New Career

I am actually making a career change. I have a Bachelor Degree in Sociology and decided to go to ATP for my new career. I am 44 years old, and I am planning to start at ATP on September 5th, 2016. Hoping to have my Commercial and CFI by February 5th. What are my chances to get a job with a regional like Compass and then moving to a major? I want the real answer, not a … “Off course you can, anything is possible.” Please be as specific as possible.

Hello Hunter and Welcome!

You mean you don’t believe that just because you hand over the cash you can and WILL be an airline pilot? Hunter my friend I gotta tell you you’re a breath of fresh air! The reason you have your doubts is because you’ve been out in the real world, you’re a grown up and you understand not much in life is guaranteed so kudos for asking the question. When I was in your position I thought the same thing and was very suspicious of the hype. Ok enough of my ranting, let’s talk.

Believe it or not your chances are excellent. That’s not a sales pitch or motivational pep talk (I don’t do either). Right now is honestly the best time in recent history to get into the industry. Due to a combination of regulatory changes and economics (1500hr Rule, Retirement Age pushed to 65 and the cost of training) a Perfect Storm of sorts was formed creating a legitimate and very real pilot shortage in this country. Regionals can’t find enough bodies to fill classes. Many have had to cancel flights due to staffing issues. Don’t believe me? Visit the Regional websites, they’re begging for pilots! Regionals will now interview you with only a few hundred hours while you’re still a new instructor at ATP, invite you in for a tour and visit with the Chief Pilot (something I’m sure they love to do?) and the biggest tell? The Regionals have almost doubled first year pay! Raising pay at an airline is literally the last resort. Honestly these things are unheard of and the Majors are hiring in droves as well. Good times.

So am I willing to say Hunter relax, no problem, you’re absolutely guaranteed you’re going to be an airline pilot? No and I never will. The environment is without question ideal but there’s still some stuff YOU have to do. I don’t know you and have no reason to think you won’t do well in training but what if you don’t? Flying isn’t rocket science or brain surgery but the reality is it does take a level of intelligence and coordination to do it and frankly not everyone can. Maybe you have mad flying skilz but you’re just an abrasive obnoxious individual (again I have no reason to think that’s the case) and rub the interviewers the wrong way? Much less likely but it does happen.

Long short, provided you do well in training your chances are excellent you’ll get hired at a Regional, even continue to a Major (if you chose to which is another conversation) and you’ll have a great career in aviation. But if you want guarantees go to Vegas :wink:




Welcome to the forums and thanks for posting. You have come to the right place as I firmly believe in setting very realistic expectations, especially for the later in life career changers.

Right now you have twenty years of flying left before you. You are likely going to spend 2-3 years in training and instructing, meaning 17 years left. From there you will move to a regional airline where you might spend 5-10 years. Worst case scenario being 10 years, that leaves you with 7 left to fly for a major. Ordinarily I would tell you that this isn’t enough time for a major to hire you, but we have had guys hired here at United recently that were well into their upper fifties, so there is a possibility.

Of course, if you manage to get through the regionals in less than ten years you will be greatly increasing your odds of being hired at a major. The key to moving on from the regionals quickly is upgrading to captain as quickly as possible. Upgrade times are not always easy to predict.

Overall, I would say that you have a chance of being hired at a major, but I would also prepare for a career with the regionals.

Let me know what other questions you have and good luck in training!


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I appreciate this post, because I myself am 37 and have seriously decided (in my head at least) to go ATP sometime in the summer next year. I was wondering however, if I do go in the summer next year, I will be 38. Assuming that I go the traditional Fast Track at ATP, then I will be 40 by the time I get hired by a regional. I would like to eventually fly a midsize jet (737 or 757) though and was wondering if becoming a 757 could be a reality as well? Or at my age would it more pertinent to stick to regional jets?

Hey Jerry,

I appreciate that you appreciate this post :grin: Short answer is yes I believe flying a 757 at your age could definitely be a reality. Seriously 40 isn’t old at all. I was hired by ExpressJet at 41 and then by Hawaiian at 49 and the prospects weren’t half as good for new pilots then as they are now. I was at ExpressJet for almost 9, suffered through being downgraded and a very unstable economy with fuel prices at $160 a barrel. The airline industry is seeing the highest profits in history. They’re expanding and most importantly for you, they’re hiring.

