Real Answers from Real Pilots

Advice for Future Decisions

Hello everyone!

My name is Joshua, and I am 16 - I have always liked aviation as a small child. It wasn’t until 2019 when I seriously considered becoming an Airline Pilot. Since last year, I have been researching the logistics of becoming one and am looking for some advice.

My three primary concerns are: the current state of the industry, the future of aviation, and the astronomical cost of flight school.

Before COVID-19 hit, I was excited because everywhere I went, there was a mention of a pilot shortage. At least on the regional level, along with Boeing’s prediction on the growth of the labor market for pilots. However, the pandemic hit and of course the airline industry came to a halt. I keep reading articles about when the industry will recover and when will they start hiring pilots again. Some predict between 2023-2026 at latest but it depends on vaccinations, border restrictions, and consumer behavior. I worry that by the time it recovers, I won’t get hired immediately after earning the ATP certificate. Airlines would probably recall their furloughed pilots first, then start to hire those who graduated ahead of me due to more flight hours and better qualifications.

I originally was inclined to head to a university with an aviation degree during the pilot shortage, but now I am unsure of what to do. I am currently halfway through my 11th grade year and senior year is fast approaching. Based on my research and how I envision myself in a few years, I have two main pathways I can take, and both have their pros and cons.

Pathway 1 - I attend a university and major in something aviation-related.

Pros: Killing two birds with one stone (earn a bachelor’s degree while completing flight ratings), greater access to airlines, easier time networking, pilot programs (Ex. Delta Propel), and R-ATP.

Cons: Highly expensive and no real back-up plan.

Pathway 2 – I attend a university and major in something non-aviation-related. If I were to do this option, I would like to major in a degree that has many job prospects, in demand for the future, and is relatively stable. I am inclined for Biology due to my interests in the medical field, but this may change. Once I graduate, I can either immediately head into ATP flight school or working in a related field and save most of my money.

Pros: Back-up degree secured, potentially less debt*, job experience in a different field

Cons: It takes longer and less seniority

*The reason I say this is because I am currently taking college level courses through my high school to reduce the cost of university. I am doing well in school to potentially earn scholarships to cover most if not all the costs. I project ending in around $15,000 or less in debt by the time I graduate, but again it depends on the financial aid given to me.

You might ask, why not apply to scholarships to cover the cost of flight training. Yes, but I haven’t found many available and the monetary value of these scholarships are generally small.

Regardless of whatever pathway I choose, I still want to earn my bachelor’s degree. Ultimately, I would love to work for a major airline, but I am open to cargo and corporate. I would prefer to attend a part 141 flight school due to the structured environment, but I wouldn’t mind attending a part 61.

Below is a list of universities I am thinking of applying to next year.

Aviation related : University of North Dakota, Western Michigan University, Purdue University, and Jacksonville University.

Non-aviation related : University of Florida, Florida State University, University of Miami, University of South Florida.

My problem is that I am restless and want to achieve my dreams quickly. I am trying not to make any irrational decisions but choosing to start flying training in 2022 or 2026+ is a major life decision that influences my future. The debt is what is unnerving. Prior to COVID-19, the median U.S regional airline salary for a first officer was around $50,000 plus signing bonuses depending on the airline. The average flight school debt is 100K-150K plus interest rates. I tried asking some adults if living on 25k a year was viable while the other 25k is used to repay debt, but most said it was difficult depending on the circumstances. I can’t imagine what the salary could be in the future post-covid especially with the debt airlines currently have.

Sorry for the long post, but advice would be greatly appreciated! Thank you.

Joshua

Joshua,

You’ve clearly done your research and put considerable thought into this. That said I do have a few thoughts…

First EVERYBODY loves talking about the pilot shortage which is understandable. Being in demand is always nice. However, the fact is the pilot shortage was a slight blip in the long history of commercial aviation. I’m always fascinated when people say “I’ve always dreamed of being a pilot BUT I’m worried the shortage is over…”. Was that part of your dream? Flying a heavy around the world, crossing oceans, seeing places people only dream of, oh yea and not having to do much to get hired. Personally I believe the shortage will return and be even greater. When that will happen is anyone’s guess? So my question for you is if there’s never another pilot shortage is that it? Dream over? If so you might want to rethink this whole career. There are zero guarantees when, how or if. What I do know is other pilots like myself also dreamed of flying for the airlines and had never heard of any pilot shortage. We got trained, built time and then did our best to get a job, just like virtually every other person does for virtually every other career. You’re 100% correct, once the industry returns there’s a long list of pilots who’ll get the call long before you. Thing is you’re 16. That means you’re not going to be near getting hired for quite some time and most should will have returned long before you’re ready but during that time they’ll be more new pilots getting in line. That means yes there’s a chance you won’t get hired as soon as you build your time she have to continue instructing or whatever else you’re doing at the time. If that thought is a dream killer I’m sorry but I promise you they’ll be plenty of others who will gladly take your place.

P1) who says you have better access to airlines? Delta Propel takes pilots with it without aviation degrees and no airline gives aviation degrees at weight. Who are you networking with? Other students? Your cons are dead on.

P2) This is not a race but yes it might take you a little longer. If you’re really looking to be expeditious you could get your 2yr degree, ATP, then finish college online while at a Regional. Actually I prefer doing the 4yrs straight but it is an option if time is of the greatest importance. Btw while 141 schools are more rigid they also often take longer to complete. ATP is part 61 specifically for that reason.

Finally there’s no question flight training is expensive and paying back the debt will be a challenge and require sacrifice. Less than 10yrs ago first year pay was less than $20k but we all managed to pay back the debt. It’s really up to you if that’s something you’re willing to do and only you can answer that question.

