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?
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, but there are plenty of people who decide to start their flying careers later in life.
The answer is that you only become too old 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 worth while investment is very specific to individual circumstances taking into account current and future finances and family commitments.
When deciding whether to go for it or not, ask yourself a few questions…
Can I afford not to get a job at the end of training?
If you have the required funds saved in the bank as opposed to sourcing the finances (such as remortgaging the house), the burden of not getting a job at the end of training is probably significantly less as you don’t have worry of significant loan repayments once you’ve finished training. What will happen if you have to wait years to get your first flying job. Can you afford the loan repayments?
Do I have a career/job to fall back on if I don’t make it?
If you’ve sourced a loan or remortgaged 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 do your research on what your life style will be as an airline pilot. Speak to current pilots about their lifestyle and compare it to your quality of life. Weekends, Bank Holidays, Christmas and are all normal working days at most airlines which could effect your family or social life considerably.
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 life savings on training but never get a flying job at the end of it? Might you be better of simply getting a private pilots licence and enjoying flying as a hobby?
Do I have the support of my family. Do they understand the implications (time and financial)?
If you have a family, the decision to start commercial flight training will affect everyone. Make they understand the various commitments required.
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 to find a job is feasible?
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?
Your potential future earnings when joining an airline at the age of forty five are considerably lower than that of a twenty five year old. With a likely investment of over fifty thousand pounds in your training, making a financial return on your investment might require you to go straight into a well paid first officer position which is by no means guaranteed, no matter which method of training you choose.
A full time training course would mean the loss of over a years earnings so the actual cost might be over one hundred thousand pounds.
The time investment and impact on family life is also 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 747, 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 of flying as a career, assuming the medical is maintained. You may only Captain a commercial aircraft up to the age of sixty, so then you would only have fifteen years to reach command, which can be the typical time to captaincy at legacy carriers.
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 First Officers in their twenties. 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, the airline may give preference to a younger candidate.
The above isn’t necessarily true of all airlines however. Life experience and maturity are desirable attributes for many airlines and there will always be those who want a mixed age of junior pilots.
It’s very easy to tell people not to bother when sat on the other side of the fence, but realistically each case is unique and you are the person best suited to make the decision once you have obtained all the facts and thought thoroughly about the implications.