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Post Info TOPIC: Is 42 years too old to realistically think about flying as a professional pilot?

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Is 42 years too old to realistically think about flying as a professional pilot?

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The Career Advisor

Q: I am thinking about a career change. Is 42 years too old to realistically think about flying as a professional pilot? - Wendell

I just started my flight lessons at a local airport and absolutely regret not doing it 15 years ago. So the hard question is, am I too old to begin a career as a pilot? - Kevin


A: More than 80 percent of the queries sent to the Career Advisor are from airmen who have harbored the fantasy of "chucking it all" for a job driving an airplane.

First, there is a genuine pilot shortage brewing. Come to AOPA Expo 2007 and sit in on the pilot careers workshop scheduled for Saturday, October 6, from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and get the scoop. Now could be the time to step up to the plate.

There was a time when conventional thinking was simply that an airline could not recoup its training investment with a mature candidate. In the last decade, airline HR departments began hiring pilots in their twenties and in their fifties. Today the short answer is, "It's not too late to start." As testimony, your Career Advisor was hired into a United Express carrier at age 50. A colleague retired from the FAA's air traffic service and joined Trans States. There are hundreds of similar stories out there. Besides, no company will leave itself open to age discrimination challenges and adopt a "no old people" policy.

In today's environment, flying for a regional airline is an unavoidable first step. Pilot-in-command turbine time and FAR Part 121 experience are the bell-ringers for the major airlines, and the only way to acquire this experience is up front in a regional jet for three to six years or more. Starting pay at the regionals is approximately $20,000. After upgrading to an RJ captain in five to seven years, you might see $75,000. Of course, most RJ captains eventually want to jump to a legacy airline--where they are right back at $40,000 as a first officer on a Boeing. Sure, $150,000 annually is possible...with time.

In addition to the downshift in salary, there is the training cost to consider. Today's aspiring regional airline pilot is likely investing $65,000 to $100,000 or more while training at an aviation college, university, or academy. In this academic environment, that aviator is being exposed to a whole bunch of things you might not get at the neighborhood flight school. This is the competition.

So, how to do it?

Develop a very understanding family. Your spouse might need to carry the financial weight while you press on with your dream.

Develop a second source of income to float the family.

Develop a business that can be run by quality management in your absence, like a restaurant, clinic, or law practice.

Have a military or company pension? That could be the lifesaver.

If you're earning a middle-class salary, the financial challenges are formidable. And this could be the very reason why there is a pilot shortage today. Few rational thinkers want to invest big dollars for small pay up front, along with the grind of airline life. But it's hard to put a price on the thrill that comes with strapping on a flying machine.

-- Edited by flygc on Sunday 31st of May 2015 11:23:51 PM

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