Real Answers from Real Pilots

Pilot vs. ATC

(Merissa) #1

Hello there! My name is Merissa. I’m 23 and I’m former Army. My job was a 15w (unmanned aircraft vehicle operator). The training I got is what interested me in flying manned aircraft. I’ve been obsessed with flying since my discharge about four months ago. I’ve been looking into flight schools in my area but for some reason I keep coming back to ATP. Today, when I was researching flight schools, I came across the option of aircraft dispatch. It interests me, but I’m not sure which option to pursue. Both options have long term career pros and cons, such as being in one place versus jumping on a plane to wherever. As well as the safety of a tower versus the threat of a plane being attacked in the state of safety the world seems to currently be at. Any insight into the world of aircraft operation would be awesome as well as financial advice in any way. I will be on a very fixed income and have read other threads about how difficult it is to work and train.
Any and all information would be greatly appreciated. My family doesn’t have any flight background and everyone is slightly worried about my “dangerous career choice”.
Thanks so much in advance for your time and help!



Welcome to the forums and thanks for posting! You certainly have an interesting insight into a different side of aviation, one that none of us have.

Dispatching certainly has its benefits, mainly the ones that you mentioned. It does pay less than flying though and offers the monotony of going to the same place every day. That can be a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective. I enjoy traveling all over the world and getting paid to do it. Its funny, but I have never thought of flying as a dangerous career. In many ways it is actually very safe, we operate in a very high security environment and one that pays very close attention to safety. Of course there are accidents, but they constitute a very small fraction of the many flights that are operated daily.

For some good insight take a look at our “Flying the Line” articles. Those pages will give you a great idea what flying an airliner for a living is really like. Adam, Eric and myself all bring different backgrounds and experiences to the forum, so our stories will give you a very good perspective on the industry.

Of course feel free to ask any and all questions that you can think of. I look forward to working with you as you explore this career option.



Hi Merissa and Welcome!

As you said there are pros and cons to both careers and only YOU can ultimately decide which is best for Merissa? For my part it was very cut and dry. I love airplanes, I love to travel, I love airports, I love the uniform, I love being a pilot and everything that goes along with it. While obviously also aviation related, dispatching is entirely different occupation. Yes the salaries are lower, but so is the initial investment and the time, effort and sacrifice are considerably less as well.

If safety is your main concern I would encourage you to do some research and put that to rest. Commercial aviation is by far the safest mode of transportation in the world. While the events of 9/11 were tragic and horrific, and I in no way want to diminish the loss of life. if you look at the numbers that was 4 planes in one day 15yrs ago vs the literally billions of flights that are safely completed every year since. When planes go down it’s big news, gets a lot of media attention and causes fear on a very visceral level to most people, the realty is you’re at considerably more risk driving to your dispatcher job every day then you are flying.

As long as we’re talking aviation jobs, just as an FYI the country is currently facing a shortage of Air Traffic Controllers and is actively hiring. It’s a gov’t job with great benefits, pays well and I have a friend who loves it. Just throwing it out there.

Bottomline (to me) is really pretty simple. Do you want to fly or do you just want to be in aviation. If you want to fly you definitely should, if not there are cheaper and easier ways to be near airplanes.


(Merissa) #4

Thank you guys for responding!
I love airplanes and love to travel as well. As far as personal life while traveling, how difficult is it to maintain? Within the next couple years I will be married and once I have children I would want to be home with them as much as possible. Aside from that most of my family lives in Michigan and I live in the Atlanta area. Would it be difficult to be with family for holidays or somewhat doable? And how difficult would it be to possibly start out flying then switch to dispatching when wifely/motherly life began?
I know it’s kind of an odd question but appreciate the feedback! Thanks again!



If you’ve read some of the other posts on here you’ve probably seen me say “Seniority is everything” at the airlines and that’s the truth. When you first start out you’re junior and you’ll fly where, when and how much the airline needs you to fly. As you gain seniority you gain the ability to have more control over your schedule and therefore your life. In the beginning, no you will not be home for Christmas or Thanksgiving (you may be able to get Arbor Day or even Halloween but no promises :slight_smile: ). It will improve in time but depending on the airline you’re at, the number of pilots and your relative seniority it could take a while.

Merissa this is America and you can do anything you want in your career. That said the airlines are not the military where you can just switch your MOS. If you’re a pilot you’re a pilot. If you decide you want to become a dispatcher, you’ll need to get the appropriate training and if there’s an opening apply. If you have a solid work history and can get internal recommendations I’m sure that’ll help, but it’s still a very different job.




To add on to to what Adam said, I would strongly encourage you to pick one career field, either flying or dispatching. The costs of education for both are substantial and it really wouldn’t make sense to switch between the two. Dispatchers use a seniority based system as well, so by jumping over to that side you would be starting again at the bottom, even if it was the same airline.

If you want to be home a lot with your kids I would have reservations about recommending this career to you. While airline pilots go get a lot of days off, they are gone a lot too, especially in the beginning of our careers. I am on a first name basis with the hotel staff at many of our west coast destinations if that gives you any idea…

I do not mean to dissuade you or sound negative on the job, I personally love the job and don’t mind the traveling. Take a look at our schedules and see how you think that might fit into your future plans, especially bearing in mind your desire to be a parent.