changing to non-flying air career?


New Member

I'm not sure if this is the best place to post this, but here goes:

I'm 36, in the IT field (technically that is, I was laid off last
fall from a help desk job and it's been very discouraging trying
to find another one), and am looking to make a change to the
aviation field... the job market is poor, I don't have a degree, but
more to the point I'm sick of working in front of a computer and at
a desk all the time, and I don't want to do IT enough to go through
the expense and time of a degree to get a better job than the sorts
of IT jobs I've had in the past. Unlike other threads I've read
here, I'm not looking for a flying aviation job.. reasons being
that I have this fear of heights, hate roller-coasters and turbulence..
However I very much DO like looking at planes and being at airports
and even flying commercially (when the ride is absolutely smooth)..
so I recognize that I'm not cut out for a flying job for those
reasons.. As long as I remember when a plane passes overhead
I'll watch it.. (not easy to do when driving! *laughs*)...

My question is this: I'm thinking about trying to get a job at
a local airport.. a line service-type job.. I know the pay will
be poor, but if anyone here has worked such jobs, what's it
really like? Is it dirty? dangerous? is there anything I would
need to look out for? Will it be very difficult to get hired in
the first place because of my age and lack of aviation experience?
I'm not afraid to work for near-minimum wage and start out at
the bottom.. but is this sort of job something that could lead to
a better (non-flying aviation) job? is this a job that's
relatively portable if I move at some point to another city?
(I can work in either the US or Canada)?

Opinions? Experiences? Comments?

Geez, I wonder if I wrote that! <grin>

Have you considered dispatching? You get all the benefits of working for the airline, and you don't lose your hearing and freeze your butt off in the process! <grin>

Nope, haven't considered it.. what's it like, is that what you're doing? Where would I find out more information about that option?

Isn't it the majors that do the dispatching? (and with the current airline job market...) On the other hand, if it's something that could take a few years to learn, then maybe the industry would have turned around by then..


All airlines operating under Part 121 of the Federal Aviation Regulations are required to have dispatchers (§121.107, §121.395). As a matter of practice, most Part 135 operators also utilize dispatchers.

The website is a good site to introduce you to what the Dispatcher's role is. I'll let that site explain the details of what we do, and save the bandwidth here.<grin>

I am a dispatcher for Air Wisconsin. In terms of "what's it like", basically that all depends on the day. One thing for certain though, I love the work (though admittedly flying them would be much more fun for me then dispatching em!). The Airline dispatch office is typically at the corporate offices of the airline, though not always. Typical day is 10 hours. A dispatch office is usually very busy with alot of activity, especially on bad weather days.

Please, if you have any specific questions, ask away! I'm more then happy to answer!

I'm not looking for a flying aviation job.. reasons being
that I have this fear of heights, hate roller-coasters and turbulence..

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I hate roller coasters and I have a fear of heights as well, but all that goes away when Im flying.

I suggest taking an intro flight, you never know, maybe your fears well go away too. For $50 you cant go wrong, at least you will know that you 100% cant fly a plane. And if you get into flying and start doing stalls there going to scare the hell out of you, I almost had a heart attack but hang in there, once you get use to it they become so much fun. I love doing them now
And if you get into flying and start doing stalls there going to scare the hell out of you, I almost had a heart attack but hang in there, once you get use to it they become so much fun.

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Thats a pretty big generalization. Please don't say things like that to people who've never flown before. Something that scares you may not necessarily scare someone else- until you say it like that. Then they're already starting they're flight training thinking of stalls as an obstacle, and it just makes things all around more difficult.
And if you get into flying and start doing stalls there going to scare the hell out of you, I almost had a heart attack but hang in there, once you get use to it they become so much fun.

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Oh, I dunno about that. The idea of stalls scared be at first, but once I understood what was actually going on, and learned that even though the airplane has technically "stopped flying", it doesn't do a ballistic missle charge to the ground, either! In fact, with most GA airplanes out there today, if it wasn't for the stall horn, you'd barely even know you're IN a stall!

