10 yr Major Airline Career Expectations

So I’m currently 42 yrs old with a private and instrument rating. I’ve been thinking about a career change to airline pilot and I know this is an ATP centric forum but I have also looked into other pathways. ATP I’m sure is a great school and looks like they really get you out there in a short time. Unfortunately I don’t have ATP cash right now and am not willing to take on 50K+ in student loans at this point in my life (family man with two young kids). So based on my estimation it could take me up to about 5 yrs to get to 1500 hrs by keeping my current day job and flight instructing part time which takes me to 47. Say I get on with a regional airline, I may spend another 6-7 yrs there before I have what is needed for a major airline. Assuming I do get hired my a major at now 54 yrs I know I can expect to only be a FO for the rest of my airline career or maybe not? However for a major like United or Delta (or any major that has a varied fleet), would I start as a FO on their smallest fleet, A319 or B717 for example? Would I have a chance to move up to a larger aircraft as a FO say a B737/A321? How does that proces transitioning as a FO to larger aircraft work? What are my chances of making it as FO on even larger aircraft , say B767? Are my time line numbers at a regional airline acurate say 5 rys down the line?

Hello Sherwyn,

While this is indeed ATPs site we’re not here to sell you on ATP or any other program. BUT, I don’t know what you’re currently doing or earning but honestly the difference between 2 yrs to a Regional vs 5 yrs is a REALLY big 3 yrs based on your age. Even as a senior FO at a Major you could be looking at close to or at $200k. That’s 3 yrs you won’t be making that money. Again not trying to sell you on ATP (or any other program) but I would encourage you to find a more expeditious route. Anyway to your actual question.

Everyone automatically assumes they’ll be given the smallest airplane when hired. That is simply not the case. You’ll be assigned the most “junior” aircraft in the fleet. Now since the airlines as a general rule pay based on the size of the airplane (UPS btw does not) often the most junior is the smallest based on pay BUT that’s not always the case. There are often operations (bases, destinations, routes) that will make a larger airplane more junior or a smaller one senior. I’m at Hawaiian and the 717 is actually a fairly senior airplane despite the fact the pay is lower because it offers a better quality of life (home every night). Now how you move (as with EVERYTHING at the airlines) is based on seniority. Usually when you’re first hired there’s a “seat lock” of 2-3 yrs. This is because training is expensive and they simply don’t want pilots jumping from airplane to airplane, but after your lock is up it’s a matter of bidding what you like and you can and will most definitely be able to move up. Keep in mind again there are many things that come into plane like bases. Let’s say you want to go 75/76 and you’re LAX based. If there’s a 75/76 slot in EWR do you still want it? Are you willing to start commuting across the country for it? Big planes are sexy and everyone always wants to fly the biggest and the baddest but truth be told when you’re sitting upfront it it doesn’t really matter how much airplane is behind you. I’m currently on the A330 (the biggest aircraft in our fleet). I wanted to check the big plane box and I have, but first chance I get I’m going back 71. For me quality of life is more important than my ego.



What concerns me about your timeline is your ability to get 1,500 hours of flight time. Instructing part time sounds good, but think about it from the student’s stand point. As a student at an FBO I would not want an instructor that was only available on weekends and evenings as that would be very limiting.

At United pilots typically start on the smallest fleet and then progress upwards. It is hard to put a timeline on the advancement as it is so dynamic, but in my ten years here I could have flown every airplane in the fleet if I had chosen to.

I think you could have a good career in front of you, but you need to build those 1500 hours as quickly as possible.


Adam, Chris, thanks for your responses. I agree time is of the essence in my case since I would be starting so late in life. I have a lot to think about if I were to make this move. Great point about the quality of life Adam, that would be important to me. I know airlines typically guarantee minimum hrs for pay per month. What are average actual hrs flown by airline pilots per month?



At United our minimum pay hours is 73, but most pilots fly 85-90 hours per month.

Let us know what other questions you have.


At Hawaiian min guarantee is 75, but as Chris says I believe the average is 85-90. Delta’s btw is a 65hr guarantee.