How old is too old to start commercial airline pilot training?

When you join an airline at the age of forty-five, your potential future earnings are significantly lower than those of a twenty-five year old. With a likely investment of between £50,000 and £100,000 in your training, to get a financial return on your investment you may need to move straight into a high paying first officer position. This is by no means guaranteed, regardless of the training method you choose.

Full-time training would mean the loss of about 2 years of income. You need to factor this into your total costs and budget.

Impact of training

The time investment and subsequent impact on family life can also be significant. If you were to choose an integrated course, maintaining a normal family life would be very difficult given its intensity and the commitment required. A modular course would provide more flexibility in this regard, and you would also have the advantage of being able to complete the training on your own while employed. This course obviously takes more time and requires great self-discipline.

Career progression

If your dream is to command a long-haul aircraft like the B777 or the A380, you are less likely to achieve this at the start of your aviation career in later years. A forty-five-year-old man has a maximum of twenty years of pilot career, assuming your medical examination is maintained. At some long-haul airlines it can take 15-20 years to be promoted to captain, so you need to be realistic about what you can expect in terms of career progression.

Discrimination

In Europe, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on age. While European airlines are not expected to impose an age limit on applications, there is speculation that some would prefer to recruit younger co-pilots where possible.

Although debatable, some people suggest that younger cadets learn at a faster rate and are better at absorbing new information. Younger applicants are less likely to have family commitments and are therefore more flexible with their lifestyle.

When airlines recruit cadets, they seek to recruit future captains. If, upon request, you are of an age where you are unlikely to reach command, the airline would prefer a younger candidate. They couldn’t legally discriminate based on age, but it’s often thought to happen.

Age can be precious

All of the above being said, life experience and maturity are desirable attributes for pilots and therefore airlines should always look for a well-balanced mix of pilots from all demographic groups.

Older pilots who have worked elsewhere may enjoy the job more than pilots who started flying at a very young age and never really experienced “real work”.