Careers at Midlife
careers. It sounds like an intriguing idea,
and some of the flight school recruiting brochures are so enticing: fly
to exotic places, earn top dollar, operate sophisticated new-generation
airplanes while earning the respect of your family and friends. Certainly,
the stuff of daydreams.
be simple enough to choose an aviation career if you're just starting
out in the job world. But what if you're not a kid any more and you're
well-established with a family and other adult responsibilities? Can you
turn your professional pilot dream into a reality?
got a passion for flying, no doubt you've considered chucking that desk
job for the lure and romance of the wild blue yonder. Maybe, after years
of thinking about it, you've finally fulfilled your childhood dream of
learning to fly. Now, with your newly minted private pilot certificate
you're wondering just what it would take to make the change from weekend
to full-time pilot?
other hand, perhaps you've had your certificate for some years, flown
occasionally, but never really considered it as a serious option - until
now. Your day job pays the bills, puts food on the table, and is downright
boring. You ask yourself, "Am I crazy to seriously consider a career change
at this late date when I'm almost 35 (or 40 or 45) years old?"
the inhibiting factor that it used to be. Pilots with a real desire to
fly airplanes are finding jobs available as more experienced pilots begin
moving up out of their entry-level positions. Your maturity, educational
background, and "street savvy" will interest a pilot employer as long
as you demonstrate a sincere passion for flying and are willing to do
whatever it takes to make your flying career a reality. Your age and ability
to interact with customers will likely gain you some instant credibility,
often causing employers to assume that you've got more experience than
your logbook actually shows.
we go any further, let's cover one very important issue that you simply
can't ignore - your educational background. More than 82 percent of pilots
hired in 1999 by all airlines - large or small, passenger or cargo - had
a four-year degree in any subject. Pilots with two or three years of college
comprised just 12 percent of the total, while pilots with fewer than two
years were a mere 6 percent of those hired. Simply stated, if you don't
have a degree, start working on one, either in conjunction with your flight
training or as a separate long-term goal. Al-though maturity and flight
experience will net you points as you near the top of the aviation career
ladder, ignoring the educational preferences of employers will cause them
to question your ability to successfully complete their training programs.
seriously considering the possibility of a pilot career, begin by researching
all of the various training options available. Talk to your pilot friends;
visit the numerous aviation Web sites, including AOPA Online (www.aopa.org), for information on training options and advice; and check out your
local FBO, as well as any local or national organized flight school programs
that interest you. You've probably been reading those advertisements for
years; now it's time to go ahead and request the information so that you
can actually see for yourself what they're selling and how they propose
to put you in the pilot seat at a commercial airline.
investigation will become a very important part of your career education
and a good investment in your future. Think of this as your own personal
research project and devote serious time to considering each option, whether
it is an accelerated program that crams all of your flying into six intensive
months of training, a two-year college program that leads you to the right
seat at a specific regional airline, or a local FBO that offers all the
ratings you seek with no particular structure, save that which you design
to fit your personal needs.
other pilots from your age group who have attended your target schools.
Be sure to solicit some input from current attendees as well as those
who dropped out if you can get the company or school to come up with some
of these names. (A very good test, in my opinion, of a school's legitimacy
and honest business practices.) When you question pilots, ask them what
they liked and disliked about their training, how they came to choose
that specific company, and whether they would do anything differently
if they had to do it all over again. Another very important question is
how their estimated costs compared with what they actually spent on each
particular rating or certificate.
completed your training survey, take some time to make a quick passion
check to see where you fall on the "flying fanatic scale." This is not
as far-fetched as it may sound. After you have some idea of the dollars
you're likely to invest, or at least some minimums, ask yourself whether
your passion for flying has subsided. Are the sacrifices really going
to be worth the long hours and meager initial monetary return?
the "flight academy" training alternative. Imagine yourself away from
home and family for four to six months and see how you and your pocketbook
will feel. Visualize yourself attending daily classes with students half
your age and trying to relate to them during your off hours. Shared living
quarters may or may not be a part of the program, but realize that this
immersion system is harder on the older career changer for more reasons
than just financial ones. Are you still excited about the prospect?
the responsibilities that you leave at home? Can your present job survive
without you? What about your family, your friends, your other activities?
Will you come to resent what you've had to give up just to take on a job
that initially pays $800 to $1,200 a month and increases, at the regional
pilot level, to $1,200 to $1,800 per month? It may take you four to eight
years to regain your former income level.
decided to try and commute to your training site. Can you afford the travel
time and hassles that will interfere with your learning? Is your performance
going to suffer because you're exhausted just by getting there? What happens
when you don't finish the various ratings in the time allotted? Can you
afford the extra time and money it may take to accomplish your goal?
trying to paint a gloomy picture here so that you'll see the dark side
of the equation to help balance the glitzy "pilots wanted" advertisements
that can easily cloud your decision making. Now let's look at some less-glamorous
alternatives to the rapid immersion system to see if these options might
mitigate some of your concerns and achieve your goal at the same time.
as I like to call it, is the local training alternative that allows you
to complete your flight training at your own pace, on your own time schedule,
while still maintaining a "life" by hopefully funding the training through
a reduced work schedule and some shuffling of priorities. Since you are
facing a large financial drain, try to plan a training schedule that allows
you to minimize your dollar loss from your regular job.
you can begin work earlier or later to allow some training time each day,
much like at a "regular" flight school. Work with your instructor to set
up a structured program that lets you fly at least three or four times
a week and includes ground instruction before and after each lesson. If
the weather turns sour, or maintenance delays arise, you can devote that
lesson to ground school subjects. And do expect to pay for the ground
time, just as you pay for those flying hours. They're important to your
progress and will likely equal or exceed the time that you spend aloft.
find that you're having trouble studying at home, arrive at the airport
ahead of time and study in the flight school classroom where you'll have
the peace and quiet you require. If you work at it, you can likely duplicate
the big school's training environment by planning your training carefully
and sticking to the schedule with the same determination that fuels your
passion to fly.
expensive nature of your new career, particularly if you're starting out
from ground zero - very little or no flight time - plan to obtain your
private pilot certificate at your home airport. The training conditions
may not equal those that you see advertised, but you'll find that the
local contacts become in-valuable as you progress along your new career
path. The wealth of information you'll gain from the exposure to a wide
variety of pilots and their experiences will put you miles ahead of the
trainee who isolates himself.