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12 Answers

Flight School? ATP Flight School or University?

Asked by: 9155 views Commercial Pilot, Flight Instructor, General Aviation, Instrument Rating, Private Pilot, Student Pilot

Hi.  I am trying to decide where to start my training.  I am starting with zero experience with Commercial Pilot as a goal.  I know 100% that this is what I want to do, but trying to be wise in my decisions.  The trouble is financing.  I can not pay out of pocket.  I will need a loan and or grants to cover all costs.  My wife will be working to support us while I pursue this path. 

Do you know of any private flight schools that work with the Sallie Mae Career Loan?

I was considering the ATP Flight School - the 150 day commerical pilot program.  What do you know about them and their students?

I have some college credits, but I know I'll need to have my BA eventually.  Since I need the loans and grants, I'm thinking about going to a University for a Pilot Degree.  Does anyone have experience with Eastern KY University and/or their students? 

I am in KY, but willing to relocate as long as it does not require me to pay out of state tuition.

Any feedback is greatly appreciated!  Thank you!

12 Answers



  1. Lance on Jul 13, 2011

    There are financing options to go through an FBO as well.  I highly recommend taking that route.  ATP is simply a pilot mill, they bring people in, spoon feed the answers to the checkrides, and send them on their way.  That is not to say that a very highly motivated person cannot go to ATP and receive a good education; but, it is saying that a good education is not assured (even for the highly motivated quite often).  Since you do not yet have a degree, the college route can be a good route, because you will end with a degree.  I have no experience with Eastern KY University so I will let someone else comment there.
    My other advice though, get a degree in something else and fly for fun.  Or do your current job and just fly for fun.  Aviation is one of the harder industries to get going in, and even once you get your foot in the first several doors, you will not be making more than $20,000 per year.  And with no experience, my other big recommendation is at least get your private through an FBO and fly with it for a little while, then make the decision on whether or not this is what you want to do.  Plus, that way you can still fly and build time towards more certificates while you are getting your degree in a backup field.

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  2. Patrick Flannigan on Jul 13, 2011

    First off, I have to stress the importance of having a degree. It makes you competitive for entry level jobs and is required for many of the top-tier positions. 
     
    What type of degree you have does not matter. If you have a B.A. or B.S. already, then you’re good. If not, then it may be wise to find a college or online program to attend.
     
    If you are looking into flight school / universities, consider MTSU in Murfreesboro, TN. As a Tennessee resident, I had the option to attend Kentucky schools at in-state tuition costs. The same might be true for you.
     
    ATP has a good program. I personally attended their week long regional jet training program which rivaled the quality of actual airline training. They did fine work and I feel I had a competitive edge at the interview table with my airline.
     
    We have a few pilots who went through the full ATP program that you are talking about. They do fine work, but understand that it’s your personal attitude, study ethic and decision making that will make you an outstanding pilot more than any program.
     
    Here’s a rule of thumb I’ve found to be true in training. The faster you want it done, the more it will cost you. Consider taking a slower route training at a good local flight school and networking locally. You will be surprised at how many opportunities for free flight hours will open up, as well as potential instructor and contract pilot jobs in the future.
     
    What are your personal goals with this? Where do you want to be in aviation in five years?

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  3. dblou on Jul 14, 2011

    Thank you for your reply.  My goal is to fly full time for a commercial airline.  I have done extensive research so I know I will not be making a lot of money for several years.  Maybe eventually even fly for the big dream companies like UPS or Fedex in the far future.  I know I’ll need the degree for those jobs. 
    As far as private FBOs and financing – I’ve only seen Pilot Finance.  They will not work for me.  It would take forever based on how they only finance a rating at a time and you need to have at least 50% of the first rating paid for before they’ll loan for the second rating.  I understand why they do this from a business point, but it’s just not going to help me. 
    Do you know of any private FBOs that participate in the Sallie Mae Career Loan or maybe another option I’m unaware of?
    Thank you again

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  4. Bob Watson on Jul 14, 2011

