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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 30, 2013

Aviation Reality 101

Pilot: Is this the career for you?  

Last weeks post on the Pilot Shortage turned into quite the discussion and debate.

It turned from a positive outlook into a complaining session to how hard it is to become a pilot and how bad the job is. But those comments sparked some interesting thoughts about the job itself. If you think becoming an airline pilot is going to be easy, immediate rewards, and safe and secure... this might not be the job for you. 


Becoming a pilot is expensive and will take years of training. That's the truth. I say it is worth the investment. Despite the 8 airlines and numerous times I've started over... I'm very glad I chose this career. Every day I feel like I won the lottery.

But then I don't fear a good challenge and never searched for easy. To me easy is boring. But some people need security and a guarantee in life. And if that's you then becoming a pilot might not be a good career choice. I wanted to recommend an easy, safe with all the guarantees job for you, but in today's world there are no guarantees. However, if you want to sleep in your own bed every night then a job that takes you around the world might not be the smartest choice.

For those who thought you would become a pilot and have instant success, money and a great schedule...were mislead. You won't. I'm not sure where we got confused about this, but this is the reality. The good takes time. And it's hard because it's supposed to be.  We need to weed out those who don't have the determination to keep flying that plane when the shit storm hits.

Pilot Career 101:

Wait to get Married and Start a Family

Those early years will be low pay and you're never home. Why would you get married and start a family and then blame the job for your dissatisfaction? You know what it takes. Be patient. There are always exceptions to the rules. If you have a spouse that understands why you're gone and is working, go for it. If you can balance a budget on the initial pay. Why not? This works. You can have it all, but it takes a unique situation and two very understanding people. But guys (and gals) don't expect marital bliss when your other half is at home with a new baby, no help and you're on the road 'having fun'.

Accepting Low Pay

Corporate executives reading this post... you are free skip this section. But for all you pilots who complain about the low wages at the commuter level, you are partially responsible for this. If there were no pilots who would fly for cheap, they would have to pay you more and provide better schedules, etc.

I understand where you are coming from. You are building your hours. I was there, I get it. But as a collective group, you are making your choice. So either live with it or change it. Think about this... commuter pilots are required to have the same amount of flight time as the airlines require. You are carrying the same passengers. You are equally responsible. But you fly more challenging routes. You do more circuits in a day. You face a groundhog day effect. Why wouldn't you be paid an equitable rate? You should.


1500 Hour Requirement

Yes... this is the new reality. Or is this an old reality? When I was hired by America West Airlines in 1990, I went into the training department because I only had 1400 hours of flight time. It did not matter that 700 of those hours were as a 727 first officer. I also had a thousand plus hours as a 727 Second Officer with Braniff. Great experience? I thought so. But the reality was... they wanted 1500 hours of flight time. No exceptions! Exactly the same requirement today and no reductions for Ab initio schools or military flying.

Building Flight Hours

In today's world there are fewer opportunities to build flight hours. If you have time on your side you can build those flight hours a couple a week and make it. But most of you want that career now.

What would I do if I wanted to build my flight time today? I would get my single-engine and multi-engine instructors licenses and get checked out on as many planes as possible. Then I would let it be known that I fly with pilots who need to get proficient in their planes with me as a safety pilot. I would be flying all the time. There are thousands of airplane owners who don't fly often who need you.

I'm going to buy an A36 and will need a pilot to teach me how to fly it and make sure I'm proficient in every area. If you want the job... sign up below. Trust me, there are people out there who will hire you for your experience as an instructor.

Airline Pilots Complaining

For those who have the best job in the world and still feel the need to complain... I always wonder why they are still flying. If they really thought there was something better out there they would be gone. I think working 20 days per month versus 10 is a little less desirable than they want to admit. This is a great job.

I suspect they complain because their life didn't turn out like they thought it should. Yet some complain because nothing will ever be enough. And yet others really got a raw deal. But for those of you who got a raw deal, I'll tell you a story of ten who had it worse.

Pilot Shortage

Since when did anyone take a job because they thought there was going to be a shortage? Supply and demand comes and goes with the economy. The numbers show that we will need pilots in the future. Fact or fiction, you decide. But how many more attorneys do we need? I don't see law schools searching for students, they are full. John left a great comment on the pilot shortage post...

