Concerns about a career change

Hi,

My name is Cody, and like most I’m very interested in a career change to an Airline Pilot. I currently work in IT, but honestly the IT industry doesn’t really interest me anymore. I got into aviation probably 4 years ago, decided to get my PPL in July-ish of 2020 and 6 months later earned my PPL. Unfortunately, life and finances have made it very difficult to fly very often since then, but I still very much want to be a pilot. I found out a few months ago that ATP opened a school nearby in Baton Rouge, LA which is convenient since my parents live nearby.

Additionally, recently I finally cleared the final obstacle to selling my house and potentially buying a new one (one of the life issues that’s kept me from flying). Interestingly the process has left me with a gap where I’ve sold my house and haven’t bought a new one yet, meaning all of the money that would be used as a down payment would be sitting in my account and would definitely be enough to pay for ATP.

I do have some concerns though. I guess the best way to describe my concerns are that I know this move is very high risk, but high reward. I would have to leave my job and live with my parents for an unknown about of time and live off of basically 0 income. If something happens and this doesn’t work out, it would put me in a real bind. Admittedly, my income isn’t as much as it probably should be for someone in my position, but it’s still more than nothing and probably more than I’d make as a CFI while I build time. My other big concern is what to do about my dog while I’m flying. She’s family to me, and I would never consider giving her up, but I’m not sure how I would be able to take care of her while being gone for multiple days at a time. I spoke with my parents about it, and while they would be supportive of whatever decision I make, they are also very concerned about the idea of me throwing my current career away for something that may not pan out.

I guess I’m just looking for some input on how other people dealt with these concerns to try and decide if I want to make the jump or do a different flight school part time while keeping my job or just doing recreational flying and staying in the IT field. Any input would be greatly appreciated, and I apologize for the long rant!

Thank you,
Cody

Cody,

While the concerns that you have are valid, they are not unique. I like to point people to ATP’s Facts page: Flight Training Facts / ATP Flight School… The two stats that stand out to me the most are the graduates and the airline placements. Each student comes from a different background, but each student and every student that came before them all gave up something to become a pilot. Some gave up more than others all without the promise of a guarantee when it was all said and done.

As for myself, I only had about $5,000 to my name when I started flying. I held a desk job for only 10 months prior to ATP before deciding to leave it all behind. For me, the thrill of becoming a pilot and the painful thought of having a traditional career were both motivators. Since I only had a small savings, I took out a loan which included living expenses. So, not only was I going into training without the promise of a reliable job on the other side, I was also going into debt. And I would do it all over again.

I can’t answer your dilemma directly. I can only provide perspective. This is a personal decision and one that only you can/should make.

As for how you should go about becoming a pilot, we are all going to recommend ATP’s program over anything else. That should be no surprise. We are all graduates of their program and believe in the value that they offer. That said, we all did our own research and decided for ourselves that ATP was the right choice. The program is not for everyone, but we each accepted the responsibility that comes with such an intensive program.

Whatever it may be that is holding you back from pursuing your dream I will conclude by saying that now is a great time to be entering the industry. We are seeing record hiring, signing bonuses, and pay scales. While the industry has had its ups and downs, so long as things continue in the direction that they are headed if you do well in training you shouldn’t have a problem advancing in your career.

Tory

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Cody,

I’m the tough love guy on here but I’ll try and be cordial.

Newsflash! Life has zero guarantees. None. That said we’re currently in the middle of the greatest pilot shortage in history. When I started I walked away from a successful business while I also had a wife, 3 kids, a mortgage and a dog. Many had to pay for their airline training, first year was under $20k and I knew many grads who never even got an interview. Last year over 1200 ATP grads were hired by the airlines. Right now the Regionals are literally fighting for bodies, throwing money comparable to the Majors for salaries and offering hiring, retention and Tuition Reimbursement bonuses to ANYONE with 1500hrs and a pulse. DUIs were the kiss of death, now, no problem. Checkride busts? No problem. There LITERALLY has been no better time (easier, less risky, etc) to get into this industry and you have doubts? Honestly I’m not sure what it would take beyond what’s going on to give you the warm fuzzies but this is a good as it gets.

As for your dog that’s something you’ll need to work out. While I love my dog and understand on some level, I would not remain in a job I don’t like and sacrifice having a great career, that btw pays over $400k a year, for my dog. If that’s you kudos, you’re a better dog owner than I am.

Adam

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Thanks Tory and Adam for the replies! The money isn’t really what’s enticing to me, it’s the ability to do something I love for a job. Sure everyone wants more money and I’m no different, but as long as I make enough to comfortably sustain myself I’m more looking for the adventure. I guess I’ll just have to figure out if it really is worth the risk of giving up a stable career. While I would never say it out loud and I know they can fire me at any time, the reality is my current position is very stable. I’m one of two people who know how to do what I do, which without us they may as well close the doors, and the other person is my boss who barely has time to look at stuff with me as it is. It would take something seriously drastic for them to consider getting rid of me. Plus my job is very flexible, I can more or less come and go as I please and do just about anything I want as long as the work gets done. Overall it’s not a bad gig, its just not what I want to do anymore. I’ve had plenty of coworkers tell me I should go back to school and get a CS degree since the university would pay for it, and every time I came to the same conclusion. If I’m going to spend the time to learn something, why not learn something I want to learn which is aviation.

I realize these are things I have to figure out for myself, I was mainly looking for some insight. I have no problem with the tough love thing, I’d actually prefer someone tell me something straight up than beat around the bush just to try to protect my feelings. With that in mind, let me ask a few questions that might help. Is there normally one flight lesson per day and then the rest of the time is ground school/studying? How much of the ground school is self-study? Is there like a class that goes over material or is it more someone throws a textbook at me and wants me to have it learned by tomorrow? What is CFI pay looking like these days? I believe I read a figure that said about 35k/year, but I’m not sure if that’s old information or not.

Thanks again for all of your help!

Cody,

  1. Yes. There will be days when there’s one flight lesson. There will also be days where there are multiple and others when there’s none. Same goes for ground school and sim. It’s all dependent on what phase you’re in, your progress, the weather etc etc etc. Know that there will always be something to do.

  2. Again yes. There is ground school but there’s also ALOT of self study. You’ll be given assignments with homework and you’ll review the following day. If you “got it” great and there’s no need to linger, if not you’re instructor is there to help.

  3. $35k is on the high side. I’d count on closer to $30k.

I recommend you take a look at the Student Experiences section of this forum where you’ll find more “day in the life” info.

Adam

Cody,

Just to play devil’s advocate here, I have to point out that you have a lot of flexibility in your current job and that for at least the next several years to come, you will not have that. Just make sure that is something that you are willing to give up for a few years.

Chris

Thanks for all of the replies! I’m super aware of the flexibility of my current job, its one of the primary reasons I’ve stayed in this position for 5+ years despite the relatively low pay, and one of the things I’ve been thinking about when trying to make a decision.