Airline Pilot – Third Year in Review

by Jason Depew TPN Staff Writer

NOTAM: This article contains affiliate links and links to premium content.

One of my many hang-ups and frustrations while trying to decide whether (and more importantly, when) to pursue an airline career was a simple lack of information. This is a summary of my third year at my airline, and I hope it provides you some usable info. I don’t intend on doing this every year for the next 26 years, but I’m still learning lessons that I hope you can apply and making mistakes I hope you can avoid. This is the first time I’m writing this post directly on TPN. You can find Year 1 here, and Year 2 here

First and foremost: I still love this job! Although my wife tells people that I have 4 jobs (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/soside-hustles), I feel less busy overall than I ever did in the Air Force. My overall life value per hour spent away from my family is (sorry) sky-high.

Pay Comparison

We’re pilots. Let’s start with the bottom line up front:

The raw pay numbers will surprise you here a bit. My gonculations indicate that I actually made $99 less this year than I did in Year 2, despite my hourly rate being noticeably higher. This happened because I’ve prioritized Quality of Life over money and worked a lot less. We’ll dig deep into this, but I cannot overstate how wonderful it is to adjust the pace of my working life, in real-time, based on my family’s needs. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/variable-speedfor-your-sanity)

I’ll note again this year that I did not spend $15,600 on health care. Our entire family spent about $2400. That $15,600 is a worst-case scenario figure to try and make these numbers easier to compare with military pay. Realistically though, I feel like most people give too much weight to the benefit of military health care. Unless you plan to continue having lots of babies into old age or your family has some serious medical issues, you don’t generally use enough of this benefit to make it a valid reason for spending extra time on active duty. We’ll explore this assertion in a series of posts someday.

If you average my pay over the number of days I worked, I made $1,256 per day, a 22.8% increase over last year’s pay per day figure. If you divide it by the number of block hours I flew, I effectively received an average of $372 for every hour I worked…still far higher than the hourly pay rate you’ll find on airlinepilotcentral.com

I figure my hard-charging Air Force peers who have already pinned on the rank of Lieutenant Colonel earned about $165,000 this year. Yes, my airline pay is $17K short of that; however, I did so much less work than them it isn’t even funny.

It’s also worth noting that my new side hustle grossed about $15K last year, including pay directly from my employer and fees paid by a customer who hired me to deliver his plane from California to his home in MSP. (It was an epic trip. Expect a post on it…someday.) I only engaged in this side-hustle on days that I wasn’t going to be flying at my airline anyway. Since it’s local, it cost me almost no time away from my family. If you consider that income, then I’m right about on-par with my military peers afterall.

General Stats

According to my company, I only flew 399 hours last year, and got paid for another 70 hours of deadheads. Some airline pilots hate deadheading, but I love it. I get paid a lot of money to sit in the back of the plane reading books, watching movies, or napping. I was able to bid for a lot of trips that started or ended with deadhead legs, getting paid for a no-sweat commute instead of riding a jumpseat. More on that later.

I only spent about 118 days working for my airline, almost a full month less than last year, and this only included 86 nights away from home. That averages out to 9.8 days per month at work.

This means I only spent as many days working last year as most people get weekend days off (104) plus an average of just over one goal day, holiday, or comp day per month. The rest of the year was time spent with my family, doing what I wanted. Can you even place a value on that?

Although I spent 118 days at work, it’s worth mentioning that 18 of those days were covered by 30-hour layovers. These were days where I got paid $1,256 to sleep in, work out, explore some awesome towns, and not do a single moment of work. I was able to get so many of these layover because I was a fairly senior 717 FO. I cannot emphasize enough that Seniority is Everything! (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/seniority-is-everything)

