Flight instructor pay and the cost of pilot training

I’m a complete newbie to aviation, planning on starting flight school soon, but I’m still a bit confused about the overall cost of pilot training.

My understanding is that in order to be eligible for any airline position, you need to earn several ratings and licences and log 1,500 hours.
My understanding is also that many pilots-in-training log some of those 1,500 hours by being a flight instructor. But flight instructors get paid. Instead of paying for flight hours, they can get paid while logging flight hours.
I’ve heard the full cost of pilot training from beginning to end can be in the ballpark of $100k (or $66-76k at ATP). But since part of that involves being a paid flight instructor, the bottom line is much less than $100k. After you get your CFI, you can (in theory) pay your own way through the rest of your flight training. Right? Am I correct so far?

Really what I want to know is this: how much will it cost me to get to a point where I can get paid to fly? If I were to try to get my CFI out of pocket without any additional income, how much money would I need to have saved up?


Hi Joseph and welcome,

I see you’ve done some research and that’s good but there is a little confusion (which is understandable). While you’re correct, to fly for an airline you do need to earn several licenses and ratings (2 licenses (Private and Commercial), and 5 ratings (Instrument, Multiengine, Cert Flight Instructor, Multi Instructor and Instrument Instructor) to be exact) and you also need to build 1500hrs, the training and instructing are 2 separate things. Going with the ATP example it will take you 9mos and $66k to complete all your training. When you’re done you’ll have logged about 225hrs and essentially your training is done (although it’s often said a good pilot is always learning). Now it’s up to you to build the rest of that time.

You are correct the majority of pilots build that time instructing BUT that is not considered training. When you graduate from ATP you WILL be a professional pilot with a Commercial license and can legally get paid to fly. The problem is (as in many professions) you need to gain some experience (in our case build time) to get a job that pays well and/or has a future. You are correct the majority of new pilots work as flight instructors but that’s not part of their training, it’s their job and it’s often the only one available to low-time pilots but there are others. There are small cargo and charter ops as well as smaller commuter services that don’t require the 1500hrs.

So to answer your question it will cost you $65,995 to get to the point where you can get paid to fly. One of the reasons ATP is so popular is because they guarantee their students jobs as Instructors and they also have agreements with many Regional airlines that will get you a conditional offer of employment at 500hrs AND then make you eligible for Tuition Reimbursement from those airlines which is a pretty good deal. Make sense?


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Oh ok. Yes I see now. Thanks for clearing that up.

I guess I was confused because I thought I read somewhere that there are certain required ratings you can earn after you become Cert Flight Instructor. If I were to take a modular approach on my own, is it possible to go for my multi-engine rating or any other ratings after becoming flight instructor? Or is flight instructor alwats the last rating before unfreezing your ATPL?


Frozen ATPL is something they have over in Europe and frankly I’m not that familiar. Here in the US you either have an ATP or you don’t (there is no “freezing”). Now to further clarify you NEVER need to get you flight instructor rating, EVER. As I said instructing is the means many pilots use to build time. If you’ve got a plan “B” or can find an alternate route, have at it.

That all said I do offer a few caveats. First flight instructing is a great way to not only build time but build experience. There’s nothing better than sitting next to some new guy who seemingly is trying everything in their power to kill you to make you sharp. Also CFI looks good on your resume and should you ever aspire to become a check airman at your airline it’s something they like to see. Also keep in mind many airlines have multi-engine min requirements. If you don’t instruct in a twin AND the plane you fly at your plan B is a single, you could potentially find yourself short.

Another thing to consider is while you can also definitely “piece” together a modular program, you may find it to be frustrating and inefficient both economically and time wise. Learning to fly requires consistency as each skill builds on the last (this is why the military, the airlines and ATP all train daily). What you may find is your local flight school may not have the resources (aircraft and instructors) to accommodate you. When I first started it took me almost 2yrs to earn my Private alone (and it wasn’t because I’m a bad pilot). What happens is you fly (great), next week there’s weather, the next the plane is out, the next the instructor is out and you haven’t flown for a month and need to relearn everything from the last lesson. By contrast I got ALL the rest of my licenses and rating at ATP is 87 days (that was before they had weekends off). Again not saying you can’t, the question is should you?


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Nice job Adams

But I must say that ATP offer jobs as flight instructor to graduate on one condition which is not failing more than two check rides.

My question now is this,

If that happens, what is the faith of the individual?
How much do flight instructors earn?


Can you clarify your question? Do you mean “what is the fate of the individual”? If so, that pilot that fails more than two checkrides will have to find a flying job outside of ATP, it could potentially difficult for them to get a job flying. This is just like a doctor who fails his medical exams or a lawyer that fails the bar exam, there are no guarantees in life.

ATP CFI pay rates can be found under the “CFI Job” tab of ATP’s website. It really depends on how hard you are willing to work.

Check out this link for more on CFI pay:


You ask what happens to those pilots that fail more than 2 checkrides? As Chris said they will need to look elsewhere and also as Chris said may have some difficulties finding work. Listen, the fact is not everyone can or should be an airline pilot. It does require some level of skill and intelligence. Flying for an airline is not a given and it’s not a right because someone paid the money for training. People are unsuccessful. Would you want your family flying on an airplane piloted by someone who struggled with multiple failures? I wouldn’t.