"Shortage or over supply; in how many other occupations? How many architecture graduates are working directly as architects 5 years after graduating? They may be in a 'related' field, but not directly as architects. This is the story in many professions. So, aim high & keep climbing. I remember being told as a kid that it's (life) about 'persistence & perseverance'" Johnblyon


There will be ups and downs in this journey called life. You will go full speed and run into a roadblock you did not expect. But then you figure out how to go around it or take a different route. Life goes on when the path changes. It's just another adventure. I really didn't start over with 8 airlines, I just added to the experience from the last and carried it forward to the next.

Another comment said,

"When you can combine a passion with a profession 
you are living!" 

What Would You Do  
If Money Was No Object?

What drives your passion?

Do you want to become a pilot?  
Then go for it! The time is right. Now!  

Enjoy the Journey!
XO Karlene


  1. Karlene, this is an excellent post, I love it! As someone who has had multiple jobs (on company #6 and been through a furlough) working towards the final airline career goal, I can without a doubt say it's not easy. I just had a discussion tonight with one of our dispatchers who wants to be a pilot. After quite a long discussion with him it was pretty obvious to me he really has a passion for flying. And I told him that's what mattered. You have to love aviation/flying/airplanes or this isn't the right career. Bad things happen to good people - furloughs, airline shutdowns, etc, and it's never easy for anyone. But passion will drive success. And most importantly, as you mentioned this isn't easy even if things do go well. So if you don't love it, this probably isn't for you. But if you do, go for it! Too many people spend their life doing something they don't like. If flying makes you happy, I personally think it's a wonderful career choice. And as with any job or really anything we do in life, it is what you make it. I think it's always important to look for the positives!

    1. Daniel, Thank you for the great comment. Just yesterday someone asked me if I knew of anyone who had a struggle in this career. I laughed and said, "I don't know of anyone who didn't." But then struggle is all about perspective.

      You've worked hard for your passion and will have earned all the success you receive in your life!

      This is your one and only life. I agree... do something you love.

  2. Thanks Karlene, for not gilding your description of the flying career. This career does not have many of those attributes that formal research indicates will lead to happiness for most people. It is a relatively easy job for those who can do it, but still a tough life for pilots and especially for their families. I come from a family of military and airline pilots, and my siblings and I have steered our children away from becoming career pilots. I will leave this career to kids with determination, who tolerate conditions and pay that talented and skilled kids will not. I’ve been around this career my whole life, and I work with a variety of other industries. I do not think a pilot shortage will make this career worth the cost compared to other equally challenging options.
    This career used to compete with med-school and law-school for highly capable people, it no longer does. Now we have a generation of "determined" pilots, who may or may not belong in a cockpit. The pilots of Comair 5191 were determined, and put up with very tough conditions to follow their dreams, but they proved not up to the task when problems arose. Had they not met their end in that field in Kentucky, they would probably be excited about their chances of flying or a major airline today. Yeah, I spoke ill of the dead, but their deaths still inspire some attempts at improving the situation.
    Thanks to low pay and poor conditions, we now have a generation of pilots coming up without the right stuff, and there is no turning back. The airlines have changed training to pushing the right buttons and uttering the right words, making sure they can set up the automation in routine flying and in emergencies. These pilots are cheaper, airlines are saving money, and not too many passengers are dying. The airlines are still pushing hard for still cheaper pilots, eventually the process will result in unacceptable problems for everyone.

    1. No worries on the comment. Death in a plane is something we should speak of to make sure it never happens again. This is the exact reason I am writing my novels. You hit my book two, Flight For Safety on the head with training issues and pushing hard for the almighty dollar.

      The question is... how do we get this next generation of pilots to have the right stuff?

      This is my idea to help this problem:

      This is what I'm doing with my books:

      I will do my best to create the change we need.

  3. Great Post! I wish more people would understand that it is about quality of life and not how much money you make. Money is not the key to happiness. Being a pilot takes a lot of work but the pay off is amazing. I love my job and the places it takes me. I started my family before I came to the airlines. Best decision I ever made. I got married and had our first son all while I was flight instructing. Fortunately I am married to a pilot that is fully supportive of me and my career. (Of course it goes both ways!) This industry has so much to offer. If you have the aviation bug give it a try. Take the challenge, be positive, and enjoy the ride!

    1. Thanks for your comment Sabrina. I did the same. I suspect this is the difference if you have to be the bread winner or not. My plan began with having the job first. But when I married my husband, time to have children became the issue. So I had my children while I was flying, building my time, etc.

      The opportunity to move on came earlier than I had planned, so the struggles of flying and managing a family became the challenge. But we made it.