So, I got paid really, really well to do a lot less work than last year. I could have made money by working a little smarter, a little harder, or both. My buddy Cheapshot and I wrote a post where we discussed more realistic figures to use in estimating airline pilot pay. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/careful-what-you-ass-u-me) He doesn’t commute and he makes a lot more money than I do for about the same amount of work. After talking to him, I’ve decided that my family’s choice to live somewhere other than one of my airline’s major bases costs us a minimum of $50,000 per year. If your family is hurting for money or in a rush to achieve financial freedom, you need to find a way to live at one of your airline’s bases, period. I put that another way this year when I wrote: Give a Hoot, Don’t Commute! (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/give-a-hoot-dont-commute-part-1)

Although I didn’t even mention it last year, I noticed that I haven’t gotten a Green Slip (a trip for premium pay) in more than a year. This is directly related to the fact that I’m a commuter and goes toward Cheapshot’s point in our post. Most Green Slips get awarded last minute. If you want to be able to fly for premium pay, you need to live close enough to the airport to go on short notice. I’ve prioritized Quality of Life over that, but living in base and picking up premium pay trips doesn’t have to mean you’re sacrificing QOL to chase money. Cheapshot doesn’t work many more days than I do. If you live in base, you can make a lot of money without having to sacrifice much other than location. If you can find a home your family loves near a base for your airline, you can have the best of both worlds.

I figure the average B717 pilot works about 16 days per month, about one week per month more than I did this year. If I’d worked that much, I estimate I would have made $241,158 this year. That’s a staggering amount of money for not that much more work. I mentioned that my military counterparts made roughly $165,000 this year. If I’d worked as many days as they did, I would have earned over $277,000. (Full disclosure: there isn’t enough open time flying on most fleets to work that many days. It’s a useful data point for comparison though.)

A recent report from the RAND Corporation eviscerated the USAF’s idea that they can easily replace aviators that are leaving at a record pace. (https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR2415.html) According to RAND, the costs of training new pilots up to just a basic level, saying nothing about the years of combat flight experience that the USAF is wantonly tossing away, are so high that it would not be unreasonable to increase the USAF’s pilot retention bonus to $100,000 per year. I feel like the numbers I just presented more than justify this. You’d have to increase my peers’ pay by $112,000 just to put them on par with what I could make at my airline if I did as much work as they did. (This, of course, does not account for a single day of deploying. For the vast majority of Air Force pilots who deploy and spend even more days at work, you’d have to increase the bonus even more to make up for those days away from home. And no, hostile fire, imminent danger, and family separation pays along with tax exemptions don’t make up enough difference either.)

I believe that there is no debate here. The military’s actions show that it does not value its pilots. It doesn’t pay them what they’re worth, and it requires them to spend far more time away from their families than anyone should, and it requires them to focus on too many things other than employing Air Power. I’ve also been watching what my peers do as they spend their 220+ days per year working. While they spend some time doing flying that is far more interesting than anything I’ll ever do at my airline, the vast majority of their time is spent bashing their craniums against brick walls…frustratedly trying to accomplish a plethora of non-flying tasks that are made extremely difficult by layer upon layer of bureaucracy.

There are some great things about being a military pilot. In my opinion, most of them happen in the air. I strongly believe that you can continue giving valuable service to your country while getting almost everything about military aviation that you love, with far less pain in the Guard or Reserve. If you go that way ASAP, you can get a seniority number at an airline and make your family’s Quality of Life better for the next several decades without missing out on anything meaningful. I believe that this career path is so superior to staying on active duty for 20 years, that I wrote a 3-part series on the Ideal Military Pilot Career Path. (Start here: https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/ideal-military-pilot-career-path-spelling-it-out-part-1)

After hearing that some helicopter pilots are hesitant to apply at the airlines because they’re daunted by the application and/or interview process, I even wrote a special article just for them: https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/dear-helicopter-pilots-2321954. (This post is also intended for people like my friend, Whip Mosquera.)

