Can I work during the ACPP?

This is by far one of the most FA’d of the FAQs. I recently looked and was surprised we’ve never addressed it. Further I had a recent epiphany on the subject so I thought now would be a good time for me to tackle it so here goes.

I LOVE food and eating and spend way too much time watching the Food Network. Many years ago before my pilot days I owned a pizzeria but I have no formal culinary training and I’m always amazed when I watch great chefs in action (particularly their knife skills). The other day watching the local news there was a story of our local CC restarting up their culinary arts programs and I was intrigued. They have 2 degree programs (AA and BA) but I have neither the need or desire for another degree but also saw they have a “certificate” program you can bang out in short order, cool! It was then when I realized “aha! This must be the reason EVERYONE believes they can work and do the ACPP!”. There are dozens of cert programs out there covering everything from music to basket weaving that promise to get you a “certificate” so you can have a successful career doing bla bla bla bla bla. So why not flying? Well I’ll tell you why not.

Despite what you may have heard, read or think you know, flying planes ain’t easy! No its not rocket science or brain surgery, but it does require a certain level of intelligence and coordination that not everyone has but more important, it requires ALOT of hard work. Aside from the airplane manuals and other required reading there’s a book the FAA puts out every year called the FAR/AIM. I’m not sure if anyone still uses the paper version but it’s approx 1100 pages (all very fine print) and guess what kids? You’re responsible for knowing what’s in it! (No you don’t need to memorize it but you do need to know how to navigate it. Here’s your first oral exam tip. The #1 answer to most questions is “no sir, I don’t know the answer BUT I know where to find it”).
“Ok but I’m SUPER smart (and have 3,000hrs on MSFS), surely I can handle work and the program right?”. Wrong, and here’s why. It’s got little to do with smarts or skill and more to do with physical/mental limitations and logistics.

To earn your Commercial Pilot Cert you need to have 250hours (which is approx what you’ll complete the program with). The average person training at their mom and pop school will train 1-2 days a week and fly approx 1.5hrs each lesson. That’s about 26mos of training. ATP compresses that into 7mos. and people LOVE THAT! Everyone sees this, all the press about the shortage and pilot salaries and thinks sign me up! Great but not everyone can afford to take 7mos off from life, so they ask (hopefully, or worse just assume) can’t I just work so I can keep making money?While we understand the desire ALL of us who have been through the program immediately think “here’s another genius who doesn’t get it!” (Ok, maybe it’s just me?), but that’s really not fair because most have you have zero flight experience so how would you know what it’s like? You don’t so allow me to try and explain.

People often ask me what flight training is like and here’s my response: have you ever driven for 1.5-2hrs in REALLY bad weather (heavy rain or snow) at night and the wipers are going 900mph? How do you feel afterwards? Fatigued is the word that often comes to mind. You’ve been sitting for 1.5hrs which isn’t that long and driving is pretty easy so why are you so fatigued? Well chances are you a) were concentrating really hard, and b) just wanted to get home and didn’t take a break. Well newsflash kids, when you’re flying you will be concentrating really hard and you CAN’T pull over and take a break.

Now if you’re just flying a couple of times a week that’s not so bad but let’s return to our numbers. 250hrs in 7mos = about 8.5hrs a week which means you’re flying 5 days a week (OR less days but more hours per day). Fun fact, fatigue is cumulative and the only cure is rest. But wait, you won’t just fly those hours there’s also ground school and sim. “Ok so I can still work a little?”. Well, what about studying? Everyday you’ll have homework and maneuvers to get down cold so you’re not wasting time in the classroom, sim or plane. Long short you’ll have some REALLY long days and FATIGUING days. “Yes but I’ve read on other forums you don’t fly 7 days, I’ll just work on those days off!”. Really? What happens when the weather crapped out, you have a checkride scheduled and don’t have your maneuvers down? Usually they’ll simply move your days but if that day you can’t that’s on YOU. “Not a problem, my schedule is flexible”. Again, when are you going to rest and study? While you can get a cert for basket weaving or knife skills you really need to understand FLYING PLANES IS HARD AND REQUIRES A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF WORK AND STUDY. Fall behind, bust checkrides and all you’ll have left is a good story to tell the grandkids about how you were ALMOST a pilot.

Finally, full disclosure, ATP obviously can’t stop you and I’m certain some folks have worked, kept it on the DL and been successful. Thing is they’re the exception and not the norm and I can tell you for a fact MANY who tried washed out miserably. Now this is America and again you can do as you like but $100k is ALOT of money to gamble with (not to mention literally millions in future earnings), but more important IF this is really your “dream” don’t you want to do everything you can to be successful? Or would you rather cross your fingers and hope for the best? The choice is yours.