Life Choice


New Member
I've got a problem, here, folks. I was wondering if any of you "old-timers" out there can help me.

I'm faced with a dilemma, and let me line it out for you guys.

I'm going into my Senior year next year, with a planned graduation of May 2004. I am in Aviation Administration, at Purdue University, with a focus in Air Traffic Control. I have asked for my name to be passed along to the FAA for consideration to be hired as a controller. However, that's not what I want to do. My ultimate goal, surprise... surprise, is to become an airline pilot.

The FAA is forecast to hire around 1,200 next year and that is one career path that I'm certain to get job in and keep.

My other option, which I'm seriously considering, is becoming a customer service agent with any airline and earn enough money to finish up my licenses/ratings at ATP and then try to find a job somewhere with my newly earned CFIs.

If this wasn't complicated enough there's a cavet in here. If I have my name passed on to the FAA and then they call me and I turn them down I have just turned down my one chance to become an Air Traffic Controller.

I can opt to have my not passed on to the FAA, but as a candidate for "preferred" hiring only lasts for 2 years after my graduation date. After two years have elapsed, I have to apply with all the regular folks and that's no guarantee that my resume will even get looked at.

Also, my parents are just about forcing me into the ATC track. If I do become an ATCer, I can pretty much kiss my goal of becoming airline pilot away. It's not really a job you can easly dump for new career objectives. Nor will it give me the time to earn my licenses and ratings.

So, to wrap up... although I have railed against becoming an ATCer, I do like the stability of the job and not having to write a resume... but I still want to become an airline pilot. Here, I turn to you guys for advice.

I'd like to hear all comments here.

Thank you!
I know a guy at my last airline that was ATC so it isn't impossible to get involved with the cockpit side of aviation if you become a controller.

You can become a CSA for an airline, but the two downsides are the fact that if you can even get hired as one, they don't pay very much which might affect your ability to finance your job goals.

I dunno, maybe if you send Kristie an email and if you're real nice, perhaps she'll hook you up with our uncle who was a supervisor at Miami Center before reaching mandatory retirement age. But no guarantees because he's a little on the quiet side.
if I was you I would work as a ATCer, on your days off work on your ratings or work 2-3 years as a ATC save up a lot of money see where the airline industry is and If you like what you see go down to ATP and start your training for your new career
Plus, I'd think massive opportunities for networking with the corporate guys because you're speaking directly with them.
I am not an "old timer" but I'll offer my advice. I just graduated last week with a degree in Aviation Admin. If I were you I would go the ATC route. That gives you a more secure income during the next few years while the airlines work out their problems. Also, I had worked as a customer service agent for an express airline for the last year and a half - then they decided to close down our station. I am just saying that the airline industry is shakey right now and the ATC route sounds a little safer at this time. Not to mention, the pay for a CSA is horrible. Granted I worked for an express carrier but I have heard that many of the mainline CSA's don't make anything to get excited about. You could do your flight training part 61 at a local FBO on your free time while you were a controller. Just think how easy it would be to get permission for practice approaches if you knew the controllers
Anyways, good luck in your decisions.

Happy Flying!
Plus, I'd think massive opportunities for networking with the corporate guys because you're speaking directly with them.

[/ QUOTE ]

How so? I'd only be issuing them commands and so forth -- no real conversation.
Flying up in the midwest, talking to Minneapolis Center, I've eavesdropped on many controller-pilot conversations over a quiet sector.
I know a controller, he seems to know everyone that flies in and out of MOT. I am sure if guys are just sitting around waiting for clients, they go up to the tower to BS if it isn't too busy.
Here's a copy of a portion of an email my ATC professor sent to all students in his class:

Hiring for this year is temporarily paused (not frozen)
for about 8 weeks. The FAA is out of money and can't
actually hire anyone till august. They are still
conducting background checks, medical exams, etc...
They will begin calling people in late July or august to
assign them dates for the academy.

They plan to hire 900 controllers this year (2003).
They will hire 1200 controllers next year. So you are
at the beginning of a boom in hiring.

The regions hiring this year are great lakes, eastern,
southwest and western pacific. Next year they will hire
for great lakes, eastern, southwest, western pacific,
southern, and maybe even northwest mountain.

Looks like hiring is in full swing for ATC. I'm still weighing all my options.

I should add that if I become an CSA, I would have to move back with the 'rents (something I really, really don't want to do) to keep costs low.

What kind of benefits does the FAA give their ATCers? I hate to say it, but after the money I'm looking at whomever offers the best benefits.
I don't know for sure, but it is a government job. So time off, 40 hour work weeks and great health benefits. There is a controller who spoke at UND a few weeks back. She graduated in 98 or 99, and finally got checked out in New York TRACON to control by herself. She is making over a $100,000 now. I would say that is pretty good pay, but a high-stess job. Good Luck with your decision.
I really hope you don't take this the wrong way because I don't mean it like it's probably going to sound but if you don't have the love and desire of flying to do absoultley anything it takes to sit in a cockpit then you might want to seriously consider the ATC route. This industry can be seriously harsh - by all accounts my career has been absolutley stellar thus far so let me give you some highlights - working for $17K a year(and this was as a typed FO in a King Air and Starship), making a whopping $3000 for 3 months of training at an airline, losing 2 jobs thru layoffs/furloughs, moving 4 times, being on call literally 24/7 with no days off and no control over my life, and finally considering a job that starts in the $20K range just to have a schedule so I can plan to do things with my future wife(hopefully) - all of this within the last 5 years, a time period when the industry was 'going like gangbusters' (well up until a year and half ago).

