profession:

Hopefully if you have gotten this far, you’ve read the other posts of this blog.  For those of you that hope to become a professional airline pilot, I have some humble advice that will hopefully make the lean years a little better and in the long run save you some money…

For the Young Person
If you’re in high school or perhaps kind of figuring out what to do with your life in the first year or two for college, consider the following:

1.  Do not enter this profession unless you are absolutely passionate about aviation and becoming a pilot. As you have read, you will accumulate serious amounts of debt and work for many years for very low wages. The only thing that keeps most new pilots going is their love of flying. If you don’t have that passion, you’ll find that the “glamor factor” of becoming an airline pilot will wear off very quickly, and you will be tired, in tremendous debt, and will have wasted many years of your life. That’s no place to be, trust me. I hear about it all the time. If you like airplanes but are not absolutely dedicated to the profession, get a job doing something else and join a local flying club or purchase your own general aviation aircraft. You’ll be much happier, and you can still enjoy aviation.

2.  Do not get a Bachelor’s Degree in an aviation related field. It is very likely that at some point in your career you are going to be furloughed. Maybe twice. Maybe for a long time. I have found that furloughed pilots that have degrees in fields like engineering or accounting or nursing or education or other timeless “in demand” fields land on their feet better, and don’t suffer the financial devastation that can follow that first or second furlough. A degree in “Aeronautical Science” or “Aviation Management” is great if you’re going to work in the field of aviation, but if you’re furloughed that means that the aviation industry is in the pits. That “Aeronautical Science” degree will be as useless as your Commercial Pilot Certificate when everyone is furloughing and no one in the aviation industry is hiring. Get a non-aviation degree that you can use for gainful employment when that furlough comes. You’ll thank me.

And don’t worry. There isn’t an airline in the business that cares what field your Bachelor’s Degree is in. You could have a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from an on-line university… your future employer won’t care ! As long as the degree is from an accredited college or university, you’ve checked that “Do you have a Bachelor’s Degree ?” box as far as an airline’s human resources department is concerned.

3.  Avoid high cost, “brand name” universities, even though many have great reputations as respected aeronautical universities **. Don’t get me wrong. I went to one of those brand name, high cost, aeronautical universities. And I received an excellent education- probably the best money could buy at the time. But professional pilot compensation expectations and career progression has changed, for the worse, since I graduated form college more than 20 years ago so we should all adapt accordingly. Now don’t get me wrong. If that “name brand” aeronautical university is going to give you enough scholarship money to make the cost the same as less expensive alternatives, go for it. But if it’s more expensive to go to that “name brand” university, avoid it.

As stated above, airlines DO NOT CARE where you received your Bachelor’s Degree from if they require one for employment. You could have a Bachelor’s Degree from your local community college. You could have your Bachelor’s Degree from the most reputable aeronautical university in the world. The airlines simply don’t care ! They only care that you have a Bachelor’s Degree from an accredited educational institution. It’s that simple.

Why do I suggest avoiding the expensive universities ? Because unless you have someone else footing the bills, you are going to be very poor in the first several years of your career, and you will be carrying a tremendous amount of flight training and education debt. Since the airlines could care less where you received your degree from, why take on six figure debt for an expensive “aeronautical university” degree when a degree from your local state college system will be much cheaper ? You don’t want to get an aviation related degree, anyway, so your state university system will likely have a better variety of non-aviation related degrees to choose from. Debt is your enemy in this profession. Avoid it like the plague.

** For now, my advice to avoid high cost, brand name aeronautical universities still stands. However, due to new legislation, there may be a slight advantage to attending a qualified, “name brand,” aeronautical university. This new legislation requires that, in order to work for a regional airline, one must obtain 1,500 hours of flight time *unless* a pilot goes through a university program specifically recognized in these new regulations. If one does go to one of these recognized universities, the 1,500 hour requirement can be reduced to either 1,250 hours (Associate Degree program) or 1,000 hours (Bachelor Degree program). In theory, attending an aeronautical university could slightly shorten the time it takes a new pilot to get to a regional airline by about a year, assuming a flight instructor (for example) flies around 500 hours per year. Of course, that lowered flight time requirement comes with the higher cost (and possibly debt) often associated with aeronautical universities. One must consider the trade-off of potentially shortening the time to reach a regional airline cockpit vs. the additional cost of attending a likely more expensive aeronautical university.

4.  Try to choose a flight school that provides a direct path to employment, preferably to reputable regional airlines. Remember, if you want to become an airline pilot, you want to get turbojet Captain flight time as quickly as possible so that you can become employed by your desired airline at as young an age as possible. You also want to avoid low paying jobs, like flight instructing, if possible. There are many flight schools out there that offer direct paths to the regional airlines after successful completion of their programs, and some offer very competitive, all inclusive prices. Further, some schools will offer you employment as a flight instructor at the completion of your flight training if the regionals aren’t hiring. Those are the flight schools that you want on your “short list” as you consider which school to send tens of thousands of your dollars to, all else being equal of course.

Some reputable (and likely expensive) aeronautical universities also offer direct paths to regional airline jobs. To me, they’re still not worth the money. It’s just as easy to go to a cheaper state university and simply find a good flight school when you graduate that will provide you with that same exact path. Again, why take on the extra debt when you’re likely going to be living on low wages for many years ?

5.  Avoid giving flight schools large deposits or large “up front” payments for your training, even if they offer you a discount. The flight training industry, unfortunately, is just as fragile as the airline industry is financially. The flight training industry is full of flight schools that prey on young people who dream of becoming airline pilots. Just in the past several years, many flight schools have closed and/or gone bankrupt, taking unsuspecting students’ prepayments and deposits with them. Some students have fronted their entire $50,000+ training bill, lost everything, and never received anything more than a few hours of flight training before their school went under. When you do business with a flight school, treat it as if it will go out of business tomorrow, no matter how reputable and stable you think the school appears to be. Protect yourself and your money.

