructing and/or light charter. I was almost 40 but believed at the time airline pilots were all former military who started in their 20s. Anyway after a lot of research I chose ATP NOT to get me to the airlines (which it eventually did) but it was simply the most efficient route. I wasted 2 yrs at a local FBO earning my PPL and just didn’t want a repeat of that the rest of my ratings.

Adam

I am never a fan of the slow route, but it really all depends on your situation. Are you retired? Are you able to dedicate yourself to training full time? Where do you see yourself flight instructing?

Thanks for all the information James, Adam, Chris and Mathew. Greatly appreciated.

I just turned 42 a couple days ago. I’ve had a successful career in Technology. I’ve owned a couple of business’s and done all kinds of cool stuff. As a son of a pilot (my father is a 44 year career corporate pilot and still flying) I’ve had the opportunity to see the ups and downs, lows (very low) and highs in aviation. Growing up I had made a conscious decision TO NEVER BE A PILOT! (mostly cause I wanted a 9-5 job where I would be home everyday)

Well, as life would have it I’m coming to the end of Technology and I’ve been around airplanes my WHOLE LIFE! I love those machines and as an adult I’ve flown Cessnas, Chayenne II, Falcon 2000 simulator, etc. (not logged) and as I come to the halfway point of my life. I know its time to switch to a “sunset career” as one of your colleagues put it. It’s time for me to become a commercial pilot. For 4 main reasons 1. Its in the DNA 2. I love those machines 3. Freedom 4. I get paid to do something I enjoy

Here are a couple of questions:

  1. If I complete my hours in the next 1.5 - 2 years. Is 44 a good age to get into corporate flying or regionals?
  2. What can I do to get more flying hours after I receive my PPL?

Thanks in advance.

Hi Jason,

I’m the resident “old guy” and I can tell you without question 44 is not too old for a career in aviation. Mandatory retirement for 121 airlines is 65 and corporate it’s pretty much as long as you can keep your medical (unless your employer thinks differently). As you’re probably aware the Regionals are hurting for pilots. As long as you do well in training and have a clean record there’s no reason once you build the required 1500hrs any Regional wouldn’t snap you up.

Now Corporate is a whole other story (as I’m sure your father can attest to). I have many friends flying Corp (both for companies and private owners) and those jobs are much more “who you know” kind of deals. Since your father has been in that environment I’m certain he has made connections so you may in fact have no problems going that route. For the average pilot it takes a lot of networking to get a job in that field.

As far as building time after your Private you’re actually quite limited since in order for someone to pay you to fly you need your commercial. With you Private it’s purely for “Private” use and that means either renting or buying a plane. If you own a plane you can possibly “volunteer” your time to some healthcare organizations or even the Coast Guard Auxiliary but there really isn’t much out there.

Btw, as long as we’re on the subject, with the movement going on these days (get hired at a Regional by 44, upgrade by 48) there’s definitely the chance (if you so desired) to fly for a Major. I got hired at Hawaiian at 49 but I know for a fact I could’ve gone to other Majors if I wanted to. The question would be do you want to go back to the bottom of seniority list again? The answer? You can figure that out 7-8 yrs from now.

Adam

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Adam - Wow! I didn’t think I would have a chance in the majors. Things were much different when my father started his career in the 70s.

I’m moving to Clearwater in April to get my PPL + 80 hours at St Pete Air. Afterwards I’m gonna attend (if accepted) ATP in Clearwater/Tampa. Any input on either one of those schools?