My time with ATP recently ended and feel it may be beneficial for some to give a review of my experience in the program. Apologies for the massive wall of text this turned into, I just wanted to be thorough.
First, a brief explanation of what lead me to choose ATP to do my training with:
As a youth, I had long wanted to become an airline pilot, but when I graduated high school in 2005 I thought my need of glasses precluded me from doing so. Last year in August, after many years pursuing other areas of study and employment, I decided to again look into a career as an airline pilot. Turns out I had received bad info, and I did otherwise qualify for it. Being 35 years old at the time, I thought it best to find a place I could complete the training as quickly as possible. Of course, ATP came up when I searched, and after contacting them and asking all my questions I decided to go with them.
Training began 11/7/2022. I came in zero time, having no recorded flight experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my instructor, who stuck with me through Instrument. We got along very well, and his instruction style generally jived with me perfectly. The instruction he gave was great, and the online Elevate classes were very helpful in preparing me for the written tests.
I very shortly, however, ran into plane availability issues. My first flight was canceled because we didn’t have a plane, and it quickly became a recurring thing. I’m sure this is not a new topic of discussion here, but I had never been made aware it was a possibility, other than weather. Coming in zero time, I didn’t know what all to expect and it caught me somewhat off guard.
I kept track of the cancellations from November 7th through January 4th. During that time, I had 36 canceled flights. 9 were due to weather, no beef with ATP over that. Of the remaining 27, some were due to maintenance, but the majority were due to “Lack of Plane Availability.” I soon came to find out that meant I was getting bumped from flights.
Other priority flights were bumping me from the plane I was scheduled to use and putting me on standby. The days I didn’t have a specific plane scheduled, I would be on standby and need to be nearby. Since my home is a 2 hour drive from the hangar, I had rented a room nearby so I could be close, but it meant that I was spending nearly all my time away from home. I have a wife and three small kids, so this was definitely not ideal. We went into this knowing that would happen often, but we figured we could stick it out for the seven months. We also knew it was possible to overrun the timeframe, and it might be eight or even nine months, which we were resigned to endure if necessary.
It took me until January 4th to pass the TOLs phase and move on to Solo prep. That segment was supposed to take a total of 10 days, but it had taken two months. I averaged around 1.5 flights per week. I was annoyed enough by the delay, but it was really taking a toll on my family. That much time away for so little actual flight time was extremely frustrating for all of us.
After January 4th, availability became better and I started flying more frequently. Occasionally, I think, I would get the advertised five flights a week, but usually it was more like three. I passed my Private late February, nearly two months behind schedule.
Instrument phase went somewhat better, never having such a huge delay as in the beginning, but still not the advertised five flights a week. I made heavy use of the simulators to practice approaches, spending many evenings there. I really commend ATP for the access they give there students to the simulators. It made a huge difference for me in this phase.
Despite the somewhat better plane availability, it still took me until June to finish the Instrument phase, again taking about two months longer than the scheduled time frame. I will cut ATP a little bit of slack here because I failed the oral part of my first Instrument checkride and had to retest about a week later. That week is on me.
To comment briefly on the failed checkride, I assume responsibility on that one. I had plenty of time to prepare for it with all the delays. I got complacent, having studied it all before, and I put way more effort into practicing at the sims than going over ground knowledge. I missed several easy, relatively minor things during the oral, and a couple more important things, but the sum made the DPE unwilling to approve. I wholeheartedly agree with her decision. I went back to study again, and a week later nailed the oral. I’m a better pilot because of that.
After Instrument came the Crew phase, which I began in July. Crew was by far the quickest and easiest phase for me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, it seeming almost like a reward after all the hard work up until that point. I got to fly up and down the eastern seaboard, and had a really good time of it. From first flight to last, it took eight days to complete Crew. No complaints at all during this phase.
Next came the Commercial phase. Again, training went behind schedule with Commercial starting late July and ending November 9th, although I will caveat that timeframe with an explanation below.
With Commercial came a new instructor. I enjoyed him very much as a person, he had a great sense of humor, and he was definitely an excellent pilot. I do think, however, his instruction style was maybe not the best for me. I struggled a bit with the maneuvers in this phase, and I started to fall behind. The instruction he gave just didn’t seem to work well for me. It definitely worked for him, but my trying to do things his way just didn’t go very well. In subsequent training with different instructors, I was told specifically to do certain things differently to what he did and saw marked improvement after.
I wound up failing my mock Commercial checkride. I had been hitting the sims heavily, same as in Instrument, but the sims really are best for practicing procedures and flows and not really maneuvers. I had hoped it would make a difference, but unfortunately it didn’t.
In a meeting with my instructor, lead, and the TSS, we came up with a Training Improvement Plan (TIP) to address my deficiencies, which included three additional flights and three simulator sessions.
Even after completing the TIP, I still wasn’t quite where I needed to be. At this point, my case had to be submitted to Corporate to see if they would approve an additional TIP. Corporate did approve it, but made the decision not to keep me on for CFI and Multi training. I could decide to complete the TIP with ATP and hopefully pass my Commercial checkride, or leave immediately and find another school to complete Commercial. I opted to stay with ATP since I was so close.