Seniority

My seniority number decreased 506 numbers this year from 12,212 to 11,706, again out-pacing the number of projected mandatory retirements that was listed on https://www.airlinepilotcentral.com/. My relative seniority among ATL B717 FOs was in the mid 20% range before I changed categories, and that Quality of Life was outstanding! I bid for the exact trips I wanted and loved almost every one. (More about the trips later.)

I won a bid to become an FO on the CS100 (now A220) based in NYC in May of last year. I finally started training for that jet on 8 February, my 3-year anniversary at the company. I’m more senior on this jet (about 19% right now) and expect that my quality of life will be even better as an A220 FO, despite a less desirable commute.

The official mandatory retirement projections still how me hitting 50% overall seniority around Year 9, 33% around Year 14, and 25% around Year 16. I expect to have no fewer than 10 years during which I can hold almost any seat in the company. Even better, retirements have been exceeding these projected numbers. This is an almost unprecedented career track. If you join the airlines soon, you can enjoy a similar career. If you wait another 5, 10, or 15 years to secure a military retirement you’ll still have a great career, but your family will never experience the Quality of Life that I expect mine to be able to enjoy. If you’re headed to the airlines anyway, do not sacrifice your spot in line to chase an active duty retirement!

The People

I’m still impressed by the people I work with. Even though I’m nowhere near a new-hire I still almost can’t buy a drink. I keep expecting to get stuck with that really terrible captain everyone hates, but it still hasn’t happened. As I’ve gotten more senior, I’ve flown with some pretty senior captains. As I’ve mentioned before, it frequently ends up feeling like going on a road trip with my dad, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s still largely a 50 First Dates situation, though I’ve had more repeat captains in the last year than ever before. It probably doesn’t hurt that the 717 category only had a couple hundred pilots while I was there.

I would like to have more to say here, but I guess it’s a good sign that there isn’t. The people really are great…pilots, flight attendants, mechanics, management, and others. We’re all focused on the same mission, we get along, we help each other. Yes, there are bad eggs in every organization, but the overwhelming majority of people I work with are fantastic.

Scheduling Victories…and Failures

I’ve loved being senior this year. I did long layovers in awesome places. I got lots of the 4- and 5-day trips that are perfect for a commuter. More than once this year, I decided that I’d rather have some more time at home than at work, so I just dropped or gave away my trip. Each day I gave up cost me that same $1,256, but it was worth it for our family. Part of the reason I could do this was the fact that my wife has a job. However, even if our family income had only been $148K, I like to hope that we could have made ends meet while still enjoying a great life. (We would have bought a cheaper house and done fewer vacations, but it would have still been good.)

My biggest scheduling victory this year was the fact that I was able to bid to only fly on days when my wife didn’t have to work. There were only a handful of days all year when both of us were scheduled and her dad came out to watch the kids. This made our childcare costs zero for the year, saving us a boatload of money and ensuring our kids were with loving family members every day. I don’t know of any other job that gives this kind of flexibility.

Part of having such a flexible schedule was being so senior in my category. If I’d been more junior, it may not have worked out this way. Have you noticed me saying that Seniority is Everything?

Another victory for me was Christmas, though it was almost a failure. I like bidding for trips that start or end on 24 or 25 December, but only have a deadhead or a single leg that day. I put in for a bunch of those, but I’d also started my bid group with a blanket “I want these days off: 24, 25, 26 Dec,” among other criteria. I was senior enough to get the trip I really wanted during those days, but I was also so senior that I got awarded my higher-priority request…I was scheduled to not work on 24-26 Dec. As nice as this was, it meant I got awarded a less-desirable trip with less-desirable layovers.

To fix this, I went to the results of the month’s bid and found out who had gotten the trip I really wanted. He was way junior to me and he hadn’t asked for it. The trip I’d been awarded ended on 23 December while the trip I wanted ended on 24 December. I figured this other pilot might prefer to be home on Christmas Eve. I emailed him, offering to trade, and he gladly accepted. It worked out much better for him, and thankfully our system has a way for people to trade trips directly, without having to offer it up to the pilot group at large. I ended up with a 4-day trip that had a layovers in Tampa on nights 1 and 3. (Two free nights at home.) Day 4 was only scheduled for a deadhead from Tampa to Atlanta, so I got paid $1,256 to wake up in my own bed and spend Christmas Eve at home with my family doing zero work. Booya!

