Real Answers from Real Pilots

Best career pilot path for middle-aged woman with little college and jumpy work history

That subject line is a horrible way to introduce myself but that very well may be how I appear to airline recruiters when the time comes - so I need to do all I can to NOT come off that way.

I just turned 44. I’ve co-piloted Cessna 152s enough to know that up in the air is my happy place nearly as much as engaging in my creative and scientific endeavors. I need a livelihood that lines up with my love for travel and flying itself that will give me stability, decent pay, and freedom to professionally pursue my other interests without jeopardizing my dayjob.

Yesterday I did ATP’s intro flight training module, did some other technical and industry research, and today I’ve been on the boards a bunch (you guys are awesome - seriously…) and I spoke with ATP 3 times. I REALLY want this. (I haven’t scheduled my intro flight yet.)

I want to be the pilot who could get and keep just about any plane into any sky and land it just about anywhere. I could see myself in the 121 or 135 world, happy as a regional captain or, for some adventure and even better money, running cargo to God knows where. (I just heard of a guy who works for UPS and makes $300Gs/year working 3 days a week, 10 years experience.)

My bread & butter background is business management, human behaviour, and operations. I’ve formally studied these quite a bit in a classroom setting, but not traditionally accredited. Not having a college degree has hurt me as an employee as far as perceived value for hiring, rank, and pay, but when I consult, I get approx $200/hr. So I know it’s possible to sell myself without a degree…but I also know not having a degree is an obstacle I regret having erected. I’m a good student and fast learner; am confident I could embrace the theory and practical of becoming a pilot in the expected time.

I don’t currently have any family constraints. My parents are aging fast so that could change in the next couple years.

I read a Boeing press release covering the outlook of the industry and pilot shortage (http://www.aviationtoday.com/2017/06/22/boeing-vp-talks-future-passenger-plane-autonomy/) Having experienced the aftermath of the 2008 recession without a college degree, I am hesitant to assume I won’t have trouble getting hired at a regional or cargo - even if I’m a good pilot.

Whatever I do and however I do it, I want to ensure I’m doing it in such a way that will get me to captain as fast as possible, with as little risk as possible - even if the economy tanks.

Considering all the above, which route - your personal and professional opinion - would lend itself to the best return on my time and money?

A) fast track my pilot training and suffer through a couple especially lean years (schooling + working as a CFI) until I get hired by a regional that will appreciate I’d want to stay for several years and so would put me on a captain track and not do a degree;

B) do an Associates degree in Pilot Technology (like this http://www.broward.edu/academics/programs/aviation/Pages/default.aspx or details: http://www.broward.edu/academics/programs/Program%20Sheet%20Library/2107.pdf) and then work on a bachelor’s online (in business) while I build up my hours and try to get hired by a regional;

C) focus on my business bachelor’s now and put pilot training aside altogether until I’ve got the degree and some more money set aside…which would put me in my late 40s… but maybe that would give me the best chance at being competitive because of the degree.

Obviously I’m the only one who can make this decision - I’m really looking to you all (pilot mentors and anyone with airline industry experience of any type) as a sounding board to perhaps trigger something in me that that will lead me the right way through.

Thanks so much!

Patricia,

A couple of things before we look at the most efficient route for you. Not sure if “flying” is the day job you refer to but you have to know, at least at the beginning, as a junior FO you will not have much control over your schedule so you might want to keep that in mind. Also at 44, while you’re not old you really need to jump in fairly quickly. Also there seems to be this misconception (not just yours) that cargo flying (particularly UPS, FedEx and Atlas) are someone in the same class as the Regionals. They are in fact not only Major airlines but the upper echelon of the industry. I can guarantee the 10yr UPS pilot you’re referring to either had extensive military experience or flew as a Regional Capt for some years (maybe even another Major). That all said let’s look at the options:

A) Fast Track training. Honestly at 44 I don’t see any other choice. Under ideal circumstances you could find yourself at a Regional in just over 2 yrs making you 46-47. That leaves you with 18-19yrs to fly. Not terrible but that’s really your only chance (possibly?) of getting to UPS (or similar) if that’s your goal. You mention suffering through a few lean years but what are your options? Regardless of route you will need to build the required 1500 hrs to get to ANY airline. You could keep your other jobs and instruct part-time but know that FULLTIME instructors build an average of 75hrs a month and it takes them 2yrs to build that time. Parttime will take YEARS longer and every one of those years is one less you’ll be flying as a career.

B) Nothing wrong with getting an Assoc degree but know that you don’t need one for a Regional and it won’t do you any good at a Major. All you’d be doing is prolonging your career. I checked you’re link, you’ll still need to earn your multi and instructor ratings before you can work to build those needed hours. Will you build them on your own? How will you get the multi time needed to get hired by a Regional? Let’s try best case: 2 yrs for the AS degree, 3+yrs to earn the additional rating and instruct part-time so now you’re 49-50 and just got hired as a Regional FO. Upgrade by 54-55, you will not be going to a Major.

C) Why? 4yrs for a degree you’re 48, even if you fast track after that you’re now 50-51. You’ve got your BA which is great (I never advise against education) but you only needed it to go to a Major which at won’t come till MAYBE 5yrs later at 55-56 so that isn’t happening.

I hope this didn’t sound too negative but if you want to fly again I believe you have one choice. That choice of course is yours.

Adam

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Patricia,

It sounds like you’re torn between two passions; education and aviation.
Are you aware that the regionals don’t require a 4-year degree?

If your goal is to fly for a regional then that leaves you with option A.
Not saying that education isn’t important. By all means if you really want
a degree don’t let anyone tell you not to get one. I just want to make sure
you understand that your chances of getting a captain position at a
regional has nothing to do with a college degree.

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Adam - thanks so much for clearing up my misconception re cargo airlines! indeed, i’d not understood that UPS & Fed Ex are considered majors. and i don’t at all see your response as negative. thanks again!

Hi, Tory,

Here and on other boards, I’ve seen pilots advise that degrees aren’t necessary for regionals, but every regional airline’s website I’ve visited makes it a point of saying that bachelor degrees are preferred…so I wonder where it factually becomes a non-issue. If an airline has a choice between two students around the same age and health and pilot competency - who’ll get the job, the one with the degree, or without? I want to play it as safe as possible to get me to a solid airline (again - happy with regional), and in high demand as well as valued even though I don’t have a degree. That said, Adam made the point loud and clear that time is of the essence… and that would mean foregoing the degree (which frankly would be okay with me if it meant being effective on my career path).

Of all the pilots without degrees that I’ve met over the years that now fly
for a regional, none of them were turned down because they didn’t have a
degree. However, now they face the challenges of getting their degree
before they move on to the majors. Personally, I got my degree before I
started flying, and that’s what I advise others to do.

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