How old is too old to become a pilot?
Is it too late in life to start flight training?
When are you too old to start commercial flight training?
It’s rare for people to start their commercial flight training over the age of forty, but it’s still achievable. Plenty of people spend many years saving the funds required to pay for their flight training and end up commencing their flight training at an age anywhere from their late twenties all the way through their forties. If you are asking the question ‘Am I Too Old?’ the answer is probably not if you really want it enough.
Background to Age vs Flight Training
For some it might be a case of saving until there is enough money in the bank to pay for training, for others it’s the desire to move on from a 9-5 office job and a pursue a career they never really thought it was possible to achieve; there are plenty of people who decide to start their flying careers later in life.
The reality is that you only become too old to start flight training when you can no longer hold a class one medical. However, if you are starting your training over the age of around forty, what you are looking to achieve takes some serious consideration. Like most decisions, deciding whether it is a worthwhile investment is very specific to individual circumstances taking into consideration current and future finances and family commitments.
When deciding whether you are too old to start flight training or not, ask yourself a few questions…
Can I afford not to get a job at the end of training?
If you have already saved the money to fund your flight training, rather than sourcing the finances (such as re-mortgaging the house) through a substantial loan, the risk and burden of not getting a job at the end of your flight training is probably less significant as you don’t have the worry about the need to make significant loan repayments.
If you don’t manage to land a flying job straight away, what is your contingency plan. Can you revert back to previous employment? Will you be able to afford the loan repayments if you don’t get a flying job straight away?
Do I have a career/job to fall back on if I don’t make it?
If you’ve sourced a loan or re-mortgaged a house, do you have a good career to fall back on to keep paying the bills if you don’t get a job as a First Officer when you finish training?
Do I have a good idea about the realities of the day to day life of an airline pilot?
Make sure you are well researched on what the life style realities of an airline pilot are. Speak to current pilots about their lifestyle and compare it to your quality of life. Weekends, Bank Holidays, Christmas’s and are all normal working days at most airlines which could affect your family or social life considerably.
If you and your family are used to a Monday – Friday 9 to 5 job, being away from home for a few days at a time, working weekends, late nights and early mornings might come as a bit of shock.
How will I feel about spending a vast sum of money on a licence I might never use?
Will you live with regret it if you spend all your savings on flight training but never get a flying job at the end of it? Might you be better off simply getting a Private Pilot’s Licence and enjoying flying as a hobby?
Do I have the support of my family? Do they understand the implications (time and financial) of changing careers?
If you have a family, the decision to start commercial flight training will affect everyone. Make sure they understand the various commitments that will be required of you in your new career.
Am I prepared to take a pay cut?
If you’re in a well paid job, you may well take a pay cut to become a First Officer. You may even have to pay another £25,000 on a type rating should you be offered a job. How will this affect your quality of life? Might it be better to get a PPL and fly for fun?
Is moving countries feasible to find a job?
Airline pilot jobs in the UK are often few and far between for inexperienced pilots. In the event of there being no jobs available, are you prepared to relocate you and your family to another country?
How is my salary effected?
When joining an airline at the age of forty-five, your potential future earnings are considerably lower than that of a twenty-five-year-old. With a likely investment of between £50,000 – £100,000 in your training, making a financial return on your investment might require you to go straight into a well-paid First Officer position. This is by no means guaranteed, no matter which method of training you choose.
A full-time training course would mean the loss of around 2 years earnings. You need to factor this into your total costings and budget.
Impact of Training
The time investment and subsequent impact on family life also has the potential to be significant. If you were to choose an integrated course, maintaining a normal family life would be very difficult given its intensity and commitment required. A modular course would offer more flexibility in this respect, and you would also have the benefit of being able to complete the training at your own pace whilst being in employment. This route obviously takes longer and requires significant self-discipline.
If your dream is to Captain a long-haul jet like the B777 or A380, you’re going have less chance of achieving this when starting your aviation career in later years. A forty-five-year-old has a maximum of twenty years left of a flying career, assuming your medical is maintained. At some long-haul airlines, it can take 15 to 20 years to be promoted to Captain so you need to be realistic about what you can expect in terms of career progression.
In Europe it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against age. Whilst European airlines should not place an age limitation on applications, there is speculation that some would prefer to recruit younger First Officers where possible.
Whilst it’s open to debate, some people suggest that younger cadets learn at a quicker pace and are better at taking on new information. Younger candidates are less likely to have family commitments and are therefore more flexible with regards to lifestyle.
When airlines recruit cadets, they are looking to recruit future captains. If on application you’re of an age where you are unlikely to ever reach command, would the airline prefer a younger candidate. They couldn’t discriminate against age legally, but it’s often thought that it happens.
Age Can be Valuable
All of the above being said, life experience and maturity are desirable attributes for pilots and airlines should therefore always be looking for a well-rounded mix of pilots from all demographics.
Older pilots who have worked elsewhere may appreciate the job more than those pilots who started flying at a very young age and never really experienced a ‘proper job’.