I also got a pretty amazing trip for my birthday. It started with a deadhead-only day from Atlanta to Detroit. I could have just flown directly from Tampa the next morning, but just to be safe I took the last TPA-DTW flight the night before for a guaranteed commute and enjoyed the free night in a hotel and late wake-up. Next was a 30-hr layover in Bethlehem, PA, a gorgeous small town with awesome food, followed by a relatively long layover in Columbia, SC. (Also a great layover.) Day 5 of this trip was one leg from CAE-ATL We were done by 8:30 am. I caught the next flight to Tampa and was home by noon on my birthday. This 5-day trip paid over $6K for what really only amounts to 2.5 days of work.

Not all of my bidding was so successful. I could have gotten some really great trips on Thanksgiving but prioritized one starting with a deadhead from ATL to DFW on the 22nd. I spaced the fact that we don’t do any direct TPA-DFW flights and that this didn’t actually get me a free commute. I still got to spend the holiday morning with my family, but I had to leave for work too early to eat dinner.

I also screwed myself for the New Year. I bid to fly a lot in December and focused on trying to get trips that touched Christmas without actually having to do any work. I got the 25th and 26th off, which was nice, but I could have gotten some amazing trips that left late on one of those days and finished by the 29th or 30th. Figuring that I’d get one of those trips, I failed to prioritize my preferences to get the 31st off.

Instead of beating the system, I got assigned a 3-day trip from 27-29 Dec and a 4-day trip starting on the 30th. The first trip wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t leave me enough time to go home before my next trip started. The other trip included a 30-hr layover in Harrisburg, PA, a nice layover, but not what I’d wanted. I looked all over for different trips, but found nothing. Since New Year is a big holiday, I couldn’t just drop the trip. I learned this year to always be very careful about what days off I ask for. If you’re also trying to get specific trips that touch those days, you must list them higher in your preferences than your day off requests when bidding…at least in the version of PBS that my company uses.

Advanced Entitlements

Also known as AEs, Advanced Entitlements are what my company calls it when they announce vacancies for which pilots can bid. They’re the only way for us to change base, aircraft, or seat. Unfortunately, for the last couple of years my company has only conducted one large AE per year, followed by a few very minor ones. It’s fine if you don’t mind where you are, but if you’re trying to change to something new it’s frustrating.

Last year’s AE dropped a few months before my B717 seat lock expired, so I was only eligible to bid for an initial captain seat or a seat in a brand-new category. They opened the NYC and SLC A220 categories on that AE and I had been planning to bid for that jet for a while. I’d hoped the NYC A220 category would go junior enough that I could get a captain seat, and put that as my #1 preference. I wasn’t going to bid for A220 FO at all, but after talking to every captain about it for months, I ended up listing it…as my last preference.

The A220 captain seats ended up going surprisingly senior. I was more than 1000 seniority numbers short of last place. I was awarded NYC A220 FO, and I’m excited to be going there. Unfortunately, I missed a couple of better opportunities in that AE.

My first mistake was either a bad choice or an accident. Normally, training dates are assigned in seniority order. For a new aircraft, it’s likely that you’ll end up sitting around for a few months between the sim and starting to fly…while still getting paid. It’s a great deal and a big part of the reason that A220 Captain seats went so senior on the initial AE. However, you have the option of bidding to train after people junior to you instead, and I checked that box on my bid.

I’m still not sure why I bid that way, and it may have been that I was changing things at the last minute and didn’t notice that I’d checked the box on a preference for a different aircraft. That check box probably cost me a few months of getting full pay to not work. Despite my mistake, I really enjoyed my last few months on the 717.

