I’m 53 and seriously considering taking the steps to become a pilot. I’ve read a lot about not getting into the majors due to age and the fact they probably wouldn’t hire someone that would only be putting in a maximum of 10 years. Or flying a cargo instead of people isn’t as great. After age 65 it would be a part 135 or what have you, but what is so bad about having a 10 year career with a regional? Maybe I’m just used to being broke most of my life, but making $60-$80,000 a year but doing what I love doesn’t sound terrible. Plus, there are plenty of odd jobs that can be done on down time to supplement income.
There’s nothing so bad about flying either. I was actually very happy as a Regional pilot and had I never moved on to Major that would’ve been fine for me flying wise and financially. Really the only down side for me was that the Regionals all support Major airlines and therefore are subject to their whims. When I was first hired by my Regional we were the #1 Regional in the country. Highest pay, great flying, great contract. Problem was our agreement with the Major ran out, they went with the lowest bidder and all of a sudden we were losing airplanes, furloughing and downgrading and it literally happened overnight. Last year when the pandemic hit all the airlines suffered but it was only the Regionals who actually went under. In short it was the lack of job security that made me move.
As for cargo, while the job security is strong, as I’ve gotten older flying long or multiple legs for 10+ days in the middle of the night into early morning just doesn’t work me. Your call if it works for you?
I think some of the cargo jobs sound amazing and many people make careers out of flying for the majors or cargo companies. True, the pay and work rules are not as good as the majors, but they are decent in their own right. I see nothing wrong with either career path.
Here is a rough timeframe.
1-2yrs is training and negative income
2-4yrs is CFI or other Low Time Pilot flying ($25-55k/yr)
3-6yrs is Regional FO or New Corporate Pilot ($45-120k, usually closer to low end).
4-8yrs is Regional Capt, Mid level Corporate Capt or LCC like Spirit, Frontier, etc FO ($60-140k).
6yrs and beyond is Mid level Regional Capt, Mid-High level Corporate Capt, LCC Capt, or Majors FO.
Obviously this timeline is based off of your progress & the industry maintaining stability and things like 2001 and 2008 set back many pilots years off the timeline above. An example for me would be I went from likely upgrading to Capt in 2020 (4yrs since started flying), to a 1.5yr delayed just like most pilots due to Covid.
It depends what you want to do and what you like to do.
I have friends who started the same day as me now flying Barons and PC12s for $110k/yr salary plus bonuses. They fly cargo at night through all sorts of weather, but are home almost every day. I went to the Regionals and make about $70k as an FO (I work alot) and am away 12-22days per month (Changes depending on how senior I am and what I bid). The difference is the most they will make at their current job is $150k where I could potentially top out over $300-500k.
The Regionals are not bad, I have fun here… but if my career was 10years I might choose a Corporate Flight Department close to home instead.
I met a Netjets captain at our FBO the other day and that also seemed like a decent gig if you are older, I don’t know that side of the industry too well but something to consider. The first thing his FO said was “do you have 1500 hours yet?”, so I guess they are hiring
Personally even though I currently have my career sights set a bit higher, I wouldn’t mind flying a Caravan or Metroliner around. Do keep in mind that flight training is expensive so even if you aren’t shooting for the top of the pay curve you probably still don’t want to end up more broke than when you started
Another benefit of a company like NETJETS/Corporate type jobs is that they don’t operate as scheduled air carriers (IE Part 121 in the FAR’s) so the age 65 rule does not apply to them, consequently, if your health stays great, you can fly until you don’t want to or can’t pass a physical/checkride.
FWIW, it’s a very individual proposition, I’ve flown with some 63yr olds who should have retired two years ago, and some 65yr olds who are sharper than most.
I was a software developer. At age 51, I decided one day that I wanted to fly for the airlines
I signed up with ATP in Tampa (I was a private pilot already), went through the airline career program in 8 months, got all my certificates and ratings, worked as a flight instructor for a big box aviation academy in Phoenix, made it through the COVID year, and now, having a little over 1500 hours, I have a start date with a regional airline.
