Pilot Career Is Losing Its Appeal, Shows Survey

 - May 14, 2013, 2:21 PM

A new survey by the University of North Dakota Aviation Department suggests that young people are being turned off by the prospect of a career as an airline pilot. Just under one third of the 205 student respondents (32 percent) said they are now reconsidering their plans to become an airline pilot. A further 8 percent said that they have already abandoned this career path.

When asked what the industry would have to do to convince them to consider an airline career, 35 percent cited salary increases, 20 percent called for a more family-friendly lifestyle and 13 percent highlighted improved work schedules. The university’s Professor Kent Lovelace told the RAA Convention today that the industry needs to offer students more defined career paths if it wants to attract them. He also said that more will need to be done to reduce training costs and provide help with financial aid. At the same time, he feels carriers could do more to project a more positive image of the profession.


I'm just getting started as a student pilot. And so far I can't get enough. I love it!! My problem is, what's next? I have spent a lot on the short time I've got in now. And now ATP school wants $60k to get me my big boy certificates . Wow!! How can afford that? I I have lived in the trucking and racing industry for many years. And when we couldn't find good qualified help. We paid for them to go to school. But also had them make the commitment to work for us to pay back schooling. And so far we have seen a lot of great employee's get hired. The trucking industry suffers everyday with not have new people wanting to go trucking for there company. Not because of pay. But they have no money for school. So, now they offer to pay for your school. Hummm kinda smart. If the airlines would just help pay for this crazy expensive flight training. I think some of the problem would be solved. Maybe. I myself would love to be an airline pilot. But I'm not sure I can afford it. And even if I could. How do you pay back all that borrowed money making 25 to 30k a year. Ide fly as a greenhorn for 30k a year. That's not the problem. Paying back all that money is. Make a program that helps pay for flight training. With a confidentially to fly for them for the next how ever many years. Not sure, maybe I'm wrong. But it works for the trucking industry. 1500 hrs is very hard to acquire as a student. Good luck to all the studen pilot's out there. Thanks for your time.

I am at the age of 47 very very lucky!!
I fly B777 as a senior first officer with little to no hope in hell for a command after 22 years wih the same legacy carrier. In 8 years I will be retired and I have never ever seen a pilot shortage lasting for more than a year at best, and that has happened only twice in 30 years!
I am one of the lucky few to earn well however I am based in another country than my family thus I am selling quality time with family for a job.
Todays young will not be as fortunate as I have been even if they become captains at 25 and the simple reason for this is that schedules and pay just keeps on deteriorating. All pilots at my airline now joining are joining on a sort of F-scale earning salaries of 1/3rd of what the joining salary was 20 years ago. The salary development is also much shallower and it will take twice as long to reach a senior FO pay even in good times with growth.
Days away from home are increasing and pensions are slashed for new pilots by more than half.
And concider the fact that I paid only a fraction of what today youngsters pay for their training and it is paid with borrowed money at interest. The list of unemployed pilots in Europe is at an alarming rate among the young and many go bankrupt draging parents and family with them as training often was financed through increased mortgage of the parents house. I know personally of youngsters who have ended their lives after the familyhome was lost and the entire family ended up bankrupt. Europe doesnt know the word "foreclosure". The bank simply sells the house and the remaining dept is laden on the sholders of the bankrupt person at a high interest as there is no longer any collateral to secure the loan.
Anyone in his/her sound mind should stay away from this line of business as it is a haven for the financial industy(capitalism) due to the fact that everything involved in aviation is capital intensive as such. And we all know what the people in the financial markets are capable of. Their crooked businessmodels will start at your doorstep as you enroll in flight training needing their funding. You will again meet them at the negotioation table as you apply for your first job as a pilot. Finally you will meet for a last time when they steal your pension to save the airline you helped to shape losing out on a life with your family.

There is no industy in the world as crooked as the airline industry, Stay away!!

Use your money to start a business or get an education where you can specialize and niche yourself such as; Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, Research etc.

If anyne mentions the words Aviation or pilot, -take your money and efforts and run!!!

All of you can make all the excuses you want. I no that it makes it easier to dismiss a career that in your heart you would do even if low pay was a part of it. I know because I too have made up every excuse in the book to tell myself it was ok to "give it up" and move on to something that is "easier" to obtain, when I myself, had in fact, given up on my dream. We all only get one life and it is up to us what we choose to do with it. If being an airline pilot is your dream, I would highly recommend we all stop making excuses and go for it. It is something that I would do, maybe not for low pay, but definitely for mediocre pay, an honestly, with a little effort, that still is not hat too accomplish in this industry. "Never never never give up" - Winston Churchill. Keep after fellow aviators!!!

