Advice towards a career change

So first a little about myself. I am a 46 year old Sergeant for the California Department of Corrections. I’m currently 4 years away from retirement, but wish to pursue a new career. I have always dreamt of becoming a commercial airline pilot. I started flying lessons towards my private twice in the past but stopped for different reasons both times. Upon my retirement, I will have enough saved to pay cash to attend ATP. My plan is to have my private and get some instrument, as well as multi time before I enroll with ATP.

I guess what I’m looking for is some advice on how to get to a regional as quickly as possible, with a long term goal of getting to a major. I have given this a lot of thought. I know it will be a short career, but I still want to go for it. Not only would I finally be able to realize my dream, but my sons would get to experience it with me. I think it would be a valuable lesson for them to witness me striving to accomplish something new.

I’m not looking for shortcuts. There is no substitute for hard work. I’m just wondering if someone can tell me what are some things that could make this easier. Are there some things you have done that you would avoid if you had to do it over? Once through ATP, how fast can someone who’s extremely driven get to 1500 hours? How much multi time do you actually need?

Any advice or assistance with my plan would be appreciated. I’m trying to set up a game plan this far out so I can use what time I’ll have left for my flying career as wisely as possible.



Hi Dave,

I usually recommend people wait and do all their training with ATP for continuity BUT your case is a little different. Obviously starting at 50 you’re a little older and time will be a consideration. If I were you I’d get my PPL ASAP and literally start building as much time as you can. See the thing is the Regionals need bodies and while obviously quality of time has some bearing, right now it’s quantity they want. Many of the Regionals HAD ME min requirements but those are fading as well. Bottomline while most people do ATP and then build their time (plus it’s better to get paid rather than paying building it), if you really want to shorten the process the best thing you can do is make as big a dent you can in that 1500hrs.



Welcome to the forums and thanks for your questions.

I don’t mean to sound like a salesman, but my experience is with ATP and I believe in the program, which is why I am on this forum. I really do believe that the fastest path to the airlines for you, or anybody else, is to go to ATP and then instruct for them.

If your plan is to go to ATP there is really no point in getting instrument or multi time in advance as they will provide all of that training for you and there will be no reduction in price for what you have already done.

If you instruct at ATP you can expect the whole experience to be about two years before you are airline eligible. Some particularly industrious instructors have done it in a few months less. You will also have more than enough multi time.

One thing I think you should be prepared for is that your odds of making it to a major are very, very slim; you just don’t have enough time left. Now of course there are exceptions to any situation, but realisticly speaking I think you should plan on finishing out your career at a regional airline. Now a regional can be a great place to work, especially if you have some seniority there.

Let us know how else we can help you.


Well, that’s extremely discouraging. I have been doing a lot of research into making this a career choice. One of the things I have looked at is the hiring pages for airlines like Envoy, and Endeavor. Both of these airlines have a “flow through” option. From what I can tell, pilots for these two airlines are making the jump to the majors in as little as 5 years. Am I reading this incorrectly?

I am always getting updates through social media from them in regards to their newest hiring classes, as well as pilots upgrading to Captain, and making the jump to American and Delta.

If I were to already have my private and around 200 hours by the time I arrived at ATP, at the age of 50, I could be hired at a regional by 52. With the mandatory retirement age at 65, that would leave me 13 years. It’s that plenty of time to flow through to a major?



I am sorry that the advice was disheartening, but one thing you can always count on from this forum is the absolute straight truth, never a sales pitch.

The American Airlines flow throughs are relatively new and yes, they do offer a guaranteed bath to a major. From my understanding, if you got into one of those you would flow through to American. I would recommend that you check with one of those regionals and ask to see the actual text of the flow-through agreement, make sure it does not have an age restriction on it.
The reason that we do not talk about flow throughs much on this forum is that we have all seen them come and go, oftentimes leaving hundreds of pilots that were “promised” jobs at the regional. I saw it myself first hand at Continental Express. That being said, they have worked for many pilots and will continue to do so. Just research it thoroughly and keep in mind that you are putting all your hopes into American Airlines. One good recession and I bet that agreement goes away.

We often say that the retirement age is 65, but in reality, it is the last day you are 64, so more like 12 and a half years you will have left. If you meet the criteria of the flow through and things are going well, then yes, you could certainly flow through to American. I think your chances of getting hired at a major outside of a flow through agreement are incredibly slim.



As Chris said, we’re not trying to rain on anyone’s parade but the facts are the facts and 50 is old to start a career in aviation and expect to be at a Major. If you start now as you said you could be at a Regional by 52. Sure the airlines are recruiting and like any other sales they’re going to tell you the shiny success stories. I personally know pilots waiting for their flow-thru and they’re in year 7. You have to understand while the Majors are hiring is they clean out their Regional partners they’re shooting themselves in the foot. BUT, let’s be optimistic and go with your 5yrs. That puts you at 57, learning a new airplane and going back to the bottom of a seniority list with only 7-8yrs left in your career (if it does take 7 trust me you’re not going). Does that really make sense?

I never want to discourage anyone and you can definitely have a good career as a pilot but if you go in with unrealistic expectations you may be very disappointed. I guess the question is do you really want to be a pilot or do you need to say you fly for one of the Majors for it to be worthwhile?


Rain on my parade. I am in the same boat as others above this post. I am 50 and I could walk away from my 28 yr career now at any given moment. I would love the opportunity to obtain an ATP license seeing that it seems to be " highly " sought after. I would say money is no object, but I would be lying. How does the repayment process work for taking the classes and reimbursing the school at the same time? I would be fine flying regional stuff. I am steering towards making an initial phone call in the next few days to an airport a few miles from me with an ATP school. Any suggestions or advice?


You will have to speak to the admissions department as they can give you the specifics on loan repayment.

Take a look in my “Flying the Line” section for a post called “Questions for any prospective flight school” it will help you learn what questions to ask.