Q&A with Lori Clark: How Old Is Too old?

Published: 07-17-2006
Years ago, 30-ish was the "cutoff" age for getting hired at a major airline. While those days are gone, there are clearly important decisions that must be made when getting a late start in aviation.

questionI'm 41 and a private pilot working on my instrument. I'm a disabled Vet and the VA is paying for my school, UVSC, Utah Valley State College. I've been out of flying for about 10 years and my previous experience was in helicopters as a crew chief in the U.S. Army. My question(s) are can I still make it to the airlines. My goal is to become an inspector for the FAA and eventually become an instructor at a college. Is it possible?

Thanks for the help.

AnswerHistorically speaking, and I do mean ancient history, unless you could give 20 years to a "major" airline they wouldn't even look at you. However, the good news is that has changed in recent years. It was not uncommon to find new hires in their 50's just a few years ago. Unfortunately September 11th changed all of that with the massive furloughs and downsizing that this industry has suffered. I don't believe we will ever get back to the rule-of-thumb that you must have 20 years left in your career to be hired though. This industry has gone through so much morphing since deregulation that it seems the "powers that be" have discovered a new awareness with regard to age and return-on-investment.

Having said all of that let me cut to the chase. You have a lot of work ahead of you to become competitive in this environment. But that doesn't mean that you won't achieve your goals. Depending on how aggressively you pursue your education and time-building it may take several more years yet for you to be competitive for a regional airline job. Most folks spend about five years with a regional before acquiring enough experience to be competitive for a LCC or legacy airline and that may take you well into your 50's. At that point it really is your decision to interview elsewhere or not. If your goal is to become an FAA Inspector then you need not even worry about making the move to a legacy or LCC. It is possible to achieve that goal from a regional, or even corporate or 135 position as well.

My advice to you would be to aggressively pursue your education and hours and network like crazy along the way. Once you land a job with a 121 carrier (if that's the route you choose) challenge yourself to become a check airman. Check airmen are typically hand-picked by the Chief Pilot for their leadership qualities and subsequently given more reverence than if you were to remain as a line pilot, which will help greatly in your pursuit of an FAA inspector position. Visit your local FSDO and talk directly to an inspector - ask him/her for their advice. Perhaps they will even mentor you...

It's not "necessary" to have a recommendation from an FAA inspector to become one, but similar to the airlines...it's not part of the published mins, but you have a lesser chance without one. The FAA has an online application, and there is a section where an FAA sponsor can log on and make a recommendation. As I understand, the process is that each FSDO will submit a request for a certain number of inspectors and the types of inspectors they need (Mx, Air Carrier, Field Inspector), and OKC will respond with X number of qualified applicants from the online database. It's then up to the individual FSDO to choose which of the applicants names they want to continue to interview and subsequently hire. Therefore, networking is in full play.

I'm not sure what type of college instructor you would like to become. Flight instructor? Professor? For this goal I would also suggest seeking out those who are currently in the field and asking for guidance. "Get it from
the horses mouth" as my Mom used to say.

I hope this helps.
Good luck with your quest!

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