Real Answers from Real Pilots

New Career - Starting training at 40

When I was 11, during the first Gulf War, I decided that I wanted to be a pilot. I had posters of dozens of plane on my bedroom walls. I read all I could. Remember, this was pre-internet and pre-YouTube. But my parents thought that my mind wasn’t gears towards math and science (I only got a 95 in calculus), and steered me towards a profession that involved more writing and research. I went to law school, settled into a career that I never really liked, and always kept looking up. Over the last few years my job has required A LOT of flying. Mostly international. I spend (or SPENT, thanks to COVID) so much time in airplanes and airports that my desire to fly was rekindled. During lockdowns I watched hours and hours of flight videos made by pilots, from training to actual commercial trips.

I want to be a commercial airline pilot. I am fortunate to have the money and won’t need to finance my education or worry about living expenses during training. I’m also not terribly worried about a low starting salary once I get a job. My wife gave me the go-ahead (shockingly enough). You only live once.

I haven’t done my intro flight and obviously won’t make any decisions without doing that first.

I just wanted to hear the experiences of others, what it’s like to learn to fly from scratch in your 40s, getting a new career started, the experience and all that. I know, at best, I wouldn’t get a regional job until I’m 43 or 44. I’m OK with that.

Thanks for all the great insights and advice on this page.

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There are hundreds of older starters experiences. Just do a search on here. Great stories of success and failures. This forum is full of great information for the beginner and the experienced. Just do a search for your keywords and you will see.

Tons of great information and great people who will not stir you wrong or over shadow the responsibility and challenges of starting later.

Good luck and have fun. Lots of time, but be realistic with your expectations of course.

Scott,

Lucky for all of us, we only need basic algebra to fly. Side note, 95 on a Calculus test is good, in my opinion. I took Calc I-III and Differential Equations and I had to retake Calc II. Those classes are tough. And here I am. I’ve never had to use Calculus again.

Starting aviation at 40 is not a new idea. In fact, I believe the average age is 35. As Darrell said, there’s plenty of info on here on the subject.

Tory

Scott,

As far as “experiences” go feel free to read my bio. I started ATP at 39 and I’m now a Capt at a Major airline. There have been some ups and downs (no pun intended) but it was the best decision I ever made. I’ve got the greatest job on Earth. I get paid really well to fly some really cool equipment, have seen the world and hang with some great people. The biggest obstacle for most it’s the cost of training and maintaining your finances at the beginning. Usually I include some caveat about sacrifice but if you’re set up well then there really isn’t anything to talk about in that area.

Only question I guess is what are you waiting for?

Adam

Tory, thanks for the feedback. I was being sarcastic about ONLY getting a 95 in calculus. My parents were very strict with out education. I was getting 100s in history and other humanities, my brother got 100s in math. So they pushed him in that direction.

I’m reading up on the other posts on this page about flying as a second career. It’s all super valuable and very inspiring.

Adam,

Thanks so much for the feedback! I was just reading one of your earlier posts from 2017 about your experience, and it is very inspiring.

My biggest concern is the future of the industry. With COVID I know that there have been major cutbacks, and I’m sure just job market has shrunk by tens of percents. I wouldn’t been looking for a job for a couple of years. But is there any chatter about what 2022 and 2023 look like? Would an older, newer pilot be at a disadvantage in the job market purely based on age (I know outright discrimination is illegal, but still)? Wouldn’t new pilots just be pushed to the back of the line when re-hiring starts?

As for the education itself, while I haven’t been in school in over 15 years, I have had to do continuing education every year throughout my career. But no one ever tested me on it. Is the transition back to the classroom that difficult? Also, my field is all reading and writing and analysis and arguing (convincing). I’m worried about transitioning to a more numbers and science field.

I do think I have a huge advantage with customer service. I have my own business and I’ve been dealing with clients for decades. Whatever my professional weaknesses, I’m generally good with the clients. I hope airlines would appreciate that.

Thanks again for the feedback, I’ll keep reading and keep coming up with questions.

