Questions for Career pilots. How old is too old?


Just had a couple of questions for the pilots that fly for a living. I am thinking of changing professions and flying for a living. I am 36 years old and have 750hours TT, with hardly any Multi-time. Was thinking about getting my Instructor License to build some time.
So, it would probably be about a year before I had enough time to apply for a job,Would that be too old? Do companies generally look for younger pilots or do older ones have a shot.

Would appreciate any comments,



I’m going to get flamed for this!

What are you ambitions? To fly for an airline, charter outfit, fractional, freight, or instructor?

Right know there are ALOT of airline pilots furloughed, and working in areas that at one time were considered the minors. I know NWA and USAir pilots working for companies such as Air net, fractional, and charter companies, as well as commuters. All except fractional companies used to be considered stepping stones. Today that’s the pinnacle for some. Now consider where the pilots that held those jobs are now. I point this out b/c many of the jobs that would be available to someone with say 1500TT and 250Multi and being taken by guys with 5000TT and 3000multi. There are exceptions, but from what I’ve found you can’t make a living working the exceptions.

The fractional companies are hiring. I work for Flight Safety and we’re training nothing but Net Jet Aviation pilots. EVERY new hire that I’ve had in the last 3 years has had a minimum of 4000TT and Turbine experience. That turbine experience came from the communiters, the airlines, or other corp. flying jobs; right now those jobs are very hard to come by.

To be honest, I tell everyone this, I would beat my kids (all 5) if they said they wanted to be a pilot for a living. I love my job, I’ve been all over the world, flown some great aircraft. I’ve also spent 16 hrs/day away from home as an instructor, 40 wks/year on the road with Air Net, 3wks at a time on the road flying corp. and every time I switched jobs it was a pay cut and back to the bottom of someones list. It can be a very thankless job. BUT if I were single right now I would be flying with Net Jets, I would take the pay cut and go on the road 18 days/mo. just to fly again, listen to passengers tell me what I did wrong (or right sometimes) carry bags, fly around WX, work 14/hr duty days with 10 hour turns, be delayed, and wait, wait, wait every where I went.

I choose not to b/c family is much more important to me.

If your plans aren’t as grand, you can find a lot of satisfaction being a CFI (I still love it), maybe flying for your state government, banners, pipe line patrol, CAP, mom and pop charter outfit, medic vac in fixed wing.

Really do some soul searching, youre looking in reality at 2-4 years instructing before you move up (if you don’t have multi time) to a job in aerial photography, pipe lines, or banners. GET MULTI TIME. With 200 hours of multi time and 1200 TT the world opens up a bit more; Charter, some commuters (I think). With 1500TT and 500Multi (I’d say that will take 4-6 years unless you have an MEI also) you can look at all the commuters, Air net…then with in 2-4 years the you’ll have 4000TT and 3000multi and the world opens up. But you’ll also be 45 or so? Will you be willing to start over again at another job at that point? Start at the bottom of another pay scale? Check out airlinepilotcentral.comto see what the minimums and pay scale are, also check here to see who is hiring.

I don’t think your age is an issue. You need multi time. You also need a lot of resolve, but it can be done. As a father and husband, if you have a family please consider what you’ll be putting them through first, then think of your self.

Good luck and God’s blessings.



Skybus hiring? :smiley: :smiley:

I wonder if their fares will go up since OH voters just passed a minimum-wage increase??? :smiling_imp:

I’m KIDDING, folks.


I know two guys who I flight instructed with who went to (and are still at) regional jobs. One was 35+ and the other was 45+. One went to PSA and one went to ASA. They were hired about a year and a half ago.
So no, 36 is not too old. But like leardrvr said, you have to have the right priorities. One of those guys left a cushy, well paying design firm to be a flight instructor and later a regional FO making 20k a year. Both are single guys.


Only b/c I can get a leave of absence from FSI and I have a very supporting (both $$ wise and emotionally) wife.

And I’d be making $6.85 an hour I mean I’ll be rolling in the dough :smiley:


Thanks for all the responses. I do have a family, so after hearing some responses I will have to give it alot of thought. I think I will just get my CFI for now and instruct some on the side and see what comes of it. I just want to fly more. Maybe instructing part time will satisfy my wants.



So, james, are you looking to get hired or keep right-seating in a single-engine-prop? :wink:


My goal is not to right seat in a Pilatus for the rest of my life, no.


Do you aspire to be the first ever Flight Engineer on the PC12?


