Hi, I was wondering what the transition is like going from studying engineering to studying at ATP or another accelerated program to become an airline pilot. How comparable are the workloads and difficulty of the material? Also, could I get some opinions on how you enjoy the material you learn in flight school?
I’ve never studied engineering and perhaps there might be a student or 2 who has and can comment but honestly I’m not sure it matters?
The key word is “accelerated”. I’m not sure if there are any accelerated engineering programs but I’ve never heard of one that will take 4yrs of training and compress it into months. That what ATP does and it’s not a joke and yes it’s challenging. It requires a 100% commitment. There’s also a physical requirement involved which can be taxing.
As for if it’s enjoyable, for me it was very much so but I also have a love and appreciation for flying. Others I know who do as well enjoy the process. I also know people will became pilots for the money, prestige, etc but never really had a passion for it. They complain about every aspect of the process and are miserable to fly with.
I never went to school for engineering but I imagine it took a high level of intelligence and lots of studying. An accelerated flight program takes a lot of work but the material isn’t necessarily that difficult, there’s just a lot of it and you have limited time to get it down.
The thing is though, if you enjoy what you’re doing it doesn’t feel like work. Of course, cracking out the books isn’t fun for most but if you enjoy flying and know that you need that knowledge to be a better pilot, you’ll put in the work. At the end of the day, flying airplanes is fun.
I personally love learning and trying to be an expert at my craft. Call me a nerd, but everyone is different. My advice, don’t pursue this career unless you’re passionate about it.
I went straight from a 4-year engineering degree to flight training, so hopefully my experience could help. As Hannah mentioned, compared to the engineering material I worked on, the flight training material wasn’t as difficult, but it required a lot of time and memorization. This program is very quick! You won’t be studying principles and applying them to problems. A lot of the material you either know or you don’t (and there is a lot of it). However, you might have an advantage because after studying engineering, you probably have figured out your best way to study. If you are also somewhat familiar with mechanical systems and aerodynamics, that could help too. If you apply the same studying process to flight training, and you are passionate about it, you’ll be fine. But expect a lot of memorization and less numbers!
As for ‘enjoyability’, I really enjoyed engineering and problem solving, but once I got to flight training I realized I wasn’t passionate about it. For me, flying was always my dream and once I realized it could be a reality, I dove in head first and haven’t stopped since. I’m glad I have an engineering degree as a backup, but in my opinion, flying is way more fun!
As an ME grad, the key is to not get too technical when explaining the principles of flight. There are key words the DPE’s want to hear when they ask you about the forces of flight so learn those key words. The oral portion isn’t suppose to get deep into details and I’ve heard a story from an instructor where a student dug themselves into a hole and had to explain distribution of lift across the various airfoil surfaces. Also, most non engineering students won’t understand what you’re saying if you get technical. You’ll find learning the aircraft systems will be a breeze.
As a mechanical engineer, something that worries me is salary. Now mechanical engineers have a starting of 80k, average of 100k, cap around 150k+ so obviously pilots beat us. However I do not want to spend 2 years and lots of money becoming a commercial pilot, then getting in with a regional airline making about 60k for 10 years until i hit commercial then finally make 100k and then maybe when im way older make that huge cap. But according to the ATP pdf on the pilot career payscale graph (though that pdf seems to be from 2021), that seems to be the case.
I know one pilot student friend who will be making 90k with the regional line and he said some people have made it to commercial in about 4 years which i’d be fine with but is that more of the exception not the rule?
I really want to be a pilot and fly and travel and all of that, but for such an investment im worried about the payoff not coming around for nearly a decade.
Any thoughts on this?
Just a heads up, you are using the term “commercial” incorrectly. All airline pilots hold ATP ratings, then there are the regional airlines and the majors.
There are no guarantees in life. Some people make careers out of being regional pilots, others get to the majors rather quickly. A lot of it will depend on you and how hard you push through the industry.
My thoughts are you should forget about being a pilot (at least professionally).
While there’s literally never been a better time in history to become a pilot and salaries are at historic levels, you’re looking for guarantees and this industry holds none. Chances are you could make it to a Major in 5yrs and make considerably more money than you’ll ever see in your lifetime shortly after that. BUT, again there are no guarantees. You ever hear of 9/11 or CV19? Little things like that (or even a good recession) can seriously put a damper on your career progression and income. Further let’s be honest, you could just be a lousy pilot and simply never make it to the Majors.
Back in the day I knew I loved flying but never assumed I’d ever make it to a Major (I did), but if that meant being stuck at a Regional (back when starting pay was $18k) I was fine with that because I would still be getting paid to do something I enjoy. That’s obviously not the case with you so again I think you should put this aside. Or maybe just fly recreationally.
Thank you so much for the swift replies!
I apologize if I came off as solely caring about pay and expecting everything to go 100% as planned. As an engineer I can’t help but look at the numbers first and foremost. So what I gained from this is that I should approach the idea of the aviation industry with a very fluid mindset and be aware that this is an industry that can be easily swayed by outside factors. I was just worried since my current plan is to get out of college and work for around three years to pay for flight school, so I’m just a little worried about such an investment being financially intelligent.
But I actually see this as reassuring and proof that it is certainly possible for this to be a fortuitous investment, and I’ll get to fly planes! Which would definitely be a best-of-both-worlds scenario for me. Regardless I can fall back on my other skill sets for work if the market does turn, so if outside factors are the biggest threat, then this is actually great news for me.
Open to any further discussion.
Charles, I actually just saw a video saying that regional pilot pay was essentially increasing by a lot across the board, with many regionals offering $90 starting pay for FOs. This is huge because that’s nearly a double in wages for many companies so you can make about $90k minimum starting out. This also is huge for the majors, because (I don’t know but believe most pilots are unionized from what I heard) major airlines contracts are up for renewal here soon. This means that the unions will be able to use this regional pay increase to leverage for even higher wages in the majors. Essentially, the long and even pretty short term outcomes money-wise is looking really good for pilots. And minimum pay at starting in the majors might make it into the $200k range.
Going back to before, pay was not the reason most people became pilots. It’s only been over the last decade of increased requirements to become an airline pilot and a dwindling supply of pilots which has caused the pay to go up. The average training cost with a living stipend is $120k ($91k without the stipend). Also you have to account for making up to $30k annually for up to two years while you instruct to build your hours. More opportunities become available around the 800-1000 hour range to fly larger planes with better pay. A lot of the instructors I know have to work gig jobs because instructing isn’t paying the bills. Keep this in mind if you’re going to save before starting flight training. However, as many of the professional airline pilots will say on this forum, if you’re waiting to start training then you’re holding yourself back from the roi. My instrument DPE told me at the end of the checkride, his daughter graduated from ATP and within 5 years was promoted to 767 Captain at Ameriflight and is making over $250k a year.