I received the following question from a future pilot who has passion, a love of aviation, but is facing a difficult decision on which path he shall travel:
My name is Lethukuthula Blessing Vilakazi
I'm 19 years old and I'm from South Africa. I grew up in a small town called Pietermaritzburg but I now study and live in Cape Town. Basically I'm writing to you because I need your advice.
My love affair with aviation started a few years ago when I took my first flight in a Jetstream 41 out of FAPM. Back then I obviously knew very little about aviation, all I did know is that I loved being in the air, it felt surreal, I felt as if I had left earth. It wasn't until a few months later that my love for aviation really grew.
While bored on youtube I stumbled across videos of Microsoft's Flight Simulator X, I was fascinated. I'd never seen anything like it, a few days later having never purchased a computer game before (because I had never owned a computer before my first year at University) I went out and got it. Needless to say I sucked at first, really badly but as the months went on I got better and my love for aviation grew stronger.
I'd like to think of myself now as a highly experienced and skilled simulator pilot with a great love for the 737NG.
When I first came across your blog months ago I noticed that you hold two masters degrees and that really stuck out at me because it came at a time when I was seriously considering dropping out of the best university in Africa to try and pursue a career in aviation.
I thought maybe it is possible to do both, get a degree and become a pilot. Lately though, it has become harder and harder to in a sense ignore my love for aviation. I get lost in it, I spend hours on sites such as airliners.net, hours watching videos on youtube and JustPlanes DVDs, I spend even more time on my sim flying for the various virtual airlines.
Nothing quite calms like a ten minute JustPlanes teaser, I've watched my favourites hundreds of times and I keep watching them because I ALWAYS pick up something new, something that I hadn't noticed before, something that gives me more information about the DVDs I am yet to acquire.
What I would basically like to know is: How important is it to have a college degree as a pilot?
Today I changed faculties, I moved from commerce to humanities. I am now a Politics, Sociology and Social Anthropology Major. Proud to say that but as I walked out today having made the tough choice and given up my bursary to study what I enjoyed I couldn't help but feel that there was something missing, something that would make me even happier and that is simply aviation.
Lethukuthula, in the United States a college degree is essential for a career as an airline pilot. Supply and demand may vary that one day, but today ... if a pilot doesn't have a degree, they won't get hired by a major airline.
Must you have a degree to fly a plane? Of course not.
But an education will give you skills in how to learn, think outside the box, communicate, and will broaden your horizons.
When you're interviewing, and there is another pilot with the same flying experience as you, the other pilot with a college degree will get the job.
Piloting is more than stick-and-rudder these days. Leadership. Management. Communication. Understanding weather. Systems knowledge. Teaching. Computer programming. Reading. Writing. There are many skills you will learn in college that will carry over into your piloting career.
Airlines don't hire pilots... they hire captains. They hire leaders. They hire future instructors. Anyone can learn to fly a plane, but the associated skills are what will make you a great pilot, a safe pilot, an aviator that our future industry needs.
At 19, you have a long life ahead of you to fly. You can take flying lessons while attending college pursuing your studies.
The success and future of our industry and our world needs educated people. If you have the means... stay in school! One day you will thank me for this advice.
Does anyone else have any comments for Lethukuthula? I'm sure he would love to hear them.
Enjoy the Journey!