    It sounds like you’re in a hurry, which is understandable, but more expensive. If you qualify for grants (that you don’t need to repay), that would be ideal, but you should think hard about obtaining a lot of financing. In the worst case scenario, you could rack up $50-100,000 in loans that will be very hard to pay off on a CFI’s salary or even a regional pilots salary. Some schools exist for little more than putting you into terminal debt, so read past the glossy brochure to find out what your REAL chances are of getting a job during or after your training.
    If you scale back your time frame to something like 4-6 years, you can get a college degree while doing some flight instructing at an FBO to help pay for college and build time.I don’t know KY, but if you can find a state school that’s near a big city and decent-sized airport (you want to find a busy FBO for that plan), that could work.
    Another idea would be to get started would be to work and go to school during the school year,while saving for flying lessons during the summer. After a couple of [busy and expensive] summers, you can have your CFI and start teaching as you finish up college.
    You’re fortunate to have a supportive wife; however, you should both have a realistic understanding of what a commitment you’ll be making. You’re going to be VERY busy.

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  5. Micah on Jul 14, 2011

    There is a lot to consider in your question. I’ll probably give brief responses because it’s really too much to write even in 5-10 full paragraphs. I no longer keep a day job in flying (although I still teach), but I went the same route from 0 hours to CFII at a local university, working part-time with my wife working full time.  
     
    Know what it’s going to cost you. When I started flying in 2001, it cost me $85/hour wet/with instructor for a C-172 R/S. I imagine that you’ll be paying no less than $150/hr for a similar aircraft. 250 hours x $150 = $37,500. That’s a very liberal figure, too. I would not expect to spend $1 less than $75,000 for what you’re doing. Some schools may cost well over $150,000.
     
    Be careful in considering all of your loan options. A Private “student loan” is very different from a federally-subsidized Student Loan. Go to bankrate.com or fool.com and make sure you understand what the terms of the loan offers mean for repayment. 9% on a $75,000 loan is a very large payment. (I took out $40,000 at a final consolidated rate of 3.75% and pay $155/mo.) Make sure you take out a fixed-rate loan. You can be certain that with FO wages, your interest rate will go up before you salary goes up. Also, I’m in favor of training with an FBO, but only with your money. I don’t think you should take out a personal loan to train at an FBO.
     
    Realize that as a FO you’ll make very little–between $22,000 and $30,000 is a reasonable target until you make Captain. You should expect to be using all of your salary to buy lunch and pay your debt for several years and you’ll be living off of your wife’s income (not that you’ll see her very much at first). Also, this is a decision that the two of you should make together.
     
    I don’t recommend doing the fast track. It works for some, surely, but my students often learn more in 2 weeks off than they do during intense training. A lot or organizations prefer the “fire hose” method of training (ever heard of Medical School?) but this doesn’t so much make you better equipped as it selects out those students who can’t make it. 
     
    Will you be moving to the place you train or will you commute? I commuted about 1-hour each way to a university from where we lived/my wife worked. This was a good situation (I already had a degree and worked part-time) but it slowed down my training. Often I would drive 1-hour just to find out the weather was not favorable enough to fly only to drive back 1-hour.
     
    If you don’t have a degree already, I’d consider what was suggested above–get a degree in another field while training in a university aviation program. You’ll probably have to be dual enrolled, but an aviation degree doesn’t add anything to your certificates. Anyone who wants to hire you to fly will want to to know that you can make good decisions in the airplane. You may be surprised how much learning (anything, almost) aids in the decision-making process.
     
    Relatedly, I read an alumnus from my university remark “I don’t remember ever being taught any economics when I got my [aviation] degree…” Well, whose fault is that? I don’t think Southwest management is going to agree: “[Peter], you’re right… it’s not your fault you made a bad decision… it was your school’s fault…”
     
    It’s an exciting decision you’re making, but a large one. Give it full consideration. Even though I don’t work in flying now, I certainly don’t regret any portion of my training. But that’s not to say that you can’t easily make a regrettable decision. Look around here for similar questions and advice and see what other questions you may have.

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  6. Marc on Jul 14, 2011

    dblou, If Boeing’s projections are anywhere near correct, this is a great time to get into aviation. Whatever you do, get your degree. You can learn to fly in any environment. The benefit of the more formal programs is the camaraderie, shared experience, mutual support, and lifelong friends and contacts you’ll make. Let us know which you decide.  Best wishes, Marc

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  7. dblou on Jul 14, 2011

    Thank you so much for taking the time to reply to me.  I will be setting up an appointment to check out EKU to find out if I can major in anything while maybe minoring in the aviation program to get the ratings and flight time.  I do appreciate your information & my wife and I are on the same page.  We’ll be very careful about the loans and such.  My wife has completed her Master’s Degree so we know all too well the world of school loans! 

