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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.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Career Change? Should I Become a Pilot

Oliver Schulz, programmer, passionate aviation amateur and private pilot sent me great question last week. Encouraged by inspirational blogs of people changing careers---Oliver says:

"I have been debating whether or not to dare a career change at my age. I'm 43, unmarried, no kids, no debt, and pretty flexible. I have always wanted to fly professionally but somehow life played differently and I chose a different path. Now, at age 43, I see that my dream is still alive and always was. 

I have been in the travel business before working as a product manager for a one of America's biggest adventure tour operator and IT manager, creating reservations-system, fleet management software. I think I have a relatively accurate picture of the realities in the aviation industry, know a little bit about working conditions and salary levels, and still would be interested in ultimately daring the last career change as I have always enjoyed my flying as a private pilot, loved travel, and somehow never felt that my desire to do this for a living would dissipate over the years--- 

Would you think there is any realistic chance of ever being hired at my age after completing, for example, ATP's fast pace career pilot program and having worked as an instructor for some time? Though I think that even if I would be ready for a job with a regional at, say, 46, which would still give me about 15 years of service that I would offer to my prospective employer... I'm not sure if it is realistic to think that there is still a viable path. What's your take on that?

Oliver, I say--- GO FOR IT!

Retirements at American Airlines-- apparently they are going to have 80% of their pilots retire in the next 16-20 years. The growth opportunity for Delta airlines, with aging pilots, career potential is equally encouraging.
  • 2013 over 100 pilots age 65
  • 2014 over 850 60-65
  • 2016 over 2800 60-65
Pilots can fly until the age of 65.  You could potentially have "20" years to dedicate to your second career. What I see happening is you going to a regional to build hours. Because all the young kids ahead of you are moving to the major airlines that you upgrade to captain quickly. You end up loving what you're doing and fly the last 10 years of your career as a captain. And if you choose to go to the major airlines, of course at the age of 46 you could get hired!  When I was hired at Northwest Airlines, there was a man in my class who was 57, and that was when the retirement was at 60.

The most important thing in life is to follow your dreams and do what you love. If you've been thinking about this, and wondering "what if"--- you're searching for something new.

Can you do it? Without a doubt!
Should you do it? Why not?

You have the perfect opportunity to invest in yourself being you are single without kids. Heck, I'm 48 and in 5 years we could be flying to Rome together.

Follow your dreams, life is too short. Ask Lesley

More questions from WES, 19, who lives in Las Vegas Nevada and wants to become a pilot. And from Hariz in Malaysia who is working on his private pilots license. How should they proceed?

Wes and Hariz--- get your pilots license and earn a college degree. While you're attending college, build your flight hours. Flight instructing is a great way to do this. If you have parents who can help you, you're lucky. If not, take out student loans. You will be able to repay them all, and then some. 

Whether you are beginning a career, or changing careers, you just have to decide that's what you want. Go for it. Don't quit. The best thing about an aviation career, is that journey is the reward. How can you lose by following your dreams?

Anyone with advice and encouragement for Oliver or Wes, they would love to hear from you.

Enjoy the Journey!

Happy Flying ~ Karlene


  1. Nice post Karlene.

    I'm 31 now and just finished my JAA ATPL being full time employed while doing it.

    After spending more than 60.000 EUR in my flight instruction, I'm still not finding my way into the career change I dream of. The way into airlines nowadays is to pay another 40.000 EUR for some A320/B737 type rating at some airline partner FTO and wait for an airline call. Since that option means I need to quit my job, I just don't have the money to do it. Do you think there is a way to start as a pilot even with a low salary but avoiding having to pay for a type rating with no warranty of getting a job to pay it back?

    Can you share with us how you started as a pilot and what was your first job?

    Thank you!

  2. Manel, Congratulations on completing your JAA ATPL while being employed full time! That is quite an accomplishment.

    I am beginning to think that it's easier in the US to get trained. Also, if you decide to go the route to get a 737 type rating, I'm thinking you can get one for $6000 in the US. Don't quote me, but much less expensive than 40,000 EUR. If you're interested, I'll get you an exact quote.

    It is a gamble on whether or not you'll get a job, but depending upon supply and demand could be a necessity.

    In the US, most pilots take the route of becoming flight instructors to build their hours. That does present a challenge with few people learning how to fly, but doable.

