Whether to change careers

Hi, I’ve read a lot of your answers to questions (they’ve been great btw) and I could really use some advice to help me decide whether it’s worth it to change careers.

I’m 41, married with three kids, two daughters ages 21 and 15, and a 3 yr old son. I work in roadway construction management as a senior project engineer. I’m also an attorney, but I don’t practice anymore. Over the past few months my son has become completely obsessed with planes. He knows a lot of them from Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s to the SR-71 black bird. He’s managed to spark my interest in planes and learning to fly. I’ve always dreamed of flying, literally having recurring dreams of flying since I was a kid. I’m definitely going to pursue a PPL for recreational flying. I want to impress my son and maybe one day teach him to fly. But I’ve recently started getting very excited about the possibility of switching careers and working as an airplane pilot. I love traveling, apparently changing careers, and challenges. And I would love to work max 1000 hrs a year (that’s my understanding of the FAA regulations) and still make six figures. Currently I make over $150k. I like the salary, as I can support my family well. I truly believe money is not everything, but it’s hard to go backwards with income when you have people depending on you. My wife doesn’t work now, and my mom lives with us half the year.

It seems like seniority is the dominant factor in pay and other things in the airline industry. The question I have to answer by the time I get my PPL is whether it’s too late for me to start this journey.

I could survive for 7 months training full time, but we can’t survive for another approximately 17 months on the CFI pay. Are there options to help me get through this time?

About how long does it take to start making $150K?

Is it true you can’t work more than 1000 hrs per year? If so, how is it that pilots get burnt out (so I hear) lately, during this shortage of pilots?

Can you really make $200 or $300K or more by working your days off and holidays? If so, do they have to be offset to not go over the annual total hours?

I’ll stop there, and thank you!


You’ve clearly done some research which we appreciate. Whether or not some should make the leap obviously is a personal decision. Let’s get you some answers that might help.

  1. How long to $150k? Hard to answer for certain and some of it will depend on your choices. You know it’s about 2-2.5 to get trained and build the magic 1500hrs. Right now the average to a Major seems to be 3-5 yrs but with all the hiring going on it seems to be nearing the short end so let’s call it 3. First year at most Majors is about $90k, with second at between $120-170 depending on the airline and the airplane. So that’s 6yrs ideally. Now some United and Delta newhires are getting hired right on to the widebody which will have you over $150 and closer to $200k in that time but that’s when decisions and priorities come into play. What if that widebody slot means commuting across the country and away from home an extra 6 days a month. Is it worth it? Up to you.

  2. Yes 1,000hrs is the max and that’s a good thing. People look at our schedules and wonder how words like tired and fatigue come into play but they do. Best I can explain it is have you ever had to drive a few hours in bad weather? That’s what spending 6-8hrs in the cockpit can be like. Factor in time zones, early starts, short overnights, late flights, redeyes, bad weather, delays, maintenance issues, passenger issues etc etc and 100hrs a month is ALOT.

  3. Yes and no. There are contracts and circumstances that can allow you to capitalize on premium pay opportunities (but it’s not for working holidays, there is no holiday pay for pilots). Last minute trips pop up, lack of reserves and in other circumstances, the airline may offer time and a half or double time pay for trips picked up on days off. Thing is it’s great when it happens but you can’t really count on it happening, it’s not every month and it’s not always consistent. It also will mean more time away from your family and yes all the FAA time and hour restrictions still apply.

Hope this helps,



Thank you for the info Adam! That gives me a much better perspective. I still have a lot of thinking to do.

Follow-up questions, can any of the training be done weekdays after 4 pm or on weekends? Same question for instructing… can any of it be done towards the evening and on weekends?

Thank you!


Adam did a great job answering your initial questions, I agree with those answers. I will add that flying 1,000 hours per year might sound great, but that will be exhausting and your son might forget who you are. I usually average about 800 hours per year of actual flying, but with training pay, vacation, sick time, etc the pay is more like 900 hours per year.

If you are going to train with ATP, you will need to be available seven days per week, all day. ATP’s program is highly condensed, it accomplishes in seven months what most places do in years. You will not be able to work whilst you are a student with ATP. Now of course I am sure you can find a local school near you that will be happy to work with you only after 4 pm and on weekends, but know that your training will take several years and likely end up costing you a lot more money in the end. One of the way ATP is able to train people so efficiently is by flying or training every single day. This is the same way that the airlines and the military train.

You will be hard pressed to find a part time instructing job. Most flight schools, and students, want a flight instructor that is full time.


Chris, thanks for the info. That all makes sense. I’ll have to ponder this for a while.


Anytime. Let us know how else we can help you.