I thought I would toss out my 2 cents on this topic. I am a wife of a pilot. And to the original post I would only saydont do it!
My husband got a late start as well. Went back to school to finish up his degree in aviation thinking that would help but I cant say that it did for sure. He stared out flying single engine and doing some instructing, went from there to flying beechcraft 55 baron twin, that led him to kingair super 200 and he just started with jet corp out of STL flying Learjet 55. it has been a roller coaster never made much money in this vocation and only got a raise of 2K from kingair to jet. We have 3 kids and felt that is was best for them to finish out the school year where we are and he went off to get his jet time this creates added expense since he has to rent an apartment, etc and now we are in the red on this deal. He is on call 11 days and off 4 so we get to see him 6 days a month (approx). If this is the dues one has to pay to make it in the crazy field I say it is not worth it. It has put a major stain on our quality of life, children and marriage.
I use to be more supportive and positive about all of this but I think my patience is beginning to run out
So to sum it up if your wife and children are your priority and you want the best for them then dont choose this as your career. Instructing on the side sounds like a very considerate compromise you get to fulfill your need to fly as well as be with your family because in the end that is what is most important.

Take care.


Ding…Ding…Ding…Ding…Ding… we have a winner. I can tell you that is exactly the way I feel, and my wife feels.

BTW I turned down Skybus to all of you reading, for the very reasons she mentions.

God bless stphillips I wish I could say it would/will get better. It may, but every step up in aviation is a step back for the family and the pocket book. My wifes favorite 2 stories are when I was on a beach in the Cayman Islands on Thanksgiving and she was moving us into our new house with the help of a few friends. She had a 3 year old, 1 year old, and was 5 months pregnant. Then there was the time my daughter was bite by a friends dog on the face got 30 stitches and surgery to save her eye; all while I was setting in Orlando unable to come home b/c my boss was an A$$, I should have taken the airplane and left him hanging. If I could go back and do it all over again, I’d have been an architect.

I love to fly, but having a job where I could afford a plane would be a lot more fun.

Now here’s a real kicker…my marriage went down hill when I came home after being on the road for 5 years. She was used to me coming home on Friday night and leaving on Sun afternoon. I was used to a clean house and happy wife and kids. When I came home it turned out that the house wasn’t always clean, there werent always home cooked meals, and the kids weren’t always clean and happy. I took us 4 or more years to get to know the real each other, a very hard 4 years. I will never put my family through that again.


Not all jobs are that terrible. 11 on and 4 off is a jail sentence. Then again, no one is forcing him to take that position. There are still jobs out there that don’t completely suck.


thank you leardvr.


Isn’t there a standard age that you must retire at. I might be thinking of Air Traffic Controllers.


Part 121 (airlines) is age 60. But that may be increased to 65 (as that’s what most of the rest of the world is anyway). Part 135 (Netjets, Flexjet, Citation Shares) and part 91 (corp. flight dept) there are no age limits.

And yes, there is a mandatory retirement age of 56 for controllers who manage air traffic. However, Federal law provides for exemptions to the mandatory age of 56, up to age 61, for controllers having exceptional skills and experience.


In Canada, there is no set age to start or retire from a career in ATC with NAV Canada. I’m just going through the motions now to get in.

Talking to some of the instructors before I made a decision to begin my application / testing, I was told of a 57 year old who passed the initial testing and whose skills were deemed so exceptional he was posted to Pearson CYYZ approach / departure control ( tower ). Very demanding job.

So, I guess like any career or career move, do your research in advance and ask questions. Whether ATC or flight crew, you’ll find a lot of people excited by their choice in career, but its good to know the pitfalls you may face before you jump.

Second story: a local police officer ( from my area ) applied and was accepted to be an Enroute Controller. Half way through his training he came to realize that ATC was NOT for him. Luckly, he took a leave of absence from his job and he returned to policing.



I just want to agree with leardvr’s response here. Flying can be a very enjoyable and rewarding career. However, for-better-or-worse, it is not a job that lends itself well to job-shadowing, so you can’t check it out before you try it on. :frowning: Consequently, leardvr’s comments very accurately express a side of the aviation world most people never get to see until they’re stuck in it. In any case, I’ll add my two cents here:

(1) Age. I am 38, so in the same age bracket you are. I started flying for a living a little later as well (33), and have enjoyed it. Age is not quite the impediment in this field that it used to be, IN TERMS OF GETTING IN. There are a surprising number of folks our age getting into it these days. Having said that, leardvr alluded to the seniority thing when he talked about starting over at the bottom of somebody’s list. This is a HUGE deal in aviation. I simply don’t know how to stress this enough. Seniority drives advancement in most – though not all – aviation jobs. Keep in mind that in this situation you only move up if somebody above you moves out. Want more pay? Doesn’t matter how good of a job you do. It only matters how long you’ve been there in relation to everyone else. Want better equipment? Same thing. Better schedule? Same thing. Where do you want to live? Could be the same story there, as well. Most likely will be. If the guys above you on whatever particular list you’re on are all younger than you, or in the same age range, you’re just not going to move up very fast, if at all, which means you get stuck with the pay, schedule, equipment, and living arrangements none of the rest of your colleagues want. Does this mean you can’t make it work? No. What it does mean is that you have to choose where you go to work wisely. It narrows down the playing field for us quite a bit, simply due to our useful career lives. I simply had no clue how much the seniority aspect of this industry would affect my career like this. However, I’ve made it work out all the same. (I am currently working for NetJets, and loving it. :smiley: )