Btw, you make no mention of any flight experience. If that’s the case I would not even begin thinking about considering the prospect of $100k worth a debt until you do. While many people believe they want to fly until you do you won’t know for certain. It’s something you really need to try.

Adam

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Joshua,

Adam’s points are spot-on. I would add that at your young age, Covid should be a thing in our distant memory by the time you apply to the airlines. This whole pilot shortage comes and goes from year to year, but what always remains is that the FAA forces pilots to retire before they reach the age of 65. That mandatory retirement age guarantees that there will always be turn over and a demand for pilots.

Chris

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Joshua,
I too will echo a bit of what the guys said previously. You are young and still have many years before entering the application process for the airlines. So much can happen between now and then that is unforeseen but for right now just focus on finding what you want. If you take an intro flight and absolutely love flying, then start making your game plan. I’m glad you’re here because we can help guide you with that. We recommend you go to a 4 year university and get your degree in something other than Aviation. We say that because, if the industry takes a nasty downturn again, you need to have a backup plan for income if you get furloughed. You also need that degree to enhance your application for the airlines so you still would be moving towards your end goal. So pick a college you love for a reason other than aviation! Join clubs, play sports, be involved however you can because all that matters when it comes to applying. A number of companies asked about my experience as a student athlete in college and the volunteering I did. So yes, they do still take note of those things. Once you’re done with college, begin your flight training. If you’re motivated and want the fast track, somewhere like atp will be the place for you. By the time you get all your ratings and your 1500 hours, it will be about two years after you complete college and roughly about 23 years old. You’ll have a nice solid resume, the ratings and hours and ready to go. You still would be very young to enter the industry and could have a long 40+ year career. Don’t worry, you’re right where you need to be right now.

-Hannah

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@Adam @Hannah @Chris Thank you for the advice. I have not yet been on a discovery flight due to the pandemic, but I am waiting for my local EAA Young Eagle’s group to reopen. @Adam As for your questions, I have put some thought into it and it has motivated me. This post has definitely helped me decide what option I should choose. Thanks :slight_smile:

Joshua

@JoshuaS just going to throw my 2 cents in here as well. You have done tons of research which is awesome to see! My outlook has been this since I started flying: seniority is everything. Which means the sooner you can get in to the industry the better. I always hear people talk about the R-ATP, but my experience in talking to others is it’s not always the faster route. You’ll spend 4 years in school and come away with a CFI certificate. That still leaves you with anywhere from 500-750 hours to build (depending on how much flight time you have amassed in your training). That basically equals out to roughly another year. I started flying in May of 2018 and had my 1500 hours built and had job offers to go to a regional airline in July 2020. I earned a bachelor’s degree in a non related industry (HR) while going to flight school and instructing. It kept my family afloat during COVID so I’m grateful for that. I would pick your second pathway but try to do them concurrently. I know lots of regional pilots who complete their degrees while flying for a regional. Not always easy but it’s possible.
Sorry for the unsolicited advice, but like I said that’s just my opinion from what I have seen. Others may have a very different view.
Best of luck!

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Joshua,

There is no need to wait for the EAA group to reopen, you can take a discovery flight at just about any flight school, although it might cost a bit more.

Chris

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@nstaley2 , Thank you for your advice. Based off all responses, I am starting to lean to getting my bachelor’s in something non-aviation related. Would you recommend starting training as soon as possible while in University? Or, save up money and start training during your senior year?

Joshua

@JoshuaS if you can do it, I would say do them at the same time. You can get your flying career started while finishing the degree. Again just my opinion and everyone’s situation is different.

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Joshua,

I would very much recommend against flight training while in college. College is a full time affair, you need to come out of it with a good GPA as the airlines will ask to see your transcripts. I got my PPL while in college and frankly, it was a bad idea. There is only so much time in a day and any time that I spent on flight training was time that I did not have to spend on my studies. My grades suffered as a result of this and it is one of the reasons I did not go past the PPL level while in college.

I would recommend finishing college completely, then going to a flight school that offers accelerated training. I understand your desire to get up in the air, but there is a natural order to things that should be followed.

Chris

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Nick I’m curious? Did you do your flight training and college at the same time?

Adam

I did. I was in my last three semesters when I started flying and instructing.

Interesting? I’m sure it was challenging but I’m glad it worked out for you. That said what works for some often doesn’t work for all.

Adam

@Chris Thank you for the advice! Is there anything I can do while at university that you would recommend that can potentially make my job application more appealing to an airline hiring manager? Or anything that can help me develop skills needed for the aviation world?
For example, @Hannah 's advice on joining clubs and organizations shows that you’re curious about other topics besides aviation.

Joshua

Joshua,

I’m going to jump in here. Extracurricular activities are great and there’s always the chance you being Capt of the Chess club will resonate with someone on the panel. That said the fact is airlines really want just 2 things, well trained qualified pilots, and someone they want mind being locked in a cockpit with.

Do well in training, keep your nose clean and treat everyone you meet in this very small industry with respect and you’ll do well.

Adam

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Joshua,

I personally would not worry too much about the extra circular activities. Do something good for society, but do not lose focus on your primary goals which should be a solid GPA and flight time.

Chris

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Joshua,
Enjoy college and explore things that interest you. If you can add some community service or club engagement that’s great, but never to detract from the main goal of getting good grades. I only say to get other involvements in for your resume if you can, because recruiters want to see things that make you unique. That translates, to what unique experience you can bring to the company.
In my experience applying on the part 135 side, not long along, all the little details that were unique to me were the things recruiters said made me stand out and specifically asked me about.

-Hannah

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