That said with all the demand Regional salaries and work rules have gotten a whole lot better. What that means is after you’re at a Regional for X number of years, have built some seniority (ie, have a great schedule) and are making over $100k will you want to go back to the bottom to fly for a Major? There are pros and cons to both and I know pilots who are on both sides on this one. By the time you’re in a position to make the decision you may have gone back and forth many time OR you’ll still have that desire to fly something BIG. There’s no right or wrong answer but I sincerely believe that if you still have the goal to fly the 757 (a pretty sexy airplane) you will be able to.


Thanks Adam, I appreciate the advice! I do have another question, though. That is when I do transition from a regional airline to a major airline, would I have to fly a smaller MD-80/90 or could I automatically go from a regional airline to a 757? I’m guessing that depends on the level of seniority each particular airline has?

Good question Jerry,

And one that’s very misunderstood. As I’ve often said seniority is everything but what exactly does that mean? It means the senior guys get to pick first. If everybody wants a drumstick and there’s only 2 the senior guys get the drumsticks and the junior guys get the gizzards. But let’s just say (for whatever reason) your guys like gizzards and not the drumsticks, well then you just might get one. I’m a morning person. As a brand new pilot at Hawaiian I bid AND GOT am’s because most pilots wanted pm’s. Everyone naturally “assumes” the bigger planes are the senior planes. That my friend is ego. The real reason bigger planes go senior is because most airlines pay you more to fly bigger airplanes. So bigger = more money. Now UPS pays a flat rate based solely on seniority regardless of the airplane which is why the 747 is not the most senior airplane at UPS. All things being equal pay wise, most pilots will opt for schedule and lifestyle. Look at Chris and United. He was on the 767 but he bid back to the 737 for a better quality of life. I went to the A330 simply to check the BIG airplane box but I will be going back to the 717. What this all means is let’s say you get hired at XYZ Air and the 777 happens to fly all redeyes or limited routes. As the newest pilot you may very well find yourself assigned to the 777 despite the fact it’s bigger and pays more. Again seniority matters in that YOU get to make the choices, but don’t always assume that means bigger. Make sense?

Short answer you may be flying a 757 day one at a Major, or, you may not.



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I am practically in the same situation as others. I am 36 years old and a small business owner here in Virginia. Due to the strenuous work my company performs, i am continuously coming home in pain and feeling just plain wore out. About 8 months ago i had a reality check. My kids came to me and said that when i was home, that i was always to tired to spend any time with them. That was gut wrenching. It also got me to thinking, as a small business owner what am i doing for my future. ( no retirement , no education for my kids etc.) As much as i love being a business owner, i knew that i needed to make a change. I have always had a passion for flying, just always thought it was out of my reach due to cost.

So, at 36 years old i have have started taking my private pilots licence here locally and have obtained financing to start ATP as soon as i can work out some other factors. I too am having a hard time swallowing the fact that for several months while in training at ATP i will have ZERO income coming into my household. And then once completed with training being very hopeful to get a job offer with the Richmond ATP . With that said, the CFI position doesn’t come close to supporting the income needed to survive. Is there another option? sure… no one forces you to take a position with ATP, but where else are you going to gain hours in that amount of time ? I have been going back and forth for weeks trying to convince myself that at 36 this is the right choice… but let me reassure you… I am feeling the pressure. I dont like to fail… and to take on 70k in debt, and start back at the bottom, with hopes of making it someday really leaves alot of questions… I know that if i take the leap that i have the drive and determination to make it happen. Those factors i can control… Its all the other variables that are beyond my control that make this decision very hard.


