What do you need to do to become a pilot at an older age?

While starting a career in aviation as a young pilot has benefits like gaining experience as years go on, there is a steadily growing number of mature professionals deciding to take up the pilot’s hat in their 40s and 50s. This sort of measured increase underlines the notion that becoming a private, business or commercial pilot can be achieved at almost any age – based on the available statistics.

In 2021, out of 250,197 flight school students, mature applicants in 40-44 and 45-49 age groups accounted for 20,740 and 13,375 respectively, while those in 50-54 and 55-59 age groups accounted for 11,754 and 9,753 respectively. Though taking up a small percentage overall, mature applicants show a constant increase, notes Alison Dsouza, director of Aerviva Aviation Consultancy, a Dubai-based international consultancy, specializing in aviation recruitment and document management.

“It’s always great to see people getting into aviation and becoming pilots at an older age. They set an example to others that are thinking about switching their careers either to follow their true passion or to change up their lives. Mature applicants and students often find easier to pay for their own education and are financially more stable. It is also noted that they are generally more responsible which allows them to make measured choices, especially under pressure. The truth is that the life of a pilot is not an easy one, as it carries a lot of responsibilities and accountability.”

If someone in their 40-50 decide on journeying down the pilot’s career path, the applicant must be at least 18 years of age, and hold a bachelor’s degree with good scores in math and physics or hold aviation-related college degree, explains Dsouza. If those requirements are met, then the applicant can either enroll in a flight school or with airline pilot programs.

“An applicant can choose a flight school based on the country they wish to study in or going for a well-reputed one. Either way, it’s always important to check fees, as this will be based on where one picks to study. When it comes to airline pilot programs, they are rolled out by specific airlines and the graduate will be employed with the airline after completion.”

The enrolled student can go through five different pilot training stages and choose to stop at what they are aiming for, notes Dsouza. The first stage is Student Pilot License (SPL) which grants flight training school attendance. Then follows Private Pilot License (PPL) where one needs to hold an SPL and have over 45 hours of flight instructions – fixed minimum hours of solo and dual flight instruction, cross-country flights with full stop landings included. The third tier is Commercial Pilot License (CPL) which requires 70 flight time hours, with specific flight requirements included.

Dsouza explains that after completing the three stages, a pilot can proceed with obtaining additional ratings: Instrument Rating, meaning the pilot can fly aircraft in any weather condition, and Multi-engine Rating, meaning the pilot can fly multi-engine aircraft.

The last tier is Airline Transport Pilot License (ATPL), which has the maximum number of requirements out of all tiers, explains Dsouza. First, a current Class 1 Medical certificate is needed, and the pilot has to be a holder of CPL with instrument and multi-engine rating as well as completed minimum of 1,500 flight time hours in aeroplanes, which includes a combination of flight time requirements. Additionally, there are a few examinations that require a pass rate of 75% in each, in order to gain an ATPL.

“The different tiers allow the student to choose a specific career path they want to go down as a pilot,” says Dsouza. “These paths include airline pilot for large commercial, small private or regional airlines, corporate or business aviation, pilots for cargo as well as flight instructors.”

Some of the advantages that a career change to a pilot offers are not only travelling the world with an exclusive view from a cockpit, notes Dsouza. Along with benefits and perks available, pilot career offers a rather good job security as pilots will always have a global requirement, and the job can be financially rewarding. However, as the pandemic has shown, if such similar global diseases happen, then pilots are in danger to have their jobs suspended for a certain period, just like some of the other career paths outside of aviation.

“Some of the other challenges that such a career switch could present are the lack of time spent with family, being away from home country, and irregular work times, jet lag for long-haul flights,” highlights Dsouza. “But we see that with mature applicants, they tend to weigh in on these challenges carefully before committing to becoming pilots.”

While some might think that pursuing career as a pilot at a more mature age might be more complicated than starting off freshly out of school, the growing numbers of pilots who have started their aviation careers in their 40s and 50s is showing a steady increase. In most cases, the previously gained experience outside of aviation only aids mature applicants to fully commit to this career path.