    One of my Friday Flyers, Jason Shcappert-- look on the right, and scroll down-- created a career out of teaching. Read what he did, and maybe get some ideas.

    Me, I did some flight instructing. Ferried airplanes from the Cessna factory. Started a sightseeing business in an Aztec. Hung out at the airport bumming flights.

    I did pay for my 737 type rating. I looked at it as part of my education at the time-- like college. That rating gave me the ability to work for America West Airlines in their training department after Braniff filed Bankruptcy, and closed their doors for the second time.

    I do believe there is an opportunity for a low time pilot to build hours without a type-rating. It just depends upon who's hiring. China is currently hiring low time First Officers to fly A320 and 737-- but for those jobs, the type is required.

    Do this-- email me your resume with hours etc. I need to drop in and say hi to my old training company, Premair. They not only do type-ratings, but they do placements and know who is hiring and what they're looking for. There is no sense spending the money if the rating doesn't overpower your low time.

    Good luck!

  3. You have to do what you love. Life is too short not to! I say go for it fellas!

  4. Mid-forties is a wonderful age to start an entirely new career if possible. Talk to almost anyone who's chosen to turn their career path upside down when they reach that age, and they are happy campers! It's incredible what a life boost it can be to fully invest yourself in something you love doing, especially when it's something you only dreamed about before, or never let yourself dream about because it seemed unrealistic. (btw, I know a couple of people in their 60s who are starting new careers in the creative field, where age restrictions don't apply. They are thrilled!)

  5. Thanks Heather! I say that too. I think we're kind of changing our lives too. :) Soon Heather-- Very soon!

  6. Linda, excellent advice! I too have never met anyone who changed their career and said, "I wish I would have." Thanks for your vote of confidence and your examples.

  7. Thank you so much Karlene and every one of you.
    Your response is generally very encouraging.

    Though there is of course the considerable financial investment and the time requirement in terms of flight hours in order to be not only minimally qualified but proficient and competitive. And like me there would be the hundreds, if not thousands, of "young kids" who stream into the industry as well. It would be interesting to know how employers stand on the "age factor" in terms of probability to keep an employee once hired. Young people are more likely to press forward towards moving away to the more lucrative jobs, making their career. While older guys like me (oh God, that sounds so terrible :-) would probably tend to stay longer as they gain seniority and don't necessarily have the urge to switch employers all the time in pursuit of the next "better" airline job. For me, being a captain at a regional with a halfway decent pay and conditions might be as interesting as moving on to a major airline, starting over with zero seniority.... but well, I know too little about that.

    Another road to take and which I would find interesting is to fly as a corporate pilot as they often times are responsible for a whole array of other tasks besides flying. My background is that of a generalist who has worked in the travel business as a product manager as well as an IT manager. Something that seems like a somewhat odd combination at first. But often times, and particularly in smaller companies, organization meant optimizing the flow of processes and that is where my programming skills went hand in hand with my organizational responsibilities. It formed my organizational skills as a manager and my analytical mind as a programmer and certainly also was a good asset when I started my own software company. I am half German / half Spaniard, grew up in both countries and speak German and Spanish as my native languages (I have been a legal permanent resident in the US since 1999). I served in the German Air Force as a logistics specialist before I embarked on my professional life in the travel industry.

    So, I'm not sure if my background would be considered particularly valuable by the regionals or other airlines or corporate flight departments as it is not very specific to aviation. But then again, that's probably true for any career changer, hence "career changer" :-)))

    Ah yes... FBO or fast pace flight school... I heard a lot of controversy about that too. Well, that's another can of worms opened :-)))

    So, my questions are:

    Age competitive?
    As an "older" guy, would prospective employers (regionals) see me as somebody who is more likely to stay with them as I gain seniority over time (as opposed to jumping off to another airline and start with zero seniority at a higher age)? Or are the young pilots per se preferable who have already thousands of hours when they reach my age, hence bring more experience and more prospective work-years for an employer?

    Alternative Path
    Given my age and diverse professional background, the corporate flying route might possibly be a more feasible path?

    Training: FBO vs. Fast-Pace-School
    I heard controversial opinions. A lot of deterring stories are going around about, for example, ATP: From overpriced training, inexperienced instructors due to the fast personnel turn-over, undelivered training hours, etc.) How do airlines see pilots coming from these schools?

