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ATP.Academy Instructor and ATP Pilot Max Klassen: Career From IT to Aviation

Posted on: 06/11/2024

Continuing our exploration of pilot careers, we transition from Joel Simpson path to the journey of Max Klassen, who pivoted to aviation from a career in IT, guided by a lifelong fascination with flight. From early aspirations to the reality of the cockpit, these stories illuminate the world of aviation.

Becoming an Airline Pilot: An Interview with ATP.Academy Instructor Max Klassen

Max Klassen is our instructor, student, check airman, and assistant chief pilot. Max joined the SkyEagle team in December 2022. He actively worked as an instructor for 10 months and by October 2023, he reached 1,500 flight hours, starting with 570 hours when he came to SkyEagle. Soon after, he moved to the airlines.

Max, can you tell us about your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in aviation?

Airline Pilot Max Klassen

My aviation journey began in May 2021 when I was 33 years old. Growing up, I was fascinated by aviation, sparked by an air show in Kazan (Russia) and a TV series about helicopters. However, due to financial constraints and the stringent Russian medical exams for pilots, I pursued a career in IT instead. I started working in IT at 17, but my passion for aviation never waned. Moving to the United States in 2016 reignited this passion, especially after meeting my future wife, a flight attendant, who encouraged me to seriously consider flying.

What challenges did you face transitioning from IT to aviation, and how did you manage them?

Balancing an IT job with flight training was tough. I worked five to six days a week, flying two to three times weekly after work and on weekends. My background in IT helped me quickly grasp the technical aspects of aviation. The rigorous demands of flight training, maintaining a work-life balance, and the support from my wife were crucial in overcoming these challenges. The COVID-19 pandemic also provided time to reflect and plan, ultimately leading me to take my first flight lesson in Santa Barbara in May 2021.

Describe your initial flight training experience and the milestones that followed.

My first flight was overwhelming due to a lack of preparation, underscoring the importance of understanding the basics before stepping into the cockpit. Despite this, I dedicated myself to learning, eventually logging almost 30 hours before my first solo flight. This milestone, achieved after rigorous preparation, boosted my confidence. I obtained my Private Pilot License (PPL) in October 2021, then pursued further ratings, including my Commercial Multi-Engine rating in September 2022, I received CPL SE Sea rating as well. Time-building and instructing helped me reach the 1500-hour requirement for commercial airline applications.

How did your family and friends react to your decision to switch careers, and what impact did their support have on your journey?

Reactions were mixed. My brother thought it was a crazy idea, while my mother believed I was seeking a new challenge. My wife, however, was my biggest supporter. Her encouragement was pivotal, providing me the motivation to pursue aviation despite the challenges. Friends in aviation also inspired me with their success stories, further fueling my determination.

Max, how did you get your ATP license, and was it a deciding factor for potential employers? How important is it for a candidate to have an ATP License?

Actually, from talking with employers, I realized that having an ATP isn’t that important because the airline will send you to learn for a type rating, and you can get the ATP along with the type rating. But what really matters for a potential employer are three things:

  1. Your flight hours must be fully verified and meet the minimum ATP requirements for multi-engine.
  2. You must have completed the ATP-CTP course.
  3. You must have passed the ATP Written test.

These factors will make you a more attractive candidate than someone who doesn’t have these advantages.

I did my ATP-CTP at ATP.Academy. Fortunately, there’s a special offer for flight school instructors: any instructor who has worked at the school for more than a year and has reached 1,500 hours gets to do the ATP-CTP for free. I took advantage of this offer. I was in David’s class, and he was also my instructor in the simulator. It was the most impressive experience for me at that time. 

First, it was my first time in the cockpit of a large aircraft. Second, it was an Airbus A320. Although I fly a Boeing now, for me, the Airbus represents advanced technical thinking, and I was happy to get to know this aircraft a little. Overall, the 10 hours in the simulator as part of the ATP-CTP program were a very important part of my training. It gave me a lot of understanding about the work of an airline pilot.

Can you discuss the process of securing your current position as a first officer and the pilot training involved?

I saw a job posting for Boeing 767 positions on Facebook and attended a meet-and-greet with the chief pilot, despite not meeting all initial requirements. My determination and recommendations from colleagues helped me secure the job. The interview panel included about seven people, among them HR representatives and three chief pilots. Instead of technical questions, they focused on situational ones like “Tell me about a time when…”. These questions aimed to assess my experience and how I handle various situations. At the end of the interview, the chief pilot told me that if I wanted to take the drug test, it meant I was hired. I quickly took the test, and three days later, I started my training on the Boeing 767/757. Training began in January 2024 and lasted over two months, including simulator sessions, ground school, and Initial Operating Experience (IOE). I completed my type rating checkride in March and began flying regular routes by April. Now, I’m flying cargo for Amazon, enjoying the experience and challenges that come with this role.

What has been your most memorable experience flying the Boeing 767 so far?

One of my most memorable experiences was shortly after completing my Initial Operating Experience (IOE). On one of my early flights, we had FAA observers on board, which added an extra layer of pressure. It was quite intense knowing that every move was being watched. Despite the nerves, I managed to handle everything smoothly, and it was a huge confidence booster. Successfully completing that flight under such conditions reaffirmed my capabilities and made me appreciate the journey even more. Now, I’m flying regularly and enjoying every moment in the cockpit of the 767.

Can you describe the feeling of piloting such a large aircraft for the first time?

Flying the Boeing 767 is absolutely exhilarating! Piloting such a large aircraft is a thrilling experience. Despite its age, the 767 is meticulously maintained, and the upgraded avionics make it feel modern. The difference between the simulator and the actual aircraft is striking—the real plane feels far more substantial and powerful. I have a deep appreciation for it, although I must admit, Airbus aircraft do offer some impressive modern features that I find appealing.

Reflecting on your journey, what advice would you give to aspiring pilots considering a career change?

Persistence, openness to opportunities, and a willingness to learn from every experience are key. Follow your passion with determination and resilience, and the right opportunity will come your way. Although the financial aspect of aviation may not initially match that of other careers like IT, the fulfillment and quality of life gained from pursuing your dream are invaluable.

Max Klassen’s journey from IT to becoming a Boeing 767 first officer is a testament to perseverance, passion, and support from loved ones. His story is an inspiration for anyone considering a career change, proving that with hard work and dedication, ambitious dreams can become reality.


Andrey Borisevich

ATP-CTP Chief Instructor of ATP-CTP course, Chief Information Officer of SkyEagle Aviation Academy.


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