Real Answers from Real Pilots

Pitfalls and Traps - Concerns before the "Leap"

Hello all,

I have been discovering the forum and for the most part every one of my questions and/or concerns have been fielded in other threads and posts. Kudos to the mentors here! You have set a really positive tone for these pages!

I have been considering a huge change and am not looking for anyone to encourage, or sell me the idea of starting training with ATP (I’m fairly stoked about the whole concept on my own), but rather to possibly enlighten me on any areas that I may not have considered that may prove to be roadblocks or major pitfalls if I choose to take this “Leap of faith”.

Some background on my situation and current mindset. I am currently 35 years old. I have lived/worked in Volusia county for my entire adult life. Live about mid-way between the Daytona Beach and Jacksonville Locations (Closer to Daytona). Currently work a full-time job in Ocala so commuting is not really a problem. Started an education at Embry-Riddle in Daytona out of high school and quickly found it was out of my financial league for a flying education. Before that had spent some time in a Tomahawk trainer small plane at a local FBO pumping gas.

After 30 credits I began working full-time and left Embry-Riddle. Since then have really just been making ends over several fields gaining experience in training, customer service, metal working, machining, production, field service at a satellite company, etc. Nothing has ever fit the bill (or fully paid the bills.) After several years in customer service and eventually making manager, the company was purchased by a major Tel-com and left me (and about 2000 of my co-workers) out of a job. Back to the job hunt.

That was fine actually because I had been looking for a change anyhow. When I began investigating joining the Navy people thought I was nuts this late in life. Well I was, and I did. I landed a good job in Ocala at an aeronautical defense contractor in 2016 as an electronics assembler. It’s a good company, and if I stay another 10-15 years I’ll do fine financially. In Feb. 2017, I joined the Navy reserves to gain an education in electronics and will be (finally) coming home in a few weeks as a Petty Officer, with decent career prospects at my current employer, and possibly in the electronics field overall (not to mention an additional 30+ credits from Navy A school to secure an associates degree).

I’m still at a point where I want to fly after all these years. I’m in a position to get a PPL on my own dime, but the more I look into it, I don’t see it as an income earner, and frankly unsustainable to continue on a recreational basis. Herein lies my ultimate decision. I’m 6’3, 200 lbs, pretty slim as it is, and the C152’s are not an option due to weight limits and safety. That’s cool, however it puts additional cost on a PPL if I go it solo.

My wife and I own our home with a really great mortgage for the area. We have 3 children. Both of our credit ratings are over 750 at this point so I’m fairly confident that financing would not be an issue (you never know though). We have lived on an income of less than what I’m seeing as possible as a CFI, if I were to reach that point. I’m looking at the stipend that can be built into the loan, and considering my reserve pay, we could be in a position to handle the time I would need to be out of work due to school at ATP. I feel fairly comfortable knowing that the training is fast paced, as the Navy was as well, and I excelled in that environment. Time away from home has stunk but not so bad as to strain things.

My primary concerns are that I would be putting the family at a perilous position debt-wise when repayment begins, and if it is ultimately realistic that a CFI position would be offered and tuition reimbursement can be secured with enough headroom to repay as well as be at an income earning capacity after 9 months. I will have the G-I bill to pad the exams portions, and possibly type rating (I’m aware it won’t cover any of the school itself.) We hold close to zero debt now outside of our car (roughly 6k), and prior school loan that is in good standing, and enough consumer credit available to fully cover the cost of school.

In selling this to my wife, I would need to fully understand more potential pitfalls that may be out there to better formulate my backup strategy if things go south be it for health, or whatever. I do have a clean bill on health at the time so there’s that. Security clearance secured in the military and no issues legally to contend with. With current schooling/work experience, obtaining another job outside of aviation will likely be attainable.

From everything I have gathered, regional airlines seem like the most likely career path after training while pursuing a 4yr and I think I would be okay with that as long as earnings potential and the ability to repay a steep loan is there.

In closing I am really just interested in doing something that I love, and this is first time I can see the potential to start down the path. If you have read this far I really appreciate it! I’m laying a ton of info out in hopes that if anyone sees any potential red flags you can offer your guidance before I create a huge burden for my family that I can’t recover from. I’m inspired by the stories I read here and hope I can be another one to contribute from the other side!

Many thanks!
Ben W.

Ben,

Thank you for the detailed introduction, it really helps us to answer your questions. If you have spent some time on here, you know that we do not “sell” anybody on anything here, we simply share our experiences and offer guidance, but always keep the student’s (your) needs first and foremost.

I read through your post and really do not see any large pitfalls that are in your way. It looks like you have done some serious research and I think that is fantastic. The biggest obstacle will of course be the financial issue, but Tuition Reimbursement can help in a big way with the loan payments. Look in my “Flying the Line” section for an article about what airline pilots really make.

After instructing, the regionals will definitely be your next stop, whether you have a degree or not.

I see your plan as very solid and well thought out. Let us know what other questions you have and your wife is also welcome to come join the discussion at any time.

Chris

Hi Ben,

I’m in a similar situation and have been doing a ton of research as well. It certainly is a bit intimidating.

Since you mentioned you have the GI bill available have you thought about getting your PPL on your own dime and then applying the GI bill to a part 141 VA approved school? If you are eligible for Post 9/11 you’re eligible for 13k per year towards IFR/CPL/Multi/CFI and you might also be able to receive BAH and a book stipend.

You can visit https://inquiry.vba.va.gov/weamspub/buildSearchInstitutionCriteria.do, make sure ‘Flight’ is selected as the Program Type and click on Florida. That’ll give you a list of schools you’d be able to attend. I would give a few of them a call or a visit and see if they’re an option.

