View Full Version : Some questions about becoming a professional pilot

01-31-2018, 08:36 AM
Hello, I'm a student in high school and I recently became interested about pursuing a professional pilots degree. Most of the things I can find online about this career field are very broad, and I just had several questions I was hoping could be answered for me. These questions are:
1. How can you get a start as a professional pilot?
2. How has the career changed as pilot?
3. With technology advancing every day, what is the outlook for pilots in the coming years?
4. What's the difference in work environment for commercial as opposed to private?
5. What are typical hours for a pilot?
6. Can you maintain a family as a professional pilot?
7. What is the difference between working for a larger airline or working for a smaller airline?
8. What are the differences between passenger and cargo pilots?
9. What are the best schools to attend for a professional pilots degree?
10. What can I do this summer to get started working toward becoming a pilot?

Any help with these questions would be much appreciated, thank you!

01-31-2018, 01:15 PM
10. Get your private pilot license.

01-31-2018, 01:30 PM
1. Get your private pilot license.

Now all you need is some answers for numbers 2-9 from professional pilots... which I am not.

01-31-2018, 04:22 PM
A good read regarding income potential - Google is your friend:



01-31-2018, 05:35 PM
Hey Nate.

Apply to EAA's Air Academy summer camp. Go to your nearest EAA Chapter and ask if they have any sponsorship support available.

If you email me I can go through your list one item at a time but it would take too long to do it here.

01-31-2018, 07:58 PM
1. Contact JetBlue to inquire about their new proprietary 4 year commercial pilot program that does not require any previous flight training and is open to applicants from any background. It costs but you'd pay this much to go through a traditional flight training program at institutions like Embry Riddle or any university or flight school program. Most important to know right now is that the airlines are in the midst of a serious pilot shortage worldwide that will continue for at least
the next decade. So your timing is very good.

6. With the possibility of flying to different continents weekly, you may be able to maintain numerous families.

7. Filet Mignon vs. Mac and Cheese

8. I had a neighbour who was a veteran 747 captain for Air Canada. He flew passengers for many years and then requested a transfer to strictly cargo aircraft. I asked him why. He replied, "Cargo doesn't talk or complain." He sold his house and moved to the Caymen Islands for tax reasons(i.e no taxes) and commuted to work by airline to pick up his scheduled flights. He and his wife could easily do this dream life, they didn't have kids, just 2 large Huskies.

02-01-2018, 05:51 AM
I sent you a PM.

Eric Page
02-01-2018, 09:05 PM
1. How can you get a start as a professional pilot?

Probably the three most common routes to a commercial airline cockpit are the military, flight instructing and "other." Other encompasses everything else: pipeline patrol, banner towing, traffic reporting, tour flying, flying freight -- anything you can do to build flight time. For reasons that should be obvious, multi-engine time is vastly more valuable than single-engine.

2. How has the career changed as pilot?

Pilots are becoming more and more systems managers as airplanes become more technologically advanced. In fact, over the last few years the FAA has put particular emphasis on hand-flying skills in airline recurrent training because of a perceived lack of basic flying skills in airline cockpits.

Airline pilots are working more than ever before. Concessionary contracts during the most recent economic downturn have resulted in higher productivity (more flying, less time off). Wages have been increasing in recent years and may continue to do so as the pilot shortage plays out, but there will be another downturn.

3. With technology advancing every day, what is the outlook for pilots in the coming years?

Good question. I presume you're asking about the possibility of totally automated, pilotless airplanes. It's certainly a fear among commercial pilots, particularly those at the start of their careers, but achieving it will be a very steep hill for airframers and operaters to climb. Someone posted a video last year of a robot "landing" a 737 simulator. Those with Boeing flight experience had a good laugh, as the robot did nothing more than lower landing gear and flaps, and engage the second autopilot for an autoland.

If this is going to happen, it will start with small drones making package deliveries (which we're already seeing). The next step might be automated cargo flights, and maybe something like the flying taxi concept that Uber is working on. My personal guess is that pilotless commercial passenger flights are many decades away. The existing fleet of piloted aircraft is vast, and no manufacturer is even talking about building an airliner without seats in the nose. There's also the regulatory hurdles to overcome, as well as resistance from passengers.

This is another thing commercial pilots laugh about. I can't tell you how often we say, "What's it doing now!?!?" If the automation in modern airliners is any indication, the technology just isn't ready for full automation. You sure wouldn't get me in the back of a robot airplane.