I also could have gotten a displacement on that AE. Displacements happen when the airline closes part or all of a category. Some seats are “surplussed” and those pilots get to move down to any seat they can hold…displacing the pilots at the bottom of that category. (The process continues to trickle down.) The company surplussed a bunch of MD88 seats in that AE and I (correctly) figured that at least one of them would be junior to me and come to the 717. If I’d volunteered to displace before anyone junior to me, I could have moved anywhere I wanted.

I would have gone to our combined 757/767 category (we call it “7ER.”) I want to fly the 757 before it goes away because everyone who’s flown it loves it. I’d also like to do at least a little international airline flying as an FO before I have to do it as a Captain. I could have checked both of those boxes all at once, then bypassed my seat lock by bidding for an initial captain seat on the A220 as soon as I was ready. I put 7ER FO on my voluntary displacement preferences, and I would have gotten it if I hadn’t included my regular bid for A220 FO at the last minute. Whomp, whomp.

I finished A220 training early last month. I really enjoyed the course and love the aircraft as much as I expected. I’ve enjoyed getting paid not to work for more than a month, so I didn’t miss out on the good deal altogether. Even better, we just concluded another large AE where I got awarded NYC A220 Captain. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/emet-why-did-you-take-a-junior-captain-seat) The training course should only be a week long, which will be nice. It could be a full year before I get to do that training, but I’m excited for it. (I still haven’t figured out how to get to the 7ER. Maybe Boeing will continue dragging their feet on the 797 and I’ll just be able to bid for Captain on it in a few years.)

Other Thoughts

Airline flying has continued to be engaging for me. I’m still going places I haven’t been, and I’m not bored of any airports yet (except maybe Atlanta.) I’ve realized, though, that this will change. I fly with captains who have probably been to every airport we land at 100 times or more. I don’t see that as a problem per se, but I’ve decided that I want to continue changing things up throughout my career. I plan to bid for a new aircraft roughly every time my seat lock expires for the foreseeable future, as long as the seniority makes sense. That’s a lot of time at the training center, and I’ll abandon this strategy if training gets annoying. However, I want to keep things new, fresh, and potentially even challenging for now. My company has enough types of aircraft that I can continue this strategy for more than a decade before I run out of options. I figure that once I’ve sampled everything on the buffet, I’ll be able to pick a favorite and go get a big helping of something for a few years. Or, I’ll decide I’ve seen it all, bid reserve as a widebody FO, work an average of 5 days per month, and spend my free time starting an airshow act flying a 4-ship of SubSonex jets https://www.sonexaircraft.com/subsonex/. (Yes, I’ll be looking for people to fly as 2, 3, and 4. I’m now accepting Expressions of Interest in the form of frosty beverages. I’m also taking recommendations for what to name our act.)

Realizing that I enjoy a little variety in my life has helped me realize something else about myself: I’m glad I choose an airline that flies more than one type of aircraft. (And, by extension, I’m glad my airline flies all over the world, giving me an even-wider variety of layover destinations as well.) I have nothing personal against airlines that only have one or two types of aircraft. If one of them set up shop in Tampa, I’d be very tempted to apply anyway to eliminate my commute forever. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/a-100-knot-tailwind-with-continuous-light-chopoccasional-moderate) However, I don’t think I’d get the same flying fulfillment from one of those airlines that I can get at Delta.

Although I’ll continue to assert that location and not commuting should be your #1 criteria for choosing an airline, I’ve realized that it’s also important to consider whether you’d be okay flying one type of aircraft to a limited set of destinations for the next 20-30 years. I’m very glad that I made the choice I did.

I noticed that when I reviewed my first year I made much ado about trying to calculate the point at which I’d be furlough-proof. It didn’t even occur to me to address that last year because my seniority was progressing quickly and the economy has been humming. There’s some talk of an economic slow-down lately. Barring a really tragic day, I don’t feel like furloughs are a likely threat to me, even if the economy takes a dip. However, I recognize that part of this is padded by my impressive and rapidly increasing seniority. I’m at 80.1% after just 3 years. I’ve mentioned the awesome effects this has in my overall QOL, but it also gives me incredible peace of mind. Even if furloughs happened, I feel like I’d be safe.

