Flight School In Portland, OR - ATP vs HAA

Hello everyone,

My name is Thomas and I am looking to become a professional pilot. I’m brand new to this industry, I was encouraged to seek out pilot training by a group of pilots I met while delivering them some parts for their fleet. I took my first glider flight with the EAA and it was a fantastic experience. I have a few questions regarding the two flight schools in my area, and a few questions in general about the reality of being a professional pilot. The two schools I’m looking at are Hillsboro Aero Academy (HAA) and the ATP, which I’m sure everyone here is familiar with.

First and foremost, as I’m sure most looking at this industry for the first time will ask about , is cost. ATP quotes a 7 month program for $97,000, and HAA quotes the average cost is $74,000 for the same training. I did note the use of that important word, average, so I’m expecting it to be higher just in case I don’t glean information as quickly as everyone else, but it did get me wondering, why the massive discrepancy in estimated cost? This isn’t including materials, medical exams, tests, etc. That comes out to $108,000 for ATP, and $85,000 for HAA. These are of course just quotes from the company admissions teams.

Second, ATP mentions that some locations like Seattle, require you to already have a PPL to join. I’m curious if anyone has an explanation for this, because the cost seems to be the same. In other words, someone training in Arizona is essentially getting their PPL for free, whereas someone in Seattle is having to pay another company for a PPL, and then join ATP. This seems an awful lot like ATP wanting the lion’s share of money, and wanting to avoid the lion’s share of difficult training. I can’t imagine there’s going to be any more challenging part of training a pilot than the first few months, where you are teaching someone who has never been behind the controls, how to fly safely. If the cost is the same and a PPL seems like it’s around $10,000 to obtain, that also ups ATP to $118,000 and HAA to $85,000 in total. That’s a pretty significant leap in cost. Does their Hillsboro, Oregon, location require a PPL to join the program? Does HAA?

I was told by ATP that I can be employed after 7 months as a flight instructor, but I’m also told that is the most common path and hence, it may take a few months to be hired on. That got me thinking, are there any other low-hour jobs that one can take to earn their way to the airline requirements? For example I’ve seen a few smaller FedEx planes that do local flights. I’m mainly trying to get an understanding for this industry and prepare myself for job hunting. I can afford to be effectively unemployed for 7 months, but the second I graduate, I intend to hunt for work until I start earning a paycheck again. I’m equi-distant from Hillsboro, Troutdale and PDX airports.

I’m told that weekends are off but many students and instructors choose to come in anyway to earn hours faster. I’m happy to do so; does this lower the 7 month timeline, or is this simply milking your time at school for maximum value?

How do simulator hours tally up? Are they just considering extra practice?

What are hours like once you’re at an airline? I see you can only fly 1,000 hours a year, which breaks down to about 19.5 hours a week. How does that shake out in terms of your work schedule? Are you flying one long flight Monday, one long flight Tuesday, and you’re done for the week?

I noticed there are a ton of grants and scholarships out there, but most seem to be very, very specific in their reach. Are there any grants or scholarships that your typical fellow qualifies for? I can afford the training myself, but I’d be in debt for years, and any little bit helps.

Lastly, the big one. Which airline to fly for. This question I’m mainly interested in hearing from senior pilots, and it mainly involves around which airline is going to give me the best top pay and the best benefits to fly for them. I’m not the type to ‘lily hop’ from job to job, but I also don’t want to join Airline X and stick with it for my entire career, if I could have been doing the same job at Airline Y, and earning an extra $70,000 a year.

I know that was a lot. I did warn you I was new! If anyone has any answers, or general advice for a complete novice, or would simply like to share their experiences at one of these schools (or suggest another in the area, I’m pretty centrally located in Portland, Oregon), I’m all ears. Thank you for your time, and fly safe!


Lots of questions (many of which are addressed in our FAQ section) but let’s get you some answers:

  1. HAA is a great school and they’ve been around for decades. Thing is, up until the pilot shortage they only trained helicopter pilots and there’s no shortage of those so they jumped on the fixed wing band wagon. Want to fly choppers? Then my all means go to HAA. Want to be an airline pilot? Go to the school that’s places tens of thousands of pilots at the airlines for over 35yrs.

  2. Yes ATP requires your PPL in certain locations due the PPL weather mins. The fact is ATP cannot maintain their timelines (and keep the foodchain moving) in those areas. As for free, since the course with credit for your PPL is $22,000 less, I wouldn’t say anyone was getting anything for “free” nor that ATP is getting the “lion’s share” of anything.

