ATC vs Airline - Career Focus

Let me begin with a short introduction to my position. Currently ATC with FAA CTO, radar experience, and weather ratings. I’m in my mid-twenties. My dream has always been to become a pilot but until a few years ago my vision wouldn’t qualify… until Lasik! Now my Class I medical is approved and I am starting the journey with a PPL.

What I wanted to gauge from this community is, knowing the job market, pay, lifestyle of airlines and commercial work for pilots. Would you focus on getting ATP and becoming a professional pilot or commit to ATC with FAA and retire at 56? 123atc com has all the FAA paybands and airports on it; my projected take home is 115k and plan to max out at 225k in a decade.

Had a few colleagues (recent FAA retirees) with their ATP who wish they’d become pilots 25 years prior and are heavily pushing me to go that route. But also current ATC with CFI ratings who just fly as a hobby…

Thank you, feel free to msg with any ATC questions you may have as well! I’ve worked Anchorage and Atlanta areas. No stranger to harsh living in remote areas for aviation jobs so the lifestyle is not a concern and I welcome the higher pay of remote worksites.


With all due respect that’s like asking me what you should eat for lunch, which car you should drive or should you marry a blonde or a brunette?

I’m a pilot and never thought of becoming a controller. Know why? Because I like flying airplanes. My nephew is a controller. Want to guess why? Because that’s what he wanted to do. They’re both great careers and there are pros and cons to both. As for the lifestyles they’re completely different. You guys are home every night, most pilots are not. We get paid more but you’ve got greater job stabilty. I could go on but ultimately many of those things cancel each other out.

I’m sorry but these are life decisions that only YOU can make based on what YOU enjoy and want out of YOUR life.


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Thank you Adam,
The fact they’re so balanced - yet so opposite. Is definitely a question I’m asking myself.

Becoming a pilot has been the dream all along, ATC became an opportunity a few years back.

Well then it’s simple. Are you content to stay where you are or do you want to follow your dream?



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Haha, hence starting flight school for PPL, already planning to do Inst, Comm, Multi, and CFI. Know a few
Air Taxi groups that hire for C207 charter to build hours around $90k

Biggest unknowns:

Is airline work (or charter/commercial) typically a schedule you design yourself?
ATC is very restricted with management assigning odd evening/daytime hours and you will miss EVERY holiday.

How challenging is it for pilots to have families?
Engineering is a very high divorce rate, ATC is no different but you do live and work in the same city.

Do airline pilots have lower health at retirement?
I’ve researched mortality rates and although you have to maintain a medical the life expectancy is only 71. Biggest factor is time sitting and heightened radiation exposure at altitude.

Do pilots typically change employers or experience layoffs?
The progression seems to be Regional>Major. From my lack of knowledge: Don’t hear about anyone changing jobs. Just the occasional layoff and then a year later all are hired back.


Although they are in the same industry, the jobs are so different. As a pilot, the job of a controller sounds like all the stress and none of the fun! Sure we have job stress at times and some similar schedule growing pains but we also have the best office in the world and see thousands of places over the course of a career!

It can be challenging to have a family but it all starts with finding the right partner to do it with. It will take sacrifices and missed holidays and birthdays but it also comes with travel benefits, a great quality of life and job satisfaction. Once you build up some seniority, you’ll have choices to prioritize time at home, weekends and holidays off.

I can’t speak for average health because I’ve met incredibly fit pilots and incredibly unfit. There are those that walk the terminals in between legs and those that get a fast food hamburger for lunch and dinner every day for a four day trip. It’s really more about your life choices while on the job. Every hotel has a gym, you can pack healthy food and walk just as much as you sit. I think the biggest difference is the daily stress level. Having breaks every 30 min as a controller speaks to how stressful the job is. I think they would take a toll on your body fat faster.

The normal progression is flight training, time building, regionals, majors. So you can expect at least three job changes along that path. Hopefully that’s it because you’ve made it to your forever airline and build enough seniority behind you to ride out future furloughs. Layoffs do happen though. 2001, 2008 and 2020 (Covid) were the most recent layoffs. When it’s bad, it’s bad. But when it’s good, it’s really good. That’s where the industry is right now.

If you decide you want to fly, don’t waste any more time. Start now! This hiring wave is huge, the biggest in decades but it won’t last forever.


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No, we do not design our own schedules. You can submit your preferences with your monthly bidding and the system will try to follow them in seniority order, but the airline will still build the schedule they need. I would plan on missing every holiday for the next several years as a pilot as well.

Many pilots have families, most do. It has its challenges, but we are also home more than many other professions. I feel like I am more present because of my job than I would be if I had most other professions.

Pilots rarely change employers, unless it is to progress upwards such as regional to major. Everything runs off of seniority at the airlines and to change employers would mean resetting your seniority.