This is just another reason why seniority is everything. If you’re hanging around in the military waiting to go to the airlines, you’re jeopardizing every part of your future. Pay, lifetime earnings, QOL…and job security. I cannot emphasize enough the fact that you can get almost anything your love any military service in the Guard or Reserves. Why not leave active duty, get a seniority number, and then finish your service and earn a retirement anyway? In my mind, there is almost no excuse not to follow the Idea Career Path for a Military Pilot. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/ideal-military-pilot-career-path-spelling-it-out-part-1)

Another interesting thing I’ve noticed this year is that the airline industry is very slow-paced. As pilots, we love planning ahead. Every time we get a new piece of information, we feed it into our equations and update our plan. This habit pattern is a matter of survival for us when we’re flying, and we do the same thing with our careers.

Delta announced this year that they’re going to be buying a few more A330-900s (aka A330neo) than we’d expected. It changes fleet allocations, routes, basing, and retirement schedules for other aircraft. Armed with this new information, I have a few very exciting career paths to choose from. I’m ready to start implementing them RIGHT NOW, but it will be later this year before we even start taking delivery of these aircraft. It’ll be several years before we have them all, and it’ll be even longer before I’m likely to fly them.

That disparity can be frustrating. As pilots, were used to things happening more quickly. We like to take action to be prepared for the future. (Bored on your initial climb out? Set your attitude warning bug to decision altitude for the ILS at your destination airport, right?) I’ve flown with pilots who can’t handle this disparity. They want things NOW, but can’t possibly have them yet. They end up disgruntled, feeling slighted, and in some cases even hating the company they work for. I put conscious effort into not letting this be me. It’s fun to plan, plot, and speculate, but don’t engage in any of that unless you’re ready to simultaneously enjoy your life as it is today.

This topic is important enough that it probably warrants it’s own post someday. For now, here are a couple thoughts on it. I find that I’m happier when I have things in life to occupy my attention other than the job. I feel like the same goes for other pilots too. I have family, side hustles, and hobbies. If I find myself getting worked-up about the pace of our industry, I can shift my attention to one of those other things and the frustration simply disappears.

I’ve noticed that social media (even TPN) can be a double-edged sword here. I enjoy many aspects of social media such as: knowing what’s going on in friends’ lives, I getting a constant stream of news, and I even enjoy philosophical debates that don’t degrade into mud-slinging. However, it’s dangerously easy to get worked-up about work. I feel like the loudest voices on social media are frequently those without anything better to do. How else are these people able to constantly post/comment? If you’re constantly involved in conversations about work, especially about frustrating topics, you can’t help but be frustrated yourself.

Facebook, Google, Apple, and others have a vested interest in getting us to spend as much time as possible on their devices and platforms. Frustration and conflict work strongly in their favor. Social media can be a great tool, but like any other tool, it should be used deliberately and carefully. It takes some conscious thought to put the phone down, walk away, and do something else. If social media isn’t making your life better, this is exactly what you need to do!

Outside Work

As I’ve mentioned, I have a few side-hustles. I’ve been having a lot of fun teaching in the Icon A5, and I plan to continue doing this as long as they’ll let me. If you’re looking for a fun side-hustle, you enjoy flight instruction, and you’re interested in General Aviation, you should absolutely consider talking to them about some part-time work. They’ll eventually need factory-trained instructors all over the country. If you’re not in love with the idea of going to the airlines, they could also use the leadership and perspective of some experienced military pilots who are also intimately familiar with GA. If that describes you, it would be worth asking about a leadership position within the company.