I am a third generation pilot so flying is an unfortunate genetic anomaly consistently found in my blood and urine tests. I have done nothing but eat, sleep and breath airplanes since I was old enough to say airplane. I officially got my start in this business in 1987 as a baggage handler for a major airline. Since then I have worked my way up the food chain by working the parts room, maintenance and eventually I made it to the flying side. Not all with the same company. What I have learned along the way is to never underestimate management's penchant and skill of cuttiing costs by taking everything away from their labor and never underestimate the senior guys propensity to throw the junior guys under the bus. Pilots eat their own and management exploits this trait quite well. All a senior pilot negotiates what's best for him and and a junior pilot will work for free in an effort to "pay his dues". Throw in the economic law of supply and demand and you have a net loss for pilots and golden parachutes for airline executives.

I didn't have rich parents and so I worked my way up and "paid my dues" literally with my blood, sweat and tears.

My short synopsis of my aviation career is one of hardship and let down. I have threatened to disown my kids if they ever think about choosing aviation as a career. Fortunately they have seen and experienced enough of the QOL issues pilot's families go through to want a different path. I have sacrificed way too much for the ROI. In addition to two furloughs, I have constantly accepted substandard pay, quality of life and a ridiculous amount of hardship to fly that big shiney jet in the sky.

Since I had to nickle and dime my way to pilot hood, I got started late in the flying part of my career. I started flying for the regionals in 2005. For pay reasons alone, I thought I was lucky because I went to the jet and not the turboprop. The pay was still horrible and I almost quit as soon as I started because I couldn't afford to pay for a crash pad, commuting, sitting on reserve in the airport eating airport food and trying to pay for my family expenses at home. Luckily my company opened a base in my home town so my commuting costs went away. But the pay still wasn't enough. My wife and I lived in half of my in-law's two car garage with four kids for two years to make it kind of work. The debt just kept piling up. Then another lucky break came when I made captain in 2007. That lasted for two years and then my company went bankrupt and I got downgraded to FO. So the extra captain pay went mostly toward paying down the debt I has accrued as an FO and now I was back at FO again accruing more debt. Things got so bad my marriage was suffering and my kids thought they had a different daddy. Finally I got what I thought at the time was my third lucky career break and got hired straight into the right seat of a 777 freighter for a growing cargo outfit in 2011. Although the pay was the same as my captain pay at the regional, I spent the next two years catching up on debt again. Then, just as I was getting caught up on my normal bills and able to start living a comfortable living ($55,000 a year) and able to begin paying on my $60k worth of student loans, I just got furloughed this August. So now I'm looking at the option of starting out again at the bottom of someone's seniority list and pay scale at 45 years old. I'm really getting too tired and old for this.

I have seen and experienced a lot of the positives and negatives already posted so I won't mention any more of my personal sob story. I will agree 100% with the Navy guy. Always make choices that will give you the most choices later. I would like to add to that statement that the choices you make now may or may not open the door to other choices you thought would be open when you made the first choice which simply means; go with your best calculated gamble and learn how to roll with the unexpected consequences. I thought I had it made with the 777 gig because I thought it would open more doors to the future. So far not so. I'm either over qualified or under qualified and in both cases am under paid no matter what choice I make at this point.

Would I choose this career field if I was young and dumb? Probably. Would I choose it now? HE'LL NO!!!! My passion for the career is all gone and replaced with regret that I didn't choose a wiser path. The only thing I dont regret is the fact that I got to be a big jet airline pilot and work with some really great people along the way. At least I got to fly the cool jet and didn't waste a dime of my money on Kit Darby's snake oil. I did buy into his and every other Tom, Dick and Harry's optimism and to their credit, hind sight is always 20/20.

In order for the flying profession to get better, there needs to be less pilots. This will drive up demand. This in turn will make the price tag of a pilot go up. It's the only way. They excessive supply and new technology are driving this. You can get the union involved all you want but it causes its own demise as well. From my experience the senior pilots are more interested in protecting what they have and will sacrifice the junior pilots to keep it. The junior pilots will buy it with the hope and promise that one day they can actually eat the dangling carrot and management will just keep dangling the carrot until they've milked it dry an then walk away laughing at how stupid we are for not seeing the economic laws at play.

So if you want to live with that cycle your whole career, have at. Just maybe you might be lucky enough to be in the top percent that Darby fits into who actually make it. The rest will be cast aside like orphaned pets or at best, fight for the scraps.

I tell my kids often, if you want to make money and have QOL, choose a skill set that is rare and highly sought after. Then keep updating your skills to adapt to future change.

