Plane Answers: How to become a pilot at 40 years old

Introducing Gadling’s newest feature, Plane Answers, where our resident commercial pilot, Kent Wien, answers your questions about everything from take off to touch down and beyond. Have a question of your own? Ask away!

Hi Kent,

My question is simple. What do you think is the best method to learn to become a commercial pilot for someone in their very late thirties. Do you think that it’s better to go through a college or go through an airline company that offers training.

Currently I’m overseas fighting with the military and I have about 6 month’s left before I come home. I know that this is what I want to do, can you help me?


Hi Larry,

First off, thanks for everything you’re doing for us overseas. My hat’s off to you and I hope to be able to buy you and many others a drink when you finally get home.

The following applies to those living in the United States. I can’t speak with any authority as to how it’s done in other countries.

I’m also in my late 30’s, and if I had to do it over again at this age, I might lean towards going to a flight school near my home or perhaps in Florida. Some of these schools can give you a great deal of flight time in a short period so you’ll finish up your ratings sooner. In the long run, this is probably the most economical way to go, but it will involve some self motivation on your part. To find a fight school near you, take a look at

Another option that you mentioned is an Ab Initio school that takes you from zero time to a job interview with a regional. This could be an option for you, but they can be expensive and there are certainly no guarantees you’ll be hired.

The question is, do you have any college education behind you? Most of the majors require a 4 year degree–even if it’s in something other than aviation or engineering–but as the pilot pool dries up, they may waive this down to 2 years. The regionals don’t always have this requirement, though.

Keep in mind you’ll need to get the following ratings: Private, Instrument, Commercial, Multi-Engine and perhaps your Certified Flight Instructor. And you need to do this as quickly as possible. You could probably accomplish much of it in a year, if you worked at it full time. I managed to go to a university while learning to fly on the side, and as a result, it took 2 1/2 years to get the above ratings on my license. A lot of the colleges such as Embry-Riddle and Daniel Webster take the full 4 years to get to the above ratings. That might be an option for you, but I should warn you, it IS expensive.

Finally, after getting those ratings, you’ll still need to build up your flight time by either instructing or some other job that will help you gain some more experience. Some pilots tow banners, perform traffic watch duties for radio stations or fly power line patrol aircraft. Now that the retirement age has been raised from 60 to 65, you’re effectively 5 years younger than you may have thought. So late 30’s isn’t really so late if the airlines are hiring. The last time my airline was hiring, we had pilots hired at the age of 47, and that was when pilots had a mandatory retirement age of 60. We’ll see if the airlines start hiring pilots over 50 with the increased retirement age. Generally airlines want to get a number of years out of their pilots after spending a sizable amount to train them on their aircraft.

I should warn you about the pay and working conditions, especially at the regional airlines. The lower pay and the long days can be tough. But if this is really what you want to do, then there isn’t much that’s going to get in your way. To get an idea of the different requirements and what the corporate, regional, major and legacy carriers are paying, take a look at The site is very accurate and it might give you an idea if this is something you really want to do.

Good luck!


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