Affordable route to becoming an airline pilot

What is the most affordable route to becoming an airline pilot (without taking any loans)? I know it’s a very vague question but I wanted to get an idea of what other pilots did to fund their flight training.
Thank you


Unfortunately the words affordable and flight training seldom end up in the same sentence. Airplanes are expensive to operate and maintain and gas prices are at an all time high. Factor in instructors need to be paid and you’re left with flight training is never cheap.

Most people (unless they are wealthy, have wealthy parents or hit the PowerBall) do take out loans for training. While that might not sound ideal,in most cases that usually saves money. Doing so enables you to train full time at a flight school like ATP which accelerates the training. Successful light training relies heavily on consistency which is why the airlines and the military train their pilots daily. While it might seem more affordable to pay as you go a little at a time, inevitable you’ll end up repeating lessons and paying much more in the end.


There’s “quick, cheap and quality”, pick two. That’s the game you’re in finding flight training. A program will either be cheap and quick but not good quality training. Quality and quick but not cheap. Or cheap and quality but definitely not quick.
Like Adam said, most people have to take out a loan because they don’t have thousands of dollars stashed aside. There are ways to find cheaper training but you won’t find it on a fixed budget or timeline. That’s where ATP set the standard. Quality training at a fixed budget and timeline.


The vast majority of pilots take out loans. Yes, flight training is expensive and a loan can be intimidating, but you have to keep in mind that the pay off as an airline pilot far exceeds the cost of training. I took out a loan myself. It was a fifteen year loan, which I repaid in seven years.




Hanna really hit the nail on the head.
I did ATP in 12months, CFI to 1500hr in 13months; so 25months to the Regionals. Cost me about $95k (1/2 out of pocket, 1/2 loans, $27k left).
My friend did Wayman Aviation in 2.5yrs, CFI to 1500hr in 18months; so 48months to the Regionals. Cost her about $65k (No loans, worked dispatch for flight hours, multiple aviation scholarships, about $40k out of pocket).

Both are what I’d call quality schools. ATP has newer and more advanced planes with what I’d consider a stronger MX department, but Wayman was not a mom/pop tire kicker place either. It was just a slower pace, with cheaper planes.

Never trade off safety for cost, but you can trade time for cost. Just remember, 1 yr missed at a Legacy is easily $300k at retirement. Not to Mention a 2yr delay is thousands of pilots ahead of you in seniority, which dictates QOL and so much more.

But doing what your budget allows, is better than doing nothing at all.

Edit: Aviation career mentorship on FB would be a good source for advice on routes other than ATP.

Good Luck
Chris F

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I would argue that you cannot always trade time for cost. Your friend did well, but many people need the daily training to be successful. The airlines and the military both train every day. Training just a few days per week, while working and facing other pressures, can really have an adverse affect on training and cause many pilots to spend even more money as they constantly need to relearn skills.

As for the scholarships, one must keep in mind that of the limited amount of scholarships that are available in this industry, many are targeted to applicants that represent diversity. For somebody that does not meet that criteria, scholarships are much harder to come by, if at all.



Both points you bring up are true and definitely need to be considered.

Being cash strapped causing long delays (even 1-2wks) will diminish training efficiency.
Aviation Scholarships are not plentiful / do usually cater towards certain backgrounds or experiences (networking within those scholarship groups does help the odds).

Without diving into the weeds, I think the key is you need a good plan, a budget, a decent emergency budget and the maturity to buckle down and see it through.

Chris F

Sam started this thread by asking about doing his flight training without loans. Now we don’t know if he simply wants to avoid debt, or doesn’t have the means to get a loan for training?

Something we hear frequently is that many people (particularly those who are younger) have this fear of debt. While most can’t argue the evils of getting in over your head, this type of debt is far different than getting a lease on a new Tesla you can’t afford. This is an investment in your future that has a strong chance of paying tremendous dividends throughout your life. Chris mentioned the 1yr delay costing $300k at the end, but that’s just the tip of it financial iceberg. Most airlines are paying 10-16% 401K contributions. What’s that 1yr without translate to after decades? Then of course there’s the seniority aspect which is immeasurable.

The point is while it’s great if someone can get creative, the reality is, other than the bragging rights of saying I did this all with zero debt, in the end you’ve probably hurt yourself financially out of fear of something they really don’t understand.