I’m hoping for some advice.
I’m considering a career change and am wondering if ATP is the right choice for me.
-37 years old
-No kids (possibly in near future)
-We rent our apartment
-Scraped together prior career as freelance artist
-Little to no savings
-Would need to finance everything including extra to help us live (wife doesn’t make a lot.)
I’m obviously worried about taking on huge debt with only about 25 years to recover that and gain wealth before retirement. Then again, while my current career has allowed me to live debt free, it hasn’t done much for savings, retirement, or home ownership.
Let me put it this way, if you’re serious about being a pilot then there’s really no better choice than ATP. As far as the debt goes flight training is expensive and there’s no way around that. You may hunt the internet and find some lower prices but it’s never going to be “cheap”. With that in mind the idea is to get trained and get to the point where you’re getting paid to fly vs paying to fly as fast as possible. You also obviously want to get the best quality of training available. To satisfy both ATP is the answer. There’s no faster more efficient training program and if you do well and have the opportunity to instruct for ATP you may be eligible for Tuition Reimbursement to help pay off that debt.
As far as paying the debt and gaining wealth, pilots do get paid well with senior airline Capts earning over $350k. That said there are no guarantees you’ll ever get to that level so if you’re doing this purely in the hopes of gaining the income you missed as a freelance artist aviation might not be the best route. It’s an amazing career and something most pilots enjoy immensely but it doesn’t always reward everyone financially so again if that’s your primary motivation you should give it some thought. If however it is something you decide to pursue then you should most definitely look into ATP as there’s no better route.
Thanks for your thoughts. I really appreciate it. What are your thoughts on obtaining my PPL elsewhere? That seems to be a popular option. Not necessarily financially but it seems you won’t be as rushed starting out. And It’s a much smaller investment if I decide it’s not something I want to further pursue. I wouldn’t consider that a loss as I have always wanted to learn to fly and generally love all things that go.
If you are not absolutely sure that you want to be an airline pilot, then I would recommend getting your PPL outside of ATP. It is easy to stop at any point along the way if you decide flying is not for you. If your reason is to avoid being rushed, then I would not recommend that. The airlines provide quality training, but it is rushed. If you can’t keep up with the pace of ATP training, then you will not be able to keep up with airline training either…
I second all that Chris said.
I have no doubt about my ability to keep up. I’m a quick learner and a good student. But I have read that ATP can rush you into your check rides whereas that might be less likely if you were getting a PPL privately. Is that a fair statement?
ATP will absolutely rush you. The reason is the program was designed to prepare you for a career at the airlines (hence the name Airline Career Pilot Program). Long before the pilot shortage ATP pioneered the program (now everyone has one) and ATP grads were getting preferential interviews and getting hired when others were not. The reason was because the airlines knew that ATP students were used to the pace and demonstrated their ability to keep up. At your local flight school they won’t ever rush or push you. They’ll ask "Dave how do you feel? Do you think you’re ready? ". In most cases most will say they’re not and the flight school will be happy to give you more training and take more of your money. That may give you the warm fuzzies but it won’t do much for helping you succeed at an airline. Getting hired is easy, successfully completing training is not.
I’m with Chris on his thoughts on getting the PPL elsewhere. If you want to “dip your toes” to get an idea of whether this is for you, ATPs credit private program may work better for you. If you’re trying to save a few bucks because someone quoted you a lower price for a PPL, you may end up spending more on the back end. Some of the toughest students I have had to teach came in with a PPL from smaller schools with massive gaps in knowledge applicable to later stages of training and bad habits that we had limited time to address. ATP training builds on previous phases of training which is key in an accelerated program.
You didn’t mention if you have taken a discovery flight in the past. If you haven’t, it would be a pretty good opportunity to see what flying small planes will be like for you personally.
Since you’ve asked for some perspective considering entering this field I’m going to offer some of my own with personal experience weaved in.
First, you need to be 100 percent honest with yourself about your motivation for going into this career field. If dollar signs or career security are anywhere close to the top of your list, think it over thoroughly. Ask any pilot that has flown professionally for a couple of decades and they will tell you to always save and have a backup income source just in case. (Live in base, stay married to your first wife, and live on FO salary). Good news for you—your artistic skills are yours to keep in perpetuity.
Second, this is a “full-life program”. Prepare to be fully mentally, physically and emotionally vested in the program for the entire duration. That means that your spouse will have to be just as enthusiastic about you being absent (or present but buried in the books) as you are. As far as kids are concerned, I cannot fathom being able to successfully complete this program as a father to a newborn. My own kid put my flying on hiatus for 8 years. Food for thought…
Lastly, whether you decide to go through this at ATP or elsewhere, bring with you a suitcase of humility. The knowledge, skills, and even thought processes that you have to develop through flight training are unique. I have had some highly intelligent, quick learning classmates successful in their respective prior career fields wash out because there was some aspect of training that they just found hard to grasp.
Lastly, let’s address “being rushed” at ATP. It’s an accelerated program. If you were to be told that you will be submitted for a checkride “when YOU feel ready”, the program timeline would go out the window. My current employer takes roughly 13-15 months to get a student through the program from zero hours to CFI (not including CFII or MEI). At almost double the length, and with a rigid Part 141 curriculum, you would think that “feeling rushed” is not a thing, right? As a check instructor, hearing from a student that doesn’t do well on one of the checks “I didn’t have enough time to study the material” or “My instructor didn’t teach me this or enough of this” is still very much a thing. It’s called “projection” and many negative reviews are a prime example of blaming someone else for one’s shortcomings.
Hope this helps you get some perspective from someone who’s been in your shoes about 2-3 years ago. I went to ATP. I was successful at ATP and got the training I paid for under budget and before deadline. And although this is an ATP forum, I am not associated or employed by ATP and my viewpoint is based solely on my experience there as a student.