If the flight school you are considering won’t let you “pay as you go” or requires large “up front” deposits, walk away. If you’re getting a loan through or sponsored by your flight school, make sure the loan proceeds are deposited in an account that YOU SOLELY CONTROL, not an account that the flight school has access to. If the flight school refuses to do that, walk away. There are no shortage of reputable flight schools out there that will allow you to make small deposits or pay as you fly.

For the Career Changer
If you’re currently working in an entirely different profession and you want to become a professional airline pilot, I suggest the following:

1.  If you would be happy flying the rest of your career at a regional airline or “2nd tier” airline or cargo carrier, don’t bother getting a Bachelor’s Degree. Many of these airlines don’t require one, and during good economic times, and I hesitate to say this, but some will hire anyone with minimum flight experience and a pulse, whether you have a degree or not. As you’ve read, you’ll be struggling financially for the first few to several years of your career, so that’s one way to save a large monthly payment.

2.  If you can, don’t start your flight training until you have enough saved up, in cash, from your current job. As I have stated repeatedly, for the first few to several years of your new airline pilot career, you will be very poor. If you can pay cash for your flight training and/or college education from the proceeds of your current job, you will be financially head and shoulders above most of your peers.

3.  “Practice” living on two, $1000 - $1500 a month paychecks (after taxes and health insurance) if you’re not sure you’ll be able to make it financially as a new professional airline pilot. That’s the wage you’ll likely be earning when you ultimately make the career change and work for a regional airline, not counting any signing bonus you may or may not receive. If you can’t live on it now while you have the “safety cushion” of your current job, you likely won’t be able to live on this salary when it becomes your new reality. Use the money you save while you practice living on this salary to pay for your future flight training or put it aside in a secure account in case you need to dip into it during those first difficult years as a new professional pilot.

General Advice for Anyone Considering the Profession
1.  Keep your nose clean. No drugs, no traffic tickets, no DUI’s, no trouble with the law. Drug offenses, felonies, and DUI’s can be the kiss of death in this profession. You might be able to get away with a few traffic tickets, but if an employer finds a pattern of irresponsible behavior, they won’t hire you to fly their multi-million dollar aircraft if you can’t even responsibly handle your automobile or your life.

2.  Network and stay in touch with EVERYONE. Many good flying jobs are never even advertised, and if they are, an internal recommendation can be the difference between employment at your dream airline or slogging it out at an undesirable carrier.

3.  Marry well. If you do decide to get married, make sure your spouse understands your future career goals and what that entails. You might want to explain to him/her what your salary expectations will be in your future, the fact that you might have to move often, the fact that your spouse may be the main bread winner for many, many years, and that it’s very likely you’re going to miss many, many holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and other important life events. Remember that this profession is like few others. If your spouse isn’t “on board” with the dedication required by you to pursue your career, it will just add another layer of complication (and friction !) to your already difficult life.

4.  Live a very financially conservative lifestyle, even after you think “you’ve made it.” Again, you’re going to be poor for a very long time, and even when you do make it to a good paying job and finally pay off all that debt, it’s very possible that things completely beyond your control (the economy, terrorism, poor airline management, etc.) could send you right back out on the street making regional airline First Officer wages. Unless you have an outside source of income or a spouse with a good job, keep your debt to a minimum and try to pay cash for everything. Most financial planners suggest that one keep 6 to 9 months of expenses in a liquid, insured savings account. In my opinion, a pilot should keep much more than that available. Our careers are far more volatile than others, so a significant financial reserve needs to be put in place to compensate for the special career challenges we face as professional pilots.

There’s an old saying that was repeated to me when I was starting out in the profession. When you’re a Flight Engineer, live as cheaply as you can. When you become a First Officer, live like a Flight Engineer. When you become Captain, live like a First Officer. That’s good, conservative financial advice to live by.

The other day, my Middle Eastern History teacher told us a story I wanted to share with you guys.

When he was travelling around Turkey by train sometime in the early ‘90s, he once had to make a stop at a town named Afyon. He didn’t expect to find anything interesting there; according to the travel guides, Afyon had nothing much to offer.

However, when he left the train, there was a man at the station who came up to him and offered him a tour of the city. This man said he was a history teacher at the local school. “Well, I am also a history teacher, so nice to meet you, colleague,” said my prof, wary about being scammed. 

He wasn’t scammed, though. Instead, he was taken to the old Armenian neighbourhood of Afyon. Beautiful houses, but all in disrepair. My teacher was stunned.
“But… this isn’t even on the map, it just says there’s a field here”
“Of course it does, the government is trying to blot out every trace of Armenian history in this town. That’s why I wait at the station every day. To show any tourist who travels through here the real history of this town.”

Later, speaking to other residents of Afyon, my teacher found out that the man ran a high risk of getting arrested for what he was doing. One day, they said, a police officer would disguise himself as a tourist and put an end to his meddling.

I just wanted to share this story with you all because it made a really big impression me. Historians can change the world.


i can’t stop thinking about what it will be like when clarke unequivocally shows her love for lexa. up to this point lexa is the one who’s made the big, bold professions – with the kiss and the vow – and while clarke has been accepting of those gestures, she’s never really been the one to put herself out there first.

and i know she has a million reasons for that – why she guards her heart so closely – but then again, lexa probably has a million and one. so i can’t stop thinking about the moment when clarke takes that leap, whether it’s words or an embrace or whatever, and i’m trying /not/ to think about how relieved lexa will look when she finally, finally, knows for certain that it’s not just her

that clarke is in just as deep as she is.