The excitement surrounding becoming a pilot can be overwhelming and expensive. There are many ways to fund flight training, some being loans, scholarships, and out-of-pocket progression. It is important to do research, weigh pros and cons, and explore all options before deciding on how to bankroll the journey of becoming a pilot. Here are a few things to consider when taking out pilot training loans and mistakes to avoid.
What Is Pilot Training?
Professional pilot training is a lengthy process that starts with introductory flight training, leading all the way to obtaining an airline transport pilot certificate. During the 1,500 hours it takes to generally qualify for the ATP, students progress through many flight certificates and ratings and take in-depth knowledge, oral, and flight exams to ensure proficiency. Some accelerated schools can progress a student from zero hours to ATP in as little as seven months—in an absolute minimum time frame—while other programs stretch training over four years.
How Much Flight Training Do Pilots Need?
Depending on what type of pilot a student wants to become, the training can vary.
- Sport pilot: To earn a sport pilot certificate, a minimum of 20 hours flight instruction time is required, with 15 hours of that being with an FAA-authorized instructor. The other five hours are solo flights. Being a sport pilot has limitations that other types of pilots do not.
- Private pilot: The minimum total hours a student pilot needs before being eligible to take the private pilot checkride is 40 hours. Half of that time is flight training from an authorized instructor, 10 hours of it is solo flight and the rest is cross-country hours. Private pilots can fly single-engine land airplanes if that is the first category and class of aircraft in which they receive certification, for example.
- Commercial pilot: Commercial pilots are pilots that can be paid for flying services under certain conditions. To take a commercial pilot check ride with an airplane category rating, a pilot must accrue 250 hours of flight time, 100 hours of which must be in powered aircraft, and 50 must be in airplanes.
- Airline transport pilot: To become an airline pilot under Part 21 and other regulations, you must earn an airline transport pilot certificate. The requirements to be eligible for an ATP vary depending on where flight training takes place. Part 141 flight schools with four-year programs may have hour reductions to as low as 1,000 hours total time, two-year Part 141 schools may have hour reductions as low as 1,250 hours, and military veteran pilots may be eligible to obtain an ATP at 750 hours.
How Much Does Flight Training Cost?
Flight training costs can vary greatly depending on the type of school a student attends. Most students aspiring to be a professional pilot will attend an accelerated flight school program, a two-year college, or a four-year university to complete flight school.
- Accelerated flight schools: These are the most affordable way to become a professional pilot and normally take the least amount of time. An all-in cost between $75,000 to $100,000 is standard for pilot programs in the U.S. in 2022.
- Two-year colleges: This option can also be affordable depending on the program. Students who attend a two-year college for flight school will likely graduate with an associate degree in aviation and receive a 250-hour reduction for an ATP. Costs for a two-year college flight school will range from $85,000 to $125,000.
- Four-year universities: This choice requires the highest financial investment from students to become professional pilots. Most Part 141 four-year schools give flight students a 500-hour reduction towards their ATP. Over the course of four years, flight students should plan to spend roughly $100,000 to $400,000 for academics and flight training at a university.
Where Do I Find Pilot Training Loans?
For students looking to become a pilot at an accelerated program, pilot-training-specific loans or personal loans can be utilized to fund the training. Students who attend college and university aviation programs may use traditional student loans to pay for school.
Most accelerated programs provide in-house flight school financing options for students. Some other companies like AOPA, American Flyers, and U.S. Aviation Academy provide flight training loans for students not attending a college or university.
6 Mistakes to Avoid When Paying for Pilot Training
When choosing a lending institution for pilot training loans, it is important to explore all possible options such as scholarships, interest rates, and payback periods before signing the dotted line.
Don’t Forget to Apply for Scholarships
Before applying for loans, apply for scholarships. There are hundreds of flight training scholarships available for aspiring pilots ranging from $500 to a complete coverage of flight training costs. This is free money available for student pilots and because a lot of pilots forget to apply, the numbers may weigh in your favor.
Stay Away from Zero Percent Interest Credit Cards
While the idea of no interest and a high limit credit card may entice you to consider charging your flight training, the likelihood of paying back the cost of flight training in totality before the zero-interest interest introduction period ends is slim. Paying back $75,000 in 14 months is very optimistic. Once the no-interest period runs out, a lot of credit card interest rates can increase as high as 30 percent, which can make this a very costly mistake.
Don’t Count Out ‘Out of Pocket’
While paying out of pocket for flight training may require you to extend the length of your training, it leaves you with no debt. Starting a career with no educational debt can take a lot of weight off your shoulders and wallet every month. If you do want to complete your training quickly while still paying out of pocket, save up in advance before you start.
Avoid Secured Pilot Loans
No one wants to be in the situation where they cannot pay back their loans, but sometimes life happens. Secured loans require collateral for approval and for loans in the neighborhood of $100,000, they may require you to put up real estate. If by chance you are stuck in a tough situation and get behind on payments, the bank can repossess your house, car, and other assets to pay back your loan.
Be Realistic About Introductory Salaries
A lot of people believe that pilots make great money, and while that can happen, the big bucks come a few years after entering the industry. After flight training, pilots must gain hours to be eligible for an ATP and this is likely achieved by spending time as a flight instructor. Flight instructors make roughly $20 to $40 an hour depending on the school they instruct for and first officers enter the airlines making between $40,000 to $50,000 a year. To ensure you do not dig a deeper hole, only take out loans you know you’ll be able to afford after the training period ends.
Consider Government-Funded Training Programs
While military life is not for everyone, aspiring pilots looking to shift the monetary investment to a time investment may consider enlisting or commissioning into the military to become a pilot. Every branch of the U.S. military has aircraft, meaning every branch needs pilots. The military will send you to flight school, and instead of you having to pay for flight costs, the military pays you. After leaving the service, veterans can obtain an ATP at 750 hours instead of 1,500 hours.
Get Pilot Training the Right Way
There are many tracts to become a professional pilot and all of them require flight training. Flight training costs vary depending on the type of school attended. Understanding the different ways to fund the training journey and mistakes to avoid may lead to a more successful aviation career.