Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Question - Re: University Degrees for Pilots

I received a question from a reader the other day:

Hey! I am looking into getting into the industry. My question is do you suggest getting a university degree these days on top of everything else? My mom works for Air Canada so she knows many pilots and many have told me that having a university degree makes you a lot likelier of landing a job with a major airline.

Getting a university degree en route to becoming a pilot is a tough decision. I don't think that there's an overwhelming right or wrong answer and what will work best for a person depends on a number of factors.

Major Airlines, specifically Air Canada, use a 'points' system when determining who they will interview. Points will be awarded based on education, flying experience (both hours flown and type of aircraft those hours were acquired on), language proficiency, work experience, leadership qualities etc. I do not know how many points get awarded for each category.

About 8 years ago now when I was just finishing my training, I was able to meet the pilot hiring coordinator for Air Canada. When I asked if she had any tips, her response was "get a degree." What I have heard however, is that a university degree is granted the same number of points as a diploma from a recognized Aviation College such as Confederation, Sault College or Mount Royal. This is not confirmed though.

Even for Air Canada, having a degree will not automatically get you a job at an airline. It is also imperative to have a lot of flight experience. Depending on about a million different factors, when you're done your training, it will generally be 5 to 10 years before you have the experience to be hired by Air Canada. Even though their stated minimum hour requirements are 1000 hours, most successful candidates have at least 2000 hours, with most having more.

Having a degree will also not really help you in getting your first flying job. Operators that hire low time pilots generally don't care if you have a college diploma or a degree, rather, they want to see that you have a good attitude and can work hard. Having some work experience, being in the right place at the right time and making good connections will all help in finding the first flying job.

I am a proponent of getting a degree. I think that having a degree (or two) will open a lot of doors in life when combined with experience. It not only opens up options outside of aviation if you lose your medical or get laid off, it allows you to possibly move into management roles within an airline later on. I also think that taking some time to go to school and enjoy the 'university experience' is a benefit to every one. It gives people a couple years to grow up and learn responsibility. Obviously, not everyone needs this though. Though I personally have really enjoyed my university experience.

On the other hand, there are people who don't really think it is worth getting a degree if you want to be a pilot. Their point of view makes sense and I do believe that getting a degree isn't right for everyone.

Getting a degree, whether it is in conjunction with your flight training at schools such as University of Western Ontario, Waterloo, Seneca College or University College of the Fraser Valley or separately, usually takes 4 years and can be quite expensive. During this time, you generally don't do much flying. If however, you did you flight training independently through a local flight school or through a shorter, 2 year college program, you would be finished your training a lot quicker and out flying sooner. Once flying, most pilots building experience can get anywhere between 500 and 1000 hours a year and be earning money at the same time. Most airlines hire pilots with between 2000 and 4000 hours of experience and the quicker you're out flying, the sooner you'll have that experience.

Of the pilots that I know that are working at Air Canada, some have degrees and some do not. I know pilots who have been hired on at Air Canada Jazz both with and without a degree or Aviation College Diploma. I know pilots working for WestJet, some of whom have a degree and some don't. I know a pilot with an Economics Degree, lots of turbo-prop and jet Captain experience who was turned down by Air Canada but is working at WestJet. I also know a pilot who has two degrees that was turned down by Jazz.

So, as you can tell by the somewhat rambling response, there is no right or wrong answer.

Things to consider:

  • Are you the type of person that likes education?

  • What is your financial situation like?

  • Are you ready to jump into the work force, or will a couple of years at university or college be good for you?

  • What are the options of flight schools, colleges or Universities near where you live?

The main thing to know though is that getting a degree from a particular school will not guarantee you a job at an airline or let you skip the generally low paying, not glamorous first few years of flying.


janetsawari said...

Hie im Janet....i am still in high school, having my final senior year and i've always wanted to be a pilot, im studying maths(science), Physics, computing and english language...are these the right subjects to take and are they all relevant??..honestly i just need some help, guidance, advice, ANYTHING! or ANYONES! advice on piloting, because now im not so sure.

fasina fikayo said...

Hi am mary and since i was four years old i have always wanted to be a pilot but am in my junior year and i don't know the subjects i need please could you help me

James said...

Each program has different requirements for course prerequisites to take. These can be found on the specific program's websites.

Some courses will require certain math and science courses to have been completed in High School. For example, when I went to Seneca (15 years ago now) they required grade 12 physics, which I had not taken. I had to take that in night school.

Each course will have different requirements - most clearly outline them on their website in admissions information. If you have questions, you should follow up with the school or program directly.

If you are outside of Canada, I'm afraid I can't help you - though I'm assuming most schools or programs would indicate what courses they require potential applicants to take.

Anonymous said...

Subjects required are normally calculus and physics 12. Unless of course you go the private flight school route, then its just 40k+ in expenses.

pig chan said...

Hi,i really want to become a pilot but this my friest yesr in Canada is it becoming a pilot had to be very good in grammer of english like writing

James said...


If English is not your first language, you are required to pass an English Exam and reach a certain competency. The exam focuses on oral communication (speaking and listening) but in reality, to be a pilot in Canada you will need to be able to speak, understand, write and read english with a certain level of competency.

Best of luck!