Real Answers from Real Pilots

Just starting at age 39 looking for direction

Hi all! I have been reading many topics in this forum the last several days. Thank you Chris, Adam and Tory for helping and answering so many questions from all of us beginners.
I feel quite lost and am in need of some direction. I have completed an intro flight and as I suspected I loved it! I am 39 years old currently working 30 hours a week and attending school averaging 10 credits a semester. At the rate I am going I have 4 years left before I receive my bachelors. I do have a family I need to help support so I can not quit work to focus on aviation.
I am not sure if I should put off aviation until I am closer to my degree or of I should start slowly hacking away at hours now. I am free weekends and a few hours after work or before school. I picture myself getting my CPL, MEI, CFI, and CFII so I can quit my current job and work as an instructor for income and to get hours.
My questions would be, should I wait until I am closer to my degree before starting to pursue aviation? Should I start now so I can quit my current job and be a flight instructor soon as possible? I would typically wait until I have my degree but unfortunately I am not getting any younger and I feel pressure to get going ASAP.
Any guidance would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you!


As always the choice is yours. BUT, if you’re serious about becoming a professional pilot you really need to get moving. While 39 is not old (that’s the age I started) it’s definitely not young either, particularly if you have any aspirations to fly for a Major. At 39 + 4yrs for your BA+ 2.5yrs for training and building time, that puts you at a Regional at about 46, upgrading to Capt probably over 50. Mandatory retirement for airline pilot is 65. That’s all there is. Again if this is something you’re serious about now is the time.


I’m someone in your shoes and am making steps to get my plan going. I’ve asked a similar question here and based on their answers, I would also make whatever arrangements you had to in order to get started now or as soon as you can, quit the job, go through the full-time fast track training, CFI, and hired at one of the airlines ATP has a relationship with, and finish school (possibly online) while there building your hours. I would also take summer courses to get the BA quicker, if they are available. You’ll be working very hard for a long time but at least you’ll squeeze it all in in the shortest time possible and then later, have more time to enjoy the rewards (apparently high pay, flexible schedules, awesome retirement benefits) of all that hard work when you achieve the big goal. Not to say you won’t continue to work hard, but you know what I mean.

Okay, is this realistic? keep in mind I have 2 years before I have my associates. I can do my BS online while I work.
Can I get my CFI, CFII, MEI, CPL on the weekends and the 4 hours that I’m free on Thursdays, all within a year? I can then quit my job and be an instructor full time. I would like to be ready to work for a regional airline a year after that. So if I break this down.

year 1 - earn my CPL etc flying on weekends and 4 hours Thursdays
year 2 - quit my job and be a flight instructor to get my 1500 hours
year 3 - get hired at a regional airline and do BS online
year 4 - continue flying regional and completing BS
year 5 - move on to major airline upon completing BS

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In a perfect world maybe, but this is not a perfect world. First for some reason you don’t mention earning your Private license, your Instrument rating or your Multiengine rating which you’ll need before you get your CPL or CFI’s. Second I’m not sure how much training you think you’ll be doing but blocks longer than 2hrs are counterproductive and any school that would allow you to I would question. Now to just earn your CPL you need at least 250hrs. If you fly 6hrs a week (2hrs each session) that’s 42 weeks straight. That’s now allowing for weather cancellations, maintenance cancellation, instructor or any personal days. That also doesn’t include ground school, saying that you pass every checkride first try AND you haven’t even started working on your CFI’s.

As for the rest of your that means instructing over 125hrs a month which isn’t going to happen (it’s not even legal). The average is 2yrs and that’s at a very busy flight school. After you get hired it’s not simply earning your degree, you’ll need to upgrade at that Regional and build Capt time and maybe, if you’re lucky make it to a Major. Not every does and no one does in 4yrs.

We’re talking about becoming an airline pilot here, something that many people dream of but few actually achieve. It takes YEARS of hard work. It’s not a hobby or something you can squeeze in on weekends. There are no shortcuts or guarantees. I think you need to understand that.


Thank you for the quick reply.

Please forgive me as I feel like I am shooting in the dark and having trouble digging up information. I am simply trying to figure out a realistic timeline if I were to pursue a career in aviation. Unfortunately I only have weekends and Thursdays to commit until I can work full time as an instructor. The ATP website says 2 years to become a pilot with the airlines, so I figured 3 for me as I was having trouble finding detailed information of what the program actually entails. Under Airline career pilot/timeline I think I found more information.

It looks like M-F from 9am to 6pm is what is required for the program? With the free time I currently have to work with (weekends and Thursdays) I am trying to see what it would take for me to realistically complete the program. Again, please forgive me as I feel like I am shooting in the dark.

To reach the goal of becoming a flight instructor it takes 9 months of M-F 9 hours a day. I have 3 days a week I can commit. I come up with 1 year and 2 months to complete with the 3 days a week I have to work with.

My new schedule looks like. Does this look more realistic?

year 1 - Earning CPL, CFI, CFII, MEI (58 weeks)
year 2 - finishing CPL, CFI, CFII, MEI and begin work as an instructor with 10 months left in the year
year 3 - instructor working towards my 1500 hours
year 4 - finish my 1500 hours and be hired at regional airline as first officer
year 7 - move to captain at regional
year 11 - possibility of moving to major airline


No, this is not realistic. To begin with, it will take you much longer than a year to complete all of your ratings with you flying so infrequently. ATP takes nine months and that is with flying everyday. Your schedule sounds extremely limited and it will be further impacted by weather and maintenance delays.

Also, to be at a major five years from now is rather unrealistic. Most pilots have 5-10 years at the regionals alone before moving onto the majors. It isn’t as simple as simply getting a degree.



Here’s my recommendation. Earn your PPL, Instrument, CPL, ME and CFI’s. However long that takes is how long it takes. Then get an instructor job and build your 1500hrs, again, it takes however long it takes. Get hired by a Regional and eventually upgrade, build some turbine PIC and if you’re under 50 maybe apply to a Major.

The reality is training on your own part time introduces so many variables that it’s literally impossible to accurately set a time frame (this is why the airlines, the military AND ATP train daily).


Thanks Cory for your post. I’m 37 myself and am considering a career change back to flying. Honestly I looked at ATP a few years ago and didn’t pursue it and thought I could get my flying going on my own. I am going back to aviation after leaving for a career in medicine which turned out to be a career as a paramedic. I’ve found my ceiling with being a paramedic due to burnout and find aviation calling my name loudly due to all of the changes of late. Right now there is no slow down in demand for pilots anywhere predicted and that includes the majors, regionals and internationals. International doesn’t bother me as I’ve already worked abroad as a paramedic so Emirates is very appealing to me.

With all that said, I know my age is older for this career field but thanks to Adam and his great blog as well as other similar writings on the internet I know I’m not too old. However, it’s now time for my wife and I to make decisions which I’ll be starting down that route by getting back into the cockpit in early Nov. I know that I can still pass a First Class as I recently did so, which I count myself fortunate for this as well.

Thanks again and thank you to all of the pilot mentors for their awesome work here.