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Graduating college, mid-30s, looking at Aviation as a Plan B option for other career endeavors

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Commercial Pilot, Flight Instructor, General Aviation, Instrument Rating

So, here's my situation. I started off attending Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, OK right out of high school. After Spartan lost their accredidation for a bachelor's program I decided to stop attending and pursue a career in medicine. My career endeavors have taken me literally all over the world, showed me that I actually enjoy traveling and don't mind long flights or doing the grueling flying that I was required to at times in Iraq. Having mentioned that I need to mention that I was a DOD contractor not miltary, so GI Bill is not available. After spending 2.5 yrs in the sandbox, I decided to return to college and finish my degree. I'm now looking at whether or not medical school is truly for me or if I need to look at a Plan B. Well my best Plan B so far is aviation despite graduating soon with a degree in Biology. I am 33 yrs old, married, no kids, and we do own a house in the Denver area. So let's get down to the true questions here:

First, I have just over 100 hours of flight time and left the cockpit in 2004 due to various things ranging from Paramedic school to college, etc. I hold my Private Pilot certificate and started working on a complex endorsement (flying the Piper Arrow) and Instrument Rating prior to leaving in 2004. My health remains overall in good condition, so I am sure that I will pass a First Class medical still. Aviation in the meantime appears to be coming back with the aging of pilots, etc. So here's my questions:

1. Does anyone have any experience with attending ATP's program in terms of instructor time spent with students, etc? I know that they are a pilot mill so it's a "union" mentality toward training. I am currently working on comparing their rates versus what rates are here in Denver for instruction. 

2. Does anyone know of places to obtain loans for flight training through an FBO? I know that if I pursue aviation, time is of the essence as I still have about 1000-1500 hours to build before even being considered for low rate airline or commercial flying jobs. 

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and insights. Any personal stories would be greatly appreciated. 

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1 Answers

  1. Bob Watson on Dec 06, 2012

    I love flying as much as the next person and want to encourage your pursuit of aviation as a career. As you say, the market is likely to improve soon and if you start training now, you could find yourself in the right place at the right time.

    WRT getting a student loan to finance this endeavor, I’d suggest you think long and hard about that. Because student loans are practically risk-free money to banks (due to the fact you can’t discharge them through bankruptcy) there is no shortage of schools (aviation and otherwise) who will be more than happy to have you sign on the dotted line. But, using student loans to finance flight training from 100 hrs to 1,500 & ATP could easily have you leaving in debt to the tune of $50-100,000 (depending on a lot of factors). Unless the entry-level pilot jobs pay better than they currently do, that’ll be tough to pay off (or even just pay down). Even if you were going to graduate as a lawyer or engineer with a higher starting salary, I’d still save student loans as the absolute last resort. (Of course, grants and scholarships that you don’t have to pay back are a different matter).

    That said, I’ve seen a lot of creative ways to advance through the pilot ranks without incurring a crippling debt. Some have bought an airplane to train in and some have sold the plane for more than they paid for it. I know of more than one pilot who got his multi hours giving lessons in his own twin. The advantage to buying your own plane is that while you might go into debt for the plane, you at least have something you can sell when you get your flying job. With a student loan, you’re stuck for potentially most of the rest of your life.

    Flight instructing is, of course, one of the more common forms of financing your aviation training. With that option, you just need to figure out how to pay for the next 200 hours or so of training to get your IR, CPL, and CFI, then you can start working as a flight instructor to relieve some of the financial pressure. After that, you can get your ME, CFII, etc.

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