ATP to Other Career Options

Hey guys,

I was wondering if anyone has completed ATP and then pursued a career as a pilot in something other than the airlines? Say the military, flying assorted cargo around, or whatever it may be. If so, what is it and how is it working out for you?

As for me, I have recently obtained my PPL and have been interested in a career flying for the military. I do have a bachelors degree, but with military pilot slots being so competitive, ATP could really help boost my chance at meeting the review board’s criteria for eligible pilots (active or reserve). I currently work on the ramp for Southwest and after talking to pilots day in and day out, they all say ATP could be beneficial to my cause. At the age of 25, I am fighting the clock to get an application submitted in time for review, but don’t want to until I have as many eggs (ratings/flight time) in my basket as possible. I see a lot of feeds on here talking about pilots coming from the military and trying to get into the civilian realm, but not the other way around.

Any thoughts? (@ryanh9 might possibly be down your alley?)



Hi Benjamin,

You’re right most pilots go the route of military to civilian flying but I have know a few who’ve gone the other way. One in fact was in training at ATP with me back in the day. Honestly I don’t know much about the process but this individual had already spoken to a recruiter and they together formulated is plan of training with ATP before his entry to the military. I’d recommend you do the same. If flying for the military is your primary goal I’d make sure that getting your licenses and rating first would in fact make you more desirable for a pilot slot. My advice is talk to those who would know best and that would be the recruiters or pilots already serving.



I know of very few pilots that already have an ATP before they apply for the military. Normally they would be regional pilots that apply for Air Force Reserve or Air National Guard units. Some pilots with a lot of non-military hours can have difficulty adjusting to military pilot training (I.e. Breaking habits).

So I would not recommend spending extra time and money getting an ATP for sole purposes of applying to be a military pilot. A fair amount get their PPL and I would recommend flying a few hours, the same as typically recommended before starting at ATP.

My advice would be to apply as soon as you can. You have to complete pilot training before age 30, so typically the cutoff for applying is 28 1/2 years old, so you should have several chances to apply and persistence in applying is good. Many applicants get selected on their 2nd or 3rd try.

I’d recommend a healthy balance of focusing on your leadership as well as your flying skills. Your are applying to be a military pilot, but also an officer and leader. Any work related, volunteer, sports, or any positions or opportunities that show responsibility and demonstrated leadership is good to highlight.

Are you applying for active duty via Officer Training School (OTS), or guard/reserve?

I’m glad to help or answer any questions that I can about the Air Force and military flying. This forum has been a great help as I transition to commercial flying.


Just to clarify, if you already have the hours and you want to get your ATP it may help your odds, but just depends on what the officers looking at your application are looking for and it could make the difference if you and another applicant have fairly evenly scored applications but you have your ATP. Guard and Reserve units may value ATP more or differently than the active duty board.

I would not delay in applying just to get your ATP or more hours. The formula the Air Force uses is called the PCSM, Pilot Candidate Selection Method, which maximizes hour at 200, so anything over that does not increase your calculated score.



Thanks for jumping in here and sharing your expertise!


@ryanh9 Thank you for your insight and service to our country. Much appreciated.

My goal is to make myself more competitive to such review boards. To be honest, my GPA out of college the biggest factor holding me back, and although it is still slightly competitive, I’m doing everything in my power to boost my resume. If it were the 1980s or 90s still, I’d most likely have the odds in my favor, but times have changed since then. I have great leadership experience, volunteer time, athletic nature, and will have solid letters of rec from current/former military members (and one sitting US Senator). My number one preference is active duty, but I am also preparing for the next best option (reserve/ANG) if active does not work out. And if that doesn’t work out, a career as a civilian pilot. I figure that attacking all 3 options at once is better than aiming at one and waiting to hear back, while wasting valuable time and money. As you might be aware, the application process for these military pilot slots can take over a year before an applicant even hears back.

ATP would put me at ~280 hrs TT after completion, and would set me up well for a civilian career if all else fails. But, the question remains, at what point does the military find ATP training harmful to my resume? I’ve met with 2 recruiters before obtaining my PPL, but will be speaking with some soon to discuss realistic and up-to-date options.
ATP still sounds like it’s a beneficial option to me, but it’s also a $65,000 question of if the military sees it the same way.

Thanks for your help,



Here is my thoughts if you want to apply to OTS to be a pilot. The next board looks like it is in July, so you have a few months to get everything together. There is/was a board in January, but unless you have already started your application I don’t think you could get everything together to meet the deadline, if it hasn’t already passed.

You can apply to OTS as many times as you remain eligible. There is no penalty and it sounds like you would have a competitive package based on what you have said on the leadership side. The Air Force cares about your pilot abilities also, but there is a wide variance of people applying from people with 0 (zero) hours to thousands of hours. You can work on your ATP while applying for OTS. The payback in the Air Force may be longer. As a brand new 2nd Lt you would be making $3,034 per month or $36,408 per year for the first 2 years plus your flight pay which is another $125 per month for the first 2 years of flying. You do get a promotion to 1st Lt at 2 years and then another to Captain at 4 years, so your pay does eventually go up, but even as a Capt at 4 years you are making $5,398 in base pay plush $206 per month in flight pay, so $67,000+ per year. My point is that is a lot of money up front and you just need to be aware that it will take a while to pay back. Of course I haven’t done the comparison to regional pay for the first 4 years of commercial flying, so maybe it isn’t that different. In the long term, the pay difference is much greater between the military and commercial flying. At the 22 year point in the military as a Colonel (O-6), my pay is $123,825 annually plus $840 per month in flight pay (it actually starts to decrease at the 22 year point to $540 per month, but I started flying late in the Air Force).

Having the ATP doesn’t “hurt” your chances, but you are correct that it is a $65,000 question of how valuable the military sees it. The military and civilian rules are very similar overall, so it would be helpful in learning and knowing the rules going in to pilot training. The difference is you would be flying the T-6 and then the T-38 or T-1, so pulling Gs, faster airspeeds, and more complex aircraft than a single engine Cessna or even a twin. The military rules that are different are usually while we are in a restricted airspace, MOA, combat, or other places, otherwise when we fly in civilian airspace we follow civilian rules and use civilian controllers (& military controllers often control civilian traffic).

So my main point is I wouldn’t delay applying. Apply now (for July board), see if you get selected, if not then continue to apply while you also look at guard, reserve, and commercial options. There are commercial pilots that join the guard or reserve and take a leave of absence from their airline job but keep their seniority number (not sure if they have to return to the airlines in 5 or 7 years). If ATP makes sense and you know the military pay vs. regional pay differences and are confident that it makes financial sense then you can make that decision. Every OTS board you skip applying is giving you a zero % chance of getting selected and you never know how competitive each board is going to be. Yes, the military is competitive, but when the economy is good and the airlines are hiring our recruiting numbers do tend to decrease. You can continue to put in an application every six months or so until you get to about 28 1/2 years old.

Always good to aim for your primary goal and have 1-2 backups. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the 3 options you are trying for.

Hopefully that was helpful. Glad to answer any more military specific questions for you.