"I’ve always wanted to fly planes since I was little, but, being from a small town, I didn’t know it was possible,” Bell recalled.
When Bell approached high school graduation in 2015, he Googled “how to become an airline pilot” and ATP Flight School popped up as the first result. Within a week , Bell completed an introductory flight—his first time in any aircraft—at ATP’s campus in Smyrna, Tennessee. The flight cemented his desire to enter ATP’s professional pilot program.
“I did it all on my own,” said Bell, now 21. “I’m the only pilot in my family, but I wanted to travel and have an office with a great view.”
ATP’s curriculum challenged Bell. “I really went out on a limb and there were some long days,” he added. “Learning to land was very challenging for me…just ask my first instructor…but what an amazing feeling of relief after I finally accomplished it.
“There were lots of books to study and exams to take, but I was motivated to succeed. It took 10 months to get through the program at ATP. I started with 0 hours and got all of my certificates,” including certificated flight instructor, instructor instrument, and multiengine instructor.
Bell said he invested between $80,000 and $90,000 to become an airline pilot, including classes, flight instruction, written tests, checkrides, an iPad, a headset, and living expenses. “I’m very fortunate because my parents helped me through flight school by cosigning a loan offered through ATP,” he said.
After graduating from ATP’s program, he became a flight instructor with the company, which helped him earn money to begin repaying the loan and to build hours quickly. “I had 1,475 hours when hired by PSA and now I have around 1,800,” he said.
As a new first officer, Bell flies Bombardier CRJ 200, 700, and 900 models. “For the most part, the captains have been great teachers. They understand that they have a lot of fresh first officers who haven’t been in anything faster than a Piper Seminole.”
Although he’s focused on airline flying, Bell said he plans to add glider and seaplane ratings in the future.
Based at the Knoxville, Tennessee, airport, Bell is saving money by living with his parents about 40 miles away for now, but he said he will probably move closer to the airport sometime in the future.
“This job involves some early hours and long days,” Bell added during a recent phone interview from a hotel room in Evansville, Indiana, “but that’s part of the job, and I think I have one of the best jobs anyone could ever ask for. I love flying to new places and trying new restaurants.”
Bell likes to travel—even on his days off, and his goal is to someday fly internationally and see the world.
As a new hire at PSA, he flies domestic trips, typically Friday to Monday, followed by two to three days off during the middle of the week.
Bell started training with PSA last January, just four days after his twenty-first birthday, and his goal is to make captain by age 23.
With 44 years to go before the current airline retirement age of 65, Bell said he anticipates a long, well-compensated career.