Just curious, how was it when you started your own business? The reason I’m asking is before I was an airline pilot I too was self employed as a restaurant owner. While the thought of taking out the loan for ATP didn’t give me the warm fuzzies, I have to say taking my life savings and purchasing a business knowing full well that 80% of small businesses (especially restaurants) fail in the first year was considerably scarier. Factor in the current hiring environment and flying is an even safer bet. Now perhaps you had help I didn’t? But knowing I was successful before under worse conditions, the thought of a better life for me and my family (incl a retirement and benefits) and I was able to make what I felt was a solid decision (albeit still with some risk).


Adam & Eric,

Thanks for the responses ! Adam, when i started my business it was from the ground up and i did it without any help. Your right, those were some trying times as well. I guess the only difference would be that at least with my business i knew what i was doing prior to starting the business vs. flying… Its foreign language to me right now, so there is a little intimidation factor there. I am actually heading out the door now to ATP Richmond, I have an Intro Training Flight there this morning and a tour of the facility with my wife. Hopefully together we can figure out this journey :slight_smile:

Eric, like you… i dont think my wife is ready to move… so i will most likely be doing the commute as well. Im just hoping that when the time comes i draw the lucky straw.

Thanks again for all your fast responses. I will update later after i get back from ATP



Where in Virginia do you live? You might find that you are driving distance to IAD or DCA, where there are plenty of bases. Don’t think of it in terms of driving every day, you will likely get multi day trips and thus only do the drive once a week. I lived in Virginia Beach for many years, I was Newark based, but many of the DC based pilots simply drove to work.

Let us know how the tour goes. In the not so distant past I was an instructor at ATP RIC.



I live in the Williamsburg / New Kent area. I would not have a problem driving to either of those locations. Both are great options.

As far as the ATP tour goes… My wife and I are on the fence. We had alot of questions and we got alot of answers. They just were not ones that we were hoping for. We got the opportunity to speak with one of senior CFI’s at the Richmond Location. He has been a CFI for just over 2 years and wont be leaving for another few months. Admissions said that they try to give each CFI around 3-4 students. There are 5 CFI’s at this location with 6 students. So only 1 CFI has 2 students and the rest only have one student each. This concerned me, which provoked further questions. If only 1 student , how many hours were they averaging a month towards there flight time. And i was told that they are barely getting 40 hours a month. Admissions also originally told me that the average CFI is making about $2,200 a month and the CFI’s i spoke with said that they were really only making about $460 every 2 weeks.

At this point i was starting to feel really overwhelmed. I really want to do this entire process thru ATP because of what they offer, however there is no guarantee that you will get your hours in to be ready for Airline Pilot within the 2 year period. Atleast not at this location. Also they told me that even though i come in with my Private Pilot and do the 100 day 100 hour multi engine coarse ( 3.5 months) that i should expect it to take closer to 5.5 months instead.

While being alittle frustrated from what i was hearing i was then offered to go fly one of the newer Archers. I couldnt pass up that opportunity. Up in the air and soaring thru the skys seemed to help in the moment. Atleast for that hour :slight_smile:

Safely back on the ground, i then had to face my wife and the ride home… I understand that being a pilot takes great commitment and often times takes you away from your family. And thats not what this is about. I am prior military. I am used to being away from family. What i am currently facing is the uncertainty of starting school with a large $60K + debt along with being out of work for what i assumed was only going to be less than 4 months and now possibly less than 6. And then to take a job as a CFI where im not even making what i was initially told. So , needless to say we are trying to let that all settle in,

I am not opposed to taking a CFI position within ATP somewhere else, if there was a GUARANTEE that i would be getting my hours and a minimum of what they originally told me. ($2,200 a month minimum ) I also understand that as a CFI i could go to numerous other flight schools in the area and probably get a job, but losing out on many of the benefits that ATP has to offer. ( ie tuition reimbursement )

With all that said… I know that i want to take the coarse… its a matter of figuring out how to make it happen when there are more uncertainties than there are guarantees. And this decision does not just effect myself, but my wife , and my 2 children who count on me.

I would be interested if in addition to Chris, if Adam and Eric had opinions on your findings also.

