I have always dreamt of becoming an airline pilot, and I’m seeking guidance on the best career path to achieve my goal. As an aspiring pilot, I’m wondering whether obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical Engineering, Aircraft Operations, or a related field would be the most beneficial before applying to an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) program. However, I’m also curious if it’s possible to pursue a Bachelor’s degree while simultaneously participating in an ATP program, as this would allow me to gain both theoretical knowledge and hands-on flying experience concurrently. I greatly appreciate your expertise and guidance in helping me determine the optimal path that would lay a strong foundation for my successful career as an airline pilot.
To help answer this question better, please let us know how old you are.
If you’re under 30 (or late 20s), we always recommend getting a degree first BUT we’re not fans of aviation degrees. The airlines neither desire or require one and usually very expensive. A 4yr degree in something you’re interested in that could also provide a backup would be great and save you a ton of money.
You would not be able to do college and ATP at the same time. The ATP program is HIGHLY accelerated and requires a 100% commitment.
This is a great question, like Chris mentioned we can’t guide you in a direction if we don’t know how old you are. I am going to assume you’re at least in High School by the comment “I’m wondering whether obtaining a BS” etc. However, we don’t recommend Part 141 programs (which would be like Embry-Riddle) because it can take years until you’re actually completing your licenses when you could save money and time by attending a program like ATP.
ATP does NOT encourage working or attending college classes during your attendance.
I am 17 years old.
Then you should definitely got to college first.
If I do decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree as a backup plan, I may be concerned about the additional time it would take and whether it would hinder my progress in studying for my aviation career. One question that arises is: At what age is it ideal to begin a career as a commercial pilot/?
First off you’ve got to be 21 to fly for an airline so I’m not sure what your hurry is. Second and more important ATP used to require a degree because most people right out of HS don’t have the maturity or the self motivation to handle the rigors and the pace of the training.
Finally you don’t mention any flight experience? I’m curious what makes you so certain you’ll be successful as a pilot? While flying isn’t brain surgery, it does require a certain level of both intelligence and coordination that frankly not everyone possesses. Further should a disqualifing health issue present itself you could also be grounded.
The bottomline is you’re literally putting all your eggs in one super small basket.
AGAIN, our advice is to go to college but obviously the choice is yours.
Thank you once again for your advice and insight. I genuinely appreciate your concern. I understand that the airline industry has certain age and educational requirements, which are in place for valid reasons. Your point about maturity and self-motivation in handling the rigors of pilot training is well taken.
While I didn’t mention my flight experience in my previous message, I want to assure you that I have been actively pursuing my passion for aviation.This experience has solidified my determination and confidence in pursuing a career as a pilot.
I am aware that flying requires a combination of intelligence and coordination, and I believe I possess those qualities. However, I am also fully aware that unforeseen health issues can arise, which may affect my ability to continue flying. It is a risk that I am willing to accept, as I am deeply committed to pursuing my dream.
Once again, I sincerely appreciate your advice and concern. I will take your words into careful consideration as I make my decision. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.
Before we continue, I have one more question out of curiosity. As a pilot yourself, how do you feel about your schedule? Is it overwhelming or challenging to balance personal life with work commitments? One of the reasons I am drawn to this career is the opportunity to travel the world, which seems like a significant advantage. I would appreciate hearing about your experiences and whether this job truly provides opportunities to explore different parts of the world.
I am sure Adam will chime in, but I can tell you that as a pilot with mid level seniority, I actually feel like I get a pretty good schedule. I work about half the month or slightly more, and am able to have large chunks of days off. Now to do this I often work several days in a row and sometimes fly red-eye flights, but to me that is worth it to have a desirable schedule.
When I flew international flights I saw almost every major city in Europe and a few in South America. Often times we would have two or even three days there to get out and explore. I did not always take advantage of this, but the opportunity was there.
Let me preface this by saying I’m the wrong pilot to ask as my schedule is AMAZING! If you noticed I don’t post my schedule as the others do. That’s because I’m with Hawaiian and have a very unique situation (which was one of the reasons I came here). I’m a fairly senior B717 Capt and only fly InterIsland here in Hawaii. Being senior I get the trips I want and that means I only do daytrips and I never finish past noon. I’m literally home for lunch every day. Life is good, I’m never overwhelmed and I have no problem balancing anything.
As for how your schedule might be, as Chris pointed out EVERYTHING is based on seniority and also your priorities. If your goal is to fly International, that obviously means flying for an airline that flies internationally. Now even the Regionals and LCCs fly some International (Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, etc) but in going to assume you’re talking about going further like Europe, Asia etc. If that’s the case you need to shoot for an airline that does that kind of flying. SouthWest for example is a great airline but if you’re looking at flying to Rome, that ain’t happening there. That means Legacy Majors (all of whom btw prefer and desire 4yr degrees).
After choosing an airline that goes where you want then we get back to your priorities. If international flying is #1 on your list, that means getting a widebody slot which takes some seniority. However, there’s also Base Seniority, which means how senior you are at your base and on your fleet. For example, let’s say you’re at your airline for 2yrs and a bid opens. At your seniority you can stay B737 FO at your home base and not commute, hold A330 FO, fly international but will have to commute to the other side of the US or hold A220 Capt but again have to commute (but not as far). Which would you choose? There is no right or wrong answer. It’s up to you and your priorities. That A330 slot might sound great but now you’re commuting. That adds stress and more time away from home. The A220 Capt slot is great if you want those 4 stripes and the money’s better but again you’re commuting. I could go on but I think you get my point.
The good news is these aren’t things you need to worry about for quite a few years.