Does this plan make sense?

Hi all,

Long time reader, and I was hoping to get thoughts on this plan I have in my head surrounding logistics.

Quick Background

I’m a 32/yo who is fed up of the corporate world and looking to make a career pivot to a long-lasting passion of mine - becoming a commercial pilot. I’ve learned after a few years (7+) in the corporate world that it’s really built around a “what can you do for us” relationship with a lot of take and nothing fulfilling, entertaining, and life is too short to do anything you’re not happy with.

For more background, I’m a Division 1 NCAA Referee for Women’s volleyball, and my season is typically through the fall (late Aug - mid Nov). From this side hustle, I can pull in anywhere from $15K-$20K alone. If I’m going to give up my current corporate salary (which is more than comfortable), the last thing I want to do during expensive training is give up that passive income.

My Plan
This is what I’d love some opinions on - gut check, poke holes in, etc.

To time things as best as I can to avoid any income during training, here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. I probably won’t stay at my company beyond the end of the year regardless, but between now and say March, aggressively pursue my PPL full-time with a Part 61 school. This way I have a little more flexibility and can still pursue things aggressively since I won’t be working FT any more.

  2. When wrapping that up, enroll in the ATP program from PPL acquisition forward for 5 months, hopefully wrapping that in August/September to mitigate impact to my referee career.


  1. Does this plan make sense?
  2. Is there something I’m not thinking about?
  3. Am I over/under indexing in anything?
  4. Is it reasonable to assume maintaining something like my referee income alongside ATP is an absolute no go?

Would love any and all opinions!


A few things:

  1. Does it make sense? Sure as far as I can understand what you’re trying to do. The question should be is it a good plan? My first question is why do you want to get your PPL separately? You’ve obviously decided ATP is the best route but you want to do your primary training elsewhere? Most who do find the experience frustrating, expensive and not efficient.

  2. Yes. First you’re assuming you’ll be able to get your PPL (AND build the required 78hrs for credit) in 5mos. Possible yes but not probable. If you don’t then what delay your start at ATP and for how long? Second while I appreciate your desire to keep you side gig how are you planning on building the required 1500hrs for the airlines? If you want to instruct for ATP a) there is no time for other work and b) you might not be able to instruct at your home location. If that means getting a part time instructor gig at your local airport there’s no way of knowing how long it’ll take to build the time which will cost you seniority and a whole lot more than $15-20k in lost income.

  3. See above

  4. Im going to assume you want to train with ATP at least in part due to the accelerated time frame. Well that acceleration comes at a price. To be successful that means 100% commitment (and some still wash out). Now you can do what you want but if you can’t keep up there are no do-overs or “sorry I thought”. $90k+ is alot to gamble with but it’s your money and your career.


Hey Adam,

Thanks for the prompt response and for your thoughts. I don’t have a personal resource to ask questions like these, so this is super helpful.

  1. I forgot to mention above (thought I typed it!) that I have a contractual obligation to a part-time role (Mon/Wed nights and occasional weekends) from Jan-April, so the thought here is doing a PPL privately allows me to maintain that flexibility to be able to do that. Push come to shove, extending into my referee time frame is totally okay, especially if I don’t have to give it up forever. I’m also trying to back plan here in a best case scenario, and what needs to happen for me to achieve the best case scenario (with all the things within my control).

  2. Totally fair feedback surrounding the timing of acquiring my PPL may be pretty ambitious. Reading into the CFI life at ATP (at least from what I can gather), you’re an independent contractor (fact check me please if that’s wrong). Most of my referee assignments are a couple of hours on a weekend, and I typically know that schedule as far as May prior to the fall. I’d probably say there’s about 80% of time throughout the week dedicated to instructing/flying and 20% of the time is to refereeing.

Candidly, I don’t know a ton about the life of instructing, but also figured I could cross that bridge if/when I got there.


As far as the PPL stuff goes, all I can say is good luck.

For the rest, ATP instructors are independent contractors as far as pay and benefits go. That doesn’t mean you can work when you like.

Let me ask you a question? You just invested $90k+ in ATP. You have a checkride scheduled for Monday. There are a few maneuvers you’re still wrestling with and some ground stuff your confused about but your instructor says “sorry, I have to work my other job this weekend, but don’t worry, you’ll be ok”. You cool with that?


We never recommend working during the program nor do we recommend side jobs while working as a CFI.

If you need money, save more or request additional funds when applying for your loan. A side job could easily sacrifice your entire dream of becoming a pilot.

ATP’s program is the fastest program in the industry. Therefore, it requires 100% of your effort to successfully complete. A side job is never a good excuse for missing a lesson as a student or an instructor.

Even if you receive advance notice of your refereeing schedule, things happen. Unexpected events always happen in aviation and a program like ATP’s doesn’t leave much room for flexibility. If you choose to keep your refereeing job you will inevitably have to choose between ATP and refereeing. So, we are just warning you now. It’s best to not work. There is always more to be done at ATP until you’ve made it to an airline. Save your side gig for when you have half the month off at an airline.



To put it simple, if you are serious about becoming an airline pilot, I would put this January-April gig aside and focus on attending ATP. Let’s say you do your PPL at a smaller-scale school, the plane breaks down or the instructor moves onto their next gig, what’s left? A student pilot that had the goal of completing the PPL in short time but now has a delay and can’t attend ATP due to another job that starts near the end of the summer. Not only have you put a halt on your training, but seniority at the airlines where you will make a lifestyle.

While being a CFI, it is not recommended to work any sort of “side gig.” I hold a US Soccer referee badge, that I have not been able to use since I started my journey with ATP. The reason I continue to hold it is because 1) I can do recurrent training and 2) if the time ever comes, I have a backup plan short-term.

If you feel you need to factor in some extra funds for living, you may add that in on the loan. Most students do some sort of financing for their loan, Sallie Mae is ATP’s preferred loan lender:



I am going to add my voice to the chorus here. At 32 you are not too old, but you are by no means young either. Seniority is everything in the airlines and even a few months can really set you back in your career. I understand you can make $15-20k per year as a referee, but a major airline captain can easily make $20k per month, or more.

You will not be able to keep your referee job either while being an ATP student, or an ATP instructor. Both are full time positions.

Furthermore, as a new hire pilot at the airlines, there is no way you will be able to keep the referee position. You probably need to put this side job on hold for awhile until you are at a good place in your career, at which point you might not find it to be worth it.