Hey Dan,

Reagan addressed his email to Chris so I was laying back to give him the chance to respond first, BUT since you invited me to the party here goes. First off it’s been quite a while since I was an instructor (over 10 yrs). But I have a few questions of my own:
For the Senior CFI, how many hours does he have to date and has been a CFI for 2 yrs or has it been 2 yrs total including his training? Have they been getting the “barely 40hrs” the entire time they’ve been there or only recently? And how long have they been there themselves? As for the pay it’s not really making sense to me as even at the bare minimum $1000 a month and 40hrs and zero other add-ons (writtens, sim, etc) you’d be making more than the $460 they quote?

Ok let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say everything they said is accurate. Many people hear and read things then turn them into promises in their own minds. ATP does try to supply each instructor 3-4 students but obviously there will be highs and lows as in any business. If no one signs up to train in RIC for next month should they send the RIC instructors home that month? Make them move to a new location? Or should the instructors maybe suck it up? The reality is while I truly understand and appreciate that everyone would love to have guarantees, this life (and career) offers few. ATP can no more guarantee anyone a minimum amount of flight hours anymore than they can guarantee you’ll be able to pass all your exams and become a pilot. Further more they also can’t guarantee the fact that an airline might really have a problem with a particular individual and not offer them a position at all. If you get accepted to Harvard do they guarantee you a law degree and a position with the firm of your choice? No, they don’t. I’ll tell you what ATP says, they say they will provide you top level professional training for a fixed guaranteed price. They then promise you if you are successful as a student you will have a guaranteed instructor job waiting for you and on the average (based on past performance) most pilots find themselves at a Regional by year 2. That’s it and I’ve never heard them promise more or less AND they’ve been successfully doing what they do for over 3 decades. If you can find a better job, hey go crazy but ATP says if not we’ve got one for you and we’ll try and get you out asap. Trust me it’s not in ATP’s best interest to keep you around, paying you a guaranteed salary any longer then they need to.

I have to be honest, this is kind of a sore subject for me so I apologize if I sound bothered. A little history, back when I decided to pursue aviation as my career 13 yrs ago I visited virtually every flight school I could including ATP in Stuart FL. When I arrived there were 2 very young peckerhead instructors who basically blew me off. They told me the training was incredibly tough, no one helps and they’re not paid to show me around, oh and btw I was too old, bu-bye. I crossed ATP off my list. I continued my search with little success and decided to maybe go to a local flight school. I was very fortunate that the manager at the school I visited was an ATP graduate and told me ATP was where I needed to go. I asked why he wasn’t there instructing or at a Regional and he informed me due to personal reasons (divorce, small children and other issues) he needed to be close for now but would be soon. I told him what I encountered during my visit and he said unfortunately while ATP does an exceptional job training pilots, they have no salesman and often the instructors you encounter at their locations don’t feel it’s their job to sell or even welcome/encourage new students. He encouraged me to give them another shot so I visited the ATP in HEF (no longer there) where I met an exceptional instructor/person named Royce. While Royce also wasn’t a salesman, he took some time and told me what ATP was and what it wasn’t. That ATP prepares you for the airlines and airline training and many people don’t like that. The airlines won’t hold your hand and let you work at your own pace and neither will ATP. Some people, even those that get through don’t like that and find it cause to complain. Royce told me ATP would deliver on every promise they make and offer me the opportunity to be successful BUT I had to work for it. Sounded fair so I signed up. I was given my first choice of locations, Trenton NJ (not a particularly popular site). I was told the average hrs were 75 per mos. One month I flew 100, some 60, one winter month with a lot of snow I only flew 25. The other instructor at my location cried the whole time “they promised me!..”. I stayed late, worked weekends, welcomed new students who visited and volunteered to proctor all the tests. He complained none of that was his job, no problem, his right, his choice. Well ATP also told me I’d probably instruct for 1 year (this was prior to the 1500hr Rule), I was hired by ExpressJet (again my first choice) after 5 mos. and now I fly the A330 for the oldest Major airline in the US (again my first choice). The other instructor? He eventually quit after a year and went to work in the printing business with his in-laws. BUT, if I had only listened to the first guys, I honestly don’t believe I’d be a pilot right now, hence my tone.