      So you are right, it can work both ways. Thanks for your comment!

  4. Bonanza training? Count me in!

  5. this pretty much says it all...

    Not easy but not imposible.

    1. Thank you for sending the video! I got hired by NWA when I was 35 years old... and half the class was older than I. So... it is possible without a doubt. Thanks for the comment!

    2. It´s a struggle for sure, I am 36 and woke up some months ago wanted to be a pilot but all the people I talked to said-you know head over to the US and do all the flight ratings there and convert the license and ratings in europe and when you are done with that you could have enough hrs for a airline job..but i have a family and a great job already so i have decided just do to my PPL thanks for a great site..// Toby, Sweden

  6. Thank you very much for this awesome note! I am myself just a PPL pilot in Europe, & I intend to go to Canada to get a CPL IR/ME. I know it is going to be hard, but hey... This is THE dream job! I was intending to become an instructor ASAP in order to build up hours in any way possible, and your article gave me more confidence in the way I should do this... Every young aspiring pilot should be ready to bust their ass to be on any flight possible, and even to be a rampy for a year or two, to show that you're ready to do whatever it will takes... Thank you for making all this clear as water!!

    1. Sebastien, You are welcome and thank you for the comment. Follow your dreams and you will always be headed in the right direction. If you're ready for it... you can handle anything!

  7. Hi Karlene and thank you for what is probably one of your top-ten posts of all time. Countless young women and men would go to almost any length today, to 'score' a seat with the majors. The brightest of the lot will have already decided whether they want the risk, have the motivation and whether they are willing to live in poverty for the 10+ years necessary to gain an FO's seat with a 'major.' Many are well suited, but some are not. I wonder if some of these young folks understand the difference - or demands of their first 10-15 of commercial flying. When those not well suited to eventual command are eliminated, then (perhaps only then) will the shortage become real. I realize that we've already had a practical minimum of about 1500 hours for years and I'm personally in favor of keeping it that way, by law if necessary. I become more than a bit frightened of many foreign carriers when I read about accident pilots who had 1-2-3 hundred hours' TOTAL TIME before they began flying their ATP-class aircraft. They are not PILOTS; they are programmed systems operators. While 250-500 hours may be enough time to begin flying 2-20 pax (as FO) in an air taxi setting, it is NOT enough to begin flying 150-500+ pax on big metal. I know that I'll get blasted for expressing this but I don't much care. I do not have any answers about how these young pilots can accrue the hours, other than what you have already offered, but the U.S.'s standards must remain high.
    Sorry for the rant, but good experience correlates to safety like no other...
    When the time comes, please tell us about your A36 training and 'type rating,' and how long it takes to feel comfortable with a new type, a mini-type with your experience. We'll know that you feel comfortable with your new airplane when the grand kids begin riding - and that was not intended to be funny. And lastly... What is the status of your book? As soon as I finish Capt. Palmer's book about AF447, my AV-list runs dry. I might have to read some ordinary fiction. Best wishes, -C.

    1. Thanks for your comment Craig, the funny thing is I have some good friends who have retired off the 747 5+ years now and they started with 250 hours. Some were told to get a pilots license and come back when they had it, and they did. Yep..they did not know how to fly and were hired and moved up quickly. A different world then for sure.

      Yes... you will need some fiction to rest your brain after learning so much in Bill's book. Update. I will be ready to do the final proof read by the end of this week! It's going well. But be's long. :)

    2. Multiple hugs, Karlene! I cannot see a 'U.S. Major' hiring or obligating at 250, but, where there is a need... Captain Palmer's book is keeping me busy until YOUR book is available and, If I did not mention it, Eric Auxier's wonderful book, *The Last Bush Pilots* filled some time with great pleasure. I'm just now thinking about how to review his excellent book. The two of you should consider team effort someday.
      Thanks for the update on your own work. I hope you get at least one foreign set of eyes on it before it hits the presses as you are probably too close to it to be the final editor; you'll see things that are not there... I'll stand in line (for a bit) if necessary and I'm really looking forward to reading your second episode. I do not own a TV, but I devote at least that much time to my reading. I think you know the head honcho of your publishing house rather well, so offer him a bit of chapter four to finish the final edits. Press time or electron pumping time? I use Kindle format these days, but still buy and treasure hard books from my friends. Where do I sign up for early copy list? XoXo, -C.

