Real Answers from Real Pilots

Software Engineer Looking to Live His Dream

Hi everyone,

I recently found this site and have to admit that the information found in here has been very helpful. With this in mind, I have a few questions related to making a career switch (just like a lot of people).

A little bit of background about me should help clarify where my questions are coming from. I’m a 28 year old software engineer in Houston, TX with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science. The pay is quite good and work is mentally stimulating for the most part. I’m also pursuing a Masters degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech (my company helps pay for tuition).

My dad was a crop dusting pilot and I’ve always been fascinated (obsessed) with aviation. I fly RC planes as a hobby and often find myself day dreaming being in a cockpit instead of stuck in Houston’s bumper-to-bumper traffic. Due to family circumstances I didn’t pursue a career as a pilot earlier in my life even though I definitely wish I would have (I realize I’m not too late). Additionally, I’m married with no children, my wife works full time, and neither of us have student debt. I’ve discussed the possibility of becoming a pilot with her, and even though she’s not 100% with it, she has expressed her support; she even gave me a discovery flight as a birthday gift; best 60 minutes in a long time!

When I was 17 I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had an orchiectomy (removal of a testicle) performed. Luckily I fully recovered and haven’t had any issues since. Knowing that pilots have to submit themselves to a yearly checkup, I have wondered whether my past medical history would cause any troubles for me in the future.

Now that you have a little knowledge on my situation, could you help me clarify some questions?

  • Is a prior diagnosis of cancer (more than 10 years ago) and successful recovery cause for denial of a first class medical certificate?
  • Should I expect a lot of problems caused by my history with cancer?
  • To someone else (maybe my wife?), it could sound crazy to give up a well paying job and rack up $80K in debt in order to take $24-$36K a year for the next two-three years and hope to become a major airline pilot. Do you have any tips in making my argument more convincing (to my wife)? She also worries about pilots not being home enough.
  • In how many years can a pilot expect to be making a “good” ($50-$75K), “better” ($75K-$100K), “excellent” ($100K+) salary? With this question, I’m trying to get as many guidelines as possible in order to convince my wife that this would be an investment for the future.
  • Is it realistic to obtain a CFI job in your own ATP Flight School location?
  • My wife and I are thinking on moving back to South Florida. For job prospects, is Houston or South Florida a better location?

Thanks a lot for taking the time to read my questions and I look forward to hear your responses.

Carlos,

Lots of good questions so here goes:

1.First and foremost none of us are AMEs (Aviation Medical Examiners) so to be 100% certain you need to consult one. BUT, I do know a number of pilots who have battled cancer, won and have successfully returned to their careers as pilots. So, as long as there are no lasting effects or prohibited medications you’re required to take, I believe you’ll be fine.

2.Once it’s reported and provided you’re cleared, barring a relapse, you’re done.

  1. TRAVEL BENEFITS! There’s no better argument than “honey we can see the WORLD FOR FREE!”. True in the beginning you’ll probably will be gone more time than you both like and will definitely miss a holiday or 2, there’s nothing stopping you from bringing her along on the better trips. Not questioning you and your wife’s affection for eachother (nor am I telling you to use the “guilt card”), but if you truly love someone don’t you want them to be happy?

  2. Chris wrote a really good post on the subject of pay, take a look: What Do Pilots Really Earn?
    Keep in mind these are estimates and NOTHING is guaranteed including whether you’ll ever make it to a Major or not.

  3. Is it realistic and possible? Sure but it’s just as realistic and possible you won’t. Coin toss.

  4. Houston has Majors and Regionals as does South Florida. Either is fine. Perhaps wait and see where you eventually get hired. With all due respect your thinking about step 731 and you’re actually on step 2.

Adam

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Welcome, Carlos,

First of all, you will need to talk to a Medical Examiner about all of your
medical related questions. You can search for one nearest you at
https://www.faa.gov/pilots/amelocator/ . We just don’t have the knowledge
to give you definitive answers on stuff like that.

You’re right in that you will have to make some sacrifices in order to meet
the demands of this profession. As far as being away from home a lot, yes
and no. Take a look at the Schedules section. Yes you will be away when
you’re on your trip, but when you’re home, you’re home. Financially
speaking, be prepared to make $20-$40k/year (factoring in tuition
reimbursement) as a CFI for 1.5-2 years. Currently, as an FO at a regional
pay is about $35-$40k/year. About $40-$50k your second year. If you upgrade
to captain, $65k/year. Regional captain pay caps out at about $120/hour
which comes out to be about $110k/year. This takes at least 10 years to
reach that level. If you can make it to a major pay jumps up significantly.

First year FO at Delta/United/American, $75k-$80k/year. Second year FO, pay
varies based on what aiplane you’re flying. It ranges between
$80k-$140k/year. First and second year captains (again depending on
aircraft), $140k-$200+/year. I’m getting these numbers from
https://www.airlinepilotcentral.com/ if you want to see for yourself.

As far as location for training, don’t think too hard on it. Pick a
convenient location. All of the training is the same across every location.
Everyone tries to outsmart this question by choosing the location with the
best weather. Don’t. Weather is weather. No one can control it. There are
sim and ground lessons that can be reserved for bad weather days so you
don’t fall behind.

Getting your preferred location, good luck. By the time you’ve reached the
end of your training, ATP will ask you to give them your top three
preferred locations to teach at. They’ll do their best to get you to your
number one choice, but there are no guarantees. If this sounds unsettling,
think hard about whether or not aviation is right for you. This is how the
airlines work. You get what you get and until you have enough seniority to
do anything about it, you make do with what you have.

Tory

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Hi Adam and Tory,

Thanks for your answers! I realize that I asked questions that are hard, or even impossible, to answer with any accuracy and I appreciate your time in helping answering them as best as possible.

I’m more than willing to make the sacrifices and pay my dues. As for my wife, I’m just trying to get as much information to make sure she even lets me go take the medical exam first. After all, this is my dream and not hers so I want to compile as much real world opinions/advise before jumping ship.

Upon further investigation, my past history of testicular cancer shouldn’t be a problem as my case was non-metastatic (over 5 years ago): https://www.faa.gov/about/office_org/headquarters_offices/avs/offices/aam/ame/guide/app_process/exam_tech/item41/amd/nd/testicular/

Anyway, from what I can tell the first step is to go get the medical exam done and once that’s done (hopefully it’s approved) I’ll seriously consider going full time on training.