Flight School Closures and Protecting our Funds


It seems that there is a history of flight schools going out of business or closing locations during times of great recession. Im finding stories of students being left with enormous student loans that were paid upfront only be left to pursue lawsuits and chase down bankrupt flight schools for refunds that may never materialize.

For folks that have experience with this, how do we protect ourselves and qualify schools to make sure our funds our safe?


That’s easy, choose a school with a proven track record that isn’t just the latest to jump on the “Professional Pilot Training” program bandwagon.

ATP pioneered the Career Pilot Program over 30yrs ago, has placed almost 700 pilots with the airlines in the last 12mos alone (literally thousands overall) and has the largest training fleet in the US. People all the time say “I heard about this new school, they’re cheaper and better”. There’s actually a fairly recent thread where a few people tout the greatness of a popular school in the ATL that was compared to ATP. Well they’re gone while ATP still has 3 locations in the area.

Flight training is expensive and the concerns you express are real. Want to protect your investment? Go with a school that will still be here long after you’re done training.


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I know a couple of people that have been burned by flight schools closing. The common themes are:

  1. A relatively new flight school (started pithing a few years)
  2. Smaller schools that simply are not able to weather some storms.

Think about it this way, in this virus outbreak your local mom and pop grocery store could very well go out of business, but we all know darn well that Walmart will survive and be as strong as ever. Go with a flight school that has decades of experience and is large enough to handle bumps in the road.


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For what it’s worth, if you don’t go with ATP, there are 2 options that can help a bit.

  1. Find a school that offer a pay-as-you-go option. You pay for the services as you utilize them, usually right after your training for the day. There are some drawbacks including a) some schools offer discounts if you pay for the whole program upfront that you will not be able to benefit from and b) your training cost become more open ended, causing some people, like budget minded people, to not get a solid idea how much their training will end up costing.

  2. If you decide to pay for the whole course upfront because the school does not offer a pay-as-you-go option or you pay upfront so you can get a discount or something, make sure you pay for it with a credit card, preferably an upscale credit card with great customer support like American Express. The company will usually launch an investigation and if they find in your favor, they will issue a refund. It may take a while since the credit card company will have to investigate how much of the tuition money you actually utilized so they will not give you a full refund. It may even be less then what you think you are owed back but it sure is better than nothing. This is not fully guaranteed so if you go this route, it doesn’t hurt to call the credit card company and ask about your protections and benefits.


Unless it has changed in the last year or 2… Your loan with Sallie Mae or Wells Fargo sits in an account and ATP withdraws a percentage of funds at scheduled times.

Only money they have withdrawn is collecting interest and also the rest of the money still in the account is protected. That is one way ATP is a safe option. (Do recognize that the agreement you sign with ATP includes an Hourly rate if a student doesn’t complete the whole program and in that case they usually take a decent chunk of money… but its upfront and you agreed to it).


I will always say incur the least amount of debt as possible regardless what is going on in the world. More seasoned pilots will tell you the same.

ATP’s payment schedule can be found here: https://atpflightschool.com/airline-career-pilot-program/policies.html

I do not necessarily agree with this. If I had paid for my flight training as I could afford it, it would have taken me years to be trained. Those years would have cost me until opportunity in my career and probably well over a million dollars in potential lost wages. Instead, I took out a loan for a reasonable amount and got through my flight training as quickly as possible, thus enabling me to get my career going ugh earlier, which has paid dividends.


That’s fine, but anecdotal. I have always seen it like weight loss when you pay out of pocket. Some do it fast and some do it slow. If you are truley passionate you will make it work regardless. Not everyone has daddy to cosign. And if you do, great!

It is not anecdotal. There are many hundreds of pilots that will tell you how much better their life has been because they were able to get to the airlines sooner. Everything from making captain sooner, to avoiding a furlough.

Also, captains at major airlines easily make $300k per year, these are cold hard numbers that can be used in deciding whether to take on debt or not.

You are right in that some did it fast and some do it slow, but those who go the slow route will most likely have their careers take a hit because of that. I am not knocking the slow route, just pointing out that it does have consequences.

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I’m a CA so I certainly know how much I make. Taking out a loan is less about how it made a better life for you and more about timing. Viruses, mergers, furloughs, the tradeoff of paying money in extra loan interest, airline closures, and terrorist attacks play a huge part. It is all about timing, you know better than that.

To protect yourself from a school closure as the original topic touches on, really falls on your decision. A loan for pilot training is a hefty sum so matter how you look at it. Ask about disbursements. If they chained up their doors overnight would you only owe the amount up to your last training day or the whole amount? Do they own their aircraft outright or are they on lease? Do they depend on these loans to keep buisness going? Those are important questions. With all private loans there is risk.


You are right, it is all about timing, but taking a two year delay certainly does not help the timing argument. Any time spent out of the pilot workforce is not doing anything to help contribute to one’s career.

Out of curiosity, who are you a captain for?



You’re as well aware as I Arthun trolls this forum. He comes out from time to time to spout his supposed wisdom and experience but will never back it up with any information to support his claims (you may not remember but you’ve asked him this question before and he simply listed his alleged type ratings). It’s a testament to you and your sense of fairness you haven’t banned him.

The question was how do you protect your funds and we both answered it based on our legitimate experience in this industry. I know for a fact had I not taken on some debt I wouldn’t be where I am today and where I am is a pretty good place. If others decide that’s not the best route for them that’s fine. These are decisions everyone must make for themselves.


Trolling, that’s a new one. It all about transparency my friend. If you would like to start a forum topic all about me I would certainly be flattered.

To those that are interested, I blocked “Arthun” from this website. He has come on this website several times, claiming to be an airline pilot, but refuses to reveal his real name or what airline he works for, while stating that “it is all about transparency”. Being transparent means backing up your claims with actual credentials.


He’s only blocked for one thousand years though…he might be back :joy:

My girlfriend took 4yrs to go from 0-airlines. She started at 21 and got to the airlines at 25 with $0 in loans.
I took 2years to go from 0-airlines. 1/2 cash, 1/2 $40k loan. Started 26 and airlines at 28.

Yes, I will spend about $65k just on the loan or about 100k overall to get to airlines. She got scholarships & paid as she went, about $40k.

A 60k difference, but 2 extra years. At retirement Mainline thats 200-400k/yr.

So in the long run I should net a minimum of 300k extra by fast tracking.
She saved 60k now, but her minimum net lose is 360k at retirement.

Everyone has different goals and opportunities. Both our decisions worked for us. We both agree my route has been much more of a grind. Her route has always been more laid back.

Looks like most of us will get more time off over the next coming months. Hope the best for all,

Chris F
SkyWest FO



Thank you for adding your insight into this.