4. What's the difference in work environment for commercial as opposed to private?

The two biggest differences are schedule pressure and equipment capability. In general aviation, there shouldn't be pressure on you to complete a flight, while in the airline world, there are a dozen to hundreds of people counting on you to get them safely to their destination. Most general aviation aircraft lack the capability to operate in the kinds of weather that a jet airliner can cope with. We routinely operate in icing conditions, rain, snow, and with very low ceilings and visibility. The aircraft equipment, training and presence of two pilots makes that possible, whereas a single pilot in a typical GA airplane just can't operate safely in those conditions.

5. What are typical hours for a pilot?

This is a very hard question to answer. It depends a great deal on what kind of flying you prefer, and to a great extent on your seniority. Everything in the airline pilot's work life is predicated on seniority. If you're very senior and you like flying "turns" (1-day trips with a single out-and-back), then you'll be home every night and have a pretty normal lifestyle. If you're not so senior, you'll fly multi-day trips with one to four legs per day. Some days will be easy, others will be a slog.

Take me as an example. I've been with my current employer (one of the remaining legacy carriers) for just over three years, so I'm a mid-low seniority First Officer. I have a 1:20 drive to the airport, so I prefer trips with later show-times. I'm usually able to get them, but it means flying only three- and four-day trips. I'm not able to choose where I fly (a senior pilot might choose destinations s/he likes) and I can't get weekends off. Because I started this career later in life, after another career, I'll never have good seniority as a Captain; there are hundreds of pilots senior to me who are younger and will out-last my retirement age.

This point is one of the real keys to a successful pilot career and good quality of life. Get started as young as you can and push HARD to get your major airline job as quickly as possible. Do whatever it takes. Move across the country to take whatever job you can get. At the regional airline level, upgrade to Captain at your first opportunity, even if it means commuting for reserve duty. Get your hours and get a major airline seniority number in your twenties. You'll thank me later.

6. Can you maintain a family as a professional pilot?

With a LOT of hard work, yes. Your spouse has to be fully aware of what your pilot lifestyle will be like, and truly be able to accept it. If she's not independent (able to handle life's little emergencies when you're not home), or if she has jealous tendencies (worried about what you're doing on layovers), then it won't work. I have no statistics to back it up, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there are more divorces among airline pilots than the general population. It's a perennial joke that senior Captains work to support their ex-wives.

The bottom line is that if you're big on family involvement, this might not be the career for you. If you have children, you're going to miss important events in their lives. With the advent of technologies like FaceTime and Skype, this is much less of a problem than it once was, but seeing your toddler take his first steps on an iPad screen from your hotel room in Detroit is not the same as helping steady him as he takes those steps. You're going to miss his school events, sports games, etc.

Don't discount the importance of this as you grow older. It's easy for a young single person to brush aside the importance of family life, but it can become a crushing burden as you mature. I have a friend at another airline who has put off upgrading to Captain and bids for a reserve schedule just so that he can maximize his time at home with his growing kids. He's leaving many tens of thousands of dollars on the table, but he has other priorities.

At the regional airline I worked for, I saw a Captain melt down on the phone with crew scheduling. He was supposed to be off for a holiday and had family coming into town, but they demanded that he work an unscheduled shift. The conversation deteriorated into shouting, and he finally told them to take the job and shove it. He dropped his company ID and manuals on the domicile Chief Pilot's desk and walked out. Career over.

7. What is the difference between working for a larger airline or working for a smaller airline?

Two words: variety and money. If you fly for Delta, your pay and opportunities to see the world are going to be vastly different than a pilot at Allegiant. That said, the Allegiant pilot will be home most nights even when junior (that's how Allegiant schedules its crews).

There's also a bit more anonymity possible at larger airlines. I've met my boss exactly once. I'm sure he wouldn't recognize me on the street. I go to the company training center once a year for recurrent training; otherwise, I show up, fly my trips and go home.

If you want basic details about all of the airlines, take a look at:


At the top of the screen, click on Airline Profiles, then the business sector you're interested in. Each airline has a listing with details of their operation, fleet composition, pay scales, pilot group composition and retirement schedule, etc. There's also a forum, but read it with great care. There's a lot of very twisted information on the APC forums. Take it all with a grain of salt.

8. What are the differences between passenger and cargo pilots?

Sunlight and darkness! The freight guys fly a lot more at night than passenger airlines (but passenger airlines are realizing that price-sensitive passengers are willing to fly at night to save money, so more and more flights are happening at night).

You can split the cargo operators into two main groups: package delivery and freight logistics (known broadly as ACMI: aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance -- the things these companies provide to their customers). There's some overlap between the groups (FedEx and UPS are primarily known for package delivery, but both also offer logistics services), but there are significant differences in the flying they do. A friend used to fly for Southern Air (an international air freight carrier) and was typically away from home for 21 days at a time. He tired of it pretty quickly and switched to a passenger airline.

