You’ve wanted to be an airline pilot ever since you first laid eyes on an airliner. The sound of a jet engine gets your blood pumping. You’ve watched every video you can find and are maybe even subscribed to a few magazines.
But where in the world do you begin?
The internet is full of advice:
“Go to a 4 year school- but no wait that’s a waste of money! Just get to 1500 hours!”
“This flight school gets you to the best airlines- but this school has the most comprehensive program! But this other school is the fastest…”
You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it all out.
The truth is there is no one-size-fits-all method for getting into the coveted left seat. Everyone’s situation is different and what may have worked for some pilot on a forum may not work for you.
What is your financial situation?
The first hurdle everyone encounters when considering flight training is of course… money. Flight training can cost anywhere from $75,000 at a flight school to over $150,000 at a four-year institution.
Not a trivial sum.
If you don’t have this kind of money in your piggy bank, you’re going to need to finance your education.
If your goal is to get to the airlines at the lowest dollar amount possible, then an accelerated course is the best path.
The more frequently you fly, the faster you will learn. The faster you learn, the less you spend.
These programs push you through in around two years. You spend the first few months getting rated through CFI, then spend around a year teaching others to fly.
While this is the cheapest path, you are required to commit all of your time to these programs, so working another job is not an option (although you do get paid as an instructor when you begin collecting hours.)
If you can’t afford not to work for 6-8 months, consider finding a flight school that will tailor a program to fit your schedule.
This takes considerably more time and will cost more in the long run. It also gets more difficult as you get more ratings to find a flight school that has the time or resources to instruct higher-than-private students.
One advantage of this path is, you are not committing to a single flight school.
You can get your private certificate during your free time, and should you decide you aren’t happy, or if you move to another city, you can get your instrument rating somewhere else.
Finances can also play into the 4-year degree vs 2-year flight school discussion. It’s no secret that the days of pilots needing traditional 4-year degrees are behind us.
More and more airline pilots are forgoing their degrees and completing their training in 2 years. Doing this would save you a substantial amount of money.
However, if money is less of a concern for you, and especially if you think you might eventually want to do something other than fly for a living, having a 4-year degree is obviously never a bad thing.
Of course, the biggest drawback to a 4-year degree is that word you’ve probably seen floating around in your research- “Seniority”.
Seniority is EVERYTHING.
Starting in the right seat 6 months earlier could be the difference of $1 million in your 401k. So the 4-6 years that degree is costing you could eventually add up to BIG dollars. Getting in earlier is always better.
This brings us to our next question.
What is your timeline?
Yeah, I know – you want to be called “Captain” as soon as possible, but there are often other considerations.
For example, a 19-year-old high school graduate has more time than a 55-year-old career-changer.
With the current 65-year retirement age, a 55-year-old would only have around eight years of flying for the airlines before he/she would have to retire.
This affects more than just how quickly you want to train- you also want to make sure your flight school has access to airline partners to get you hired as soon as you get your hours. That might mean moving to be near a school with great partnerships.
If an airline partner is impressed enough with a school’s students, they may even offer conditional employment as early as receiving your commercial pilot certificate.
This is a HUGE advantage (remember that magic word- “Seniority”?)
Airline partners should always be something you ask about when comparing different flight schools- it not only tells you that the program is sanctioned by the airlines but provides you an avenue to a job through the partnership.
On the other side of this, If you’re a 19-year-old, getting an airline job immediately may not be as important as say, staying close to family or finding a school with an atmosphere you enjoy.
What other obligations do you have in your life right now?
Whether you are doing a two-year accelerated program or simply training in your free time, flight training is a serious commitment. Other parts of your life are going to determine what you can and can’t do.
For example, if you are married and live in Denver, where your spouse works, then you probably shouldn’t move to Texas for 8+ months to flight train.
If you have a close relative with severe health issues, this might not be the time to begin a two-year, 50+ hours-per-week commitment.
Bottom line is, do not commit to 2 years and $90k+ unless you KNOW you can do it. Accelerated flight training is a blast, the most fun you’ve ever had, but it requires dedication. If you aren’t in a place in your life where you can really dedicate yourself for two years, either hold off or train part-time.
Trying to pick your first headset? Check out this list of our favorite aviation headsets to use as you go through your flight training.
So What’s the Right Option?
The point is there are a LOT of different options. Asking these questions may not leave you with one glaringly obvious flight school, but hopefully, it can eliminate a few.
Use these questions to help you with your research. Shop around for schools, check out their reviews online, and don’t rule out moving out of state for a short period.
Many schools offer housing options for their students near their training facility. This could save you time and money in the long run.
Most importantly, be honest with yourself about how you answered the questions above.
If you have any reservations, talk to some flight schools, instructors, and anyone else who’s currently working in the industry.
If there is any doubt about when you can start, or if you’re facing an extremely compressed timetable, postpone to a time when you can concentrate.
Better to wait than to commit a bunch of time and money to a program you may not complete. One of the best qualities of a pilot is knowing their limits and being able to make responsible decisions based on those limits.
The best person to decide what’s right for your future is you.
We partner with the leading regional airlines that have great feeder programs for the majors.
We would love to answer any questions you might have about our program.
Call our Flight Director any time during the week at 972-735-9099. Even if you don’t think you’ll be flying with us, we’d love to answer any questions you have about flight training in general.
At the end of the day, it’s all about sharing our passion for aviation by making more pilots.
- About the Author
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Liz Brassaw is a first officer for a regional airline and the former Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Operations Officer for Thrust Flight. She holds an ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, AMEL, ASES with over 2,500 hours of flight instruction given. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from the Utah Valley University School of Aviation Sciences. She’s passionate about flying and enjoys instilling that love in the instructors on her team and the new students she trains.