Real Answers from Real Pilots

Training timeline question (2yrs remaining active duty mil)


I have made the decision to become an Airline Pilot after I retire from the USAF. That timeline is roughly 2 years remaining. I would/prefer not to wait that long to begin, however the flexibility plan does not discuss how flexible that may be. For instance, if I am forced to go somewhere for work that exceeds 30 days, how does that affect my ability to get through the program? Is it even possible? Would I be better served getting a PPL in that timeframe from another provider and finishing with ATP once I am retired?

I’m not really concerned about the cost since I know this is an investment into another career. I’m mostly concerned with the flexibility of accomplishing training on evenings/weekends as opposed to fulltime. (I would be seeking to attend the Raleigh (RDU) location).

Lastly, once conducting the CFI duties and being paid during the build-up time. Is there a realistic estimate of how much one earns monthly during that time? I’m fortunate enough that I will have my retirement from the military to supplement my earnings, however this is still a major life change and obviously I want to ensure I’m not putting my family in a bad spot!



Typically we recommend you just wait until you are finished and jump in to flight training full time. Unfortunately it’s a skill that requires consistent training or degradation happens. It’s like taking two steps forward, then a step back every time you have a gap in training. Especially in the beginning, even three days break can have an impact on your stick and rudder skills. So not only would it be incredibly inefficient it would also be expensive using half your time catching up skills that got rusty before making any forward progress.
In the last 9 months prior to retirement, you can start preparing: take a tour of the RDU location and complete an intro flight, secure financing (if not paying out of pocket) and confirm a start date. From there, the last 3 months or so before retiring you could start working on your writtens. Then as soon as you’re ready to start ATP, your well set up with some writtens complete, and can blaze through the 7 month fast track program and be on your way.
As a CFI, it’s hard to really say how much you’ll make. Pay is based on how many hours you fly. If you have a good amount of students and fly a lot, your pay could be dramatically different than a lull when you only have one student. I’d plan to use your retirement money as your sole income and the CFI pay simply supplementary. Just to give you an idea a year ago when I was instructing it was $17/flight hour with an additional hour of ground pay to supplement pre and post flight briefings. Average flight hours can be anywhere from 50-70 hours depending on location. Flying 40 hours a month you’d take home roughly $1000 versus flying 80 hours, you’d take home about $2000.


With regards to instructing. Is it a contractual setup with ATP to do instruction or is there the ability to fly at skydiving facility? I only ask because I live 10mins from a drop zone that conducts a lot of military parachuting courses and could potentially utilize both to facilitate the hour-buildup.


If you do well during your program as a student you could be offered an instructor position. You would become an “independent contractor” providing your CFI services. If you are able to keep up with all your instructor duties to your students (flights, sims and grounds) and you have additional free time after those duties are met, you are allowed to fly other places. Just be careful because it’s a hard line to tow.

Perfect! Thanks Hannah.



While I understand you want to build time as quickly as possible, there are 2 things to keep in mind. First, the FAA does limit how much flying you can do and rest requirements as well to keep in mind. Further ATP does not generally want their instructors working multiple jobs. ATP students invest a considerable amount of money in the program. I’m certain when you do yourself, you’ll want to know your instructor is there when you need them. Imagine you’ve got a checkride coming up and the weather was junk the week prior. You still have a few things to work on and your instructor says “sorry, I’ve got to fly at my other job but I’m sure you’ll be fine”. Would that be acceptable to you? Aside from not providing the proper attention to your student, that’s also a great way to lose a job.


Hi Matt!

The Flex Track Program requires a minimum of 15 hours of flight time or sim time per month. The details are listed here: Flex Track Airline Career Pilot Program / ATP Flight School

So to answer your question, it would not be possible (or wise for that matter) to take a month off during training.

CFI pay is laid out here: Flying as a Certificated Flight Instructor (CFI) / ATP Flight School

While it is possible to pick up extra flying (within legal limits) you will need to walk that line carefully. If you have extra time to fly outside of your student’s programs, my question is why wouldn’t you fly with your students before considering flying elsewhere? You may want to get some of your students ahead of schedule to mitigate unexpected delays or simply because they can and are willing.



I personally would wait until you have finished your time with the USAF. Successful flight training builds on consistency and frequent application of skills. Flying on weekends and evenings only is hard and will lead to a prolonged training time and increased costs. I understand ypu want to get working on this, but it is really better to wait.