I receive a lot of email from readers of my blog and my books and I try to respond to all of them, though candidly I don’t get to all of them, so I apologize if you’ve written and never heard back from me. Last week I received an interesting one from a 29-year old convicted felon who says that he’s been crime free for the last 10 years and has his heart set on flying for a living. What advice would you give? With his permission, I’ve...
My name is <name withheld> and I just read your free Learn to Fly e-book. It was fantastic and really covered the basics of flying. I wanted to ask you a question since you seem to be pretty honest and upfront.
I am am 29 years old and am hoping to become a professional pilot. I am attending school (community college) and have a 4.0 GPA so far. But in my case, I have a dilemma. I have a criminal record (8 felonies to be exact, all non-violent) because I met the wrong friends and ended up stealing some stuff. But that was 10 years ago, when I was 19. Since then I have been completely crime-free, not even getting a speeding ticket. What are my chances that, starting from scratch at 29 with a criminal record over ten years ago, I will actually become a professional pilot? I know this is probably a tough question to answer but I will end up spending a lot of money to get certified and it's not worth it if I feel the chances are heavily against me. I'm just scared that I might not pass the 'of good moral character' clause that the FAA wants because of something that happened a long time ago.
Can you please give me some solid advice? Should I pursue my dream or look elsewhere to something else I enjoy?
Thank you for your time and patience Max,
- What's it like being an airline pilot and is that the life you’re looking for.
- What pilot certificates and how many hours of flight experience are you likely to need to get a job (e.g. for a regional airline)
- Can you find a way to fund the expense required to get the certificates you need.
- How much does the entry level pilot job you’re interested in pay
- What ways can you build the flight experience that you need to get hired.
One other thought. I think that it’s great that you were upfront with me about your convictions. When you eventually have a job interview, I think you will need to have come to terms with the following:
You alone are responsible for what you did. YOU made some bad choices. You could have chosen to act differently but didn’t. You’ll need to really believe that and will probably benefit by owning up to that in an
Saying that you met the wrong friends and “ended up stealing” to some extent makes it sound like it “it just sort of happened to you,” that you were the victim, and you weren’t totally to blame for what happened. Although I don’t know how things occurred, my guess is that there were one or more opportunities for you to say No, this isn’t right, I’m not going to do it.
The airline industry (and most businesses) needs employees who take responsibility for their actions including their occasional failures. Everyone fails some of the time and smart managers know that. They also know that they want to hire people who are accountable and take full responsibility for their actions, even their failures. Frankly, it’s a character issue. If you fully come to understand what predispositions of yours led you to commit the crimes and that ultimately you alone were responsible and you’re working hard to be a good citizen in all other aspects of your life and in your community, the “moral character” required to earn the ATP certificate will not be an issue. You will be qualified and you will get the ATP.
By the way, I’d be interested in posting your email as a blog article. I think the benefit is that you’ll be able to see the reaction of other pilots who may choose to post comments on the blog. While whatever they post would be their opinion and not necessarily right, it might give you a better feel for the hurdles that other pilots have faced getting their jobs and their view on how your convictions would affect your job chances.
Regardless, you have my best wishes in all that you do! I’ll be interested in hearing what you choose to do in the future.
Thanks so much for your lightning-quick reply. I can tell by your answer that you care deeply about the lives of pilots and I can imagine that's what makes you such a talented certified flight instructor. You're free to use my e-mail as a blog article, and I don't mind if you use my name as well. Most everyone already knows my criminal past because I choose to be upfront about it. There's nothing to hide since I have changed. I also found this article the other day which encouraged me as well (I hope the airlines will see it, because in my case it's true).
I will follow your advice about owning up to the personal responsibility in my interview. I am willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish my dream
Thanks Max for your kind and encouraging yet honest reply.
By the way, did you read this posting on my blog?
You might find it worthwhile to get a copy of the book. At some point, you might want to
contact the author Joe Balzer and get his advice. Just a
Yes, I actually did read the post on your blog about the guy conquering his past to become a commercial airline pilot. Very intriguing story. I called a few places like <aviation college> and a few other flight schools in the area today and they have mixed opinions about my wanting to become a pilot. <aviation college> said I shouldn't waste all of the money for something so risky. The other flight instructor (he seems rather inexperienced) said that I should go for it but that I might not make it because jobs are scarce and most flight schools are reluctant to hire a CFI with a criminal background.
If I were to apply to your flight school, and jobs were abundant, but I told them about my criminal history, what do you think they would say? Or any other places you know of? Would they be accepting of me or would they likely pass me over?
<aviation college> is expensive. While they give a good academic education (if you’re looking for a 4-year degree), it’s as expensive as any private college. I do know that airlines give a strong preference to pilots with 4-year degrees, but it doesn’t matter whether the degree comes from <aviation college> or a state university.
As for would a flight school hire you, let me tell you how I would look at it. I used to be a manager for a large high tech company and have hired lots of people.
Even if I were desperate to fill a job, I would wait until I found someone who had what I was looking for, which would include: passion for teaching and for excellence in all that they do. Knowledgeable about aviation subjects. And probably most important: has strong interpersonal skills. People are paying a lot of money to learn to fly and I would want a CFI who knew how to interact with people. They would need to be patient, encouraging, supportive and analytical (so they could identify problem areas).
Would I hire someone with a criminal record? If they were all of the things I mentioned above and the
team I had interviewing him or her gave me the thumbs up I probably would. But that’s just me.