Realistic Upgrade Potential to the Majors

Hello, I am 25 with PPL and several training hours with Instrument part 61. I will have to start my instrument over if I go to ATP, but I can not afford to do all the training part 61 in a reasonable amount of time. I don’t want to miss out on the hiring frenzy that the airlines are doing now. And I know I will doing it all part 61. However, I am extremely apprehensive about student loans and “living” on a regional salary with that amount of debt.

I know the airlines are hiring like crazy now. My question is, has it slowed down in the majors? I know some spent 8-10 years in a regional prior to the hiring craze. This is a long time to be in a regional making poor money before “making it.” Is 8-10 years still a thing? What on average is the time spent in a regional now days? I know it all depends but, on average, how long before one can make the majors. Thanks Much.

Hello Garret and Welcome,

The Majors are currently hiring as much as the Regionals which is why the Regionals are hiring because that’s generally where the Majors get their pilots. While I appreciate you’re 25 and anxious, 8-10 yrs at a Regional is nothing and I know pilots who’ve been at Regionals for 20. Back before the Regionals pilots sat 10-15 yrs as a Flight Engineer before they’d even get near the controls. Another thing is the pay at the Regionals has come up considerably (almost double first year) and there are many Regional pilots making around $100k. While this isn’t great money it’s FAR from “poor money”. Now to your question.

Most Majors want to see some turbine PIC (ie, jet or turboprop Capt time). The only way to build that time is to upgrade to Capt at a Regional. I’d say average upgrade time at a Regional is 3-4 yrs right now so add 2 yrs in the left seat and you have an average of 5-6 to get to a Major.

Let me say one other thing. I’m not trying to be negative and the majority of Regional pilots do make it to a Major BUT not all. The Majors are the big leagues and it’s not just “well I’ve been at a Regional for X years so now it’s my time to move”. You must get hired and that’s more then just flight time. I know pilot’s who made the move in 2yrs an others that have been trying for decades and still haven’t gotten the call. Some have had some training issues, some legal issues (DUI/DWI) and some just don’t interview well. Again not trying to sound ominous but there are no guarantees.


Adam, Thanks

That’s comforting to know 5-6 years is all. That’s not a big deal at all. And I totally understand that not all pilots get to a major but that the same with any job. When you say “double Pay” do you mean first year is like 40,000 now?

I appreciate your answer. It was very thorough and was exactly what I was looking for.


That’s exactly what I mean. Currently a number of Regionals (Envoy, Piedmont for example) are up to $38K and are even offering hiring bonuses above that. It’s a great time to be starting out.


Ok thanks. Again, I appreciate everything you guys do to help potential students out. Without this forum, it is likely I wouldn’t even consider moving on.


Regional pay is not great, but I wouldn’t describe it as bad either. In the last few years the entry level pay at the regionals has started to really increase. Take a look at the pay rates at to get an idea of what RJ pilots make.

No, the majors have not slowed hiring. At United we are projected to hire several hundred pilots per year for the foreseeable future. To my knowledge most of the majors are the same. The majors have not had quite the hiring frenzy that the regionals have, but they are definitely hiring.

Trying to put an average on time spent at the regionals is really as every pilot’s path is different, but I would say that 5-8 years is about average. Of course, your mileage may vary.


So how much of a pay jump will a second year FO on a regional get. I hear it’s substantial.


If you look on you will see that the second year pay for FOs only increases by about $2 per flight hour in most cases. For example, a first year might make $40 per flight hour, with 2nd year seniority they might now make $42 per flight hours. Not a significant increase but an increase none the less. The significant increase comes when you go from the right seat to the left seat (upgrade to captain)!!



It USED to be a substantial jump back when first year pay was below $20k. Since the airlines have raised first year pay in an effort to attract new talent, it’s far less of an increase. Still while Regional pay will never be considered great, at least it’s livable.


That makes sense. Thanks

Any time, let me know what other questions you have.


Good info, thank you for pointing that out!