I am currently 26, female and making financial arrangements to pursue a cpl after 2 years. The location probably will be Canada or USA. I am wondering if 29 is too late for commercial airlines. Do the airlines prefer younger pilots? Is there a max age limit for commercial airlines? Thanks for the help. Cheers, Litali

  • $\begingroup$ You want to take a look at this video $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Nov 4, 2015 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I think the questions linked by Simon covers this pretty well, and it sounds like age shouldn't be a factor really. Good luck :) $\endgroup$
    – Jae Carr
    Nov 4, 2015 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ DO NOT DO IT. Save that money. Buy a rental property. Get a "real" (engineering, hard science, business as a worst case) degree from a good school. Almost anything is better than sinking your cash into a CPL to pursue an airline career these days. Seriously, invest that money into revenue generating assets or into yourself. In a few years you'll be able to get your PPL, buy your own plane, and fly on your schedule. I was a commercial pilot in my past life (early-mid 20s). I got an MBA, quit flying (not furloughed), got a desk job, and bought a plane. Best decision I ever made. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Jul 14, 2016 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ You are not going to get hired by a US airline with only a commercial pilot's license. You're going to need an ATP and at least 1,500 hours. If you have a commercial license and some of your 250 hours of required flight time is multi-engine, you might be able to find a small carrier somewhere overseas that will give you a right seat job paying even less than a regional first officer in the US. By the way, starting salaries for a regional airline first officer are well below what a waiter at a decent restaurant can earn. It's a hard slog to big iron if you don't come from the military. $\endgroup$
    – user7868
    Mar 9, 2017 at 16:09

1 Answer 1


29 is not too late for them. It might be too late for you, depending on where you are in your life now.

First off, a CPL won't cut it to fly for most Part 121 or Part 135 outfits, including major airlines, cargo haulers etc. As of 2013, the requirements to get on the flight deck of a commercial airliner include an ATPL, which requires a minimum of 1500 hours (1000 if you attend a four-year flight school).

A CPL, with instrument rating and an endorsement to ferry passengers for hire, would allow you to fly for a company like NetJets, or for a corporate or government jet fleet, though you'll face stiff competition for those jobs; they're fairly cushy and well-paid for the required experience, and you'll find a lot of ex-military and ex-airline pilots beating down the door. You'd also be able to fly foreign-registered aircraft for a non-US airline, as long as the jurisdiction hasn't adopted a similar rule as the FAA's.

When you get your ATPL, with only the 1500 hours and no other airline experience, you'll likely land your first gig as First Officer on a regional route. This is your toehold into a career in flying, and to be perfectly honest if you don't absolutely love to fly I would tell you to do anything else, especially if you've already started a life (married, kids, mortgage). The average starting salary for a regional FO is about \$22,500 per year, which for a 40 hour work week is a meager \$10.75 an hour. You would literally make more working full-time as a barista in Sea-Tac Airport serving coffee to the pilots than flying the puddle-jump between there and Portland. And that's just the average; you can expect half the currently flying pilots with less than 1 year experience to make less than that. You are virtually guaranteed to make more money doing anything else that requires more than a high school diploma.

It gets better, but it takes a career to do it. Senior captains flying the big widebodies on major transcontinental and intercontinental routes make six figures, in excess of \$175k in some cases. Most of this is the airlines trying to retain their most experienced pilots for just a little longer by giving them the most profitable routes for which they can pay the pilots more. The other part is making up for the peanuts they pay you in your early years.

For the majority of your career, your entire life will fit in a carryon and/or a garment bag; flying regionals, you'll make the same flight five to ten times a day and have a good chance to get back to your home city, but on regional pay you'll be hard-pressed to afford more than a single-bedroom flat. As your experience grows, your promotions will naturally lead to longer flights on bigger jets, with the best-paying routes being intercontinental flights where you'll sleep on the plane two nights out of three. Many pilots have month-to-month arrangements with their landlords to rent a single room to crash in and store anything that doesn't fit in their flight bag. This will be your life for 20-30 years.

It is extremely common for newly retired pilots and their spouses to invest in a "pilot's house"; while most retirees are downsizing from the house they raised kids in, most pilots are finally able to settle down in one location for the first time in their lives, and are buying McMansions in cash at about that same age, with savings from the last few years of their flying career.

All in all, flying sounds like a glamorous, "see the world" job, but you have to be sure you can live with the downsides. Your spouse will essentially be a single parent (if you have kids), you'll be living in a small apartment for most of your life and will move several times, requiring your spouse to have a career that allows easy relocation, and you might only be home every other day if not less often, depending on the airline's scheduling model; it's fairly common especially among LCCs to run "end-to-end" routes instead of "hub and spoke", and that could mean you'll start in New York, run hops through Chicago, Atlanta and Dallas with your eight hours allowable flight time per day, then sleep in Dallas and fly the reverse route the next day back to New York.

Just to make a direct comparison, my wife has a cosmetology license (haircuts, nails, spa treatments) in Texas. To get that license required a 2-year course of study and 1500 hours total instruction and guided practice. Her first year with that license, she made about $33000, almost 50% more than a first-year airline pilot. The economics of the airline industry (and the regulations in the cosmetology industry) are bass-ackwards.

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    $\begingroup$ the requirement of ATPL to pilot an airliner, that is US specific i guess? From EASA the requirement is frozen ATPL $\endgroup$
    – user
    Nov 4, 2015 at 19:31
  • $\begingroup$ It's U.S.-specific, but it means if you're going to fly an airliner into U.S. airspace, even for a non-U.S. carrier, you have to have an ATPL. Not having one is going to limit your options with a Canadian airline as a lot of its business will be flying to U.S. airports, though you could fly intercons practically anywhere else in the world as well as domestic/regional hops that don't cross the 45th Parallel. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Nov 4, 2015 at 20:08
  • $\begingroup$ @KeithS Are you sure this applies to non-U.S.-flagged carriers flying into U.S. airspace? If you have a regulation citation for that, it would be great if you could post an answer to this question. The only existing answer suggests the opposite, but with no official source. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Nov 5, 2015 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ Further reading suggests I was wrong; the rule requiring an ATPL only applies to pilots of N-numbered airliners. Not having an ATPL would still preclude employment for any airline with an FAA AOC. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Nov 5, 2015 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ Wow, that puts a tarnish on the gilt-edged life many think pilots live. :( $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:55

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