While again I understand and appreciate that Reagan and his wife would’ve have much preferred to hear a very rosey warm and fuzzy picture, I’m almost glad they didn’t. The prospect of being successful are the best they’ve ever been in this industry but it’s definitely not easy and no one is going to just hand it to you (not saying Reagan believes they will nor am I directing this at him in particular). There will be set backs and possibly disappointments which is why I personally believe (and others don’t) that you really need to have a passion for it. I’ll tell you an interesting phenomenon I encounter far too often since I’ve been flying (and I’m talking from when I was a student all the way till now). You will be sitting next to pilots at the same company as you doing the same job, some will swear it’s the greatest job on Earth others will swear it’s one step away from indentured servitude. Blows my mind. The question is which one are you going to be?




I can see where you would have more questions after your tour. I am not involved in any of the day to day, so I cannot comment as to how much flight time instructors are getting. Forty hours per month does seem on the low side. My bet is if this continues to be the case the company will reduce the amount of instructors at that particular location. When I was an instructor I averaged about 80 hours per month.

5.5 months to do the program seems long to me, I would have to ask more questions about why it was taking that long and I would certainly follow up with the admissions guys on that one.

I am not sure that any flight school anywhere will be able to give you an absolute guarantee on getting flight time. All flight schools are subject to the ups and downs of trainings.

You are right in that it there are a lot of uncertainties in the industry, there are in most. The first few years are not the most financially rewarding, but the payoff in the end can be pretty darn good.

Have your wife take a look at my “Flying the Line” sub forum, that might give her some idea what the industry is really like and why you want to join it.


Thanks Chris, I decided to go all out and I am starting at ATP in Riverside CA on October 3. I am really excited. Thanks for the info.


That is great news! I am so excited for you. If you have time during your training please come back and let me know how your training goes.

Good luck!


Adam, Chris , Eric,

Thanks to all that are contributing… I am very appreciative… Adam, dont feel like you need to wait to chime in. I appreciate everyone’s words of wisdom.

Let me first say, i hope i didnt come off as dumping on ATP. I agree with all of you, they seem to have a great program. I am still going to ATP, its just a matter of when. The school loan has already been approved, im just going thru the process of figuring out personal finances to get me thru my training time with ATP.

As i expected ATP admissions did contact me after my visit to ask how everything went. I explained much of the same concerns that i stated here. The gentleman at admissions that i spoke with said yes, he sees that they have a shortage of students at that location and that most likely ATP will be making some adjustments to accommodate. He also said that with his experience most people do take approximately 120 days to finish the 100 day program.

I wanted to clarify something from my previous message as well. My meeting was with the Senior CFI , however there was another CFI in the room while we were there and he was partaking in the conversation as well. He was the one that stated he was only getting about 40 hours and around $460 every two weeks. But i believe he is also paying for housing from his check, so maybe that accounts for an additional $300 a month… not sure. Also you asked about how long the Senior CFI was there. He told us that he had been a CFI for just over 2 years, and that he was at another location previous to this one and was expecting to be completed with his hours sometime around November of this year.

I fully agree and understand where each of you are coming from. It has to be a passion ! And it is ! I have no doubt that once i start on this journey it will have its lows… sometimes its very lows… but in the end… hopefully a very rewarding life for myself and my family. I agree with your comment Adam. I am glad as well that they didn’t paint a rosey picture. I want the truth. I want to hear and know everything that i can about whats to be expected.

Again, I am not upset at ATP or anyone for that matter, and i dont want to come across as complaining or whining about anything. It was just a small step back from the hopes we had set in our minds and based off ATPs website of 100 days, and “ready for the airlines in 2 years” vs what we heard and experienced during our tour. With all of that said and as previously stated. I still have every intention of going thru ATP, it just may take me a little longer to set aside that security blanket of funds to offset my time with ATP. While the regional pay isn’t the greatest, i can at least manage based off of that, and most of them have guarantee minimums per month which adds some comfort.

As for now, time to head to the airport and hop in the left seat of a 172 and go get some hours in before the sun goes down :slight_smile: