How long does it take for pilots to break even and finally start profiting from their investments? I.e. all debts payed and training costs are earned back from salary.
That really depends on the amount of the loan, the interest rate, the length, the job a pilot gets, how many hours they work, where they live, etc. You are asking for a very simple answer to an incredibly complex question, there is just no way to provide a blanket answer.
Is there an average or range?
That’s a tough question to answer since everyone’s situation is different. I can only speak for myself on this one. Starting from my first day as a CFI to the day that I plan to have all of my flight training debt paid off, it was have taken me about 7 years. It’s also important to note that I’m single with no kids.
You’re going to have to do some homework to figure this one out. This forum talks in depth about how much a CFI will make. AirlinePilotCentral.com shows the salaries for first officers and captains for each aircraft. It will probably take you 1.5-2 years to build 1500 hrs as a CFI. You will be a first officer at a regional for about the same amount of time 1.5-2 years (maybe less depending on your ability), but anything could happen in aviation. I would make at least three scenarios to get a good idea of how long it will take. The first scenario could use the timeframe I described above. In the second scenario, let’s say something happens and you get stuck as a first officer for 5 years. In the third scenario, I don’t know, make it up. Maybe aviation doesn’t work out and you’ll have to use your backup plan. How long would it take then?
Any examples or suggestions as to what a backup plan might look like?
That’s up to you to decide. What do you see yourself doing if flying doesn’t work out? If you can’t figure it out right now, that’s okay. You have time.
You’re really asking unanswerable questions. Average or breakeven? How old is the pilot? How much debt does the pilot have? Where did the pilot do their training and how long did it take? What was the pilot’s financial situation before he started? Does the pilot have a family? Does the pilot’s family work? Does the pilot have children? How old and how many children? Where does the pilot live and what is the cost of living in that city? I could go on but hopefully you get the idea.
As for a back up plan again does the pilot have any previous experience or a previous career? Do they have degree in anything? Does their family have a business? Do they simply desire to do something else?
The answers are like finger prints.
Okay, guess I was asking an impossible question.
I have to respectfully disagree with the pilot mentors. It’s not an impossible question. It’s actually a very straightforward question, and while exact number might be hard to come by without more information, you can do very reasonable estimates using free, online mortgage calculators. Find out the interest rate on your flight loan, estimate how much you’ll be able to pay each month (by looking at your current salary and cost of living, then extrapolating to your future salary as a flight instructor and pilot), then plug the numbers into the calculator. You can see how much you would have to pay each month if you wanted to wipe out the debt in 5, 10, 15 years.
You are correct, but we were saying that it is hard to predict how much money a person would have to dedicate to loan repayment. While the amount needed to repay the loan in a set time can be easily figured out, the question involved the student’s ability to repay the loan. We cannot possibly answer that question as everybody has different living expenses and different career (and thus income) trajectories.
And I have to respectfully disagree with you. The question was never simply how long would it take SirPilotOfAviation to pay off his loans, the question was “How long does it take for pilots to break even and finally start profiting from their investments?”, further “Is there an average or range”. First off AS I SAID there is no average or range as each individual’s circumstances are different. Even in this individual’s case there are too many variables. Will he be flight instructing? If so will he be instructing for ATP or an independent school? If he’s not instructing the salary can range dramatically as can the amount of time to build the hours. Once (IF) he gets to a Regional then things get really foggy. I know pilots who’ve upgraded in a year others in 10. Then of course how long to a Major? The list goes on. Sure he can figure out his loan payment but his salary after training can literally be anywhere from zero to 6 figures
Fair enough. It’s an impossible question if you look at the individual level, but fairly straightforward if you consider aggregate data and are willing to make some assumptions.
Industries have trends that can be analyzed, regardless of what happens at the individual level. There is a range and average of salaries for almost every industry, including aviation. Are there individual outliers in every industry? Of course. Is there any guarantee where an individual will end up in the salary bell curve, or that past salary trends will continue into the future? Of course not. But as a practical matter it is better to have some kind of financial outlook, even if it’s based on some high level assumptions.
