Real Answers from Real Pilots

Yet another 40+ Year Old, Expectation Setting

Hi All,

Wonderful resource you have here, have been reading lots (including the FAQ and the numerous other similar threads to this one). I have gotten a lot of good info and want to sanity check a few expectations with you.

I’m turning 42 in 2021 (when I expect to start training), and adding time for training and building hours (possibly longer than expected, depending on recovery from Covid), it would seem to put me in this age group from the FAQ:

44-48: Ok this is where we have to start managing our expectations. You could potentially make it to a Major but you will never be a 777 Capt flying to Tokyo. You could possibly be a widebody FO or you might even decide to just stay at your Regional. Be #1 on that list, maybe become a check pilot and have a very nice life.

So I wanted to check if these expectations might still be feasible at this stage:

1.) Long haul - I know I won’t make wide body captain, but one of my biggest aspirations in terms of flying career is to be able to fly international routes. I was thinking instead of targeting the “legacy” or “majors” I would try for Atlas, Kalitta, etc. Does this path seem viable or are my expectations still too high?

2.) FO “Lifer” - I don’t need to sit in the left seat, is it feasible to stay in the right seat but try to move toward bigger airframes in order to try and get the long haul routes I want to fly?

3.) Moving - I have a very supportive family and I have traveled quite a bit for my previous jobs so “home every day” is not a requirement for me, but they draw the line at having to move. I currently live in the San Francisco area, is not being able to move going to slow my progression significantly (or impede it completely)? For example I could have trouble getting a local CFI job, and regionals might be hiring but not anywhere near me.

Thank you all in advance

Alex,

Welcome to the forums and thank you for your kind words about the website. Also, thank you for taking the time to read the FAQ section.

Before we begin with your questions, I should mention the usual that there are no guarantees, these are only my best educated guesses and that your mileage may of course vary.

  1. If your goal is really to fly long haul routes, then applying to cargo companies like Atlas could be a great way to go. These jobs typically have lower hiring minimums than the traditional legacy carriers and you will certainly fly all over the world. Keep in mind that these pilots often fly trips as long as two weeks, so there can be some serous time away from home, although they typically make that up with large chunks of time off afterwards.

I actually think you have a decent shot of flying long haul for the legacy carriers as well, it just really depends on how quickly you are able to apply to such airlines.

  1. Yes, absolutely and is what many pilots do. I know many pilots who could easily hold captain on the 737 or even 757 and yet chose to stay as FOs because they like the schedules and routes of the 777s and 787s. Don’t just write off the domestic flying just yet, you might find that you like it. Adam and I both flew international for years and are both quite happily back doing domestic flying.

  2. Moving- Yes and no. SFO is a big area for airlines, but the only airlines to have bases there are United and Skywest, with Southwest having a base in Oakland. So if you don’t get hired by one of those three, you will be commuting to work someplace else. The LAX area has quite a few more airlines with pilot bases there and from what I understand it is one of the easier commutes out there. https://secure.atpflightschool.com/become-a-pilot/pilot-jobs/airline-domiciles/

You can also check out www.airlinepilotcentral.com for more information on specific airlines. I was just reading that Atlas offers positive space commuting to and from work, so that would be great for somebody like you. I wish I had moved to base years ago, but I have commuted for the last fifteen years and the reality is that it isn’t that bad. It has enabled me to be near my children and to keep my place in Michigan.

In regards to your age, make sure that if this is the right career for you, you get started on it as soon as possible and find a flight training program that can help you get done quickly.

I hope this answers your questions, please feel free to ask more and again, thank you for coming on here already well informed, it makes our job easier :slight_smile:

Chris

Alex,

  1. As Chris said provided you’ve got a degree and a clean record AND things resume within the next couple of years, I too believe widebody (long haul) FO is well within your grasp at a Major. Now Atlas and Kalitta are definitely options, know that can be a very hard lifestyle. I know a number of pilots who fly for both and frankly I get tired just looking at their schedules. Aside from being away from home for long periods, literally flying around the world is hard on the body. Not trying to dissuade you, just know that’s a factor.

