Civilian vs. Military Training

I just completed my junior year of college, and I’m focusing on planing my future career. I know that I want to end up being an airline pilot. I need some advice so I can make an informed decision on whether to get my training as a civilian or through the military. In the civilian world, how much can I expect to pay for my ATP training? (I already have my private pilot licence). Can I expect heavy debt during my first years of employment? What are the pros and cons of both routes? Thanks!


Welcome to the forums.

First and foremost, you should finish your education before doing anything else.

Beyond that, if you can get a pilot slot in the military that is a great option and one that I certainly recommend. The upside is that you will receive your training for free and get great government benefits. The downside is that it might take you longer to get to the majors, which will reduce your overall career potential. I would look into the military, but be sure that you are talking specifically about a pilot slot and not just general admission into the military.

On the civilian side, right now training with ATP is $52,995 if you already have your private and go with the 40 hours of multi time option (which I would). Not included in this is housing and examiner’s fees of roughly $7,000. A lot of people go this route and seem to manage the debt load just fine. Keep in mind ATP has airline partners that offer Tuition Assistance. The cons of this route are of course the cost, the pros are getting to the airlines sooner, potentially getting to the majors sooner, not having to deploy for months at a time and not flying in dangerous areas.

Either route is a perfectly fine way to get to the airlines, it just depends on what you are looking for.

Keep the questions coming.



I actually think your question is a pretty simple one to answer. I know many airline pilots, I know many military pilots and I know many who started as military and became airline pilots. What I can tell you is not one of the military pilots signed up as a route to the airlines. Why? Because frankly there are much MUCH easier ways. Sure $53K is a lot of money but when you look at it vs the sacrifice and commitment required to become a pilot in the military it’s nothing. Joining the military is a HUGE commitment. Pilot slots (IF you can get one) require a much longer commitment than the standard 4yr (depending on the branch and equipment it’s 6-10). You’re also in the military and can be sent to fight anywhere at any time where there’s people shooting at you. The pros to flying for the military are many. There is no finer training available anywhere for any price flying amazing equipment while defending your country. Honestly if I had it all to do again and I was 21 I’d sign up in a heartbeat. I have nothing but respect for these pilots and what they do and I’d be signing up for the reasons I stated BUT if my goal was to be an airline pilot, well then I’d still just go with ATP.

Again $53K is a lot of money BUT current Major airline heavy Capts are earning $300K+ a year. REALLY simple math, at ATP you could be at an airline in 2yrs, the military route say 8yrs average. 6 more years at $300K = $1.8 million. The money shouldn’t even be a factor.


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I agree with your assessment. I would not recommend anyone join the military for the money. Looking even longer term, what I make after 23 years on active duty i would probably make easily within 5 years or less at a major.

I love the Air Force and have had great opportunities that I would never trade. I honesty was not planning on going to the airlines after retiring from the Air Force, but I had about 5 years of non flying assignments and I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I started flying again. I could probably make a lot of money and get a fairly good executive job but I’d rather be flying than behind a desk.



Hey Ryan sorry to bother you, especially since this thread is kinda old but online I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about a pilot shortage in the Air Force as well. I was wondering if you feel this is true, or if it is complicated, the the major/regional shortage nuances? I’ve been considering the military and what it encompasses and that makes me wonder if I would even get a slot since I’m relatively tall (six feet two inches) and have 20/50 eyesight without glasses. If there was a shortage, do you think waivers could be possible?

I am 6 foot 4 so your height is not an issue. Your eyesight just needs to be corrected to 20/20 both near and far, unless you have some other eye issues you should be good on that also.

You need to start pilot training by 29 to graduate by 30 and have or get a bachelors degree. If you already have one you can apply for OTS, Officer Training School. Otherwise you can join ROTC at most major colleges or apply for the Air Force Academy if you are in high school.

The AF is currently short by 2,000 pilots and likely will get worse before it gets better. They need active duty, Reserve and Guard pilots so plenty of options. You still have to meet medical requirements and you still have to apply and get selected, so not automatic and not guaranteed but good odds.

Glad to answer more questions but now is a great time to join military or commercial flying.

Good luck

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Thanks Ryan! I appreciate your help.