I’m also still enjoying tolerating my job as an Admission Liaison Officer for the USAF Academy. The AF has decided that I need to get promoted to Lieutenant Colonel if I want to avoid getting kicked out before I hit 20 years. This means that I’ve started Air Command and Staff College (again.) I’ve narrowly avoided gouging my eyes out for seven classes, and have five left to go before my waiver expires next February. Wish me luck!

I read a couple fascinating books about health and diet this year. I feel like we pilots tend to allow “Body by T-6” or “Body by Delta” to slowly get the better of us over the years, and I hope to avoid that trend. If you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend the following:

  • The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Funghttps://amzn.to/2LLyHLd  This book identifies the causes of diabetes and obesity and tells us how to cure them. He presents the biochemistry simply enough that this Computer Engineer/Pilot could understand it, and it seems pretty solid. If he’s right, his ideas could change the world.
  • How Not to Die by Gene Stone and Dr. Michael Gregerhttps://amzn.to/2LzMzry  This book runs through the exact causes for the 15 most common reasons for premature death and explains how to prevent or fix those problems on an individual level. The emphasis is on eating correctly and healthy living, not pill popping. It’s fascinating and has the potential to do more to change most lives than just about any other book I can imagine.

Last year I mentioned that I’d started reading more from the Financial Independence (FI) community. I’ve continued that study by reading “The Simple Path to Wealth” by JL Collins (https://amzn.to/2Yhhbj2) and listening to a few fascinating podcasts. I highly recommend:

If you listen to these, realize that the hosts are all very enthusiastic about their subject matter. They spend as much time on these podcasts as we do on flying. You may not be as enthusiastic or optimistic as they are, and that’s okay. As podcasters, they’re definitely not experts either. Take from them what you can, and don’t be turned off by their shortcomings or effervescent zeal.

As much as I enjoy reading and listening on this topic, it’s also important to note that it’s not about money. It’s about obtaining the means with which you can choose to live your life any way you want. There’s a popular part of the FI movement that goes a step further and makes it FIRE by adding, “retire early” to the acronym. I’m not out to “retire” in the traditional sense of the word, but I’m all about having enough passive investment income that work is optional for the rest of my life. There isn’t a chance in hell I’ll be flying a full schedule as a 60+ year old narrowbody Captain. I’d love to be earning enough passive income from my investments that I can choose to fly just one trip a month (or more or less) and not have to worry about making ends meet. It’d be tough to burn out with that type of schedule.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m working on a bigger-picture project along these lines. It’s not 100% ready yet, but it’s far enough that I’ll at least mention a few specifics. I’m writing a book called Pilot Math Treasure Bath, and I hope to publish it this year.

My wife and I have always been pretty good at saving and investing, but I’m surprised at how many pilots I fly with who are lost when it comes to these topics. My goal is to show pilots like you and me what our lives can look like if we’re smart about spending, saving, and investing money. We then walk, step by step, through exactly how much you need to be saving, and each type of account where you need to be putting that money. We also look at specific types of investments. I’m not selling anything (other than the book,) so I recommend some investments while leaving it up to you to choose exactly what you go with. I give you enough information to understand the options and explain how to set it up yourself if you don’t want to pay someone (other than me) to do it for you. I talk a lot about money in the book, but money isn’t the point! You will be truly shocked when you realize how quickly you can achieve Financial Independence as a major airline pilot. The most important part of the book is helping you realize how attainable this can be for you, and walking through what you can do in life after full-time work is no longer mandatory. I think you’re going to love the book, and I can’t wait to get it to you!