    3. Hi Craig, Thanks for the comment. I am so glad you loved Cap'n Aux's book. I did too. And that extra set of eyes... I had three on the first. I think there are two issues... One, too close. Two, engaged in the story and reading too fast. This time I am reading over and over and over.

      And taking my time. And then will send to my second set of eyes again. Consider yourself signed up! :)

  8. Addendum: With apologies, I forgot to mention the profound passion of many/perhaps most young pilots. Never, NEVER under estimate the power of passion! (Against all odds, some genuine passion to reach a goal earned me a nice 30-year career, one that I enjoyed with an equal measure of passion until the final few months. Then, it was similar to loosing one's first class medical; no amount of effort is enough and it is time to read, reflect, write, slow to 75% speed and discover that flowers often have a pleasant odor - if one takes the time... When you are 10+ older, you may understand that a bit better... XOXO, -C.

    1. Craig, I am beginning to understand that now. I don't need to wait 10 years. :) Thank you so much for your reminder on the power of passion!

    2. Thanks. We are one the same page, enjoying it - and you, (very young lady) have a gaggle of beautiful grand children to prove it. I well understand your nearly perfect environment; I spent my primary years <25 miles south at Brown's Point/Dash Point. While different now, just like your beautiful home, it is never the wrong place to call home. I await your book with [you are the writer, so fill in some fun words here=...] Please keep me posted and no need to reply again. -C.

  9. Karlene,

    I disagree with Cedarglen, this is your best post ever. I love that you just cut through the static and said it like it should be said. I am going to read this to the aviation club at my kids school, because this is what they need to hear.

    1. Thank you Rob, I say go in with eyes wide open and if you know the rules and want to play... have fun!

    2. Hi @ Rob. Cedarglen writing here. I'll agree with you - but... If you are not a long term reader of Karlene's posts, you have missed a lot of wonderful wisdom. If I may be so bold, please read through some of her archives; this flying grandmother has a wealth of wisdom to offer and I did not want to cut her off at the knee with her current post. There is a LOT more brilliance to be had, so I called it as top-ten. Happy reading, sir. You won't regret the time spent. -C.

  10. Excellent reality check post!

    It's tough. It really ****** is! haha. I really like that last paragraph about life, not just the pilots life. And how we have to "figure out how to go around it or take a different route."

    I have been beaten down many times, from flight school troubles, to first job roadblocks, and now accepting low-ish pay, long hours, away from family, and all that stuff.

    It's like risk. We have to learn what to accept and what not to accept, or change things around to an acceptable level.

    Today I (finally) passed my 500 hour mark. Not before spending a whole day in a crappy reserve/community up north, choosing to sleep inside the plane that the crappy terminal, in the cold of the beginning winter. 2 years since graduation and this is what I have to put up with. The good thing is that it only gets better from here (typically), and so the fact that I'm surviving this, is pretty damn lucky!

    1. Congratulations on your 500 hours Ramiel! And I do know how hard you have struggled. But you never gave up and willing to do the work. You will make it all the way and it will be so nice! Good days to come. But remember, these are the good ole days.

  11. Thank you Karlene....27 years of flying and you gave me "goose bumps"...:-)
    .“The world needs dreamers and the world needs doers
    But above all The world needs dreamers who do.”
    Sarah Ban Breathnach

    1. Hi Sarah, I love that saying! "The world needs dreamers who are doers." Thank you so much for the great comment.

  12. johnblyon@hotmail.comOctober 31, 2013 at 4:38 PM

    another comment; I spent a number of years in the Army (Australian & I'm a 'Vet'). It was drummed into us "adapt and overcome"; so get on with it.

    1. I love it. And if we could all adapt and overcome think of all we could accomplish! Thank you so much for the comment!

  13. I give this blog ***** 5 out of five stars Karlene.
    Probably the best i've read in Flight to Succes.
    Thank you for letting us see the light, and to remind me of what
    I have forgotten.
    I know i complain sometimes, but you remind me that any day
    Up in the clouds is better than most on the ground, regardless
    of pay and working conditions.
    A long time ago we used to say : "hell, i'll work for free if (Delta) hired me to fly their heavies" , ha, ha, now that's passion. I guess if you love your passion enough, it stops
    Being work and becomes more of a hobby, and if you do get that cushy job at the majors, well, that just becomes the icing on my cake ,with the cherry on top!
    DO WHAT YOU LOVE, because there are alot of worse jobs out there. Aviation is not work, when compared to manual labor.
    Thank you Karlene, for setting me back on course.