Stalls are a non-event, trust me. Even spins are much scarier to think about then they are to actually do. Just make sure your flashlight is secure before doing a spin.. I got clubbed by mine the first time I did spins!

The best nugget of wisdom I ever got from my dad (a retired airline pilot) was "this machine will only kill you if you let it".

Bottom line is, flying an airplane is nothing like riding a roller coaster (it's certainly not as violent, and you're driving so you know what's comming), and most people with acrophobia have no trouble flying in airplanes, so why not give it a shot! If you go up there and hate it, you'll know that it's not for you... But if you don't ever try, I guarentee you'll be kicking yourself for not making the attempt.

Thanks for the responses so far. I checked out that website about dispatching, that profession seems interesting but it also I think would be too intense and stressful for me even though it's interesting from an intellectual point of view..

When it comes to flying for me (the commercial flying that I've done), I know a fair bit about how it all works (at least, from a "layman" point of view).. so I know that if the jet took enough stress to break it apart, the people would have died long before; aircraft are tough! so while I know intellectually that the turbulence I experience is zero danger to the plane, nonetheless I grip the armrests tightly and some part of my brain keeps thinking about how high up I am and how far down it is.. even as I'm admiring the clouds out the window.. and I don't think there's an easy way around that.. and I gather that in a small plane you feel turbulence much more (as much from the size of the plane as from the altitudes that it flies at compared to a large jet).. so while I might very well take a ride in a cessna or something sometime, unfortunately I just don't see that that experience would erase that discomfort I have with the fear of heights and dislike of turbulence.. I guess in a lot of ways I'm looking for a job that combines my interest in aviation with my interest on staying on the nice hard ground and watching the planes pass by overhead

How about loading the planes with the bags, that looks like a fun job to have. Not sure on the pay, dont think its great

The apprehensions you have are actually very common. Most of us fear what we truly don't understand or can't see. It's all part of self preservation.

I can tell you that turbulence scared the holy crap out of me when I first began flying lessons and took a while to get comfortable with it. I really didn't understand what was going on, where it was coming from or how much the airplane could take. I also have a natural fear of heights yet it doesn't bother me when I'm flying. This is actually pretty common among pilots.

Fast forward to present day. Turbulence is little more than an annoyance to me now. I understand what causes it and where to expect it most of the time. I know the airplane is extremely tough and well built. I have faith in the design engineers, technicians, test pilots and mechanics. What I may consider light turbulence nowadays, passengers, or the uninformed, may consider extreme.

The other anxiety factor working against you right now is the feeling of not being in control. You're a passive observer as a passenger without a front window. This prevents you from anticipating and preparing yourself for what's to come ahead. It's like being in the backseat of a car with a divider between you and the driver. You can't see him or whats ahead through the front window. Any little turn or dip in the road may seem more unnerving to you than if you could see out the front and anticipate it better.

There's nothing wrong with a career as a's just not as much fun as having an office that's going 500mph.
Turbulence in an airplane is exactly like bumps in a car. If you can handle a bumpy road as a passenger of a car, then you know that your inability to handle turbulence in an airplane is psychosematic. Logically, you know that a typical bump in the road isn't going to snap the wheel off your car anymore then typical turbulence (or even severe turbulence) isn't going to snap a wing off the airplane. I can't recall any airplane crashes in the last 50 years that were caused by structure failure brought on by "normal" turbulence. Abnormal turbulence that can destroy an airplane is easy to see and avoid. They're called thunderstorms! You'd avoid running your car off into a ditch because you know it would hurt.

I just don't see that that experience would erase that discomfort I have with the fear of heights and dislike of turbulence..

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If my memory serves me right, I think that Chuck Yeager or Bob Hoover got airsick their first few times flying - and I think they definately made their mark on aviation. Any of those apprehensions are bound to go away once you get up their and fly the aircraft yourself. I would definately try it a few times just to make sure.

