The Career Advisor
I was wondering if you have any suggestions or advice for my 17-year-old son who wants to become a commercial pilot. He is a high school senior and he will be graduating in 2009. He doesn't really want to fly passengers but sees himself flying packages for the U.S. Postal Service, FedEx, UPS, or another package delivery company. He has found some nearby training schools in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and St. Louis, Missouri, but he has no idea of how much work and effort it would take to pursue this type of career. Can you give him some suggestions and advice that would help him prepare for what is ahead? -Jacqui from Milwaukee
First things first: I would like to suggest that you and your son read AOPA's Guide to Flying Careers, which I authored some time ago.
The overview is just that. We look at a number of primary flying career options, what they are all about, and how to get there. Many young people fantasize about flying an airliner, but there is so much more out there.
Next, surf on over to AOPA's Career Pilot pages. This special section is dedicated exclusively to aviators who would like to fly for a living.
The good news for your son is that he has some idea of what he would like to do. Setting a long-term goal is a crucial first step in successful career planning. When asked about what they would like to do, so many young people say, "I just want to fly!" Not good enough! That's like taking off on a cross-country trip without a destination. One of my favorite quips is, "How do you know how to get there if you don't know where you are going?" If he wants to fly for the big box haulers, has he ever visited the company Web sites to see exactly what those companies look for? FedEx requires the following: FAA airline transport pilot certificate; 1,500 hours of pilot-in-command time; 1,000 PIC multiengine turbine/jet; flight engineer turbojet rating or knowledge test passed; and a college degree.
The next step that I can suggest is to talk to a FedEx or UPS pilot. If you cannot find one locally, there is a nifty resource at The Pilot Mentor Network, which has a substantial listing of professionals who are ready, willing, and able to chat with the aspiring aviation professional.
If, after preliminary research, your son wants to move forward, you then need to think about training and cost. Your options could be a local flight school at, say, Timmerman Field; an aviation academy that features an intense and concentrated flight training program and typically offers a college degree only through an affiliated college; or a two-year or four-year aviation college where a degree is earned along with all of the necessary FAA pilot certificates.
I am a big fan of the two-year associate's degree flight programs. First, those FAA certificates and ratings are earned in about two years rather than four. Additionally, the cost of training can be tens of thousands of dollars less than a four-year college. I cannot think of too many states that do not feature at least one two-year program. Check out our online college directory.
There's a ton of information out there. Research, ask questions of the pros, visit a handful of flight training organizations, and talk with students at those schools. The words that are most important when launching a new professional pilot from the family nest are these: due diligence.
Send us your career question and we'll answer the best ones here. Sorry, but we are not able to provide individual responses. Wayne Phillips is an airline transport pilot with a Boeing 737 type rating. He is a B-737 instructor and operates the Airline Training Orientation Program in association with Continental Airlines. He is an aviation safety consultant in Michigan and speaker for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.