  3. There are other low time jobs but flying for FedEx isn’t one of them. You’ll finish the program with approx 250hrs. FedEx feeders usually require 500+ or more. Banner towing, traffic watch and pipeline inspection are more in line for new pilots.

  4. You MAY have some weekends off but I wouldn’t count on it. They’ll be makeup days for bad weather or extra training. If you’re not you’ll be studying or resting and there can of course be other delays. The 7mos is a accurate timeline and I really wouldn’t count on reducing it.

  5. Some sim time is logable but the majority will be to practice your skills without increasing your cost.

  6. Visit our Schedule section and you can see actual pilot schedules.

  7. Grants are scholarships are rare. The reality is not everyone can be successful as a pilot and therefore most institutions won’t invest in you to after you’re done with training. That said most of the Regionals are offering bonuses and Tuition Reimbursement that will cover the cost of training.

  8. When you figure out which is the BEST airline to fly for please let us know and we’ll all go work there. Until then the best is the one that offers you a job. That of course will be AFTER you learn to fly.


Adam, thank you for your answers, I appreciate you taking the time. Let me reply back:

1: I did know they had helicopter training, I had no idea their fixed wing was only added recently. I’m definitely here for fixed wing, either with the major airlines, or with large freight operators like FedEx and UPS.

2: Ah see, this is why I asked, because that information was not conveyed at all when I called ATP admissions. They simply said “'You have to have your PPL before we’ll train you” where HAA’s admissions stated that was part of the course. No mention was made of credits, that makes a lot more sense.

3: Duly noted. Mainly I notice that a lot of pilots I talk to never actually hit their 1,000 hour limit per year, so in addition to working at the school, I wanted to see about other options that might get me to that limit, and hasten my journey to the airline’s requirements.

4: Works for me either way, I plan to leave work and commit to training full time and I’m happy to dedicate weekends as well.

5: Are there specific regulations regarding what is loggable, and what is not, in a simulator? Do you happen to know where I can find them?

6: Duly noted.

7: I did notice most regionals offering large bonuses, and I planned, whichever airline I joined, to use that immediately to pay off my debts. Mainly I was curious since the basic process seems quite similar to obtaining my CDL, and there were state-sponsored programs due to the trucker shortage, that paid for it in full. Every dollar helps!

8: That’s not exactly what I asked. Let me put it this way. Airline X is offering a $100,000 bonus, and pay of $75,000. Airline Y is offering no bonus but a pay of $100,000. So while you might get a lot of upfront cash for X, that’s a one time deal, and you’d have made more money at Y in five year’s time. The socond part of that question was benefits related, since as far as I’ve been made aware, all airlines are unionized. Do any particular unions stand out as better able to represent their pilots, versus others, or are they all more or less the same?

Again, I appreciate your time. I’m looking forward to finishing up my research here in the next two weeks, and making a choice.



A few things to add here:

  1. Flying anywhere near 1,000 hours will be exhausting. This isn’t a race, the quality matters as well. Find a good job and stick with it, the flight time will come.

  2. Yes, but they are buried in other regulations. The simulator time can be logged towards Commercial time or instrument time, it is never counted as part of your total flight time, ever.

  3. There is no one airline that is the best to work for. They all have upsides and downsides and it is not just a simple math equation. As you get into the industry, you will get a better feel of what airline is right for you.


Chris, thank you for your input, especially on the simulator. I’ll try and get as many hours in there as possible, might as well get as prepared as possible!


There is a limit to the value of simulator time. More is good, but don’t go crazy on it and know that none of the time will count as flight time.



This is where you will have to look into regulations (that were written by lawyers), under 14 CFR Part 61. Depending on the certificate/license you’re trying to acquire, simulator time and type will matter most. For example, in your Instrument training, you can use 20 hours of an AATD for simulated instrument, but if you’re using a BATD, it’s 10 hours. If you’re reaching your commercial training, you can use up to 50 hours of AATD, which at ATP you will acquire to help offset the 250-hour requirement. The regulations you would want to see about specific simulator time would be listed under, Private Aeronautical Experience Regulation, Instrument Aeronautical Experience Regulation, Commercial Aeronautical Experience Regulation, ATP Aeronautical Experience Regulation.



I would get the idea of logging simulator hours out of your head. Yes, some of the time will be in your logbook, but only for the purposes of meeting certain training criteria. They will never count into your flight time calculations.