Am I too old?
When I began my airline career in 1977, age was a big stumbling block for airlines, many of which had a stated maximum hiring age of 30. Today, the average hiring age for an airline pilot is close to 35. With age discrimination looming as a legal deterrent, airlines no longer list upper age limits for new hires, preferring to consider pilot qualifications on their own merits.
It's possible to become an airline pilot at almost any age, as long as you're willing to devote the time, patience, and money required. As an older pilot you'll have the advantages that maturity brings and, very likely, another marketable skill to fall back on when times get tough and pilot layoffs occur. You'll also have numerous contacts from various walks of life to help accelerate your training plan. Hopefully, you've got some savings and a good credit rating to help you forge ahead, whereas a young pilot often lacks these essentials.
Consider making your transition to full-time flying slowly, so you can keep your income source intact until the day you find you can survive on a full-time pilot's salary, which may be a fraction of what you're making at your present job. Your future employer will appreciate your careful, considered transition and recognize that you're serious about your career change if you show that you've made well-timed steps that reflect realistic planning.
When you're being questioned at your first airline interview as to why you chose to switch careers in midstream, you can show them the sacrifices and efforts you've made as part of your dedication to a pilot career. And if you can demonstrate that you act, fly, and talk on the radio like a mature professional, you'll likely gain the respect due someone with much more total flying time. Impress them with your maturity, good sense, attention to detail, and concern for providing high-quality service.
Networking is essential. Talk with friends, family, and other pilots, particularly those who own airplanes, to determine if they might be good sources for time building, airplane sharing, or job referrals to move you toward your goal. Your ability as a computer programmer may be just what a local aircraft owner needs in his business, and you may find a win/win situation trading your skills for flight time. Accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, dentists, and chiropractors (just to name a few I've flown with) have succeeded in using their basic skills as trade media while training for advanced ratings.
If you've got the passion, now's the time to scrutinize your available resources and determine what you're willing to do or sacrifice to realize your dream.
Capt. Karen Kahn is the author of Flight Guide for Success: Tips and Tactics for the Aspiring Airline Pilot and a career counselor. A Master CFI and 30-year airline pilot, she flies the Boeing 757/767 for a major U.S. carrier.