Stay safe,
Scott

Scott,

As far as the industry goes let me start my saying no one has a crystal ball and can say for certain but here’s my take. Before the Zombie Apocalypse of 2020 started, the US (and the world for that matter) was suffering from a HUGE pilot shortage (caused to a great extent by the large number of retirements due the next 5-10yrs). Basically if you had the licenses, 1500hrs and a pulse you got a job. Then as we all know the world went upside and the airlines were hit hard. The greatest challenge all the airlines confronted was how do we stop the bleeding. They were literally losing tens of millions a day which of course is unsustainable. While furloughing pilots seemed like one the simplest remedies it really isn’t. First furloughs go in reverse seniority so you’re getting rid of the lowest paid pilots. That means to make a substantial dent you need to furlough ALOT of them. Second unlike other jobs you can’t just flip a switch and bring pilots back and have them flying when you need them. Pilots will lose currency and there’s also a recall process which can take some time. This would prevent the airlines from being able to capitalize on a quick recovery, holiday flying etc. The solution then was to get rid of those high paid senior Capt’s at the top. One senior Capt costs as much 4-5 junior guys so all the airlines started offering some pretty attractive early retirements and a few thousand pilots gladly signed up. Now remember up top when I talked about the pilot shortage and retirements being a principle cause? Well once business is back to normal (which it most certainly will be) not only have the airlines not done anything to address the shortage, they’ve actually exacerbated it. Will we be back to getting hired with just a pulse? Maybe not right away but there will be jobs. In fact there are still jobs now despite the zombies. As for being older, you’re older you’re not old. Regionals as a rule actually prefer older pilots. Were generally more responsible, have a better work ethic and there also a chance you’ll stay for a while. Every 20yo that gets hired at a Regional only has one thought in their head, “how soon will Delta call so I can get out of here?”. At a Regional it won’t be long before you build some seniority, have a decent schedule etc. There are plenty of older pilots who decide to hang for a while. Not saying you’ll have to buy there’s a chance and that makes you a better return of their investment. Same goes for the Majors. Training pilots is expensive. FO Millenial wants to get every type rating they can and is constantly bidding up. Again the older pilot often realizes quality of life is more important than flying the new shiny 7x7 and may just sit tight. Again that makes you a good investment.

Yes it’s magic that makes airplanes fly but for some reason there’s this belief you need be a math and science whiz to be a pilot. Fortunately that’s not the case because I’m sure not. That said there are volumes of information you will need to learn. Personally I’ve always been a good student but I must admit I had kind of forgotten how to study. The good news it will come back. The bad news is it’s definitely challenging but also definitely doable if you’re willing to put in the time and effort.

While it’s great to have good customer service skills we’re the guys upfront with the door locked and we’re rarely called upon to interact with the public. Nice skill to have but not really an advantage from a hiring perspective. Unless you want to save your money and become a flight attendant :slight_smile:

Adam

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Ha! I’m glad that was sarcasm.

It’s too soon to predict what things will look like. What we do know is that furlough numbers are way down from originally reported, cargo and corporate are doing well, and a few regionals have begun to open the hiring window again. Albeit a small window, but a window nonetheless.

Age won’t put you in a disadvantaged position. Everything is based on your date of hire, or seniority. The sooner you get in the better things are, generally speaking. Yes, the newer you are the harder your chances are. All the more reason not to wait!

I don’t know how to quantify the difficulty of transitioning back to the classroom. I think as long as you have a hard work ethic, which it appears you do, and have realistic expectations, you’ll do well. We have some exceptional students that chime in on the forum from time to time. They committed to the program wholeheartedly and followed the guidance in our FAQ section: https://airlinepilot.life/c/frequently-asked-questions/19

Tory

“You’re older, not old.” Well said. I appreciate the job market insight, and it all makes sense. Honestly, I don’t know at this point exactly what job I’d want. And I don’t think I’d be expected to know at this point. Regional, major, international, corporate, cargo… it all sounds cool at this point. I’ll keep my options open. I have a good friend who is a cargo pilot for Atlas, an he absolutely loves it. I’m not a gung ho millennial at this point in my life (I think we’re Generation Y). But I am ambitious and I love learning new things. And I’m curious to see how I’ll react as a full time student again.

Regarding customer service… I have ZERO interest in being a flight attendant :-). I just keep seeing “customer service” on all the job ads for pilots, I thought it would help. As a passenger, I appreciate pilots with good customer service. I expect the cabin crew to be skilled at this. But when a pilot goes above and beyond, it really builds loyalty for me with the airline. In March, right as the Zombie Apocalypse was getting under way, I had a flight from TLV to AMS on KLM. I’d taken that route probably 50 times in the last 3 years. Never a delay. Ever. Well this plane had a hydraulics problem. We kept getting off and on the plane, being told “2 more hours” multiple times. At some point the captain and FO came near the passengers at the gate and I went over to talk to him. I asked what was really going on, and he explained in detail about the hydraulic fluid being contaminated and the options for repair and replacement, but also the calculation of hours the crew had left. Ultimately the flight was cancelled and rescheduled for the next morning (a HUGE problem because I had a connecting flight to Atlanta and I needed to be at my office). But… because the captain took the 30 seconds to explain everything to me in a professional manner, I wasn’t upset. And I re-booked on KLM (though I had options) and flew the next day. I’m still loyal to KLM (Flying Blue Platinum for 2 years), but they aren’t flying to TLV right now. With attorneys we called it the “white coat effect,” something we stole from doctors. When a customer hears something from the flight attendant… meh. When it’s from the captain, it carries a lot more weight.

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Tory,Adam,

Great insight, this is encouraging being I am 40 years of age myself. Scott, Good luck!