  2. Absolutely. I know plenty of FO Lifer’s. For most it’s a lifestyle choice. While the young pilots are all using their seniority to upgrade ASAP they’re generally more senior in their category and enjoy better schedules and better quality of life. Really the only thing you’re missing is the pay.

  3. One of the best things about being a pilot is the fact you never have to move, ever. More than half the pilots in the US commute to work. Living in base is great if you can do but most can’t and that’s ok. Just don’t complain about it or expect sympathy from the airline. Commuting is your choice (even if your family says you have to). Btw that is a perk of Atlas. As part of their contract they will actually fly you to your base on a paid ticket from wherever you live. While Atlas pilots don’t get flight benefits for their families, the ones I know all have 800 billion Frequent Flier miles because of this clause their families can use.

Adam

Thanks for the prompt and detailed responses. I’ve been looking at a number of forums and this one seems to be one of the more active as far as actual pilot feedback.

A couple points to clarify.

I do have a 4 year undergrad in computer engineering so I think that box is covered. I seem to have good aptitude for ground based vehicle operation and generally do well under pressure, though whether I actually have flying aptitude is TBD.

Regarding moving, I understand what you are saying about commuting once hired at the airline. My other concern was progression prior to that, the building up to 1500 part, if you will. For example, even if I make it through the ATP program and happened to get a chance to work there, a local to me position may not be available. I will do more research on what other opportunities to build hours are locally available. I live less than 10 minutes from OAK and maybe even some low hour charter or cargo jobs could be an option.

On lifestyle, I actually do like the bigger blocks away, as it translates to bigger blocks home. This is my current work schedule now, and we seem to be dealing with it ok. As mentioned before, home everyday is not a requirement for me. However, I also know that what I want now is not what I wanted 10 years ago, and who knows what I will want 10 years from now. The tricky part with the pilot gig is the seniority and it’s not easy to switch airlines if you change your mind. Though I have a few years left before that choice has to be made so more research while I train and build up hours is required.

Thanks again for all the help

Alex,

We try to have as fast as response times as possible. Adam is the Doc Holiday of the forum, fast on the draw and perfectly accurate.

I do actually think there is a correlation between driving well and flying well. If a person is a smoother driver, manages their vehicle’s energy well and is aware of their surroundings, that is a huge jump start on flying well.

Most people build their 1,500 hours via flight instructing, I would say northwards of 80%. Even low time cargo or charter jobs will probably require at least 500 hours, so at some point, you will be flight instructing. I would suggest looking to see how many flight schools are in your area and how active they are.

Remember that you will most likely spend time at a regional or corporate operator before you make it to a cargo airline. While there you will meet all sorts of people with all sorts of experiences at various airlines. This will probably help in your decision making process.

Chris

Thanks Chris,

I understand that instruction is part of the path to 1500 and I am not trying to avoid it. I was just uncertain with the current climate (and whatever pace of recovery afterwards) if that particular path might be slower than expected. My understanding is that you are no longer guaranteed at ATP like it used to be, and I just spoke to a local flight school instructor who got in in 2018 and now seems to be struggling to accrue hours through instructing. If I were able to move I could maybe chase better CFI opportunities but that will just have to be a limitation I have to work around.

Timing-wise I am currently working on contract through July 2021, I am thinking of getting my PPL separately during this time and hitting the 6 month program at the end of my current contract. I know common wisdom is to get though the 9 month as soon as possible but I am thinking it might take some time for all the pilots who have been stagnating or moved down market to go back up and give me some breathing room at the bottom. Does that make sense or am I over analyzing this a bit?

Thanks,

Alex

Alex,

I appreciate your concern and I apologize for the sarcasm but I’m sorry, have you not heard that there’s a minor WORLDWIDE PANDEMIC going on? You sound surprised this local flight instructor is having trouble building time? Not sure how things are in San Fran right now but I went to go eat breakfast yesterday at my local Denny’s and they were gone. Boarded up after 3 decades! Things are not going well, Right now. Not sure where or why you believe there’s a hidden mecca of flight instruction going on somewhere in the US but I promise you there isn’t. Right now.

