Careers Flying for the Airlines


By Rick Bosshardt 

There is a "perfect storm" occurring in the airline industry, and for those high school students and their parents who are planning for their future in aviation, this "perfect storm" is an enormous opportunity!

It is well documented that in the next 15 years, there will be 124,000 new pilots needed just in the USA, and over 250,000 worldwide! Even more stunning, in the same period over 750,000 AP's and airplane technicians will be hired. At American Airlines alone, 75% of their pilots will have to retire in the next 15 years.

This is just a fabulous time for a young person to get into the commercial aviation world.

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I recently spoke on behalf of the APA at EVIT, the East Valley Institute of Technology, to the aviation students, about the APA scholarship opportunities, their chosen career in commercial aviation, and how to get there. In addition, I have been speaking to involved parents trying to find a way through the maze of opportunity, helping them to make sure their investment in their child's education in aviation is well placed. Below are my thoughts to those students and parents, but also sound advice from my friend, a 33 year Captain at American Airlines, who is passionate about helping young people get into his profession, as he loves every minute of it!

According to my friend (and also known by all airline pilots), the NAME OF THE GAME is to get to the airline as soon as possible and get the all-important seniority number. That’s what my buddy did, and now he is #40 at American out of 15,000 pilots. He still has 5 years left before retirement, and he is making both big money as well as working only 9 days a month. He gets to pick all of his destinations, like Australia and New Zealand, and is always first to choose! He is living the dream... and it was all because he got to the airlines at age 27, and put in a lot of work and effort to get there.

One of his key suggestions that I passed on to the EVIT students was to make sure that when they get their private license, commercial, and CFI, that they do it at a Part 141 school! Many smaller schools are not Part 141. But it’s worth finding one, as the FAA recognizes the curriculum and structure of Part 141, and allows an aspiring pilot to sit for the ATP (it’s called a restricted ATP) at 1000 hours, instead of 1500 hours! That’s huge! An extra 500 hours of work as a CFI after school can take another 2 years. With a Part 141 background, they can join a commuter or regional airline at only 1000 hours and be well on their way to their airline career!

His second key suggestion is to get the private license before going to the 4 year school or community college. It puts the student way ahead of most of the other kids, and allows them to finish their commercial and CFI during the first two years. Then, the school will normally be more than willing to hire them the second two years to teach the incoming kids! (Schools also have a shortage of CFI's!) So gain more time while in school AND get paid for it. Not a bad deal!

As a parent of an aspiring commercial aviator, they should be very confident of the career their child has chosen. There is going to be an ENORMOUS shortage of airline pilots over the next decades, and once he or she gets in, their seniority will climb quite rapidly, which is what it’s all about! There is no way that a young person today, who works hard at school and at flying, and is reaching out and making connections in aviation, won’t be super successful in the airlines. I wish I was young again! I didn’t catch "the bug" till I was 30, so I PAY for flying as opposed to BEING paid for flying.

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I also spoke at length at EVIT about "plotting" your course and following that path. What airline do you want to be working for? It’s key to pick one that will not likely go bankrupt or be acquired. If that happens and you go to another airline, or are acquired and end up at the acquiring airline, you go to the bottom of the heap on seniority. This is a tough situation, so pick wisely.

I also talked about what "lifestyle" do you want? Some airlines utilize a single type of aircraft, allowing you to become proficient in flying that aircraft on mostly domestic trips, meaning shorter trips with many take-offs and landings. Or.... you take an airline like AA and my friend; he has over his career learned to fly 6 different types of airliners and loves to fly International (started domestic but since they fly international he was able to transition). Longer trips, but fewer of them, larger planes and cockpits with relief crews, etc, and gets to see cool places in the world. Works 9 days a month... not bad!

All these considerations have to happen BEFORE the aspiring pilot gets to a commuter, which is usually tied to an airline. Planning beforehand is key! Once you are in an airline, it’s difficult to switch; again, you lose your seniority.

I would also suggest making the trek to Oshkosh to gain valuable information. There was a big tent there that had dozens and dozens of commuter airlines with booths, wooing both high school and college students to their programs. Some of them start at $60K per year!!! No longer the $15K they used to pay. And they have “feeder” programs to the big airlines, so it’s a good place to have all of that in one tent, and you can spend days there gathering info and making contacts.

In summary, it’s a super great time as a young person to aspire to be a commercial pilot, and with a little planning and foresight, it will go a long way to set up a wonderful career!

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