(2) Soul-searching and resolve. Do the first, and make sure you and your entire family have got the second. Don’t skimp on either, but if you make the decision to do it, then jump in and just do what it takes. You’ll make starvation wages, most likely, for at least a few years if it’s all you’re doing. If you’re doing something else as well, it’ll take you longer to build the hours, and you’ll have less time with family as well as less career life to work up the chain of seniority. The carrot at the end of the stick is a very good salary with potentially a LOT of very useful time off with your family, but don’t let anybody ever make you think that you’ll get those things for free. You can get them, but you pay a pretty significant price to have them. Make sure it’s what you want before you get in so you aren’t too miserable while you’re working on it and more miserable when you finally get what you’re working towards.

(3)Family. You mentioned you have a family. This is ground zero when it comes to the price you’ll pay. If you’re a family-loving type – as I am – more than any single piece of advice I would give would be to care for your family. They need to be in on the decision making process very much. Make absolutely certain that your spouse is completely onboard with the decision. Her accommodating your desires isn’t enough. It needs to be 100%, or nothing. She needs to be very clear what the pro’s and con’s are, and she needs to make the decision every bit as much as you do. There is a reason pilots refer to AIDS as the “Aviation Induced Divorce Syndrome.” This career can take a huge toll on your family if you don’t care for them properly. Make sure they’re in on the decision, and then recognize that you are going to have to devote a much larger percentage of your energy and time at home to simply caring for your family than other guys with a typical 9-5 job have to do. You’ll have a lot of ongoing absentee time to be making up for.

In closing, let me balance this out. Flying is NOT a horrible career in and of itself. I love it. I get more useful time off with my family than ANYBODY else I know. That includes all my self-employed friends. And it certainly includes those poor travelling professional salesmen. I just don’t know how those guys do that. I also have a fun job that is finally paying a very comfortable wage, which I expect to only get more comfortable in the foreseeable future. I meet a lot of really interesting people. Even though my work days are very busy and I almost never get to do any sight-seeing, still…I DO get to go to some really neat places, and I am more familiar with more places around this hemisphere of the world than nearly anybody else I run into. There are a lot of very cool things about this job. Unfortunately, the “dark side” – if you will – of this job is something most people just don’t have any familiarity with. It can be done. It can be done very well. It can be done very well, and you can have a wonderful family life, too. However, like any other job, it’s not for everybody. I live in hotels for a week at a time, and then I come home for a week at a time. What happens if my kids are in school all day, then come home and have to study, or want to go out with some friends? There goes my time with my kids. What if my wife works? There goes my time with my wife. Some folks have no trouble with that, and actually do very well with it. I guess I’m not so independent. I love nothing more than my time with my wife and kid. My wife is a stay-at-home mom (retired teacher), and we’re home-schooling my daughter for the time being. So for us, this works out great! My wife and I were married for ten years before I made the jump into aviation, and we talked about it all ten years. We were both very clear about it, about what the price was going to be, and we both decided that the benefits were worth the price of admission. Furthermore, my wife has the standing privilege of being able to call an end to this career at any time, and she knows it. I remind her regularly that I’m ready to go back to flipping burgers if that’s ever what it takes to properly care for her. Or, even, just find a different flying job with a different schedule. Because at the end of the day, flying really is just a job.

I know this isn’t a particularly glowing review of the career, friend. Please don’t misunderstand. Ance again, I love my job. But while anybody who’s flown knows the joy of flying, not everybody who’s flown understands ahead of time the price to be paid for doing it for a living. Everything has its upside and its downside. The downside, for this career at least, is just something most folks don’t get the opportunity to be familiar with before they start., so that’s what I focus on here.

I hope all goes well with you, and that whatever you settle on, you and your family can all be at peace with it. If you decide not to make it your career, don’t sweat it. Flying the small ones is often more fun than flying the big ones anyhow. :smiley:

Good luck, friend.


Tweeter, that is one of the most honest advice from a pilot I’ve heard in a long time. Thanks, and welcome to the forums.


This should be made a sticky or incorporated into a FAQ!

Thanks for this balanced and reasoned report from the trenches Tweeter, and as my son (CFIJames) said welcome to the Forum.


You should always remember that you’re just one flight physical away from retirement. A “Plan B” is in order for the financial security of your family.

Good Luck!