Counselor at Law
JD, Yale Law School
As a simple hypothetical, let’s assume that, on average, a CFI makes $30/hour, a regional FO makes $60/hour, a regional captain makes $80/hour, and a major FO makes $120/hour. (I’m just making these numbers up to illustrate my thought process). I also assume that, on average, my cost of living starts around $1500/month, then increases by $1000/month each time I upgrade (because I got tired of eating ramen). Finally, say I fly 50 hours/month throughout my career and that my total flight loan (including interest) is around $150,000.
Scenario 1: 2 years as a CFI, 2 years as a regional FO, 2 years as regional captain, and then I move to the majors.
-As a CFI, I’m only making $1500/month ($30/hour * 50 hours) so there’s no money left over to pay down the loan for the first two years.
-As a regional FO I make $3000/month but spend $2500/month (because my lifestyle improved and cost of living went up), so $500/month goes to my loan for 2 years. That’s $12,000 shaved off in 2 years.
-As a regional captain, I make $4000/month but spend $3500/month, so same amount goes to my loan. That’s another $12k in 2 years, or a total of $24k after 6 years. That leaves 150k-24k or 126k on my loan
-As a major FO (finally! woohoo!), I make $6000/month and spend $4500/month, so $1500/month goes to my loan. With 126k left, it will take 84 months, or another 7 years, to pay off the loan.
So in this scenario, I would break even after 13 years.
Obviously, as pilots who have “run the gauntlet”, so to speak, you can speak with far greater authority than I as to the plausibility of this scenario. You are quite right to point out that one might get stuck as a regional FO for 10 years. But at least now I have a framework with variables that I can tweak.
I guess we’re all just different. Maybe it comforts some people to have a very random number based on some very nebulas information but that doesn’t really work for me. As you say all industries have ranges but few are as volatile as aviation. Then factor in the physical component of flying. Most individuals of reasonable intelligence can complete a degree program for most any vocation with enough study and work. Flying requires a certain amount of coordination and beyond that throw many people into a spin and they tap out. That’s the reason the majority of people who start flight training never even earn their Private license. I’m not in any way implying that pilots are better or smarter in any way it’s just different. For all the reason YOU present, the best an individual can do is hope for the best. The problem is this is flying and the reality is before they start pondering all the various financial possibilities they should go for an airplane ride and make sure they don’t get sick.
Seun my friend, you’re clearly very educated and like your numbers but there’s a WHOLE LOT of “assumes” and ifs in the above framework. Just the statement “on average my cost of living is $1500/month” is making me twitch. I don’t know about you but I know people who can live just fine on that and others that figure won’t cover their credit card min payments each month. Again the question was “is there an average” and yes I suppose by the literal definition of the word average there must be but that does little for anyone who’s not right there which is most of us.
I got my private license 12 years ago but only recently considered aviation as a potential fourth career, largely due to favorable supply/demand trends, like increasing salaries at regionals and the so-called “pilot shortage”. (I’ve also been an attorney, business consultant and entrepreneur) I’d rather not worry about paying my bills while on a flight instructor’s salary, so I started saving aggressively a couple years ago. I know I can make it financially, even if the entire industry collapsed tomorrow; so for me, the biggest remaining question is whether I enjoy flying enough to do it as a job.
You’ve obviously done very well for yourself and that’s a good thing but if you simply take a few minutes and browse this forum you will see your situation is very far from the norm.
As for whether you’d enjoy it enough to do it as a job that of course is your decision. I will say that if the only reason you’ve “recently considered aviation as a potential career” is due to the “favorable supply demand trends” it doesn’t really sound like your heart is in it?
Adam, one has to make assumptions, but those assumptions should be reality-checked and updated as more information becomes available. I’m not offering any career advice (that’s your job), just sharing how I think about the question that was originally asked, because it was a major concern for me
Actually it’s not, my job is flying da plane