    FBOs seem to be more affordable, more flexible. But are airlines (including regionals or corporate flight departments) inclining more towards one or the other training concept?

    Thank you all so much for your input. I appreciate all the info and opinions from all of you. Well then... see you guys in "Rome" one day :-))


  8. Hi Oliver, To answer your questions...

    1. Age. Keeping pilots longer is not necessarily cheaper for the airlines. Longevity means paying a pilot more than his newer replacement. They don't necessarily want to keep pilots forever, from a financial perspective. Also, you are exactly right! I would rather higher and older commuter pilot knowing that he was not going to bail and jump to the airlines. Keeping experienced captains at the Regional level is a necessity. Pilots do use that job as a stepping stone. Finally, age. Face it, companies cannot discriminate. Therefore, if you're qualified-- you will stand out as an asset in many ways.
    Plus, like a fine bottle of wine--- don't men get better with age? Yes.

    2. Corporate route. Might not be not be the best. Many retired airline pilots take those jobs. Primarily because the insurance rate for corporations are so high, they dictate the experience level. Often two to three times higher, in most cases, than an airline job requirement.

    3. Fast paced verses FBOs.. Quite honestly, what you do after your training will count more. As long as you have your ratings, they know you're trained. Now, do you have the experience to fly with them? That's the question.

    But...something you might be interested in, check out tomorrow's blog. I think that every pilot should investigate this.

    Thanks for the great questions Oliver! Keep us posted on what you end up doing.

  9. Hi Karlene... yup, I also laughed at the briefness of the bare essentials of my condensed post when I first saw it occupying a full screen's height on your blog page **ha ha ha** :-)))) Oups... sorry about that. When I write, my fingers have their own life :-)

    But I wanted to thank you for all your dedication, advice and feedback, and for giving my questions a forum, despite your busy schedule. It's greatly appreciated.I will check back often.

    At this point, I will continue my training locally in pursuit of my CPL/CFI, trying to get as much air-time as possible. Everything else will fall into place. It's a matter of consequently moving forward being ready for whatever comes along, making connections, meeting people, flying and flying and... flying!! ;-)

    Thanks so much again.
    Cheers to you and all readers of this blog.

  10. Thanks Oliver, I have an idea for you. Why don't you take it upon yourself to see how many people you can find with planes, and see if they will have a fly-in, and take their female family members, and friends flying. You can coordinate this event by creating the event... take pictures, document, and register. What this will do is:

    Help Mireille meet her goal.
    Inspire women and girls to dream big.
    And--- help you connect with people who own planes. Then, you will surely keep to the sky!

    And you can enter a chance to win $100! Click on the $100 bill in the top corner. Now. Do it now. lol. We need you!

  11. Dears,
    I loved reading your conversation,
    I too have a dream to be a pilot, I just love travelling, airports, planes and flying.
    I am an Egyptian who graduated June 2010 with a Mechanical Engineering bachelor and a minor in business and now I work for Procter and Gamble as a supply chain manager.
    The dream of being a pilot keeps coming to me and I just avoid it in fear of wasting time getting back to collage and by the high expenses of it.
    I want to ask you how can I start, and where should I seek education, and how long will it take me to start generating income given that I have no background in aviation and I am 23.5 years old.
    Thank You :)

    1. Yehia, college is never a waste of time. But it sounds like you have your college degree. Now you need to start flying. Do you have any FBO's (Fixed Based Training)in your area? It is expensive, but what price is your life worth? Let me know what you do.

  12. Hi Karlene
    I'm Melissa, a 21yr old in Zimbabwe whose biggest dream is to become a pilot. I have had the passion for longer than I can remember. The only problem is finances. I graduated from high school in 2012 and I've been doing an accounting course for the last 3yrs (which has been basically on and off simply because it's not my dream but rather a second best option for my parents.)

    I've since tried to get acquainted with tuition free universities in Germany to study aviation management for the sake of jumpstarting my career but the earliest I can start would be next year. I can't imagine waiting another year to do something worthwhile.

    Would you have any advice whatsoever or other means I can explore to help me with my problem...

    1. HI Melissa, I would suggest you read Flight To Success, be the captain of your life... here is a link.
      If you are going to get a free education, that is pretty impressive. Read the book and then you might get more inspired. Good luck!


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