Other than the destinations and time of day, there's not too much difference between passenger and package delivery flying. Either way you're flying one- to multi-day trips on a Boeing or an Airbus.

9. What are the best schools to attend for a professional pilots degree?

NONE. In my opinion, professional pilot degrees are a waste of time and money. My advice would be to avoid them like the plague. Many airlines prefer to hire pilots with college degrees, and some (notably Delta) used to prefer ex-military and pilots with engineering degrees, but those days are gone. You definitely should have a college degree, but you should study something that you can use if flying doesn't work out. You never know when the next economic downturn will happen, and you could end up on furlough with no marketable skills.

If you were my son, I would be encouraging you to study something in a career field that will be needed long-term, that you enjoy, and that has good income potential. This means things like engineering, computers/technology or medicine. Do NOT put all your eggs in one basket and assume that flying will pay your bills for an entire career. All it takes is an airline bankruptcy, or an accident or serious illness to sidetrack your flying career. Have a Plan B, and keep up-to-date with it, at least until you're financially secure.

There are plenty of schools (including the "professional pilot" schools) that offer flight training along with traditional courses of study. That's where I would look. Don't forget to look at non-collegiate flight training providers as well. They may be cheaper and will likely be more focused on airline-style training than a university program. I'm thinking of places like ATP Flight School, American Flyers, and others. Also consider your local airport's flight school.

10. What can I do this summer to get started working toward becoming a pilot?

As others have said, get started on training if you have the resources to do it. If you're 13 or 14, start flying gliders. If you're older, start flying single engine. If the money for flight training isn't there yet, then take a private pilot ground school, or at least get the books and start studying on your own.

If you have more questions feel free to post them here, or send me a PM if you'd like to communicate directly.

Cheers, and good luck!

Eric Page
02-04-2018, 01:06 PM
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champ driver
02-05-2018, 06:05 AM
Eric Page
4. What's the difference in work environment for commercial as opposed to private?

I don't think the OP was referring to airline flying versus personal flying with Skyhawks and Bonanzas, there's no way to compare the two.

I think he was asking about at least some of the other professional flying that's not scheduled airline flying.
There's lots of other kinds of flying, some are law enforcement and DNR to corporate, either part 91 and 135.
Corporate flying can be challenging because of it's schedule, or lack of, and that can vary from one company to another. The planes can vary too, from some of the newest jets to some older ones still around. The places can vary too, from some very nice exotic vacation spots as opposed to just another night in Cleveland.

All of that can take some time and experience to get there. Before that I would work on getting your Private Pilot Cert. and always staying out of trouble along the way, and networking as you go.

02-06-2018, 08:35 AM
Nate, note especially what Eric said about your number 9, about getting education in some field other than flying. Sure, you need pilot training, but you also need a backup career in case you get laid off, lose your physical (many health problems can do that) or any of several other happenings.

Also, if you get easily bored at repetitive tasks, then it's possible that airline flying might not be for you (same route day after day, especially before getting a lot of seniority), though there may be other fields such as corporate pilot, agricultural, etc. that woud suit you better. I mention this because in my younger days I thought I'd like to be an airline pilot, though it didn't work out for me. After a long career in communications with a lot of flying on the side (instructing, glider/banner tow, charter), I'm very much aware that this has actually been a better path for me, personally, than an airline career would have been -- several thousand hours of a variety of kinds of flying over the years, in around 60 different types of aircraft, but a more stable career than I'd have had in almost any field of aviation. Still, many find the airlines a satisfying career.

Of course it will all start with flight training and education in one form or another, and you'll need to spend some time around your local airport (where you get training, not airline field) to meet folks and learn some things, but that time should be limited in order to do the other necessities, such as school. Also, if military interests you, look into the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program (CAP Web Site (https://www.gocivilairpatrol.com/)), where you can learn a lot about aviation, even get orientation flights and activities around airports.

02-12-2018, 04:18 AM
10. What can I do this summer to get started working toward becoming a pilot?

Go to a local small airport if you can find one and ask for a job. If none is offered, post a notice. Wash airplanes; help clean out the hanger; hang out at the fuel pump, anything. You will make contacts that will work with you if you show interest and energy.

Download "See how it flies" and read. The same with FAA publications. www.FAA.gov - Training - "Private Pilots Handbook", "Aviation Weather", Etc.

CFI now and 30 years as pilot with UAL. A masters degree in mechanical engineering and a basic pilot certificate for starters served me well. PM jedi at homebuiltairplanes.com with a phone number if you wish to talk.