I’ve been lurking on this site for a little while trying to soak up as much information as I can. I’m amazed by the responsiveness of the pilot mentors and appreciate both the time you take out of your schedules and your candid and thoughtful responses.
A little background: Since graduating from law school in 2012 I have been practicing law in NYC and internationally, and in March I finally paid off my (substantial) law school debt. Perhaps because of the combination of that psychological and financial weight lifting, coupled with the stress and hours of this job and rarely seeing my wife and kids, I’ve recently allowed my mind to really question whether the path I’m on makes sense in the long term since I’m not excited about the work and I feel you have to be to really survive–and certainly get to the top–where I am. I know there are other legal jobs that could provide better work/life balance, but when I really remove all constraints and think about what I want to do, I don’t want to take any opportunities in other fields off the table.
My posting on this forum tells you what I’ve realized I’d rather be doing. Once I realized I want to fly airplanes I’ve wanted nothing more than to quit my job tomorrow and start at ATP and be working at an airline as soon as possible. Pragmatically speaking, while having paid off $200k in law school debt is nice, I’ve essentially just broken even and I feel it only makes sense to work at least another year and a half (basically through 2018 year-end bonus) to have saved enough of a cushion to pay for flight school and supplement income to support my family through the lean times that would follow in the ensuing years while working up to a major. I would be remiss to not say I’m very grateful and appreciative of the job and opportunities that I have now. Being realistic, I recognize that (even if I wasn’t getting into aviation 15-20 years late) I wouldn’t make as much money even as a 777 captain at a major airline as I did last year as a lawyer. The pragmatist in me sees my law school and legal career as (at least) a fall back should things not work out—call it a temporary leave of absence while I chased a mid-life crisis. The emotional side doesn’t want to look back though—all in.
I’m 35 now, if I were to follow the above plan I’d start ATP beginning of 2019 (I’d basically just be turning 37), starting at a regional at 39 and hopefully working at a major by mid-40s with another 20 years or so of flying ahead of me. I realize there are many factors that would be outside my control. I see that it’s a good market to be hired by regionals right now and that generally bodes well, but here are my questions:
• How do you see this trend evolving in the next 2-4 years (and by extension, how do you see it impacting seniority/upgrade times and hiring at the majors over the coming decade)? Obviously factors at individual airlines vary greatly, and I appreciate that you’re not here to provide a full industry analysis, but I value your experience and perspective and any thoughts you have on a macro level are appreciated.
• I understand that a 4-year degree is needed for the majors, and I imagine being competitive on flight hours is really what matters, but I’m wondering if, beyond that, any advanced degree (e.g. an Ivy League law degree, hypothetically) or non-flying experience on the resume helps at the margins?
• Getting a bit ahead of myself here, and I realize I’m oversimplifying as there are other important factors to consider, but stripping those away for the sake of argument, is it fair to say that the quicker your path to captain at a regional, the quicker you could potentially accrue the necessary minimums to become a candidate for the majors? I realize that things change suddenly and upgrade times might look entirely different at a given airline at different points in time, but I just want to understand if my premise is accurate.
• Finally, I see on ATP’s website that the schedule mentions weekends being off. I’ve also seen commentary on the forum about flight instructors often working weekends. How does this work? Is there generally just flexibility between instructor and student to create a mutually workable schedule? Presumably as an instructor it would be nice to work as much as possible to get as many hours as possible quickly. I know ATP has to distribute instructors at the various locations as necessary to balance supply and demand, but how much control do you have as an individual flight instructor to try to get more hours?
Thanks again for your tireless help and support for those of us aspiring to do what you’ve done.