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A lot of people fantasize about flying – when they’re asleep. But if you’re a person with your head in the clouds and you dream of flying a jet to exotic destinations such as Portugal, Belize and Cleveland, now is the time to aim your sights on a career as an airline pilot.

Airlines for America, a trade group of the largest carriers that employ 50,800 pilots, said that thousands of senior pilots at major airlines soon will start hitting the mandatory retirement age of 65, and major airlines will need to hire 60,000 pilots by 2025 to replace departures and cover expansion.

Besides the cool uniforms, rad sunglasses, and the perks of cutting to the front of the line at security, the job of flying people across the world has got to be the best job ever.

But it’s not easy to get your wings.

A college degree is not required to fly for any of the regional airlines in the United States, but a four-year degree is required to fly for a major airline. The next step is to find a good flight school and earn your pilot’s license. You’ll also need to be healthy and have damn good vision.

There are about a half dozen flight schools in San Diego County, including Embry-Riddle Worldwide Aeronautical School and since Congress’s 2010 vote to require 1,500 hours of experience in August 2013 it’s going to take you some time to start flying the friendly skies for a paycheck. If you have ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol you need to choose a different path, no matter what you saw Denzel Washington do in the recent movie, ‘Flight.’ Furthermore, your DMV history will be looked at, and any felony convictions will send you packing.

Cal Bronson of Encinitas received his pilot’s license when he was 18, and eventually became a flight instructor. He’s now 31 and has piloted cargo planes for three years and is aiming for his 1,500 hours so he can apply to one of the major airlines.

“I love to fly so much I work three jobs to be able to earn my flying hours,” he said. “This isn’t a job you can apply for online. You have to have years of experience under your belt, but it’s worth it. Because you get to fly.”

Airline pilots don’t always make the huge bucks. First year salaries range from $25,000 to over $50,000 per year. Pilots who have worked for a company for 10 years could have annual earnings close to $300,000, but the average salary is about $150,000.

According to JetCareers.com, if you don’t want to fly for Southwest or any of the other big airlines you can also fly for corporate aviation, commuter planes or become a crop duster, although the pay scale isn’t quite the same. If you like to teach, you can teach people to fly for a living. Pay scales for all these jobs vary and you can expect salary ranges of $20,000 through $80,000 per year.

So with all the rules and expense and training to become a pilot, why should you even try to achieve the lofty goal of becoming an airline pilot?

Because flying above sea level can give one a real high. Pilots are able to tour the world and stay in good hotels. They also get perks like free/concessional tickets for their family members, and additional allowances for overseas flights and long hauls.

“It’s the best job I can even imagine,” Bronson said. “It’s worth the time and expense because of the thrill of flying and the traveling around the world. If you always wanted to fly you shouldn’t let anything stand in the way.”

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