First Years of Being a Pilot

Hello pilots…

Recently I had the great opportunity to shadow some air traffic controllers at Huntsville International Airport’s tower. Of course while I was there they would try and convince me why ATC is the way to go.

However, when I informed them I wanted to be a pilot, they told me that many pilots in their first few years will be overworked and underpaid (~$35,000). They also said many pilots will be forced to stick with regional carriers like US airways and American Eagle.

Of course hearing this made me a little skeptical. I really want to be a pilot and I’m willing to be worked a lot because I understand seniority, but while the ATC controllers said it would pay off after a while, they made it feel like being a pilot is a huge struggle for the first few years because of the financial and time aspects.

Could anyone clear this up?




Like any job, the entry level positions do not pay as well as the senior ones. This is just as much true of ATC as it is anything else. Check out the links below for more info on how pilots are paid.

As to being stuck at the regionals, this typically only happens to pilots that do not have college degrees, or somehow manage to get themselves in trouble while at the regionals. Now there are no guarantees of moving onto the majors, but it seems to happen for those that meet their eligibility requirements.

I can tell you this, that over the long haul, a typical airline pilot will make significantly more than a typical Air Traffic Controller.


I interact with ATC daily and have a few friends who are controllers as well. Thing is I’m not a controller and therefore I don’t give advice I subjects I know little about. I believe the popular phrase these days is “stay in your lane”?

Things have changed dramatically over the past few years and while it’s true in the past starting salaries were pretty bad they’ve come up significantly. That said it’s still an “entry level” position so no ones getting rich. And while they may be less than starting pay for controllers, there aren’t any controllers making $350k a year either. They are correct there are no guarantees you’ll make it to a Major but there’s also no guarantee a controller will make it to JFK, ATL or ORD (their BIG TIME).

I think it’s safe to say neither career path is easy so it comes down to what you think you can see yourself doing for the rest of your life? Being locked in a dark room with no windows or having the greatest view imaginable and seeing the World like few can :wink:


I’m planning to take a decent pay cut to follow my passion of flying but I really don’t care. At almost 34 years old, I know what it’s like to drag myself to work everyday and feel miserable while being there. Waiting for the weekends gets old…not to mention it’s a waste of a life. Do what you are passionate about because a fat paycheck doesn’t really mean much if you hate what you do…a larger paycheck just allows you to buy more junk to fill the void in your life. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to earn enough money to live but I really don’t understand why anyone would contemplate passing on something they love to do because the first few years of pay may require a little more budgeting and sacrificing.


I don’t know about them now, but when I spoke to ATC trainees at the FAA Academy at OK City about 11 years ago, they too qualified for food stamps on their early income. You gotta remember this when talking to air traffic controllers—they’re used to telling people what to do and where to go :joy::joy::joy:

Hello pilots… thank you for your response. Please don’t get me wrong, I am willing to follow my passion regardless of whatever my pay is. It’s just the way the ATC controllers made it seem like was I’m gonna be stuck with regional for a very long time struggling financially.



Also, just another question. Let’s say I graduate Auburn University with a Professional Flight degree. That would mean I’m more valuable to major airlines correct?

And in general, if anyone graduates college with an aviation degree, does that mean they stand a better chance getting a higher position than others with no aviation related degree because they are getting a flight hour discount anyway?


Auburn is a fine University but no you are not correct. Major airlines look at flight and experience and while they desire a 4yr degree they have little interest in the field of study (you’d stand just as good a chance getting to a Major with a degree in Music or History). Furthermore at ALL the airlines (Regional or Major), EVERY position is based on SENIORITY. There is no “higher position” based on any factors other than you’re seniority. While the Majors definitely prefer degrees, if someone where to be hired with just a High School diploma (not likely but possible) just one day before you, they would be senior to you your entire career, would potentially have a better schedule, upgrade faster etc etc. In fact the hour reduction allows you to get an R-ATP, not a full one which benefits you by allowing you to get hired with less hours but does nothing for the airline.



Your degree major does not matter one bit as far as the airlines (regional or major) are concerned, they just want to see a four year degree. There really are no “higher positions” in the airline industry, everything works strictly off seniority.

As for taking advice from ATC guys, I would take ATC advice from them and pilot advice from pilots.


Got it! Thanks everyone

1 Like