In the end, I passed my Commercial checkride November 9th, 2023. I was very excited to do so, but sad I couldn’t finish the entirety of the program with ATP.
It had taken a year to reach this point, 12 months into what should have been about five months of the seven month program. I will take responsibility for the week in Instrument, as well as another two weeks for extra training in the Commercial phase. I also had to take 12 days off for a family trip, which I will address more below. All in all, I set myself back about 1.25 months. Of the remaining 5.75 months behind schedule, I’d ping at most a month due to weather. The remaining 4.75 months delay was mostly due to “Lack of Plane Availability.”
I have tried to be factual and non biased in my recount, though I know it is impossible to be entirely so. Just be aware this is a firsthand account and not an impartial third party observation.
So, how do I feel about ATP? Sort of a TLDR, hah.
I must say I have mixed feelings about ATP, probably to no surprise.
ATP has many positives:
-All of the instructors I had were very knowledgeable, passionate about teaching and flying, and committed to me as their student.
-The amount of resources ATP provides for ground knowledge is incredible.
-The Elevate classes are wonderful, both in their content and in the access to instructors who can go over any details you need help with.
-The facilities (at least where I was at) were very nice, with areas for study, eating, and simulators.
-The unlimited access to simulators was incredibly beneficial. Having that access made a huge difference for me in the beginning.
-Being able to finance all of training in one go facilitated that aspect greatly. I imagine having to pay per certification or even per flight would be much more difficult to finance, unless you pay out of pocket.
-Access to the Airline partnerships is huge. Recruiters coming in, special programs, and networking are major benefits.
-Updated plane avionics. I started on G500s quickly switched to G1000s, but both were excellent.
-Their commitment to safety is outstanding. The maintenance they do on their planes is confidence inspiring. I only ever had two issues after getting in a plane, a fuel pump failure on the ground and a possible alternator failure in the air, neither of which resulted in an unsafe flight, and both were resolved by maintenance quickly and competently.
-The Crew phase was a great way to build the time necessary for a Commercial rating, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
ATP did have some negatives, however:
-Plane availability. If you had the patience to slog through the above text you’ll definitely have noted that they have a major issue with plane availability. They advertise five flights a week, with three being the minimum. The only caveat there is weather permitting. I think I averaged no more than two flights per week. Some of the delay was my own fault, some weather, but the vast majority was on ATP. I understand maintenance is part of the remainder, but most were due to not having enough planes for the amount of students. Just to give a quick breakdown, we had about 120 students at my location. At five flights per week, we needed the capability for about 600 flights per week. There were five flight blocks in a day, 35 in a week, which meant we needed at least 17 operational planes to satisfy those demands. At the minimum three flights per week, we needed at least 10 operational planes. The most I ever saw on the ramp was 12, plus a couple in maintenance. I don’t know if all of those 12 were operational. I was frequently told by instructors that we were down to 5 or 4 operational aircraft, some of which were reserved for CFI training. The lowest I remember hearing was only 2 operational aircraft. I realize unforeseen events can happen, but it was fairly consistent that every couple of months we would experience an availability crunch.
-Program delays. My first negative directly causes the second negative, which is program delays. Again, according to my calculations, I was held up about five months due to issues under ATPs purview. Those delays caused issues with life outside of ATP, which I’ll address next.
-Fast pace, rigid schedule. ATP has their set schedule, and, despite not having enough planes so students can meet that schedule, they expect instructors to schedule the students as if they can, and for students to be constantly available. This means nearly every day I would have a flight scheduled or be on standby, requiring my presence or ability to quickly be there. Combined with the delays, this meant vast amounts of time beyond what the program calls for that students cannot schedule anything during. As mentioned above, I had to take 12 days off for a family vacation. My wife is from out of country and had spent the entirety of the summer there with our children. We had hoped I would finish before their return since I was due to finish in May. I was to join them and help in the return trip, hopefully in July or August. It was something long planned for, and we even adjusted it to a much later date at the end of September in order to try to accommodate the ballooning delay. Yet, even with it being a 50% overrun on the schedule at that point, I would not have been approved for the time off if I hadn’t already purchased the tickets. The TSS specifically told me this detail. The thing that bothered me the most about it was that before I left, I had a period of 10 days between my last and second to last flight caused by “Lack of Plane Availability,” one of many delays that long or longer. It irked me that ATP could cause such a delay with no recourse on my part, and yet be so unwilling to accommodate me as a paying customer.
-Little additional training. Linked to the fast pace/rigid schedule, ATP does not allow for much additional training. Especially at a time like this where there are many new students wanting to start, they will remove students who aren’t keeping up to open space for new ones to start. Business is business, I guess.
-Cost. They are upfront with the cost, so it should be no surprise to anyone, but it is very expensive.
Again, apologies for the massive post, but I’ll wrap it up here. ATP has an absolutely amazing program in many ways, I’m so glad I got to do it, but it definitely isn’t for everyone. Ignoring the delays I experienced, not everyone can handle the demands ATP places on their students for months on end. I’d say it’s 50/50 if I’d recommend it to anyone else. A lot would depend on your personal circumstance. I just wanted to post my experience in case anyone would find it of benefit. Cheers!