I’m looking for a career change and I’ve been seriously considering becoming an airline pilot. I already have a bachelor of science degree and a minor. However, I just turned 42 years old this last January, and I’m not sure it would be a worthwhile investment since the mandatory retirement age is 65. I’m also not even sure that an airline would even bother to take the time to hire someone of my age. I would like to work into being able to move over to a major airline and fly transatlantic flights and am unsure how long it would take to earn a spot doing that. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you
It depends on what your reasons are for starting a new career in aviation. At 42, even with the pandemic, if you start now you could have at least 20 years to fly for the airlines. Btw, yes. I do think that you are marketable. Pre-COVID the oldest I heard pilots were being hired was 60.
How much time will it take for you to work your way through the ranks to make it to a major? No one has the answer to that question. We’re in unknown territory right now. Again, pre-COVID it took about 5-7 years. This is why I began my response with, “It depends what your reasons are…”
Are you doing this for passion? Is this your life-long dream? Do you want to retire doing something you love? Does it not matter (too much) how much money you make doing it? Or is it all about getting to the majors as quickly as possible so you can break into higher earning potential? We all want to have our cake and eat it to, and you might get lucky in that regard, but there are no guarantees in this industry.
One thing that has always been true about the major airlines is that they are the most competitive to get into. Some never do for various reasons. So, I think you should go into this with that in mind. Again, I think 20 years in the industry is plenty of time for you to get there. There are just a lot of steps to take before you’re ready to cross that bridge. So, if you are serious about this then I would not waste time.
Lastly, if you haven’t discovered our FAQ section there’s a lot more helpful information there: Frequently Asked Questions - Airline Pilot Life
Thanks for sending in your questions. Let us know what others you have.
As Tory mentioned, please checkout the FAQ section for a detailed response on pilot age. The short version is that if you act quickly, you could very well be hired by the airlines, including a major, and could someday end up doing transatlantic flights, but not as a captain. Of course, your results may vary based in a whole host of factors, some in your control and some not.
Check out the FAQ post on this topic and then let us know if you have further questions.
Are you saying that I would never get promoted to Captain or just that I wouldn’t start out as a Captain? Is that because of my age?
No one starts as a captain. From the regionals, all the way through the majors you start as a first officer and then eventually upgrade to being a captain. In a 20 year career, you could be a FO at the regionals, then a captain then make it to a major. Then once at the majors, an FO and then a captain again. Each time you move aircrafts, you go back to being an FO. I think what Chris was saying is that you could get to transatlantic flights as an FO but as a Captain, that takes quite a bit of seniority to hold.
Ricky, I sincerely believe that you can achieve whatever you want to. If God is with you, you can move mountains. Good luck, and I hope you achieve your ultimate goal.
I’m the resident old guy here (I started at 39, a little younger than you) and have been pretty fortunate in my career (I’m now a Capt at a Major airline). The thing to consider is there are zero guarantees in aviation. The industry is very often affected by the economy as easily demonstrated by recent events. A little over a year ago the airlines were hiring at levels never seen previously. Now there are pilots on the street due to furloughs. Delta has stated they will never return to their previous capacity. My point is if you’re looking for a “worthwhile investment” this may not be it. If however you’re looking to get paid decent money to fly some pretty cool airplanes you’ve definitely got a shot. If however you won’t be satisfied unless your a 787 Capt flying around the world making $350k that’s probably not going to happen.
I go to church every weekend, but I can tell you that God cannot abrogate seniority lists. Becoming an international captain at a legacy airline requires decades of service to the airline. To just be beginning one’s training at 42 does not allow time for this to happen.