What Are The Financial Implications Of Becoming A Pilot?

Since aviation emerged, the industry has experienced exponential growth, only interrupted by a few cyclical recessions (i.e. the 1973 oil crisis or the current climate emergency) that have not only strengthened the position of long-standing airlines, but also established a path for both new airlines and airliners to compete in a more sustainable environment.

Photo by AeroNewsX/Paul Schmid

In other words, the perspective of aviation is positive, and so are the demands related to it.

Nonetheless, becoming a pilot is still perceived as an “elitist” career path, although there is some key information that could be useful when considering such an elusive career path.


Once the responsibilities and the perks implied in such profession are understood, the two main ways to get an aircraft to 30,000ft are either through civilian flight schools or the military. The principal difference resides in the strict requirements and the free-of-charge training that choosing the latter involves.


The flight school, on the contrary, offers the opportunity to almost anyone with the sufficient motivation to get their career started. Although costly (approx. €50,000-€110,000), in 2.5 years time you could be already cruising the skies.


It's worth noting that airlines highly value a previous bachelor’s degree that could suggest that the candidates do posses other skills that complement their ability to fly an aircraft. Those include, among others: task management, adaptability, interpersonal and communication skills.

Photo by AeroNewsX/Adam Lanzen

Of course, a rather light medical exam must be conducted – against the popular myths on how wearing glasses may impede you from flying – before passing a written exam and a minimum of 40 hours of flight time in a single-engine plane.


Then, the procedure follows as you earn an instrument as well as a multi-engine rating, which after completing at least 250 hours of flight time, allows you to get a commercial pilot license as a first-officer.


So how do other factors affect your choice?

Firstly, the apparent growth that is expected within the industry. The Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook projects that over the next 20 years 790,000 new commercial pilots will be needed (one-third corresponding to the Asia-Pacific region and the other two-thirds evenly distributed in North America and Europe). Furthermore, a large number of pilots are estimated to retire over the next few years.


Secondly, the increase of rapidly expanding low-cost airlines (i.e. Volotea, WizzAir) that have been immersing into joint-ventures along with other training schools such as CAE Inc., offer a significant number of pilot positions while providing pre-signed contracts as well as flexible financing schemes.


Lastly, retribution. Although pilot pay may vary depending on airline, seniority, country or economic volatility, the median salary in 2017 was €69,000/year (USA).


In comparison, other data derived from pilot shortages in South-East Asian regions suggest a 400% raise in salary (€277,000/year after tax)!

Photo by AeroNewsX/Paul Schmid

The principle counterpart to getting into pilot school would remain in a rather distant future. It is so, since the next revolution in the industry is expected to be automated systems. This could, of course, leave hundreds of thousands of pilots’ fate in jeopardy, although UBS reports set the viability of such an advancement by about 2040.


Moreover, unmanned commercial flights lack of social acceptability (not only in the sector, but also in the broad public) which will notably postpone the implementation of these technologies.


All in all, it's no doubt that there are obvious financial restrains regarding this choice, although the return on such an investment makes this decision absolutely feasible. Using the most prudent data, the payback period could be equal to approximately 1.4 years, which compared to other careers represents a greater utility.


Additionally, industry democratization has enabled new channels which could encourage skeptical enthusiasts to apply. It seems to me that it is an ideal time to join the industry that many of us share a special interest for.

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