Aspiration to become a Commercial Pilot - how do I start?

Hey ATP,

I’m a senior in college who has decided to make a change in career choice and become a pilot. I’m trying to decide the best route to take in order to become a pilot for the airlines. I’m currently living in Atlanta and commute to college. My short term goals are to obtain my BBA in Information Systems since that is a requirement for employment for the major airlines and I’m about 30 credit hours from graduating. After getting my undergraduate degree, I would like to begin my pursuit of becoming an airline pilot. Even though Atlanta has a few options to attend ATP, I have aspirations to move out west and would love to attend ATP in Southern California (specifically San Diego). As far as finances go, I have no idea how I should go about getting financial help for ATP. I’m debating whether or not I should obtain my licences in a piecemeal fashion instead of all at once. For example, I am considering if I should go into the workforce with a job related to my degree and gradually pay for it with my income instead of taking out loans. Would that be a viable option to take or would it make the most sense to take out a loan and complete the ATP course all at once? I’m not sure what it is like to acquire a lot of debt since I was fortunate enough to have my undergraduate expenses paid for. With that being said, I’m incredibly motivated to become a pilot and just want to make the most informed decision possible. So a couple questions…

Is there anything I should do before attending ATP since I haven’t had any prior aviation experience? Any books or applications I should look into that would help me get my feet wet?

Is it a better investment to take out a loan and complete ATP as soon as possible? Or complete certifications gradually so I don’t have to worry about debt?

How long does it typically take ATP students to pay off their student debt? Are we required to pay back the loan as soon as we get our first job in the field or is it at a set time?

If I do become full time at ATP, would I have enough time to work on the side in order to pay rent and other necessary living expenses? I hear the standard of living in California is much higher and I want to be prepared for that.

What are the most common reasons for failure in ATP among students?

Any general recommendations before attending ATP?

All advice is greatly appreciated! Thanks!

Spencer Fox

Hello Spencer and welcome,

Lots of questions so let’s get crackin’:

  1. First and foremost you make no mention of any flight experience? (and no, sitting in the back of an Airbus going to grandma’s or on vacation does not count). If the answer is no then before you spend another 30secs entertaining a career in aviation you need to go down to your local flight school and take an Intro flight. While chances are you’ll be hooked, some people really don’t care for it and the conversation is over. In fact ATP will not let you enroll until you do.

  2. There’s a very good reason both the airlines and the military train their pilots daily. Learning to fly is a process and each skill builds upon the last. While it might seem like it would be easier to spread your training out most people find that a very expensive and frustrating route. What happens far too often is you take a lesson and everything is great (woohoo!), next week the weather craps out, the week after your instructor can’t make it, week after that the plane is out on maintenance and the next thing you know it’s been a month since you’ve flown and when you do you have to relearn half the things from the last lesson. The second thing to consider is that everything at the airlines is based on seniority and the sooner you start the sooner you build some. Pilots also have a finite amount of years to fly. Top Capts earn over $300k so every year you delay is one year less you’ll be making that salary. Bottomline if you can train full time you should.

  3. Obviously some students pay off their debts faster than others based on their personal finances. Neat perk at ATP is if you instruct for ATP you’re eligible to sign a conditional letter of employment with one of their many Regional partners and receive Tuition Reimbursement which helps considerably. The lenders will let you defer payments until you’re employed and after that you can possibly make interest only payments till you’re in a better position but that will of course cost you more in the long run.

  4. You will not be able to work will training nor as an instructor. Both are full time commitments. You have to understand ATP’s program is accelerated and requires your full time and attention.

  5. Poor work ethic and attitude. If you show up and say “I just paid you $65k make me a pilot” ATP is not the flight school for you. ATP’s program was created by airline pilots to train pilots for the airline. It’s not just accelerated it requires ALOT of self-study and discipline. If you want to be spoon fed and take your time there are dozens of other schools that will take your money. ATP will provide you with everything you need to be successful but you have to do the work. If you don’t you’ll fail.

  6. Again if you haven’t go fly! We always recommend students complete as many (if not all) of the FAA required written exams prior to starting. The exams are required but really don’t follow the curriculum so it’s best to just get them out of the way.

Hope that helps,


Thanks Adam! I appreciate the thorough and detailed advice. I’ll be scheduling an intro flight in the next couple of weeks or so. I’ll be sure to keep you updated!

Spencer Fox

Hi, Brand new to this forum. I’ve been a private multi, ifr pilot for over 20 yrs. I how. B55 and know I would need my commercial to even start. Should I aquire my commercial before even starting anything? And obviously, if I got my commercial, at 56 and able to pass a 1st class med can I fly any kind of bird and get paid?


You don’t say how many hours you have and more important you don’t say what you goal is? As far as “flying any kind of bird” I think you know (or should) it’s a little more complicated than that but you could get a Regional airline, corporate or light freight IF you’ve got the hours.



We really need more information from you. A commercial license certainly will not let you fly any kind of bird as you need a type rating for any jet. You will also need 1,500 hours to apply for the airlines. At your age, there is not a lot of time left, but if you move quickly, you can probably get a job with one of the regionals.


Thanks for the advice. I have over 3800 tt as pic. I understand I’d need
type ratings of course. Does the company that does the hiring generally pay
for the type rating or is that something I’d have to pay for? Thanks for
the response!


With the exception of Southwest, every airline that I know of pays for all of your training, including the type rating. The vast majority of regional airlines will also pay for your ATP rating, which you will need. Do you have multi-engine time?


Affirm. I have approx 700-800 hrs in the B-55 & B-58. I would guess after
getting some type of confirmation, I would go ahead and get my commercial,
esp since I still own the B-55.
Thanks again Chris.

Is there a company that you would reccomend for the coastal area of N.C? I
obviously can commute to RDU OR CLT easy enough. Or is there a
Type of service for wanna be pilots…lol


If you go on ATP’s website to it’ll give you an idea of who’s where and basically all the Regionals are hiring.