Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Paying for flight training

The biggest obstacle between a normal person and a cockpit isn't normally a door....it's money.

Flight training is expensive. The training is so expensive that many would be pilots will never get a chance to experience the joy that flying brings. When I started looking at flight training the cost for the program I completed was a total of $38,000. Of course back then I was just out of college and was trying to get my first real job.

Years later when I finally did start flight training....the price climbed to a total of $53,000. Yowzers!

The training I completed was a package deal with ATP. Learning to fly can be done for much less money than ATP charges. I carry the same piece of plastic from the FAA that the guy who learned to fly from a mom and pop school in Nebraska does. I chose ATP because I wanted professional training and access to a large fleet of planes. I read to many stories in forums about pilots who had training delayed because of a broken plane. There were even stories where a pilot trained and was ready for a check ride in a Cessna 172, come check ride day the flight school sold the 172 and now the pilot has to spend more money learning to fly a Piper Warrior or wait around until another Cessna 172 comes along.

I took the time to price out how much it would cost if I pieced together my training. I looked at getting my private and instrument from one school, the multi-engine rating from another and build time to get my commercial from the first school. Sometime after that I would get my CFI ratings. I would have saved at least $8000. The difference? Well I would only have 15 hours of multi-engine time going that route.  My training might have been inconsistent and it might have taken longer. I wasn't in a hurry, but I did have a rough plan on being done before I turned 30. I beat my goal by less than a week!

In order to pay the $53,000 my wife and I took out a second mortgage. We then sold both of our cars and took the money to Vegas. We went to the Tropicana and placed all the money on black (after all Wesley Snipes said always bet on black right?). Somehow we won! Nice!

Well okay...so we didn't do any of that. We did what most people wanting flight training do and took out a loan. Before we did this we worked the numbers to make sure we could afford it. I used a calculator over at Airline Pilot Central (click here for a link) to estimate how much I would earn my first year. Airline Pilot Central has pay rates for most of the airlines in the United States and a few in Canada. We used very conservative math and figured we could do it without having to eat ramen noodles. I would spend most of my pay to pay back the loan. Thankfully my wife is able to support me. I married a woman beyond my league that for some reason agreed to support a broke pilot. It must be love. The 15-year loan would be paid off in a little more than 8 years. Not great...but it could be worse.

The loans used for flight training at Part 61 schools are private loans. If you get training done at a Part 141 school you can get a federal student loan. The differences are huge. Private loans tend to have high interest rates and are more difficult to get approved for. Federal loans have lower interest rates, easier to get approval for and the interest that is paid is likely tax deductable.


  1. Hello , I am in the same boat as you are. I am looking at going to Flight Safety, and all the options for financing. My wife and I 's credit has kinda gone downhill since I was laid off from GM, and this whole economy deal. I am looking at doing a federal loan, but I am not sure as to which one would cover the costs. Which lender did you go through, if I may ask?

  2. At the time the only option we had was Sallie Mae, thus that's what we are using. The interest rate's are all credit based. Good luck and keep in touch.


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