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"We are the protagonists of our stories called life, and there is no limit to how high we can fly."

PHD. MBA. MHS. Type rated on A350, A330, B777, B747-400, B747-200, B757, B767, B737, B727. International Airline Pilot / Author / Speaker. Dedicated to giving the gift of wings to anyone following their dreams. Supporting Aviation Safety through training, writing, and inspiration. Fighting for Aviation Safety and Airline Employee Advocacy. Safety Culture and SMS change agent.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Should I Become a Pilot?

I received a great question from a reader as to whether he should change careers and become a pilot. 

Hello my name is Tom.
I'm 26 single with no children living with parents in NYC.
I have a bachelor of science in police studies.

I work in law enforcement in NYC making around 2200 per month after taxes about in my 4th year.Excellent benefits sick days mutual days-meaning more then 2 days off, paid vacation days.

I was thinking about becoming a commercial airline pilot.
I read many blogs online wanted to know if its worth to make the switch.
I didn't like what I read that you spend 60K-80K to have all the certificates then you work as an instructor making around 20K and then if hired by the regional airlines you make less then 30K as a co-pilot.

In addition the job I learned isn't stable nothing guarantees that you will work in the airline forever.You might have furloughs at least 1 or more times in career starting your salary again from the bottom from a different company and pulling a second job on the side.

In my current job i can retire in my mid 40s having a monthly pension of about 4000-6000 per month tax free for life...then comes social security in later life which brings more money.I can also have a second job in my 40s just to have something to do.

Is there a possibility that I will live life comfortably in my older age if I choose to work for the airline industry and retire at age 65

Please reply back with your suggestions/opinions.

Tom, this is a great question.  The only answer I can give you is... you have to do what you love and the money will follow. And if it doesn't, you'll still be happy.  The decision to become a pilot  cannot be made because of the money. The industry is far too cyclical to count on a set income like you can in the police force.

To become a pilot takes far too much money and time... you basically give a piece of your life ... to do it for the money.

The only way you'll succeed, and be happy with the choice you've made, is if you have a passion for the industry. Whatever that industry is. This advice goes for any career that is highly specialized and requires a huge investment.

What would I do if I were you? Go take a couple lessons and see if you love it. If you do, then you could continue to live with your parents, use your paychecks to fund your flight training while working. You won't have to make the decision to change careers until you are ready for, and accept, that first flying job.  You'll also have a clearer picture where the industry is.

Or, at the age of 26 and you can retire at 45... spend the next nineteen years building your flight time. Join a flying club. Build hours.  Become an instructor. Teach on your days off.  Part time, at 400 hours a year, you'll have 7600 hours when you retire from the police department and still have a 19 year career with the airlines.

If it's a guarantee you want then maybe a flying career may not be the ticket.  But remember... there is no guarantee. You never know what's around the corner. I recommend do what you love, and you'll have a happier life.

Life is about the journey. Follow your passion and you'll make the right decision. Could that passion be flying? You'll never know until you do it.

Good luck on your decision!

~Enjoy the Journey~



  1. Excellent advice Karlene! I couldn't agree more. Right now I'm entrenched in a job that I'm starting to resent. You have to do what makes you happy Tom, regardless of the money. Because in the end, all that money isn't worth the stress of not doing what you love.

  2. Heather, you're so right about the money not being worth the stress. Sometimes we get caught up in the game of making money... but often that wealth goes away, and no fault of our own. We really need to focus on the quality of the moments, not the price we pay for to achieve some random financial dream.
    Thanks for your comment!

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with Karlene's answer. You hit it on the head. Aviation is a career choice ONLY for people with a passion for it. Don't expect to see the 'glory days' of being a pilot. I'm 33, looking to leave the finance world for aviation. I am also a part-time FF, considering a full-time FF gig, but my heart fully lays in aviation. My goal now is to retain my finance job, stay PT at my FF job, and work toward my instructor rating. I then hope to leave finance, instruct full time and work PT at the fire dept.

    I'm re-entering aviation NOT for the financial aspects, but for love of flying. I belong in the air, my family knows that, my kids know it even at their young ages. It will be tough, but I'm beginning to lay out a MUCH stronger, secure path then my initial, financially devastating foray.

    Feel free you email me directly with any questions. You can find my email at my blog profile, by clicking on my name above.

  4. Andrew, thanks for a great response to Tom.. and for offering him the ability to contact you with questions. I know you'll make a success in your career shit. You've got the heart and spirit of an aviator and nothing will stop you.

  5. The answer is always yes. Be a pilot whether for pleasure or for work. Forget everything else!

  6. EXCELLENT Answer Victoria! You tell him!

  7. A great response to Tom's inquiry, Karlene.

    For the love of flight!

  8. Tom,

    You asked some great questions but I think that you have to consider that changing careers is most likely never a smart decision. If you think about the fact that you have invested both time and money into your current career and that you would probably not be able to carry that investment into your new career, it’s not a wise choice. I’m not a professional pilot, but I’ve never met one that has said anything along the lines of, “If you looking for great job security and a solid retirement plan you should become a pilot.” If that is what you are want, you should probably stick with law enforcement. On the other hand, most of that same group of pilots has told me how much they enjoy their work and being part of an industry where the majority of people love what they do.

    I believe that you either need to make enough money that you don’t care what you do, or you need love what you do enough to not care how much you make. For me flying falls into the latter category and I’m presently planning to abandon what will be 13.5 years in my current career in order to pursue a career as a pilot. I can’t tell you why I’ve waited this long to change careers other than I had to build up the courage to take the leap. Chasing your dream and giving up security is a very hard thing to do.

    Call it an early midlife crisis or whatever you like, but I have to do it. When it comes to changing careers, the longer you wait the harder it gets. If you have a sliver of doubt that you are in the wrong line of work, now is the time to find the right one.

    Many people have told me that I’m making a mistake and that I shouldn’t quit my job. I have a wife and son and I take offence when people apply the word quitting to what I’m doing. I take my responsibilities as a provider very seriously. I’m not quitting because that would imply that I’m giving up. It’s actually quite the opposite. I’m going to have to work harder for less money and fight to make it, but I believe it’s worth it. Flying is fulfilling and satisfying versus my current job that leaves me feeling empty and morose. When I return home after a day in the air, I am a better husband and a better father. If I’m unhappy at work, it is too easy to come home and share my discontent with my family.

    Flying can be challenging but even after my most difficult flights I find that I am happy. After hours of getting my butt kicked around the sky and pouring my sweat soaked body out of the cockpit I feel exhilarated. Triumphs and failures are part of flying, but few things in life can top the aerial adventures of a pilot. Flying is a magical experience that has the intrinsic ability to refresh your soul. Whether my last flight is good or bad, fun or challenging, I’m always eager to fly again.

    My worst day of flying is better than my best day in my present job and is a sign that I need to make a change. While I have told me that I am crazy to walk away being more than half way to retirement, but I think that it would be crazier to stay.

    Take some time to think about it, but don’t wait too long. Good luck finding a career that meets all your needs, not just you’re the financial ones. Remember the most important thing is to not let your job get in the way of your life.


  9. Damon, Thank you for writing such a nice response to Tom. You're right... don't take too long. I always say there is no time like now. The power of now!


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