Just to show you it’s perfectly doable. Granted, it wasn’t a walk in the park (for me). But I wanted it, worked it, and here I am now. So, go for it … IF you REALLY want it. Think it through, decide and do it. No no noooo, once on your way, do not look back! There is only one way now. Like the old battle cry “Burn the ships and take that hill !!!”
One of the questions I have, especially with the ATP program, is what did everyone do for money if the program is so immersive and demanding of time? Did everyone just save a trunk of cash to use for food, gas and bills? It doesn’t seem like you could hold a job and complete the course, especially if you can be fined for being late to a class or not being prepared. The other part I noticed is that the entire program cannot be completed here in Detroit and I would have to go to one of five other locations for at least two weeks.
The majority of ATP students either tap into their savings or get a loan for a higher amount to cover their expenses. While no one can force you not to work, attempting to hold a job during the Fast Track program would be a huge mistake. The program is extremely accelerated and requires a full-time commitment.
While I’m not aware of anyone being “fined”, I would think the fact you’re investing $85k would be enough motivation to ensure your on time and prepared.
Finally yes you will be gone for not only the instructor phase but also the crew phase. This is true regardless of location. If you’re planning on being an airline pilot you really need to get used to the idea of being away from home.
I can attest to Adam’s post: The vast majority of my fellow ATP students took loans out, used their savings or any combination thereof. Since most of them are young people, many may also get financial support from their families. I knew one guy who was somewhat of a sports celebrity and who probably wasn’t worried about the costs much I myself, being a career changer, I had set some funds aside and took out a small loan for the remainder. That made it very manageable and livable.
Regarding time commitment, I heavily recommend against working or doing anything unrelated on the side. The program does indeed require your full attention, time and dedication. Actually, I would not even want to do anything on the side. It would have been a distraction and I was happy to live and breathe aviation only. That being said, I absolutely LOVED the crew phase where you get to fly cross-country with your flight partner for weeks. It’s super cool. Other than that, becoming a flight instructor at ATP takes a few weeks at one of their CFI school locations where you may choose to live in shared apartments… which was an experience too Imagine an old geezer like me hanging with all the 20 year olds… ha ha ha. Hey, age is what you choose to live. I’m digressing…
Again, I should state that I made a full and uncompromised commitment to this career change and knew that being away from home often is just simply the very nature of this business. I have been traveling and moving all over the world my whole life, and it’s just what I like. I may stay with the regionals or fly cargo internationally. It’s amazing how many new connections and opportunities are popping up ever since I made the move. But yes, I’m all in.
Could you have a job while in the Fast Track Program? Yes.
Will having a job while in the Fast Track Program increase your risk of checkride failures, delays, or not passing the program? Yes.
I had a 20-30hr/wk job while training. That being said, I was lucky enough to have a boss that let me make my own schedule and could adjust it pretty easily. I also lived 5min from the airport so when a slot opened to fly, I could make up time very easily. I have a couple friends who did occasional local truck driving or worked construction. So it is possible, but a flexible schedule is key, & ATP coming first is key.
I can say having a job probably contributed to any checkride failures and program delays we had (less time to study and some training delays). There is a reason ATP discourages working while in the Fast Track Program. Adam gave options some people use to manage cost of living expenses.
As for Crew and CFI. Expect a week or so for crew depending on weather. CFI is usually a couple weeks to a month depending on DPE availability. When I went through a lot of CFI instructors were leaving and DPEs were delayed. Instead of waiting an extra 3weeks in JAXs I asked Admin if I could go back home and take my checkrides with DPEs in Delaware and New York. Because of the delays in FL, they were happy to send me back home. I do not know the current timeline status of the CFI program.
The more I look into it the more it becomes impossible for me to complete the ATP program. I understand the sacrificing of time and weird schedules of a pilot’s life, but it’s different when you are a pilot and being paid while you’re away. At a minimum there would be phone, gas & electric, car insurance, gas for the car, and food to pay for while going to ATP. I work at Amazon right now and they do have a flex schedule option that is pretty good, but it’s not reliable for hours. One week 60 available, the next week none.
