Professional Pilot Prospects - Starting Later in Life

Good evening everyone, I just found this forum and thought a would submit a post to see what responses I get, which will be helpful as I am preparing for a career change into the aviation career field.

Although I have always wanted to make aviation a career, due to family circumstances and financial issues it was never feasible. Now, as I am nearing 38 years old, I have found myself in a unique position, in that for the first time in my life, financially speaking; paying for flight school is possible. I have been fortunate in that I have made good real-estate investments and plan to use the equity in the house I currently own to fund this venture. Now with that being said funding flight school is still expensive, so I am still cautious in moving forward as anyone making life altering decisions like this should be.

My biggest concern isn’t funding flight school, or that I will be quitting my $106,000 a year job (that I absolutely hate and am unhappy with). This is because my spouse has a relatively decent job that provides a second income that will get us through the training period I will endure while at flight school. My biggest concern is my age, my return on investment, and what opportunities will be available with the airlines if I perform well without regard to the fact that I am starting this training at 38 years old.

My expectation is that I will train for roughly the first year (I am considering ATP in Texas), and then instruct for the next 2 years (I understand this can vary) as I build up my time to achieve the 1500 hours for an ATP. My goal (who knows this could change) is to start working at a regional airline after I have built up enough time to be considered for the position, and then work my way up to a legacy carrier. I am aware that I may never serve as a Captain for a legacy carrier although that would be nice if I am up to the job, but I am okay with that, a step below the captain position would be just as fulfilling.

For most of my career I have worked shift work, including holidays and weekends so scheduling is not a huge concern either. I should mention I have a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in the computer science field. I only mention that because from my understanding the major airlines want a degree; but in most cases don’t have a preference as to what the degree is in.
Moving on, I am hearing mixed things about what opportunities may be available to me when I complete training, so here are my questions:

  1. Will my age have an effect on potential aviation career opportunities, taking into account what my plan is?
  2. Is my 2-year flight training estimate accurate in determining how long it would take to build the 1500 hours needed for an ATP license, say at a school like ATP?
  3. Is it likely if all goes well, I could be flying for a regional airline in 3-4 years, (and if not, what is a typical timeline for this to happen)?
  4. If I train with ATP, is the additional 100 hour multi-engine worth the cost?

I know I am no spring chicken, but I don’t feel any older than when I was 20. I don’t want to look back in regret and realize I didn’t follow a deep-seated passion of mine. The thought of leaving a relatively stable job (again…a job I hate), where I make decent money is scary if things don’t work out. I wish I would have been in a position to undertake this venture 10 years ago, but I wasn’t. Instead, I am glad I have the opportunity now, then not at all, to strongly consider this career change. I would appreciate any honest responses that are positive or negative, as long as they are constructive.

Thanks for you time.

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If a 1st class medical isn’t an issue, do it! Timeline estimate is valid. I started at 39. I am now 40 and hoping to get my first regional job before 41.

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Welcome to the forums. Let’s get to your questions.

  1. I think your plan is realistic and that if you act within a reasonable time frame you will have a good chance of getting hired by the majors.

  2. Yes, your time frame is realistic. Most people that train at and instruct at ATP move onto the airlines at around the two year mark.

  3. Yes, very reasonable.

  4. I would save your money and go with the less multi time. You should get plenty of multi time as an ATP instructor. If your plan is to instruct somewhere else, then I would consider doing the 100 hour program as most small flight schools do not do multi engine training.

You don’t mention if you have a college degree or not. The regionals will not care either way, the majors will want to see a four year degree.

You also didn’t mention if you have taken an introductory flight or not. If you haven’t, you need to do so. It is one thing to think that you want to fly an airplane, it is quite another to actually do so. You can do this at any ATP location or at most other flight schools.

I will caution you, while flying is a great career, it is still a job like any other. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but it has stressors too. There are long days and nights, plus frustrations that pop up. You say you “hate your job”, those are strong words. I wouldn’t look to flying to be an absolute panacea. I am in no way discouraging you from flying, I have just found that sometimes people who “hate” their careers end up disliking their new ones as much as their old ones.


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This question gets answered daily and it’s answered in the FAQ section. I started at 39 and I’m a Capt at a Major airline and that was years before the pilot shortage. That said nothing is guaranteed but you have as good a chance as anyone provided you can fly a plane.


I have an appointment to complete my medical soon. Thanks for the reply.


Thanks for the reply, I do appreciate it. Yes, I have flown as a private pilot, but have no advanced certifications and I haven’t flown in a very long time. I also have bachelors degree in political science and a master’s degree in computer science field.

The comment I made about hating my job, it is an unfortunate thing to say, but true. If I’m not going to be honest with myself I have no business getting into aviation. Putting internal work politics aside, on a daily basis I work with the absolute worse people society has to offer and it is mentally taxing to say the least. I have to interact with these people; people who commit robberies, homicides, aggravated assaults, people who victimize children, etc. Name a crime and I can almost guarantee I have dealt with it first-hand. What I hate the most about my job is how the system deals with offenders, or in many cases doesn’t deal with them at all, that’s what’s hard, that is what I hate.

I have stuck with this line of work because I believe in the positive impact the work I do can have on people who have been victimized, but it has come as a personal sacrifice to my own happiness and health. This career I have, it has a shelf life, everyone in this industry knows it.

My goal is to obtain as much information about the aviation field as possible. If I were single this decision would be easier to make, but my decision affects my spouse too. I don’t want to disappoint myself, but more importantly I don’t want to disappoint those who rely on me.

If I make the jump, which I am planning to do, and if an airline were to hire me I would be happy to be the low man on the totem pole, put in my time, and work hard to move up from there…again if I given a chance.

Regardless, thank you for the reply and I do apologize for asking a commonly asked question as I am sure you probably get exhausted responding to the same questions over and over. I have since become very accustomed to the search function on this forum.


Thanks for the reply, I appreciate your time. Passion or not I have a lot at stake if this career change goes awry, so this decision comes with a lot of trepidation. I understand there are no guarantees, if someone told me there was a guarantee, well that is a pretty easy way of knowing they are full of shit. I was more or less just trying to get a feel of the industry to see if the odds are stacked in my favor, assuming I perform well despite the fact I’ll be starting this later in life. Thanks for your response.


Well, that makes more sense, I can see where that typeof work would be exhausting. Keep as in the loop as you go through the decision making process.

Ryan, I am considering doing my commercial pitot license at 52. If you enjoy it, I’d grab it with both hands. I too intensely dislike my current job and I’m on $180k. Money doesn’t mean everything. I only wish I could step back ten years myself. Take a couple of flights and see how you like it. I’m about to do the medical to see if there is a future for me in aviation. My aim is only to fly domestic, due to my age the likelihood I’d get into the majors is extremely remote. I wish you well in your training.

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