Choose wisely my young friends. Airlines get to walk away from their debts through bankruptcy. You won't get to walk away from your student debt through the same venue so think twice about financing an expensive flying career.

Good luck!!

Sorry guys. I got so caught up in my drivel that I forgot to proof read my post. At least no profanity was used.

When in high school, I had wanted to be a pilot and back then 20/20 vision uncorrected in both eyes was a mandatory for the career. Was quite disappointed at the time to not have that perfect vision, but now I'm sure glad I wasn't able to pursue this career. My suggestion would be to fly as a hobby, but forget it as a profession unless you want to be impoverished by the training costs, low pay, and layoffs. Except for a fortunate few, aviation as a career really is for the birds!

If you can't leave a job and find a comparable one making the same or more money then something is abnormal. That abnormality is ALPA, and the pilots have become their own worst enemy by forming, and perpetuating this travesty. Any job that is totally based on seniority rather than performance and experience is a mutation that should have been ended years ago. If you are a senior 777 Captain and your company tanks, you should be able to find employment as a 777 Captain at commensurate pay at another company that isn't tanking. You can't do that now. Instead the Captain must start out at the lowest level and lowest pay at another airline. This is truly stupid, inefficient, and impractical. Thank you ALPA.

Regarding the low pay for starting out, the vast majority of pilot trainees are simply ignorant of the illogical investment versus benefit. It just doesn't pay to seek a career with the airlines. If you were trained by the military, you can make a better case for it, but you will still have to start out at the lowest level and take a great cut in pay from your military salary. Instead, many of us have gone to the corporate world via CFI, touring, and charter work. You can make a good living flying corporate and often have more time off than flying for the airlines. The flying is often more interesting too. If your company tanks, you can find comparable work and pay at another corporation. If you decide flying is for you, that is the better route to follow today.


 A career in aviation as a commercial pilot is a tough experience but then there is no assurance that any other career is going to be easier or as exciting as it is filled with pleasures and challenges. the strong endure.

I can only agree to the comments made by fellow pilots and others that understand the pilot industry. I can only advice this: Don't do it, the negative impacts are just not worth it !!

This whole bull about pilot shortages driving the wages up, for some reason does not exist and will not exist. We are having pilot shortages since nearly 20 years now and the pay is getting lower and lower and you guys all know it. The benefits are horrible too. Some low cost low fair airlines even take out the ovens of airplanes and make the crew eat cold food to save 45 lbs in weight, because their excuse is "Imagine how much money you save if you have 80 airplanes flying 20 hrs per day, with 45 lbs less weight." You do the math. Furthermore, airlines keep preaching about safety being a number one priority, but it is actually money, and the pilots are the ones that will take the blame. Example, Sullenberger landed on the Hudson and all survived, so now he is a hero that had amazing airline training from the airline he flew in. However, if he would have done the same and for some reason things would not have worked out and all passengers and crew would be dead, then he would be the villain and the airlines would never ever have authorized his actions and put all the blame on him. Basically they could have cooked up some other excuses such as "he could have landed on a park, highway, etc and then it could have been different, we would never have supported landing on the Hudson." You guys want to work for such establishments? I am saying this because I flew for an airline that is going bankrupt and when we add extra fuel in extreme bad weather, we get called up by our chief pilots and we have to go to HQ (in our free days of course, because otherwise they take us off from flights and we earn even less than the little we earn now), and we have to sit in front of many other upper end pilots in the airline and listen to their preaching (threats basically) about adding fuel, yet, in the SOPs it states we can add fuel whenever we wish if we believe safety is increased this way.

Screw this, I quit. Not like this. I cannot lie to my passengers and pretend to fly for an airline that states, as all other airlines, that safety is their number one priority, this is all bull...

Of course there will be thousands of pilots that love doing what they are doing, I take my hat off to you, but I am perhaps simply to much of a weakling to handle this, for the bad pay and the many sacrifices I have made. 

My fault perhaps? Not really, like many others I have believed the garbage propaganda from the airlines about how much of a great and golorified field the airline pilot industry is, sure, perhaps once you reach 50 years of age and still do not have a broken marriage and debts until there is no tomorrow, then perhaps you can do your 3 - 4 intercontinental flights per month and earn decent to be able to afford a small house somewhere on a quiet place, but then again, most pilots fly in airlines that do not necessarily have intercontinental routes.


I do not recommend becoming airline pilots, unless you are one of those people that see airplanes as the most important thing in life to you, more important than having a family and being treated fairly, then, sure, go ahead and pursue this career, there are plenty pilots like that, and those pilots are somewhat responsible for this horrible treatment we get from the airlines to continue.

Thanks for the great inputs.


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