Hello everyone, it’s a pleasure to join this forum! My name is Jennifer and I’m on the verge of wanting to make a career change to become an airline pilot. I’m 28 years old, have a bachelors and masters degree, and currently working for a government state agency. My job provides great job security and benefits, and the income is decent. However, I’ve realized that becoming a pilot is the true dream. My father was a private pilot and I was therefore exposed to aviation at a young age. But I grew up never giving a career in aviation a second thought, until now. I’m in need of some advice on if, how, and when I should proceed to pursue this career. Any insight and suggestions would be greatly appreciated to some or all of the questions I have below:
My husband and I came to the conclusion that we simply cannot afford quitting my current job. I understand a Flex Plan is available with ATP, but the cost of $95,000 and taking out a loan for this cost may be difficult for us. I already have a large student loan debt from earning my two degrees. Does anyone have experience with paying off a loan for flight school on top of previous student loans? Will the previous student loan also be placed on deferment while attending flight school? Does having previous student loan debt have a negative impact on getting approved for a flight school loan?
My other concern is motherhood. My husband and I have discussed starting a family before I realized my pilot dream. I’m nearing my 30’s and wouldn’t want to wait too long before having kids. What are your recommendations on the timeline of starting a pilot career and starting a family? Given your personal experiences and knowledge on flight training and your career, would you suggest that a women in my position put motherhood aside and complete flight training and flight hours first? If that’s the case, should I immediately seek employment after flight training/completing 1500 hours? Or would you recommend having a kid or two, wait a few years, and then start flight training/career as a pilot?
What can I expect as a possible future female pilot and mother in the industry? I understand given the schedule as pilot that I could be away from home days at a time. But what does pregnancy look like, in both flight school and during the career? How is FMLA handled, etc.?
Thank you for your suggestions! I’m staying open-minded and taking every point of view into consideration.
All the best,
Welcome to the forum, let’s get to your questions.
I am not a financial expert, but Kirk in ATP admissions is. I highly recommend giving him a call and working through your financial situation with him. He is great with helping people qualify for loans and will likely be able to answer some of your questions about your other loans.
The motherhood question is a tough call and really depends on your and your priorities. At some point, either being a mother or being a pilot will need to some first for some time. Every year you miss out on starting at the airlines will have a significant impact on your career, but as you probably know, every year older you get decreases your ability to conceive and carry a child, while the birth defect rate increases. That is really just a personal decision that you will have to make.
If you get pregnant during flight school, the school will work with you, but I cannot imagine you being comfortable to fly past a few months and taking several months off to be pregnant and then stay home with a baby for a bit will have a hugely negative impact on your training. Flight training builds on consistency and recency of experience, a huge break in the middle of training will be tough and could easily lead to additional time and costs with training.
The airlines are a different story and will usually grant FMLA time for a birth and many women do fly until the beginning of the third trimester or so.
As to the schedules, please check out our “Schedules” section as that will give you the best idea as to what to expect.
First off, welcome to the forum! As a female pilot I can relate to a lot of your concerns so I’ll just dive in…
- If you have to work during the program, the flex track is the way to go. The fast track program is too heavy a workload to be paired with any other commitments. I do know that any current student loans you have will be placed on deferment while you go back to “student status”, however I’m not sure how the current debt situation would factor in to approving your new loan. Best that you contact our finance department to ask these specific questions, or just directly to Sallie Mae.
- This is something I also have given a lot go thought to. Honestly, my biggest concern before starting this career. There really is only one way to go, dive in head first, get all your training and flight building done and secure a job at the regionals then start a family. Once you start flight training you really shouldn’t stop because recency is everything. Plus the hardest time in this career is the first two years getting to that 1500 hours and to a regional airline. The hours are demanding, you are hardly making anything as a flight instructor. It was tough as a single 27 year old let alone having a new baby as well. Once you get to the regionals, the income is still low (but better) and you won’t have much control over your schedule but at least you have the option to go on maternity leave and be gaining seniority the whole time.
- Initially it will be tough on low seniority, but that should be temporary. There are many different priorities one can choose in an aviation career, money, schedule, etc. If yours is having the best schedule and time at home, you can absolutely do it once you build that seniority. It will just take time. I know you are allowed to fly when you’re expecting up until a certain point in your pregnancy (and its honestly pretty far along) but I’d refer that specific question to your local AME.
I hope this has helped ease some of your concerns! Its the greatest job in the world, but it doesn’t come without some sacrifices.
Great questions so let’s dive right in:
Flight Training is expensive and there’s really no way around that fact. The Flex Track is a great option for success if you need to keep working. While the debt can be daunting, I can tell you there are many people out there in the same boat as you. Whether you can differ or not really depends on the terms of your loan but most will allow you to (since the bank makes more money when you do). I suggest you give them a call and check.
Motherhood and being a pilot is a challenge. Obviously when you and your husband decide to get pregnant is a personal decision. While I haven’t been in that situation, I am a union rep and work with our Family Planning committee so I can tell you what I see the most and that is don’t wait. The consensus seems to be get trained, build your time, and get hired. As a new pilot you’ll have low seniority and a lousy schedule BUT you’re in and you’re starting to accrue seniority which is key. At that point you can get pregnant and take a leave and all the time you’re out you’ll keep building seniority.
I would not recommend flight school while you’re pregnant. Training is extremely stressful and if you need to leave you’ll forfeit much of the knowledge you were just starting to acquire.