Too late to start flying?
Fifteen years later, he chose to return and made it back to the sky!
“Is it too late for me to start flying?” or “Am I too old to become a pilot?” is a common question on aviation forums. I asked that question myself as I started to rekindle my old passion to fly… I had 33 years of age, married and two kids.
I didn’t take long to find various reassuring stories of people who switched careers in their late thirties or even early forties. Their story convinced me that becoming a pilot was still possible at my current age. In my twenties, I had a chance to log 25 flying hours on Valmet L-70 Vinka trainers during my military service, so I knew I had a good chance of passing the selection process again, if only I applied.
Our home is just 2 miles away from Rovaniemi (EFRO) runway 03’s threshold. But the nearest flight schools in Finland are 700 km south from here. The first obstacle to becoming a pilot was therefore dealing with my family life, as the training requires quite a lot of commuting. After I had convinced myself of the feasibility of this career switch, I had to convince my wife. It turned out that getting her support was a lot easier than I expected, the only condition was that I had to figure out the financing.
I crafted my financial plan and I negotiated with the banks. A few months later I passed the selection process for SL Flight Training, a private company at Helsinki-Malmi airport (EFHF). I started modular studies in May 2018, aiming for frozen ATPL. I graduated in February 2020, just before COVID-19 hit the aviation industry.
Looking back at my time in the flight school, I’m more than happy that I ended up on the modular scheme. I could schedule most of the training according to my preferences, and study the theory periods at home as distance learning.
And of course the best part was time building as PIC. As I got my PPL in an early phase of the studies, I was able to borrow the school’s Cessna 152 for a few weeks and fly it over to my home airport. With that, I could sleep in my own bed, and fly around Lapland with family and friends. These were great times! I compilated this map with all aerodromes that I have spotted and/or landed at during my flight training. It appears that I covered more than 90% of all the airfields in Finland, which I’m fairly proud of.
Click here for an interactive map
Right after my graduation, exactly on my 37th birthday, I started training at Norra as First Officer on the ATR-42/72. At the same time the news about the virus going pandemic started to come in. Although we were worried, nobody could predict the scale of what was about to happen. A few weeks later, the training course was suspended, freezing my aviation career for now. I’m still receiving automated roster emails every month, but of course these are all empty.
Today, my training has been suspended for over a year. But I do not regret my decision and I’m definitely not giving up on my flight career! I managed to find some work outside aviation, to help pay the bills. Meanwhile, I try to keep my pilot knowledge current, ensuring that I’m ready-to-go when the industry is again cleared for take-off.
Jukka-Pekka Palo is a middle-aged rookie pilot from Rovaniemi, Finland.
Read the full story on his personal blog ( here / Finnish ).
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