I recently graduated with a 4-year bachelor degree in engineering, and have really been considering switching careers to become a pilot. I’ve done a fair amount of research and understand the pros and cons going to ATP and also going to my local flight school. I understand all pilots through this forum committed to ATP but I’m concerned about quitting my job, freezing income, and pausing everything else to pursue ATP if I choose that route. How does one manage cost of living while in school if it is a full time obligation? I have taken a discovery flight and really enjoyed it. Since then I have been watching aviation videos and listening to podcasts nonstop on what the best possible route is. I see the pilot demand today and am concerned that if I take the mom and pap school route while keeping my current engineering job I will miss this wave of opportunity for new pilots. What path should I focus on based on all of your experiences? All the help is very much appreciated. Thank you!
At some point though, you will have to decide if you can afford to dive it or take the slow route. Local schools cannot the job done, but it will take significantly longer and seniority is everything in this industry. The extra year or two that it will take you there could be two years of being a captain at a major airline.
This has little or nothing to do with “all the pilots on this forum are commited to ATP” and all about what’s the best route to becoming a successful airline pilot.
The fact is that all the mentors on this forum where in the same place you are and receive zero incentive to get you to enroll (and frankly, without sounding too harsh, couldn’t care less if you do or not). We all made the decision we wanted to fly, did our research and concluded ATP was the best route for us.
There’s a reason why the airlines and the military train their pilots daily. Because it works well and efficiently. Pilot skills are built one upon the last and training without consistency, you’re doomed. Now you can think well I’ll just train consistently at my local mom and pop school but that seldom or never works. Why? Two reasons. One life WILL get in the way and two they don’t have the resources. You’ll plan to fly 2-3 times a week and fly the first day, great! Unfortunately there isn’t a plane available until next week, the week after your instructor is booked, the week after the weather is junk and the week after that the plane is out for maintenance. Next thing you know you haven’t flown for 2-3 weeks and you forgot everything you learned the first lesson. Two years go by and you have 100hrs, have spent $20k and still don’t have your PPL. How do I know? Because that’s exactly what happened to me, it happened to Chris and it happened to virtually EVERY pilot I know who tried. I’ve been an airline pilot, an instructor and a union rep for almost 20yrs and I can tell you 90%+ of the pilots I fly with either trained with ATP or an aviation university.
“Ok but I can’t afford to take 7mos off from life”. Let’s me honest Austin. You’ve “really been considering switching careers to become a pilot” because you’ve heard about the shortage and have seen the news about the record salaries pilots are being paid these days and it’s all true BUT you’re concerns are correct. While the shortage is predicted to continue for some time the reality is it can’t forever. The airlines will catch up and things will slow. This is literally the best time in history to become a pilot. The salaries (particularly first year) have gone up considerably and more important the bonuses being offered would allow you to pay off the training debt in minimal time. Things are great but to join this profession will require a huge commitment on your part. We’d all like to stay on dry land and just tip a toe in the water but again that just doesn’t work and only you can decide if it’s worth diving in. Totally up to you but here’s another fun fact: ATP has placed over 1,100 pilots with the airlines in the last year alone (tens of thousands since their inception). There also a reason ATP was recently able to secure direct entry to Spirit and Frontier and allow their grads to completely bypass the Regionals. This is unheard of and it isn’t luck or coincidence. The program works.
You really have two routes: go the local mom and pop route, crawl your way through ratings and hopefully not run out of cash. Eventually complete all the required ratings, build time and start at an airline. You probably maintained a healthier financial status staying employed and not a huge amount in debt, however it took you years to complete and now you’re at the bottom of the seniority list for the career to come. That means, poor schedules, limited choices and vulnerable to furloughs. Was it worth it?
Or you can bite the bullet now, quit your job and go all in. Get all your ratings and time building done in two years. Get to the airline of your choosing and have a few more years of rapid hiring behind you setting you up for a great quality of life and less vulnerable to furloughs for years to come.
As Chris mentioned, the monthly stipend helps for the 7 months you won’t be bringing in any income. Then applying for tuition reimbursement programs and hiring bonuses make a world of difference in addition to CFI pay.
I chose ATP because I wanted the most direct route with no surprises. Signing up for the ACPP, I received a fixed price, a fixed timeline, all the ratings I needed, plus a job on the other side, with tuition reimbursement and pathway programs to get me to the airlines. Simply put, It was a one stop shop to propel me to where I wanted to be. All I needed to do was show up and be prepared to work hard.
I quit my job working full-time at a financial institution years ago after a 13-month journey to acquire my Private Pilot License. Even though I loved the journey and my instructor, I “delayed” my timeframe to the airlines by nearly 10 months of training if I just went with ATP. A little over a year after acquiring my PPL I enrolled into ATP, leaving my full-time job and financial stability. One thing I was able to do however in my time between certificate and ATP was save enough money for ‘emergency use’ if any living expenses exceeded my loan. I’m not saying attend a smaller-scale school because of the financial commitment, I’m suggesting budgeting and saving now for when you’re ready to attend a program like ATP’s. ATP has a foundation that is laid out upon Day 1 arrival, and you will know what is expected of you as a student and when you instruct, what is expected of you as an instructor.
Delaying a start date could mean losing out of seniority and having a long career. There are hundreds, if not thousands expected to retire in the next few years and that is only going to make the shortage steeper. Regionals are paying what used to be Major/Legacy pay, while the Majors/Legacies are negotiating higher pay rates and better QOL. This is the time to start getting into the career, as I’ve heard from others - this is the time to enter. We all have sacrificed at least one thing to get to the airlines and I’m sure more have sacrificed more than we can imagine.
I would look into ATP’s Sallie Mae Smart Option Loan which would allow the monthly stipend and living expenses. If you have financing questions, you should consider reaching out to Kirk in the ATP Finance Department.
It is true that a mom and pop school could take longer. It is also true that ATP has an advertised price and an advertised timeline. However, from my experience (I’m currently enrolled at ATP), the cost will go up if you “over-fly” a stage and the timeline will actually be longer than advertised due to the number of students vs number of planes, weather, maintenance, and DPE availability.
That said, I still think it is a better idea to quit your job and go all in; be it at ATP or otherwise. Pilot skills are perishable. If ya don’t use it, ya lose it. Best to be in the plane, around like-minded people, and thinking about the info 5+ days per week.