    1. Thank you Nigel! Yes, we have to follow our passion...but we must remember to not work for free. :) As much as we want to. But if you love what you're doing and can make a life doing that, it's great. Stay on course and you will get to where you are going.
      Thank you for the great comment.

  14. PS. - On previous blogs, i really want to thank you for taking
    Your time and answering each and every comment.
    I really appreciated, and it means alot to me.
    Thanks again, Karlene.

  15. Do what you love because you love it and have passion for it!! Not the money! I'm only beginning on my journey to being an airline pilot, but I know it's the career for me! :) GREAT post Karlene, love it

    1. Thank you Brandon! And being at the beginning you'll get a heck of a ride. Hopefully in exceptional times. As you said, I'm not sure what Canada is like. But if it's not can fix it! Keep up the great work and attitude and you'll make it. I know it.

  16. To be or not to be
    That is the question

    I'm going to be a Pilot.
    I want to be a very good Pilot.
    Everything is possible.


  17. Karlene,
    Your write-up is right-on! I started out thinking I wanted to be an airline pilot after graduating in 1997. 17+years later and married with one child, I still love flying (fly 1-2+ times a week) but perhaps flying commercially was not my cup of tea. Or perhaps I did not have the foresight, patience, toughness, and as much passion as you or others have had to make this a career :) Pilots by nature are a passionate bunch and my hats off to those who chose this as a career.

    For me, making a 6 figure pay check within couple of years out of school and never have to worry about: furloughs, living out of a suitcase, shrinking 401K contributions, failed medical, etc etc., I cannot feel to begin the pain of those who have been or are miserable as a result of choice they made. However, as you said yourself, it is a choice one makes! I do not complain because I have seen three of my friends, who are flying corp or airline. While all of them are content, I still think I made the right choice - THEY TELL ME SO! :)

    If I was as focused early in my career, I may have gone this route. I may have worked 15 years+ to find stability or may be still struggling. But I disagree with this notion that you work 15+ years and you would have made a career out of it! Unfortunaetly bad business and deermintation to make everything Union's fault does need leave any room to make your employees part of your business - for most airlines!

    For me, QOL trumps seeing the world (whether you mean flying same legs again and again or an enticing career that takes you to a new place every few weeks). Bottom line: we all make choices and we can continue to massage and change as we see fit. There are no poor-souls in this game.

    I have adjusted my goals and kept my dream of flying by working all the way to be a CFI. I love flying. I love teaching. I love talking flying. But I also am content with my IT career, working from home, and having the liberty to do everything else too - well, may be with the exception of being an airline pilot ;) I am happy coming home every night to my family because to me no amount of globe trotting is fun without having them in that trip!!! NO AMOUNT! Last but not least, pilot life is not for everyone - especially if you want to have a balanced life-style - at the start, middle, or towards the end of your career!

    1. You are so right...there is no guarantee that you work 15 or 20 years and can make it. It's just about timing. There are people who have struggled for years and bobbed and weaved the wrong way. But then, I think making it is subjective too. All about the priorities in life.

      I think that anyone who can sustain a job they love, and make enough to fly and play with planes as their passion ...has it all. Far too many people who love flying, lose that passion because the job turns into something other than the fun they had with planes. Not what they envisioned.

      Adjusting goals is something so many forget to do. Life is dynamic and with that comes circumstances that shift.

      But... if you keep flying on the side. When the kids are off to college, and you get restless... you could still have that airline job. If you have the hours, there will be a job for you one day. Maybe fly the last ten years. :)

      It's all good when you wake up with a smile on your face.

  18. The glamor wears off after you've had your days off rolled more times than you can count, planes arw constantly broke, and you're dealing with winter weather on reduced rest. Never again. I'm in this job now (it is not a career), so I'm seeing it through... but the gains are definitely not worth the effort or risk. When your union president tells you your company has to fit within a "cost box", at the expense of you and your coworkers, instead of working to bring that flying in house, there is something wrong. The glory days are gone. We're glorified bus drivers with lower pay and worse benefits.

    1. I am so sorry your career has turned into a job you don't like. I had days like that, but now I see the other end of the rainbow. I guess I stuck it out long enough and kept moving on... fate decided it was time to give me a great hand. But then, I enjoyed even the hard times.

      I hope that you find some joy in your work. Or maybe find something else to do. This is your one and only life, you should do it with something that makes you happy.


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