I’m 34 and work as a defense contractor for the past 6 years with 10 years military service in the Air Force and Army. I have always held off on becoming a pilot because my finances couldnt support the time-building phase of getting into the regionals and major airlines. I was deep in debt and didn’t see the logic in taking 100k in more debt to work for 35k for 2 years before getting a slight pay bump to 40-50k for several more years flying at a regional before finally getting a solid paycheck at the major airlines. Compound that fear with being a late starter and competing with senority, it simply didn’t seem feasible. However, I have heard the world is changing!
Does anyone have any information on the rumors I have heard concerning:
Increased starting pay for these time building opportunities and more importantly at the regional airline level?
Quicker advancement to the Major/Legacy airlines?
Quicker placement in the airlines to Cpt?
Realistic current, as of 2023, timeline to get to a major airline as first officer from time of completion of ATP curriculum?
Realistic placement and how far I can go in this career if I’m starting at 35 years old. This one is very important as I have been told previously I wouldn’t have enough time with age restrictions to get to the level I want too (CPT international flights 767) starting so late in life.
To be clear I’m not looking for “get rich quick” or anything like that. This is a huge lifestyle, financial, and career change and I’ve wanted this for years. Only now, after giving up almost a decade deployed, do I have the finances to afford to attend the school and support myself while in school and I want to make sure I’m not setting myself back for a dream that won’t come true just to return to the contractor life and start over.
Flight instructor pay is still pretty average at about $20/hr however there are dozens of pathway programs with tuition reimbursement options to start paying off that loan. If you decide not to flight instruct, you’re on your own finding time building opportunities but just know that starting pay for low time pilots isn’t great anywhere. It’s just the way it is until you build some hours. Now the regionals had major pay raises over the last year. Starting pay used to be about $46/hr and now it’s up to an average of $91/hr at most regionals.
The minimum hour requirements are coming down as well. There are direct entry programs with ATP to go from 1500 hrs to the flight deck of an Airbus at frontier or spirit. If you decide to go to a regional, you can expect only about 1-2 years there instead of traditionally 5-7 years.
The regionals need captains so bad that as soon as you hit the 1000 hrs of required part 121 turbine time, you’ll get placed in a captain upgrade class. That 1000 hours can be built in 18-24 months depending on how long you’re on reserve and how much flying you do each month.
Right now you can expect 2 years from walking in on your first day of ATP to an airline job. That could be at a regional or a Major (sprint, frontier, sun country, etc) if you get in to those pathway programs. Once there, expect at least 1-2 years before advancing to a legacy. It depends on the strength of your application and can vary dramatically. With your extensive military service, I estimated a quicker timeline than average.
This last one is hard to estimate because there are so many variables. At 35, you could be at a legacy by 40 leaving you 25 years until the mandatory retirement age. You could definitely upgrade to captain on any of the narrow bodies or get super senior on a wide body as an FO. Wide body captain isn’t out of the question, it’s just the most coveted position at the airline and where the most senior guys camp out until they retire. There’s thousands of planned retirements over the next 10 years so it’s definitely possible but impossible to predict.
The bulk of the hiring is happening now for the next 5-7 years. If you plan on doing this, you need to act fast. You don’t want to be the last pilot hired at the end of a massive wave. That leaves you junior for a long time with little movement and vulnerable to furloughs.
Thank you for your response! This is exactly what I wanted to know! Now a follow-up if you can…
The only thing from keeping me from quitting my job and starting immediately is money. Specifically, how much should I have saved (on a spectrum) before starting this course. I live cheap, solo, and will have no debts other than the ATP training loan which will be deferred. I live in Texas, but am willing to do training in AZ or CLT since I have family there. Im willing to skip meals and live below my means. What’s your advice?
I’m gonna start with: Pilots are part of the supply chain for Aviation, Every pilots journey could be vastly different. The airlines will keep hiring right up until they start furloughing.
Flight Instructor pay: Median around $25-35/hr. Location, Aircraft Type, Experience, Flight School vs Contract CFI are biggest pay factors. Working at an average Flight School is on the low end. Contract Pilot/CFI, Ferry services are $40-80/hr. I have buddies teaching in Cirrus aircraft $85/hr but that is not the norm. $25k-35k is normal for one year of time building to 1500hrs.
