ATP vs Local Flight School

I am a life long aviation enthusiast with a new found passion for a career as a commercial pilot. As I’m doing my research ATP seems the best choice because of availability, locations, and the timeline from zero to commercial. I am a senior and college and try to get my PPL while I finish my degree and then transition to full time training to finish my certifications. I’m curious on the advantages of ATP vs a smaller school closer to my home. I know ATP has the partnerships especially with the United Aviate which I am interested in but I have had heard horror stories of students staying in hotels on their own dime at other ATP locations waiting for test dates and that the two year timeline is not realistic for most students. Any advice is greatly appreciated as I begin my future in aviation.


There’s a reason the airlines and the military train their pilots daily. It’s because success in flight training is dependent on consistency. The reality is most local flight schools don’t have the resources to allow you to train daily and even if they do most students can’t do to other commitments (work, school, family life). ATP was created by airline pilots to train airline pilots in a similar environment that’s why it works.

As for the horror stories “you’ve heard”, suffice to say ATP isn’t for everyone. The training is challenging and not everyone is successful. Those that aren’t find it easier to blame ATP and create false statements then accept responsibility for their shortcomings. The fact is ATP has successfully training pilots for the airlines for over 30yrs and has places almost 700 pilots with airlines in the last 12mos alone (more than your local flight school has in their existence). If they were as bad as the naysayers claim I don’t believe people would still be lining up to enroll.



I got my private at a local school, then went to ATP for everything else. The local school was a nightmare. They had a very small fleet and it seemed like one of their airplanes was always down for maintenance. That coupled with limited instructor availability meant that my PPL took way longer than it should have. I can only imagine what a disaster it would have been if I had tried to do the rest of my flight training at that school.

I finished ATP’s program exactly on time and this forum is full of people who did the same. Those that work hard and do well don’t have “horror stories” and do not generally exceed the timeline. Make no mistake, the program is a lot of work, but it pays off for those who really buckle down.


For me this is what sold me about ATP. They are known for this and now many flightschools are copying their formula of accelerated flight training. At my old flight school, their program said 8 months from no experience to MEI. It took me 10 months just to get my private I had to discontinue my checkride because the plane went down for maintenance and I had to wait 2 weeks before I could finish it because there were no planes available.


Small schools are for those who can’t commit to flight training full-time or are intimidated by an accelerated program.

Small schools are pay as you go. The quoted price is rarely the total price paid. ATP is fixed. There is still a chance that extra fees may occur, but that usually only happens when a check ride has been failed or a student is falling behind.

I don’t know what to say about the people who are claiming that they had to pay for their own hotel. That’s not the norm. I wonder what the circumstances were and if they were ever reimbursed for the expense. This happened to me once on a long cross country from KSAC to KRIV. We landed in KRIV after hours. We were instructed by Flight Ops to swap planes. The plane we took from KRIV had a new aileron installed. Long story short, the plane needed to go back into the shop to have the aileron’s neutral position adjusted. We circled back to KRIV, we Ubered to a hotel, and I was reimbursed for all expenses.

A lot of the “nightmares” you read online are one-sided and almost never do the authors take any responsibility for what happened.

I got my PPL at a local school. It took about 2.5 months and cost about $10k. Wasn’t the best experience but it got the job done. After that I joined ATP and quickly realized that I had not been held to high enough standards. After ATP, new hire training at the regionals was hard, but I passed without any failures because ATP prepared me for the fast-paced environment.