This industry is and always has been cyclic. There are always highs and lows and right now there’s a pretty significant low. If you just finished flight school or are trying to build time it’s without question very difficult. Right now. This time last year the Regionals were fighting over flight instructors and offering conditional employment at 500hrs. I believe we will return to that environment but the question is when? The answer is no one knows for certain. I started my flight training in 2003. Less than two years after 9/11. Half the pilots in the country were out on furlough and everyone told me I was crazy. In truth I had no intention of being an airline pilot (I thought I was too old). I simply wanted to get paid to fly and if that meant instructing on weekends, light charter, banner tow whatever and I was good with that. There were a couple of Regionals hiring but not many and they weren’t hiring a ton of pilots either. Someone told me to try, I did and here I am. It wasn’t magic or luck. ATP didn’t have a guaranteed flight instructor position back then either. But if you were a good student, conducted yourself like a professional there were jobs to be had. Same work ethic got me hired at a Regional. My point is sometimes it’s easier than others to find work and sometimes you have to work twice as hard and twice as long to build time but if it’s something you really want you’ll succeed. If it isn’t you won’t. That said if you’re looking for guarantees this definitely isn’t the job for you because there are none.

As far as waiting that’s your call but there’s an old saying “chance favors the prepared mind”. If you wait for everything to be rosey it might make you feel more comfy but it’ll also put you right in the middle of everyone else who’s also waiting. I came to Hawaiian when they had just started expanding, there were 3 pilots in my class. Things started going well. They ordered many aircraft and hiring tons of pilots. Problem is CV19 showed up and pilots who waited for the boom are the ones who got furloughed, downgraded and displaced. I was not. Just some food for thought.

Adam

Thanks Adam, I may have misstated what I said. I understand that every where is bad right now and didn’t mean to imply that there are other places where it was better. I was more thinking in general that even in good times the good jobs aren’t always going to be near by.

As for timing, I definitely am not trying to time the market. Everything is unpredictable and there are no guarantees in life. For me the timing issue is more personal about not burning bridges and ripping down the walls right this minute since I have a known end of contract date coming up. If it happens to coincide with some kind of recovery, great, if not, I’ll deal with it then.

Your point about seniority is well taken, I’ve seen it repeated time and time again everywhere. I think somewhere you wrote about Chris taking a start date one week before you, it’s that important. Also you are right about all the other people probably waiting on some sign of recovery, sometimes entering on the downward swing of a cyclical market might end up being better than catching the tail of the upward swing.

I know you guys get a lot of armchair pilots and not everyone is committed to make it through and achieve their goals. I apologize for getting into the realm of speculation about covid, that was not the point of the original thread. Life will always throw lemons at us, it’s up to us to make the lemonade.

Alex,

No apology necessary, ever. I was simply pointing the uncertainty and the fact if you try and figure it out you’ll go crazy (and probably be wrong). Once you get started and start meeting people you’ll inevitably meet some winners and losers in this business. In many cases it was simply good or bad timing that determined their fate (some will claim they were geniuses in their timing and choices, they weren’t). I in no way was trying to dissuade you from finishing your contract. The best plan is the plan that works best for you. I was only cautioning against waiting for the all clear sign as some opportunities may be missed.

Adam

Alex,

It seems like you have really done your research and have a good head on your shoulders about all of this. I would imagine that you would be able to find a low time job in the Bay Area, especially after Covid, but I would encourage you to check around now and see what is out there.

Chris

Thanks guys for all the advice. I’ve connected with my local flight club that flies right out of OAK for the first phase of instruction. It’s kind of an interesting setting, not a full on school like ATP but in addition to instruction has a more social element (covid permitting) where you can meet and network with other pilots, many of whom work in or are connected to the airline industry. I think it’ll also be interesting to get some different exposure to training philosophies before I dive into the firehose program at ATP, I just have to make sure I stay disciplined as I will be expected to keep my own schedule and manage my own progress.

I’m looking forward to taking this first step in my journey.

Alex,

Sounds like a solid plan. Please let us know how else we can help you along the way.

Chris