135/Corporate pay: You could go this route to make more $ during time building to 1500hrs. Watch out for training contracts. This will likely take longer to build to 1500hrs (1.5-3yrs). Expect $30k-75k/yr.
Regionals or ULCCs: $75k/yr starting.
Legacies: If you started today, you could potentially be at one in 4 years.
Legacy International Captain: This is where supply chain comes in. Like Hannah said, bulk of hiring is happening now and will slow down eventually. Those later in the game will be lower in seniority and have a longer wait for upgrades / QOL improvements. Impossible to predict. You’re still making $130k year 2 and can make $250k as a Senior FO.
I’d have enough money to last 9months. Read ATPs website on what is/is not included in loan. Checkride costs and other things are not included and paid out of pocket.
Hannah answered your question well. There literally has never been a better time in commercial aviation. Delta announced a few weeks ago widebody Capt slots are available after only 6mos. That means you could potentially be earning $300k in 5yrs if you started now.
Thing is if the economy crashes, there’s another 9/11, or Covid 24 hits things could come to a grinding halt and you could be stuck instructing making $25k for years and never get to a Major.
You say you’ve waited this long because the numbers didn’t make sense which I understand. Right now they’re lightyears better than they have ever been BUT anyone who’s done this for any period of time knows the one constant is there are no guarantees and things are good until they aren’t.
You all have really helped out. I am reaching out to the Major airlines now to pre-emptively ask if they can see any reason not to hire me once I have completed training and minimum hours. I’m hoping the fact I have a current and active DoD and DHS security clearances will carry some weight in regards to my background and medical check, but as far as I can tell as soon as I knock out this last bit of debt and have 9-10months living money I will be signing up for school. I don’t want to miss this window of opportunity. I only hope I can get in while I can and hold on for all it’s worth.
You don’t mention having a 4yr degree? While the Majors don’t require one they’re all clear they prefer one (which is why they ask) and not having one could slow your advancement as those with degrees will be hired first. Just FYI.
I’m also not sure why you think you’re DOD or DHS clearance would help with your medical?
I do have a 4 year degree. However, it isn’t aviation related. As for the clearances, I’m operating on the assumption that since the FAA is federally regulated and DHS runs the security element of aviation that there should be nothing in my background to preclude me from working with the airlines as a pilot. If I’m satisfactory enough to be cleared by these agencies, shouldn’t I also be satisfactory enough to meet the requirements for being a pilot?
Network on RTAG Nation FB page. That’s all military to airlines folks.
The #1 thing I’ve seen delay military vets becoming pilots is stuff relating to the medical. PTSD, hearing issues, TBIs, medication and certain types of disability. So if you check any boxes there make sure to do your research and talk to some vets who have gone through process.
You can get the loan to include living expenses I believe. That being said, it adds to the loan… but every month you delay flying, is 200ppl ahead of you in seniority at Legacy and potentially $20k-40k/m retirement year.
You don’t need to ask an airline if they’d hire you. Have a clean record, they definitely will. Subject doesn’t matter, 4yr degree checks a box.
Yes, I get that. I’m not concerned about medical since I’m in excellent health. I was more worried about background stuff since prior to being in the military I was a screw up. To be young and dumb and all that
I would do your research and talk to an aviation attorney and/or have a consultation with a HIMS AME. AOPA would be one. I say this because the FAA gets strict regarding alcohol incidents, even that long ago.
Spend some money now to hopefully avoid delays and huge financial costs. Always CYA.
One DUI is probably not going to have a huge impact, as long as that really is the extent of your record. Be honest with the FAA and be prepared for them to ask a bunch of questions and to seek documentation.
Thank you, but my ticket wasnt for dui. It was underage drinking and fake ID. Granted i came clean about both immediately and the case was deff pros. But yea thats the worst thing in my record. It was a big deal when i first enlisted but hasnt been an issue since. Im hoping the FAA looks at it the same way.