I guess what I'm saying is that if you want to fly professionally that's great - go for it!! But it's going to be a long, expensive, poor road to an airline cockpit given the current and near term future of the industry - just be prepared for that. I understand that your parents are putting some pressure on you but you have to look to yourself and decide what YOU want to do. If there is any doubt then you may want to seriously consider the ATC thing - more stable, better money, better retirement plan, and hey - you might even like doing it! Go ATC - save some coin - and get your ratings on the side - with the way the industry is you'll have a few years at a minimum before the hiring really gets going again.

Don't ATC people have one of the highest suicide rates due to stress, etc? As much as being a pilot is a responsibility, being an ATC controller is tops. My hat goes out to those guys.
I dunno, maybe if you send Kristie an email and if you're real nice, perhaps she'll hook you up with our uncle who was a supervisor at Miami Center before reaching mandatory retirement age. But no guarantees because he's a little on the quiet side.

[/ QUOTE ]


Thanks! I really appreciate it! I just may end up taking you up on your offer.

Like I said, I'm still keeping all my options open at this point.
You have it mixed around flyallday, you must be 30 years old or younger to be eligible for a air traffic control position.
Don't ATC people have one of the highest suicide rates due to stress, etc?

[/ QUOTE ]

I think us CSAs rate up there to,although it tends to be more along the lines of murder/suicide
! I never thought I would say this but thank god I can bid the ramp.

Purdue Pilot: I would say go into ATC......If you decide to go into ground ops you will have no life for at least 6 months to a year depending on how large the station you get hired into. And truthfully,there are only a couple airlines hiring for Ground Ops....Southwest,jetBlue,Frontier,Comair,& AirTran are a couple that come to mind. Unless you live in one of their cities you're not gonna get the job(unless you commute,and from a commuter:It might not be worth it!). Not trying to down my current profession but when you are a junior person on the totem pole,life sucks
Having worked as a CSA for two years I can tell you it is not a very glamorous job. You really have to have thick skin to make it through the day. I was appalled at the conduct of some passengers on almost a daily basis. In those two years I called the police no less than 15 times because of pax being completely out of control, and usually intoxicated as well. It does not take long to become burned out and very jaded about your job.

That said the travel benifits were what kept me going. A fat stack of United write your owns and few days off in row always led to good times. I enjoyed working in the industry but would never do CSA work again.
I was in much the same situation as you in 1985. I had pursued flying to the point of having all the ratings, a 4 year degree, and was flying Grand Canyon tours for next to nothing. Had tried for years to get into the FAA academy since ATC was something I had considered as a career besides flying. They finally called me and I jumped on it. To make a long story short. I left the FAA after about 18 months to get back into flying and it was the best decision I ever made.

If your choice is CSA or FAA...for sure go ATC. Money is much better and would make a MUCH better career in the long run if you decide not to fly. Very few guys have a chance at an ATC career...anyone can be a CSA.

You can work an ATC career and fly some. The facility I worked at, LA TRACON, was slow on the mid and it wasn't to hard to get mids if you wanted to work them. You could trade to work all mids, sleep tell 2pm (just like a freight dawg) and have the rest of the day to fly some. While I was involved with ATC, many controllers talked of wishing they could fly but couldn't make the sacrifice in the beginning. They all encouraged me to get out of ATC and back into flying.

I don't remember the benes exactly but they are good. CSA's would have better flight benes, though.

If it were me, I'd definitely go the ATC route and fly at an FBO on the side to finish up my ratings.

Serves serveral purposes:

(a) you are "in" the industry... networking
(b) You can take your time with your ratings, because - let's face it - ain't NO reason to rush. Read and listen to all these folks who rushed to get their ratings at some accelerated program ... and are NOT flying right now due to the shape of the industry.
(c) You will have a steady income (don't know what ATC'ers make, but I assume it's decent)

Just some things to think about there Purdue...and just MHO.

Drop me a line if you have any questions that I might be able to answer about going the "slow" FBO/Workin'-full-time route.

"Happy Cruisin' "


I can appreciate your delimma. Although I can't really offer much more than what has already been said. I do know that the FAA does employ pilots. (Airspace systems inspection pilots) and (Aviation safety inspectors).

If you went the ATC route and completed your flight ratings, you might have a leg up on most other FAA pilot applicants by being an "insider".

As I see it, the benefits of going the ATC route are:
1. A more stable income (hard to come by in aviation these days).
2. Good Federal benefits.
3. An inside track for any flight positions that become available.

Of course, every job has a down side, and as a controller, you will likely have very high stress levels. Secondly, the FAA is a very structured environment. So if lots of structure and regulations bother you, you may not fit in well.

The benefits of the CSA route are:
1. Working for an airline, possibly an inside track if you get the flight experience.
2. Good travel benefits.

Like was mentioned before, the pay in this job isn't very good. It will likely make getting your ratings much harder. But maybe not as much stress as a Controller.

One of my instrument sim. instructors was an Airspace systems inspection pilot. He flew King Air 350's and Hawker 800's on navigation inspection missions for the FAA. He came from a civilian background.
He didn't make a senior airline captain's salary, but he wasn't doing too bad either. From what I understood, he was a GS-14, which pays about like a senior captain's position at a major corporation. (75 to 100k per year).

My aviation goal is to someday have enough experience to get hired by the FAA in some way,share or form.

Good luck in your decision,
Mark P. - AKA "EFC"