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  8. James MacGregor CFI on Jul 14, 2011

    ATP is a puppy mill
    A degree is somewhat useful however if it saves you money just do it online, a degree is not what it used to be, infact no one has even even asked to see any proof of my degree where as a copy of my commerical license, medical etc. is always required.
     
     If you want to go airlines check out this school http://ifta.aero , I hear good things about these guys, you start (including solo) in a Beech Bonanza, multi in a Baron all maintance by Raytheon.

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  9. Dan on Aug 24, 2012

    Don’t do it. ATP will teach you procedure based flying, but you will not know how to fly an airplane after completing their course. You will never fly the Seminole solo or anything at night beyond the FAA minimums. They coddle their students to the point where you will never be out into a decision making capacity. If you want a job working for a union and never taking true control of an airplane, then ATP is perfect for you. If you want to understand aviation and be able to truly use your education, save your money and go with a real aviator. With guaranteed job placement ATP instructors the least experienced in the country. I should mention that I own a 7 aircraft fleet doing part 135 operations and I’m not just another bitter student.

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  10. thabang mahlaku on Oct 18, 2012

    I am 13 years and i stay in a farm,I want to be a pilot and i don’t have enough money to pay ATP flight school .What should I do to become a pilot.

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  11. Julia on Feb 05, 2013

    After reading this chain of comments, sounds like ATP is not a good way to go. I recently sat in on a college aviation course and the professor gave me some excellent advice. Since I am just starting to work towards a private pilot certificate the cost for training is crazy. This one flight school at a local airport wanted to charge $200 for an hour (Hobbs time) which is crazy. He told me to join a flying club because it is a hell of a lot cheaper. He is right!!!! Flying with a club will charge me exactly half of that (tach time) which is pretty good. Since my county college in Jersey offers a aviation program, I plan to go there first and then transfer to Embry Riddle. I have also thought of joining the Air Force but I’m a girl and the military really isn’t my thing. With the 1500 rule supposedly taking effect pretty soon we are all going to have to find a way to pay for the training and not get drowned by debt. Getting back on topic ATP sounds way to good to be true. Also ask professionals for the opinions because the have more knowledge and will give you their unbiased answer to what your looking for. Best of luck and clear skies to you all!

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  12. Delta Sierra Gulf on Sep 26, 2013

    I work for SkyWest airlines as a part-time ramp agent at LAX. I have had the daily opportunity to speak with pilots about how they made it to the airline and whether or not they thought allatps was in their opinion, a good option for someone looking to begin flight training with the goal of becoming an airline pilot. About 8 out of 10 pilots, in my experience, will tell you that ATP is a great way to go, while the other 2 of 10 will tell you they did their training at a smaller FBO. Of those pilots who went to ATP, there were some strong words of advice/caution that accompanied their positive opinion. One such caution is the loan that’s likely involved. The best advice is to have parents loan you the money (if they can afford to). This is literally how a lot of these pilots did it, and managed to avoid the high interest rates of Sallie Mae. If that is not an option, and you must use Sallie Mae or another similar lender, then at least ensure that your loan is fixed and not adjustable. Another example of common advice is to do your private at an FBO and then start ATP, but only after studying for all of the other ratings and writtens, in advance! Learn it on your own first, taking as long as it takes you, because when you start at ATP, the clock is ticking and the scheduled checkrides and writtens come by way too quickly for which you will likely wish you had the precious time to study and process all of the information being presented to you. Many pilots that i spoke to who attended ATP, said with a serious tone that they wished they had studied for their writtens prior to going there. With that being said, there were zero pilots, out of the maybe 50 or so that I have actually talked to, that discouraged me from going to ATP. It boils down to this; if you can find a way to afford it and study in advance, then ATP is a great way to get into the job quicker. If not, perhaps a pay as you go FBO or even buying a small C-152 with 1 or 2 more guys/gals with similar aspirations, and then trade up to a multi-engine plane, and somewhere along the way, pick up your CFI’s as well. By the way, the first year pay isn’t so great, but everyone I met seemed genuinely glad to be doing what they were doing. I hope my insight helps shed more light on the matter.

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