Ben (and Rick),

While I completely understand the attraction of using your VA benefits to pay for your training and avoiding debt I believe you need to look long term. You’re easily talking about adding at least a year to your training and who knows how long to build the required time by not instructing for ATP (few schools can match the hours ATP instructors average). Unlike many professions commercial pilots have a very finite shelf life and every year you delay subtracts a year at the airlines. Since Capts at Majors are now making over $300k yr (and at 35 that’s well within your grasp), you’re saving $70K (actually much less if you subtract Tuition Reimbursement) but sacrificing $25k EVERY month you delay. Factor in how much less would be going into your 401K every year and the numbers get higher.

While 35 isn’t old you’re also not that young. You’re concerned with “pitfalls”, while the pilot shortage is forecast to continue for a while no one can predict the future. Seniority at the airlines is EVERYTHING. The pilot in my newhire class who was 1 number senior to me was able to upgrade 3mos earlier. That earned him an extra $20k I’ll never see. I know pilots who were 1 class behind their peers (about 2mos) and had dramatically different careers simply based on seniority.

Not trying to sell or scare you but if you’ve made the decision to do this there’s no benefit to delaying the training.

Adam

Keep in mind that at only $13k per year from the GI Bill, it is going to take a very long time (several years) to finish training. Even after training is complete, you will need to find a flying job to build hours.

What we have found is that saving the GI benefits for your children is a more effective way of using the benefit while also accomplishing your goals in an expeditious manner.

Also, keep in mind that you could use the GI Bill for your own college degree, which you will absolutely need to apply to the major airlines.

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Thanks folks for your very timely responses!

Rick I see where your coming from, unfortunately (or fortunately :wink: ) I am on the reserves side of the Navy fence so my benefits won’t include the 9/11, though I had not considered other 141 programs as heavily due to the uncertainty of immediate employment after training. Many do not offer what ATP has as a guarantee, pending completion of course. Even those would that it would cover would require me to leave my current employer to attend under the 141 syllabus.

Chris, Thanks a ton for the kind words. Trying to not put the family in a tailspin that I can’t recover from with a looming loan as large as this would be. The reimbursement is really an attractive prospect. I spoke with Micheal McNutt today in admissions and he was extremely informative in filling in some extra details and prospective start dates. I can tell with current bookings in Jacksonville and Daytona, that I’ll need a solid 2 months lead to reserve a seat. I feel being evenly split between the two locations, and even Tampa as a stretch, I may have some flexibility and save some cash on housing without being away from the family at the CFI point. My wife will certainly be happy to hear that after just having to endure my being away since February. I believe my GI benefits may go further if applied to schooling once at a regional to aid in loan deference at the cost of some interest if money is as tight as some say CFI life can be.

I see exactly where your coming from Adam. Your story certainly helped me see it is still possible at this point. I would rather not delay to be honest. This will likely be something that I begin as soon as realistic with the holidays coming and getting some time back with the family. Florida weather certainly is nice this time of year!

Chris/Adam, when you folks started at a regional, was it necessary to move from your home to a new state immediately? Our daughter should be finishing high school right about the time it sounds the ball could start rolling in that direction. From your experiences, if you were in my shoes, how might you plan for securing financing options? I would like to apply as soon as possible to know if this train could even pull out of the station, however with class lead times might I need to reapply if rates increase? Or will my down payment to secure a seat lock in the price for training?

Thanks a bunch! I’ll check out those threads Chris, most helpful!
Ben W.

Ben,

Not sure if you saw the post but there will be a $4000 price increase effective for anyone starting AFTER Feb 1 2018 so if you could move fast you’d save some cash.

As for bases I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I was fortunate in that I was hired at ExpressJet and EWR was their most junior base so I’ve literally never had to commute. That said the majority of pilots do or have at some point. While I hear it’s not fun, it’s definitely doable particularly if it’s for a short time. By the time you’re ready you’ll have a better idea of the landscape and where you want to be. No need to disrupt your daughter’s life.

Adam

Thanks for that heads up Adam! I’ll check back with Micheal and confirm. The first start dates available were Feb 5th so not sure if he quoted the new or old price.

I did not move when I got hired at the airlines, but I wish that I had. I set myself up for commuting, which I regret. I would strongly encourage you to live your life, not anybody else’s life, and move to where you work. Your family will have a much happier you and will see a heck of a lot more of you.

Big thank you to the OP for starting this thread! I’m 38 and considering leaving my career in airport consulting to chase the real aviation dream. The only difference — I’m looking to get more info on starting a “freight dog” career with Big Purple. That…and I’m already dealing with the Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome so I’m a bit more mobile! Again — thank you! I’m closely following this thread.

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Sergey,

While 38 isn’t old if you truly aspire to fly for FedEx you had better get crackin’. That’s not an easy position to get. They’re really top of the food chain and they want to see solid time and experience.

Adam

Thank you, Adam! That’s the sense I have got from my mentors as well. I have a project I’m finishing for a key client in May. I will have my medical by then and get my financial stuff settled first. Then, it’ll be a “go/no-go” decision. I already have some flying time (missing solo requirements for PPL) but haven’t trained in several years so will probably start as a zero-hour pilot. My former flight instructors fly for Southwest, Frontier and Endeavor and I have management connections at American and Hawaiian, but cargo is calling me. Perhaps after getting my minimums for ATP I try to get on with Miami Air, then with Atlas, and either stay for the rest of my career or try for UPS or FedEx. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see myself making captain on a widebody with any of the major airlines within my second career.

Sergey,

I disagree. Atlas is a Major and they’re upgrading in 5-6yrs. Hawaiian’s is about 9 for a widebody. The Legacy’s obviously will take longer but at 40 you’ve got 25yrs worth of flying. You’ll never be seniority #1 but you could have a very nice career, again, IF you get crackin’!

Adam

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