Career Flow Times

I am in the process of researching the airline pilot profession with serious consideration about making a career change at the age of 30. Thankful for these forums and videos i’ve been able to find to answer most of the questions I have had but I still have a few I have not been able to find accurate or up to date information about, in particular, the amount of time (ballpark of course) it takes to flow from one stage of your career to another using what I have found to be the traditional path (flight school, CFI, Regional FO, Regional Captain, Major FO, Major Captain) How long should someone expect to be at each one of these stages in 2022?


Right now we are in unprecedented growth. We don’t know for sure how long it will last, or what delays could happened (such as Covid causing a 1.5yr stand still), but here’s roughly what me and my peers are seeing.

  • 7 months - 2 years of Flight training to 250hrs. Depends on what type of part 61 flight school you go to.
  • 1-2 years of time building as a CFI or Commercial pilot (small aircraft) to 1500 hours.
  • 2-6 years at a Regional Airline before hopefully going to a Major Airline, Cargo, or Larger Corporate Job.

The reason that last timeline is so long is because it varies on so many factors. Generally, Legacy Airlines like United, American, Delta; and Cargo like Fedex and UPS, all have higher requirements generally in flight time and experience. You could go to Large Corporate companies after 1-2 years at a Regional and the Same goes for ULCCs like Frontier and Spirit. That being said, for a few lucky pilots, they will go straight from 1500hrs to a ULCC and not have to fly for a Regional Airline.

Basically right now you can get to a Major Airline in as little as 3 years! But I would say the average total time is 5-7 years. So at 30, that means you could have a 30year career at a Major Airline before retirement.

To put this into perspective, in the 1980s-90s it took my dad about 13 years to get from flight training to Fedex, and I know a few people who started training in 2000 and then didn’t fly or were stagnant in their careers after 9/11 for over a decade. So it really is an amazing times for pilots right now.

All the best,
Chris F


The reason you haven’t found accurate info (at least for some) is that some of those transitions can vary greatly depending on a number of factors. So let’s go through them.

Flight Training: if you train full-time at an academy like ATP with an accelerated prescibed program you can earn all your licenses and ratings in 7mos. If not and you training part-time locally it can many years depending on your schedule and your much time and effort you put into it.

Time Building: the most common route is flight instructing. ATP instructors build about 75hrs a month and can usually reach 1500hrs in about 1.5yrs or less. Again work part-time, at a quieter school and it can take considerable longer.

Regional FO to CA: fortunately the pilot shortage is in full swing and upgrades are coming pretty quickly. At some it’s about a year or 2 tops. That said things slow down due to the economy or other factors and it could take much longer. Average was 4-5yrs before things picked up.

Major FO: again right now some are getting hired before they even upgrade at their Regionals due to the shortage. Average time right now is about 2-3 yrs. In the past it could take up to 10.

Major CA: Delta announced a few weeks ago their current upgrade time was under a year. In the past it took up to 20 depending on the aircraft, base etc.

The biggest caveat in all this is that everything can and often does change and there are zero guarantees. Right now we’re in an extraordinary time in this industry and ATP has grads who are getting hired by Majors in under 5yrs from when they started training. There are even low cost carrier programs that will hire ATP grads at 1500hrs. That said most of this is contingent on you being successful in training, having a clean record and having a 4yr degree. If one of those pieces is missing and things can slow or stall considerably. That and of course many unforeseen factors like pandemics, wars and the economy can slow things as well.


Thank you all for some real insight on this. To give a little background on myself and my plan, I currently hold a 4 year degree in business administration and live in the DFW area. I plan to take the 7 month ATP flight school course, after that I would hope to get hired by ATP as a CFI to get my 1500 as fast as I possibly can and apply for a job at Envoy to be apart of their flow through program into American Airlines. Obviously this is under the conditions that life goes exactly how we want all the time but that is the plan/dream. My wife obviously still has her reservations, one being that I spend all this money on school and the pay cut of being a CFI, to never land a job even at a regional.


Getting a job at a regional is not the challenge. It’s the majors that are the most competitive. I wouldn’t have any reservations about advancing to a regional. A wave of mandatory retirements has begun. We are currently experiencing the largest pilot shortage the industry has ever seen.


I would like to do echo what Tory said. As long as you do well in your flight training and stay out of any legal trouble, there shouldn’t be any reason why you wouldn’t get picked up by a regional. The pilot demand grows worse by the day. Getting hired by the majors is the tough part. But you have a college degree and life experience… hopefully a good training record too. Aiming for the American flow is probably one of the most conservative paths to guarantee future employment. It just might take longer than getting in via interviewing.

Just to clarify Hannah, are you saying that although doing the flow through route with American would increase my chances of getting on at that major, I could potentially do it even faster if I just out right interviewed with them or kept my options open to all the majors? I’m really more on the side of wanting to increase my chances of DFW as a base considering my whole family lives in the area and that would help my quality of life out not having to commute but if that’s not going to happen regardless of what major I work for (not sure how sought after DFW is?) then might as start getting in line on the seniority list at another.


Pretty much any major hub (that isn’t in NY or LA) good pretty senior. What people don’t understand is while flows are great, no airline is going to cannibalize and cripple their own Regional. So while they’re commited to taking a % of pilots to encourage recruitment, they’re also not going to take as many as they need from that source.

Which would be faster is anyone’s guess.



I’ve heard that some AA WO pilots who receive CJOs from United/Delta/other use those as leverage if their end goal is AA. Have you heard anything about this?


Never. In fact if I was on a panel at AA and a candidate said “btw, I have an offer from Delta I’d say good luck, thanks for wasting our time, next!”.

The Majors are no where near desperate and still want you to show them that you REALLY want to work there.




I have never heard of this. Have multiple job offers certainly gives one options, but it cannot be used as leverage. Furthermore, AA takes people in a set order based on their seniority at the regionals, there is no skipping the line because one has a job offer someplace else.


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There is no way of knowing which route will be faster. However, the flow with AA has been historically about 7 years. Now that can change but on average pilots have been able to interview and be on with a major quicker than that.

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For what it’s worth both AA and Spirit have been awarding DFW to new hires since hiring has opened back up. Also, don’t rule out Part 135 flying. There’s lots of options in DFW.

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