What do you want to be when you 'grow up'? What do you want your schedule to look like? How many hours do you want to work each week? How much effort do you want to put into getting the career of your choice? How much money do you want to make? These are all questions many of you probably ask yourself all the time. I thought about these questions a lot before deciding to become an airline pilot- and this career has been one of the best decision of my life. The good days far outweighs the tough days. But before you dive in, here are some things to consider if you want to become a pilot.
Training is Expensive
I don't say this to scare you, but to educate you. How are you going to pay for training? Obviously it would be nice to have a close relative willing to pay for it, but how many of us have that?
Apply for as many scholarships as you can. The more you apply for, the more likely you are to get some. School counselors should know of some companies to go through, Women in Aviation offers quite a few, or you could do a google search. As far as searching for them on your own, be careful to apply for ones that are not scams- some websites just want your email so they can send you junk mail. I applied for many scholarships and received 2. I was super thankful, but it wasn't enough to pay for everything.
Some schools also offer financial aid. I was able to get some grants (because I made such little money), subsidized, and unsubsidized loans. These helped too, but it still wasn't enough for me.
If scholarships and financial aid don't cut it, and you don't have anyone willing to pay the bills, loans are an option. Read the fine print when you sign for a loan. Make sure you know what the interest rate is. Also, if it is an education loan, know that most (at least the ones I had) still had to be paid off even if I passed away and even with NO COSIGNERS. Crazy! They'll find someone to pay it off, even if it isn't going to be you. Because of this, my goal was to pay off my loans as quickly as possible. In the event something did happen, I didn't want someone else stuck with my debt. Click here to watch one of my Insta videos on how I was able to pay off $50,000 in aviation student debt in 3 years.
How Much Time Can You Commit?
Aviation is not a career that you can slack and still make it. It is tough; it is competitive; it can be stressful at times; but it is this way because airlines need the best. If you are not on your A-Game all the time, safety could slip through the cracks. This career is all about making the best and safest choices, so it will take effort to get where you want to be.
Becoming a pilot is so much more than just flying an airplane (anybody can do that). To name just a few of the additional items you will need to know--numerous checklists, aircraft systems, weather, regulations, airspace, airspeed limitations, how the body responds to altitude, how to make the correct decisions, etc. You will spend just as much time in the air as you will on the ground to get a license. You need to commit quite a bit of time studying and learning if you want a career in aviation.
The End Goal
What is your end goal? CFI? Airlines? Cargo? Corporate? Private? I had many of these questions early on, so I attended a few aviation conferences where I could meet and speak with others in all of these career fields. You don't have to decide immediately, but it is nice to know what each one entails so you can find a good fit for you. I LOVED flight instructing, but for me, I wanted more- I always knew that if I didn't enjoy what I picked I could always go back to flight instructing and be completely happy.
So how did I narrow down my choice? I don't really enjoy being on call, so I knew that corporate or private might not be a good fit for me. I also don't like working into the wee hours of the morning, so maybe cargo wasn't the best choice (though it typically pays pretty well). After speaking with many aviators, I decided the airlines would be the best fit for me.
Network, Network Network!
If you want a career in aviation, you have to network. I'm not talking about getting business cards from someone you meet for 5 seconds. I'm talking about people who can vouch for you and know who you are. Be kind to your flight instructors, excel on your checkrides, keep in contact with your teachers, always be honest, have integrity, and truly care about those you come in contact with. If you do this, you will have no problem finding people who can vouch for your character and get you in the 'network.'
When I finally decided to go to the airlines, I had people ask me (who worked at the company I wanted to work for) if they could write me letters of recommendation; I don't say this to brag, but I say this to show the importance of always treating others well and doing your best at all times. People will appreciate it and will want to help you out when it comes time.
Good luck getting a job at the airlines without networking. It is first WHO you know, then what you know, and not the other way around.
Being a pilot is a career of 'starting over' every time you switch companies. It doesn't matter if you were a captain on the 787 and have 50,000 flight hours; if you go to another company, you will start back at the bottom as a first officer. For this reason, be picky in your company selection. Don't just go to the first company that will hire you- make sure you can be happy there. Most people only work for 2-3 airlines in their entire career.
If you decide to work for the airlines, seniority is not your friend in the beginning, but it is awesome once you have some! You can get the schedules you want, you'll begin to make decent money, and your quality of life will increase dramatically. This brings me to my next question...
Quality or Quantity?
What is more important to you- a good quality of life, or more money? I don't think either answer is right or wrong, it just depends on what your priorities are. For me, it's always been about quality of life; I would rather have an awesome work schedule and get to see my family as much as possible than to make a few extra bucks.
When I worked at the regionals, being on reserve and having no control over my schedule was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was always only a 2-hour callout, so I felt like it was hard for me to plan life with my husband. Thankfully, I was only on reserve for a year. Once I got to the majors, however, I haven't minded reserve at all. Depending on what the schedule looks like each month, sometimes I bid to be on reserve, and sometimes I bid to have a line. Being on reserve is great when I don't get called in; but if it looks like it's going to be a busy month, I'll bid to have a schedule so I know exactly when I'll be home and when I'll be gone.
I've spoken to pilots who don't understand my logic at all- of wanting to have a great schedule over upgrading to captain. Many pilots's goal is to upgrade as quickly as possible and then get to the majors asap- because seniority is everything. The sooner they get to the airline they want to stay at for the rest of their career, the sooner they can start building seniority there. Some of these pilots only see their families 1-2 days each week because they have crazy reserve schedules and then pick up extra trips to build more time. Of course there is an end in sight, but it doesn't sound like much fun to me. However, if that works for you, and you don't mind sacrificing a few years to have the career of a lifetime, then great! If Quantity is what you want out of life, then go for it!
Flying is an Amazing Career
Like I mentioned earlier, I think flying is the most amazing career! There are so many different opportunites and career choices to choose from. If you like to fly, there is a career out there for you. If you want to look forward to every day you get to work, flying is for you! If you want a career that is never boring, where you get to meet new people all the time, get to see new places every day, flying is for you! So what are you waiting for? Figure out what you want, and then start working towards getting it.