I just graduated from college last week and have worked that last few years as a customer service/ramp agent for an express carrier. I worked the line services at an FBO before that. I can definately say that there are plenty of great jobs for those that don't want to fly. I have friends that got maintenance degrees and have interviews with Southwest and Boeing next week, others are being certified as air traffic controllers and have job opportunities all over the place. I am even starting to get away from the idea of being an airline pilot and gearing more towards working management and/or starting my own business. I love flying with a passion, just don't like the time away from home that most airline pilots deal with. Good luck with what ever you decide.

Happy Flying!
Do you have any more information on becoming a ATC?

What schools did your friends go to?

What do you need to become one, a 4 year degree?
I haven't talked to my friend that is going the ATC route in a while, but I know that the school was in Minnesota somewhere. She was impressed with the program last I knew. Good luck!

There's also a difference between being in seat 14F and 1J. In the front of the airplane, you are in control. In the back, you have to trust someone else, a complete stranger. Without control, we feel fear more.

I remember my first airline flight after I'd earned my pilot certificate. I'm in first class on company business and we hit light turbulence. I look out the window at the top of a thunderstorm, and notice we are banked about 15 degrees TOWARDS IT! I remember thinking to myself how silly I felt, yet still nervous, and the flight attendants are carrying on like this is normal. Afterwards I asked the first officer why they turned. He told me there was worse stuff on the OTHER side of the airplane. Last month I rode in back of an airliner during moderate turbulence with severe turbulence expected. I was laughing because the lightning and shaking matched the explosions and deck shaking of the inflight movie's starship battle.

If you want to, you can conquer your fears of height and turbulence. There are many ways to do so.

If not, there are thousands of jobs in aviation that do not require flying the airplane, or even being aloft. Being an airline ramp agent is physically demanding. Being inside at the ticket counter, or at the gate is less so. Working the line for an FBO has you around all sorts of airplanes every day. A mechanic, well the good ones do go aloft in ones they have worked on, but generally mechanics stay on the ground. With your IT experience, you might want to look into avionics. A good bench tech is always in demand. The large simulators that pilots train in need to be maintained, too. Flight Safety AND Simuflite are looking for simulator technicians. They are basically a big computer(s) and have the same temper tantrums as the rest of the industry. Once particular King Air 200 simulator is run by three 386 computers. One does up/down. One does left/right. The other does the visual system.

Dangers of the job:
Bounced Paycheck.

Assume that every airplane propeller is turning. If you can't see it, it's turning. If you can see it, it's about to start turning. If it is a jet without a prop, be durn sure you know your airplane types and assume it still has a prop that can nab you. A prop is a big meat cleaver. Don't be afraid of it, RESPECT IT! Follow your company's safety precautions. They were written in blood.

Tossing bags can hurt. Leave those jobs for the young kids that don't know any better. There's better pay and more airplane contact in other positions.

If you work for a shady company, or one that you see things going wrong, or where corners are being cut, get out. You can be held personally liable for your company's mistake. You can go to jail for putting on a known bad part. Being the last person to touch an airplane that goes off and crashes haunts you. Was it something you did? Was there something you could have done? If you had left and then an airplane crashes, you'll still feel something, but it won't be on your certificates. Those others could have left too and decided otherwise.

And those shady companies operating outside of the regulations tend to go out of business leaving bounced paychecks. Or they close, change names, and reopen.

Aviation is a small community. I've had many conversations with people across the world that know me as "Jedi Nein." I've been in a sleazy pilot lounge 3000 miles from home and had another pilot do a double-take when he saw me. We were at the same flight school seven years ago. I've met line guys being line guys at a new FBO in the next state over. On a message board, one pilot got laid off, hundreds of other pilots are going out of their way to send assistance and job leads.

Don't be afraid to ask questions, even ones you think are stupid. You have a question because you don't know. Guessing wrong is intolerable. Ignore bad bosses, cow-workers, self-appointed experts, message board trolls, and ask.

Good luck in this new industry!