TPN News

You may have noticed that I’ve moved most of my writing from AviationBull to TPN. I feel like this is a more appropriate platform for most of these topics, and Matt & Adam officially recognized this fact by naming me a TPN Staff Writer this year. I ended up linking to many of this year’s articles throughout this post, but here’s a consolidated list just in case you want to catch up:

I noticed that some parts of the internet, especially baby pilots struggling just to cover flight hours, have a tough time getting past the paywall on the TPN Community website. This is good and bad, but I wanted to make sure the things I write could get to the correct people. After talking to Matt & Adam, we figured out a framework that includes a mobile app where anyone can read everything I write for free. If you know a pilot too cheap to pay for a subscription to the TPN Community website, please send them a link to get that free app!

iPhone: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-pilot-network-go/id1458486452?mt=8

Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.tpngo.app

It’s been exciting to watch TPN grow this year. We’re a large network…more than 25,000 pilots now…and I see people helping each other all the time. Matt & Adam have set up systems to produce more content more often, getting you the information and perspective you need to plan and execute for the future. Our conference, TPNx, was amazing last year. (https://community.thepilotnetwork.org/posts/tpnx-beyond-all-expectations) I’m looking forward to the next one this November. I expect to see more sponsors presenting invaluable information, more great people, and more of the kind of networking that actually makes a difference in our lives. I hope to see you there!

Looking Ahead

I’m excited for this next year. I’ll start by flying factory new jets as a very senior FO. I’ll probably get to upgrade and fly those jets as a Captain before the end of 2019. Although I’m confident in my ability to do that job, I’ve assigned myself quite a bit of self-study to prepare for it. It’s also going to flavor my in-flight conversations in hopes of gleaning wisdom from my Captains.

I’m not completely excited to be based in NYC again. I did just fine there with a crash pad when I was a new-hire, but I still don’t love that city. I’m hoping to find some ways to like it better, while simultaneously max-performing my commute to avoid time on the ground. My hope is that I won’t even need a crash pad, at least as a senior FO. However, once I switch over to being an extremely junior Captain, I’ll probably end up getting one.

In the meantime I’m enjoying some off-duty flight instruction, I’m working toward military retirement in the Reserves, and I continue to get feedback that my writing here is helping people like you. Please let me know about any topics I can cover to help make your decisions, or your life in general, easier. Hopefully, Pilot Math Treasure Bath will be a big part of that later this year.

In the longer term, things look amazing. My company is expecting delivery of another 80 A220s, several A321s, 100 A321neos, and 35 A330neos, with a relatively slow pace of aircraft retirements. Mandatory pilot retirements increase every year for the next several years and don’t decrease below 400/yr until 2032. We’ve exceeded that number of retirements by a significant percentage each year. Our company has paid out more than $1 Billion in profit sharing, each year, for the last 5 years. I always try to temper my enthusiasm by remembering that all it takes is one bad day for this all to come crashing down. However, barring that, we’re on a tear! It’s a fun place to work, and it’s only getting better. Whether you’re coming to boost my seniority, or you aspire to join another great company, I look forward to seeing TPN help you get there!

2 thoughts on “Airline Pilot – Third Year in Review”

  1. “the vast majority of their time is spent bashing their craniums against brick walls…frustratedly trying to accomplish a plethora of non-flying tasks that are made extremely difficult by layer upon layer of bureaucracy.”

    Amen brother – and I’m still at it. By the far the worst part is the gradual accumulation of hopelessness that after a couple decades creeps up on you like clear icing. I spend a lot of “mentoring” time just talking wizened aviators through the grind. After the first half dozen air medals there has to be something else to look forward to besides the inexorable march towards mediocrity. Enjoyed reading your informative and meticulous article – please keep it up!

    1. Richard, thanks for your comment. I’m sorry i only just saw it.

      I know exactly the feeling you’re talking about. It’s like the military’s very own version of “Who is John Gault?”

      The military may not have much for you to look forward to, but the rest of the world does. I just got the biggest monthly check I’ve ever received. I spent the weekend getting paid really well to fly an Icon A5 around Key West and Miami. I will work a grand total of about 7 days for my airline job this month. I go to A220 CA upgrade next month, as a Year 4 pilot.

      You have a lot to look forward to. Stay on target because it’s all worth it. You’ll be surprised at how quickly the military stuff finishes and you’ll even miss parts of it. A little.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.