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I become a private pilot just over 2 years ago. I’m 52. I always feel better about the world and my place in it when I’m flying. I currently make a very comfortable salary as a software engineer.

A slightly younger acquaintance who is a burnt out dentist is pursuing his private with aspirations of switching careers eventually. Though he couldn’t tell me to exactly what. I must admit, I find his idealism inspiring, but am skeptical.

My limited awareness of earning money in the aviation industry is a) older people working as CFIs who basically “break even” but at least don’t go broke doing their hobby or b) young people who spend huge sums of money to go to flight school, and then be beholden to an airline, flying busloads of people around for many years to pay it all back.

Are there realistic “last 15 years of work” paths for people such as myself or my dentist friend? Neither of us expects to make as much, but selling everything and working for single adult entry wages so we could fly isn’t realistic either.

Or is the only realistic path that of my aged instructor (don’t quit your day job; find a way to subsidize your hobby)?

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    $\begingroup$ Does it need to involve flying, or would a software engineering role in the aviation industry count? $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Nov 27, 2022 at 12:32
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    $\begingroup$ Im specifically interested in the notion of “flying for a living” here. $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2022 at 13:37
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    $\begingroup$ Regional pay is a lot better than it was, but it’s going to be a grind getting there. I think this is a mostly opinion based personal decision, and maybe not the best fit for this site, but a great discussion over coffee because I’ve tread some of this ground… $\endgroup$ Nov 27, 2022 at 16:33

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An issue you may come up against is that "market wages" for low time pilots are what they are, and are driven by the large supply of pilots who are entirely willing to be "working for single adult entry wages so {they} could fly" since that's where they are in life.

To stand out in that market, you'll need to find where your age works for you, and having the age but without the experience, that may be hard. If I were to get back into General Aviation again, I'd probably prefer learning from a CFI who understands where the gaps are in my knowledge... decades of flying big airplanes translates less well into some areas than into others, and I'd need instruction tailored to those areas where my experience doesn't match up well with flying small airplanes. And that means that the 65 or 70 year old former airline pilot might be more preferable for me than a CFI who's far closer to my kids' ages than to my own. But that has as much to do with his experience having done what I've done and taught people who've made a similar transition, as it does with just chronological age.

Some older students will prefer a CFI in his 50's over one in her 20's; is that enough that you can exceed entry-level CFI pay consistently? Not entirely sure about that.

There are places you may be able to fly for cheap or free on the weekends, flying regularly if not vocationally. A friend who started flying in his 40's became a regular tow-plane pilot at a glider operation. The pay wasn't much (or maybe anything, if it was a club), and the hours may not have been enough for the pilot looking to build time & get to the airlines quickly, but neither of those was what he needed. Opportunities like that, flying jump planes for skydiving, or other similar things tend to be one-off situations that you'll find individually; they're much less mass-produced than flight schools with many CFI's flowing through their pipelines... but the fact that you don't intend to move on as soon as you get picked up by a regional may work in your favor at these sorts of operations.

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