Real Answers from Real Pilots

50 and nearing final decision on career change - Poke holes in my plan

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.

Thanks,
Clint

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.

Financial Support
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.

Fallback Plan
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.

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Clint,

Overall it looks like a solid plan. As long as the Epsilon variant doesn’t turn us all into zombies and you do well in training there’s no reason a Regional shouldn’t snatch you up.

The only part that gave me a little pause was your Plan B at the end. There are tons of younglings fresh out of school fighting for those tech jobs so I actually think you’ve got a better chance at Plan A.

Adam

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Clint,

Welcome to the forum. I read through your post and it sounds like you have a very good grasp on your situation. The only thing I would caution on is a First Class Medical being a slam dunk. Things come up in these that you might not think of, particularly with the EKG, so I am glad you are getting it completed soon.

I would strongly encourage you to visit one of the ATP locations near you and maybe even take an intro flight. Even though you already have the flight experience, it is still good to see how a different school operates. If you qualify for financing, you can get a free introductory flight with ATP: Introductory Training Flight / ATP Flight School

Good plan, let us know how else we can help you.

Chris

Adam,

Thanks for the response. I really appreciate it. I also have that same concern about the Plan B. The last 15 years I’ve risen through the ranks at two of the biggest household names in the tech industry. At many tech companies, but especially at the biggest ones everyone has heard of, the trend is to hire younglings fresh out of school with MBAs to fill the mid to senior level non-management roles. This is where I sit right now and I’m often the oldest person in the room. I’m fortunate to look younger than my age and have college aged kids that keep me tuned into the latest trends. At some point that is going to end and when it does that is when I likely get aged out and forced into the less stable and somewhat less lucrative contract employment side of the industry. So when I talk about going back into the industry as a fall back it would likely take the form of working at a tech company on shorter term contracts rather than as an actual employee of that company.

Clint

Chris,

Thanks for the reply. I really appreciate it. I probably didn’t write that part about being a slam dunk very well. What I meant to say was I DO NOT think getting my first class medical will be a guaranteed slam dunk. I’m fortunate to have lots of the basics stacked in my favor but never say never especially when things like EKGs are involved. I’m starting my research on AMEs in the DFW area now and plan to go in for the medical as soon as possible. That said, given I’ve got to do this AME dance every 6 months, I’m also trying to time things a bit to align with potential training start dates.

In terms of visiting ATP locations and getting up for a discovery flight, I will definitely be doing that. If I go the ATP route I’m initially leaning toward KGKY but will also take a look at KTKI.

Clint

Hey Clint - just to address the medical six month issue, you only need your first class to start. This shows you can get one, you will be exercising third class privileges during school and while instructing so you are good for 24 months.

Ed

Thanks for the response and info Ed.

I’ve done some more thinking/planning and have developed an alternative plan. I’m now leaning toward this plan but would like to get your opinions.

Original Plan
Get my first class medical in Sept 2021, take an ATP discovery flight, and lock in a zero time fast track training slot for Jan 2022. Then work my current job until the end of Nov or Dec 2021 (there are financial incentives for doing this) and in parallel focus on passing all of my written exams prior to training start. Once training began I’d focus full-time to complete everything by July/August 2022 in order to begin time building as a CFI in the fall. Under this plan, depending on how well time building goes, I’d likely transition to regional airline training at 52 and be a few months away from turning 53.

After some more thought and planning…

Alternative Plan
In September get my first class medical and start at a local mom and pop on the PPL while I continue to work until May 2022. If the PPL has been completed or is on-track to be, and assuming I still want to do the career change, I’d lock in a credit for PPL fast track training slot at ATP with a Jun 2022 start date. This requires 78hrs TT and fortunately I still have my logbook from prior training with 27 hrs documented in a 172 that can be added to the 50 or so hours it will take to earn the PPL. Once accelerated training began I’d focus full-time to complete everything by Oct/Nov 2022 in order to begin time building as a CFI by the start of 2023. Under this plan, depending on how well time building goes, I’d likely transition to regional airline training a couple months after turning 53.

The alternative plan pushes my timeline back but there are several pros I think outweigh the cons.