The other part that makes me leery is getting a job after the program. Taking on $83k or $93k of debt and then getting hung out to dry, especially at the age of 53, would not be cool. I went through that at Eastern Michigan University when I got my degree. My advisors where great cheerleaders until it was time to help, then it was crickets. So I’m a little gun shy with placement departments.
Lots to think about and I appreciate all the feedback. There are a few local schools here in the Detroit area that I’m going to look into. It’ll probably take longer, but if it reduces some stress that’ll work for me.
While everyone can agree that managing your stress levels is important and committing to an accelerated flight program requires sacrifices, people come to ATP from all walks of life and they all have one thing in common: they are willing to do whatever it takes to complete the program successfully and secure a job after graduation. If you spend some time on the forum you are bound to come across some of these testimonials.
Some people save up enough money to cover their living expenses during the duration of the program. Some people include a living stipend in their loan, that’s what I did. Most take advantage of the tuition reimbursement programs once they become Flight Instructors…
I just flew with a first officer that attended a well-known school in Washington state, and he was an instructor during the pandemic. He explained how difficult it was to fly enough hours at his school to pay the bills. So he explained how he networked his way into a second flying job in Coeur d’Alene flying and instructing in float planes. He also received $12,500 from Horizon Air towards his instrument and commercial certificates. He has hustle and it just proves that if there’s a will there’s a way in this industry.
The industry is now in a very different place. The industry is beginning to recover from the pandemic. I don’t think that anyone going through the program would be let out to dry. I actually think that there will be more opportunities to get paid to fly now more than ever.
At 53 years old, you don’t have that much time in this industry so you can’t afford to take your time. So I would encourage you to reconsider an accelerated program like ATP. There are several ways that you can try to make ends meet and ATP’s program and resources are unmatched.
I understand your trepidation, I really do. $85k is ALOT of money, especially when you factor in not working or getting paid. Add to that the fact that at 53, you’re never going to be a 787 Capt making $400k as motivation. As you state when you started this thread, what’s so bad about 10yrs at a Regional and as I said, nothing.
This is of course your decision but here’s the reality. You say “it’ll probably take longer”. That my friend is an understatement. The fact is I’ve been flying for over 20yrs now and I’m also a union officer. I’m not saying that to impress you, its just to say I know ALOT of pilots, and not one, has ever come from a local flight school. It just doesn’t work. It took me almost 2yrs to earn my PPL and I’m not a bad pilot. It was time and resources and my story is more the norm than the exception. You’re 53, if you’re serious about being an airline pilot you really have only one option and that’s to train like a professional, otherwise I honestly wouldn’t waste my time or money.
I’m going to have to add to the chorus here and say that due to your age if you’re going to do it ATP fast track is your best option. Most take out a loan and include living expenses in it. Get through your flight training in 7 months and begin making an income again as a CFI. Tuition reimbursement programs make a huge impact in assisting paying off your loan through your time building and sometimes even first year at a regional. In most cases it covers your entire loan payment up to nearly $20k. If you do this route, you could be at a regional in two years at 55 with ten years of airline income pay to go. Plus after 65, if still healthy enough to maintain a first class medical you could always get a job flying for a 135 operator. The charter companies like flex jet, XO jet, mountain aviation, netjets need pilots just as bad and they don’t have the age 65 limitation like the 121 world does. Plus, the pay over there is great. Could be making equal or more than what you could be making at year 10 at a regional.
If you go the local flight school route it could take you twice or three times as long to get your training completed. Time is a very limiting factor and you don’t want to waste any of it. Plus, more time means more money spent keeping you proficient. It could end up costing you way more than the fixed atp price. Plus You wouldn’t have an opportunity for tuition reimbursement programs to assist in paying off the debt you accrued through flight training. Just something to think about…