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There were a hand full of students over the age of 35 while I was going through. Its not that uncommon and you would still have plenty of career time left to make captain before hitting the age limit. I myself am 35 and graduated recently from atp.
Unfortunately with covid it does put a different light on the industry. If you had 1500 hours right now it would be difficult to find a job. Some of my old instructors that hit the 1500 mark were kicked to the curb to make room for new ones at atp and there jobs at mesa/ American airlines are gone. They have had to look for jobs in other industries now.
The real issue you will have at this point is getting your first job. You will be competing with people who have close to or over 1000 hours and actual experience as an instructor.
My mei instructor came over a couple weeks ago with a grown out beard and I asked if atp is allowing beards now lol he said nope I haven’t flown in 3 weeks cause we don’t have any students.
Others are having issues paying the 800 in rent they owe atp for using their housing. And when I say having issues I mean after a month of work they owe atps hundreds because they flew that little due to not enough students to go around.

Covid has put the entire industry in a bad place right now im sure you have seen the news. That plan of being hired by a major by 43 or 44 should be pushed another few years IF and a big if, is all based on the airlines getting back to pre covid revenue and IF kids are still flocking to be pilots so you have a job for a couple years to build that 1500 hours.

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John,

Clearly the industry is going through a rough patch right at this moment. That said while the airlines are no longer fighting over pilots, there are jobs to be found. Just take a look at our new mentor Hannah’s bio. She was all set to go to SkyWest when they pulled the plug. She can speak for herself but I’m sure it was a blow. To her credit she pivoted, changed course and is now flying a Citation. That’s a lesson of how to be successful in this industry.

Personally I believe the shortage got us all a little spoiled as the path to the airlines was almost guaranteed. The fact is it wasn’t always that way it was and historically this is closer to normal than the boom was.

Regardless the food chain always speeds up and slows down but good pilots with persistence and a the right attitude will always find a way. I’m also not sure showing up for work with a beard while people are fighting for jobs is the smartest move but to each their own.

Adam

Just putting my side of the story in and what Ive seen first hand at this current time. Didn’t say he was showing up to work with a beard in the slightest. I said he had grown one because he had no work. Please don’t twist my words, I’m not here for an argument. There always two sides to a coin.

Scott, if you have any questions feel free to pm me. Otherwise good luck and I wish you the best.

Hey guys!
It absolutely is a different world out there right now. I agree, for those of us who started atp about two years ago possibilities seemed endless. Getting job offers from three regional airlines with a CFI and 300 hours was crazy. We got so used to that idea we got spoiled. We are getting a taste of the unpredictable side of the industry right away now but the sooner you accept it and pivot and find out how to find a different course, the better. Don’t get in the rut over your peers nearing 1500 hours, getting released from their instructing jobs thinking there is no where to go. Be a pilot that thinks in the solution, not the problem. Start networking now, whether you’re at 500 hours or 1300 hours. You never know who you will meet and what it could lead to. Don’t get me wrong, don’t be brown-Nosing around the FBO, just be genuine and outgoing and if the opportunity presents itself you’ll know. Get your resume current and ask as many mentors as you can to review it and take their critiques. Do your research on each company you are applying to and make a custom cover letter specific to them. Employers can sniff out a vague catch all cover letter from a mile away. If you won’t take the time to write a one page cover letter specific to them right now with the industry like it is, they won’t give you their time. Show initiative. Connect with other pilots at the company on linked in and introduce yourself and ask how they like being at the company and if they had any advice… Every week I would send out at least 5 resumes and I did it for months until I started hearing back. Don’t get discouraged if it’s silence for weeks, one day you will get a call or email back and it will all be worth it.

-Hannah

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Scott,

Aviation for me is my second career as I began training at ATP at the age of 37. However I am a special case. I did get my Private from a Mom & Pop in 2002 when I was in college, and then transferred to an Aviation University. At the young age of 21 I had the decision of spending 100k on a Bachelors & Flight Training, or 40k on the Bachelors only. So I backed off on the flight training and went ahead and got my Bachelors for 40k.

After college I briefly worked for a Part 135 operation for 2 years, and then jumped into a IT Sales Career for 12 years through 2019. Which brings me to starting ATP as a Credit Private in 2019 with a quoted price of 60k - so either way I have spent 100k on my education and flight training.

Flight Instructing for 25k a year to me is way better than IT sales making 100K a year, because this is the FIRST job that I have truly LOVED! Doing what you LOVE is the most important work you can do. I have never been happier!

Last week I was accepted into the United Aviate program, so now I am preparing for a future career with United. Over the next 25 years I will have out-earned what I would have in IT over that same time, but most importantly I’ll be happy doing what I love and that’s what matters. I imagine there are possibly Airline Pilots who hate their jobs out there, and my recommendation no-matter who you are and what you do is - Stop doing what you hate and find something that you Love!

A big factor in my success in the ATP program was the fact that I did have a Private Certificate entering the program, a College Degree, work experience, but the biggest most important reason (I’ll say it Again) is that I LOVE aviation. Find a passion and follow it!

-Sean

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Hi Scott, I will turn 60 years old this year and start class in a month with a Regional airline. And I don’t have any previous airline flying experience. Anything can happen in this crazy industry so if the passion is there, jump in with both feet. The view from the office is second to none.

Best,

Kyle

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