Hi Adam, Chris, Hannah, and Tory
You help a lot of people on this forum and I always appreciate reading the realistic assessments and opinions you provide. I’m hoping to get your perspective and feedback on whether I’m being realistic or have missed anything major in my thinking.
I’m 50 years old, married, have two kids in college and have been considering a potential career change into aviation since 2017. Thanks to a lot of hard work I’m now able to seriously consider moving forward. I know I enjoy flying and have an aptitude for it because I previously soloed and built 27 hrs toward my PPL back in 2000/2001 with this same career goal in mind. I had to put that on hold because of 9/11 and the birth of my first child. Life moved on but the passion for aviation and dream of being an airline pilot remains. I thought Covid had permanently derailed this dream but it actually ended up buying me some time. With pilot demand at regional airlines starting to slowly rise again, it is time to make a final decision on whether to go all in and start flight training or shelve this idea once and for all. I understand aviation may not always be stable and there will be periods of time when it will be a grind just like any other job or career. I’m also under no illusion becoming a pilot will be easy or that it is guaranteed in any way. As cliché as it sounds, in 3-5 years it probably would feel better knowing I tried and failed rather than be sitting there playing the woulda, coulda, shoulda game and kicking myself for not trying. That said, I’m not in the habit of throwing money away or taking chances just for the sake of it. If the odds aren’t in my favor and I don’t have a realistic shot at my age of earning an FO slot at a regional airline I would rather know now so I can just go get my PPL and IFR and call it good.
Reason for Career Change
I’ve been working in tech for 26 years. I have serious doubts whether I can last in that industry another 15 years until retirement. Even if I did decide to grind out another 15 years, there is a real possibility I could end up being aged out at some point. Based on all of this it feels like looking into my career change options is something I need to consider and may end up being inevitable. If flying for a living is a realistic option, it seems worth considering because unlike my current career it is something I believe would be enjoyable and fulfilling.
First Class Medical
In anticipation of this career change, I’ve maintained a healthier lifestyle in line with what I think an aviation professional should be following to keep their first class medical. I’m in good shape, don’t have any known medical conditions, don’t take any medications, don’t need glasses or contacts, and have a clean background. I’m not assuming it is a slam dunk so do plan to go get it done first before I take any other steps.
I’m debt free except for a house, have money set aside to pay for our kids college and have life insurance in place as a safety net. I have money available to help offset some but not all of the flight training cost so plan to take out loans for the balance. While that is not ideal, I’m fortunate to be married to a supportive wife who works and makes enough to cover our monthly expenses without needing to sacrifice much during the 9-10 months of training. Once I’m done with training and begin building time as a CFI, I plan to funnel most of what I make instructing into loan repayment.
Training and Time Building
Given my age I feel the only realistic option is accelerated full-time flight training. Here in the DFW area there are quite a few accelerated flight schools. I’ve researched ATP (3 locations in the area) and several others. I haven’t visited ATP yet but will once I have my medical. I find myself initially drawn toward ATP because of (1) safety record and maintenance program (2) plenty of aircraft to support training and (3) have a track record of delivering on the promise of accelerated training. I also think the accelerated self-study style program could end up being a nice way to get a small taste for what training might be like at the airlines and could possibly serve as good prep for that experience.
Pilot Career Plan
If another Covid type event doesn’t occur, I project I’d have the required 1500 hours by the time I’m 53. If all goes to plan I would interview when eligible, get hired as an FO by one of my preferred regional airlines with a base here in DFW, successfully complete training and then pay my dues in the right seat until I have the time required for upgrade to CA. If that is as far as my career takes me I think that will be fine. If an opportunity at an ULCC such as Frontier or Spirit came along, I might consider it but given my age the plan assumes that will never happen. Even if it were to happen, I might still pass because by that point my conservative projections show I’ll be earning decent enough money as a CA with good QOL and so making the jump might not pencil out.
If at any time regional airline hiring significantly slows or stops, I bust too many checkrides/wash out of airline training, I get furloughed during a downturn, non-121 pilot jobs are not viable or available, I lose my medical, etc. I feel I have several options to fall back on. (1) if I’ve been successful in getting all my ratings with few or no busts, I’ll try to leverage that experience into non-flying work within aviation. (2) if #1 isn’t possible I will go back to my previous career and find Program/Project Management work in tech or some other sector. I may also be able to leverage my new aviation ratings/skills and previous career experience to open new doors at places like Lockheed, Textron, Prime Air, etc.