Too Old to Start

I know you probably got this question 1000 times but I’m new to this. Please be brutally honest at what age is too old to start a flying career with zero experience. I am reaching a time where I am able to pursue this I want to make sure it is really possible or do I need to just get my PPL and fly for fun.


This question does get asked daily. Please visit our FAQ section where we cover this and many other common questions.



There is a detailed response to this in the FAQ section. A lot of it depends on your expectations.


Hi Phillip, I’m Phillip, currently researching this same topic. Using the search feature at the top of this website’s banner works well. Type “too old”. :smiley: Many of the strings will pop right up.

There is no one road to becoming an airline pilot but there are a set of wickets you need to hit. Part 61 programs like ATP can crank you along toward the goal as fast as you can handle with most folks being done from 0 hours in about 2 years. Part 41 programs like universities do, are set in stone and plod along as long as they are programmed to take.

Some of the pertinent questions most older prospective students need to deal with are:
-Can you financially swallow a one year period with no income coming in and $80 grand or so going out (or getting a loan for that much)? What does the year and a few months of doing flight instructing, making $30K or so do to your financial picture? Also, regional flying as a First Officer isn’t a ton of money. It’s pretty decent for a 25 year old who’s working his first “real job” but if you are bringing home $100K right now…those first few years will be a pay cut, a pretty solid one.
-Ready to go back to school? Like back to being in the hardest class you can recall in college…but it lasts 9 months? Most of us in their late 30’s or 40’s have been at the bottom of the totem pole in a profession or hard college program. Do you want to drink from a firehose academically?
-Back to money…because it kind of matters…you’ll only have till 65 to fly for the airlines. Not saying that’s the end of your earning life, but its the end of your days as a commercial airline pilot; and the two years of no/low pay getting into the right seat, and the first three years or so at the regional with a paycut…that’s worth looking at since you don’t have the long-term earning potential that a 32 year old has.
-First Class Medical Certificate; can you get one? What if you lose it (heart problems etc.)? Your ability to recoup that $80K in training costs and all that forgone income from your old job is suddenly changed drastically.
-Ready to have where you live become drastically less certain? Regionals have homebases and which ones are available to you are based on your seniority, or lack of it. I really don’t want to live in Newark or Cleveland, but I’m mentally adjusting to the idea that it’s a short-term thing and my wife and I may have to be separated for a little while as I gain seniority so I can move closer to her. Also, regionals lose contracts, routes get added or moved etc.

It’s a big leap. The other thing that is frequently pointed out is that with all the sacrifice and pain you’ll be facing (and if you have a family, inflicting on them) it should be something that you really feel you’ll love.

You didn’t really ask for all that, but I’m definitely thinking a lot about these issues and hope that my thoughts can help fuel yours.

Best of luck on your journey of discovery and I hope you find the answers you need to make your decision.


Thanks for the info. I am in the same boat with a family and 3 young kids but I am close to retiring in my 40s. It will not be a large amount of income but enough to get me by during schooling. I thought about getting my PPL and instrument rating before retiring to cut down on some of the cost. Have you had a chance to research any of that? I appreciate the information on regional airlines, moving would be hard so that is a lot to think about. I do not know very many people in the airline business a few private pilots so most of my information is coming from other forms of research. I just joined this forum today so trying to navigate through all the previous answers.
Thanks again


Getting your PPL and instrument rating won’t save you any money. ATP accepts students with zero time or a PPL and 78+ hours. The amount of money it costs to earn a PPL and time build to reach 78+ hours will easily exceed the amount you’d spend at ATP. Earning your instrument rating doesn’t cut costs either as ATP would require to you still go through their instrument phase minus the check ride.


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Tory is right…the financial savings aren’t worth doing your PPL outside the ATP program and also accruing the 78 hours that ATP requires to give you credit for that license. The only way I see it making sense is my situation where I’m stuck, unable to leave my job for at least one year at a minimum (personally unique situation). I don’t want to sit idle, not flying and moving toward my future career during that time - so I’ll get my PPL and accrue the hours at a greater expense than it might cost through ATP. My only reward is that I’ll shave about $10K (fact check that figure, it’s an estimate on my part) and 3 months (see this link) off the ATP process. Again, financially and time-wise ATP is a better deal if you can just move briskly in that direction. Tory answered the other part of your question…PPL is the only credit ATP will give you (and that’s if you have 78 hours too)…no credit for any other ratings you get outside the program; gotta go through the pipeline with everyone else.

Go (here) to look at regional airline pay rates. Some of the info pages discuss signing bonuses, help with loan repayment etc. You’ll have questions about “flow through” programs sooner or later…just read those forum discussion threads. It’s well-covered ground on this AirlinePilot.Life site.