  1. It gives me 9 months to get the PPL and other written exams knocked out while allowing me to fund a rating out of pocket.
  2. Getting my PPL through a mom & pop prior to starting ATP could give me a real solid foundation to build on during accelerated training.
  3. The extra 5 months of working (along with some additional financial incentives it would unlock) would put me in a position to fund most if not all of the rest of my training without loans.

Clint,

Only you can make this decision.

Typically we only recommend earning the PPL outside of ATP if you are unsure about making aviation a career.

We also typically don’t recommend earning the PPL outside of ATP for students starting later in life since you have even less years to put towards building seniority once you reach the airlines.

But again, I want to be clear, you are the only one that can decide which plan to follow. I can tell that you’ve put a lot of thought into your plans and I think you understand the pros and cons of starting ASAP vs at your own pace. It also sounds like you have a separate pros and cons list that was drawn off of your personal situation. That’s something that you’ll have to grapple with.

I am for not delaying your training considering your age, but it’s your call Clint.

Tory

Thanks Tory. Appreciate the feedback.

Clint,

As Tory said, this is your decision to make and you need to do what’s best for you.

The only part I’m not a huge fan of is the getting your PPL prior. It’s not that it can’t be done, its just that while I know people who’ve been successful training at their local flight school, I don’t know any who’ve done it on their desired timeline. My fear therefore is you falling behind and pushing your ATP training back further and further.

I’m thinking if the pros are strong enough I’d delay training till Oct 22 and start with ATP day 1.

Adam

Clint,

I see a few issues with your new plan:

  1. I in no way would delay a start date for the written exam. It is great if you have them done beforehand, but the program is designed so that a pilot can complete them while in training, which most people do.

  2. I strongly disagree that getting a PPL through a local school will give you a strong foundation. I got my PPL at a local school and really came to regret it. The training took way longer than was promised and cost much more. I also learned many bad habits that I had to unlearn when I came to ATP. You see, ATP holds people to airline standards and every ATP instructor should follow the exact same policies and procedures. The local school can do whatever they want (and they did) and really teach you some things that do not hold up in the airline world. I have heard this same story with local schools recounted time and time again, it rarely seems to go well.

  3. That is a personal decision, but seniority and timing are everything in this industry.

  4. The biggest issue here is that you are 50 and at this point are really racing against the clock. A few months might not sound like a big deal, but it can be huge. I think you have enough time to get into the industry, but I do not think you have a moment, let alone several months, to spare.

Chris

Chris, Adam, and Tory - Thanks for the feedback and opinions. I’m going to give it some more thought. I’m seeing my doc next week for an EKG. If all looks good I’ll head to an AME the following week to hopefully get my first class medical.

You are welcome, Clint.

Tory

Quick update. I got my first class medical. So one big item checked off the list. I’ve also been up for two extended refresher flights with a couple different instructors. It was kind of like riding a bicycle. Radio work needs some attention for sure but I was pleasantly surprised that all the basic Private maneuvers were already right at standards.

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Clint,

That is great. So what is the next step for you?

Chris

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Hi Chris,

I’ve talked with quite a few people both inside and outside the aviation industry about my situation over the past few weeks and for now decided to try working toward coming into ATP with credit for my Private. Based on how well those two recent flights went, both instructors (from two different schools) felt it was absolutely possible for me to wrap up my Private by the end of the year. I’m sitting at 30.1 hours now so going to hit it hard and knock out the written plus fly 2-3 times per week. Once I get that done, I’ll re-evaluate whether to wait until June 2022 to start ATP or just quickly build the remaining time to hit the 78 hour mark (while finishing up some of the other writtens) and possibly take a loan to start ATP earlier in like February or March 2022. If it’s close in terms of total time, and assuming ATP still offers it, I may just opt for a few hours of time building with ATP prior to starting up. Seems like a good way to get familiar with the airplane I’ll be training in and get a feel for how ATP operates. That’s the plan for now. Looking forward to checking out the open house at GKY this Friday.

Clint

Clint,

That sounds like a good plan. I did about eight hours of time building with ATP, we used the time to get a bit of a head cart on instrument training. See you on Friday.

Chris