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.