Real Answers from Real Pilots

Rumors to clear up (toxic environment, hidden fees, unstable flight instructor gigs)

Hello all!

I apologize if these questions and their responses have been discussed elsewhere, I tried to do some searching before posting but didn’t find my exact questions and/or wanted more updated responses.

I’m in the very beginning stages of this journey: just did 2 discovery flights recently at small local schools (they were gifted to me) and am visiting ATP’s location here in Texas soon. I’m pretty serious about going forward with ATP but wanted to clarify some comments I keep hearing from competitor schools (AeroGuard), some ATP alum and reading online. Thank you in advance for your feedback!

Rumor #1: ATP is too “cut-throat,” not supportive and negative: I keep hearing from some that ATP is very cut-throat and creates a culture of stress and fear. I recognize that ATP pilots are being trained for the airlines, and I’m no fan of being babied or infantilized (I’ve dealt with this plenty being a female and on college campuses) - I can take criticism and heat. Still, I imagine there’s a major difference between a student pilot and one that is applying to work for a major airline, we all crawl before we run. Does the large number of students and locations prohibit ATP from truly investing, positively, in its students?

#2: ATP price is not fixed and many accrue additional debt. I’ve met an ATP alum who (so he says) racked up an additional $10-$13k from not passing check flights, needing additional instruction, etc. Additionally, I was told that inspections at ATP are not covered – and students are expected to pay. So what is the actual price? How does this work with the loans? Are there surprise costs that pop up regularly?

#3: What’s the deal with ATP’s flight instructor gigs? I have heard/read that ATP flight instructor pay is based on flight hours, not hourly. How can this possibly work out to build hours and/or make enough to live? Also, I’ve heard that ATP might offer you a job but it could be somewhere in the US that you don’t want to live and/or with terrible weather. Additionally, there’s a lot online about ATP firing flight instructors randomly or for minor issues and without regard to the sacrifices they’ve made. Of course, there’s two sides to every story and I’m regularly shocked by the poor work ethic within my current profession - that said, for something as unique and consequential as flying - I imagine I’ll hit some speed bumps and don’t want to be penalized either in time or money for this. So, what’s the real deal with flight instructing?

It’s important that I mention that I’ve heard/read/seen a great deal of excellent things about ATP - but I want to clear up these rumors before moving forward. Truthfully, I suspect my fears and hesitance is being worsened by other factors. First, I have virtually 0 exposure to the pilot/airline world; I’ve never known a single pilot - which leaves me vulnerable to whatever I can find online. Secondly, my lack of any financial support, substantial savings or family member to sponsor me really makes the debt of all this feel terrifying. Basically, I don’t want to dive into the deep end to only discover I can’t swim.

Thank you, all for your feedback. The honest responses truly helps to quell my worries and keep me moving forward little by little on achieving this dream.

Jade,

Good questions so let’s dive right in with some answers:

  1. Honestly I’ve never heard the word “cutthroat” used in reference to ATP but fair enough. There is no question the training is rigorous and requires a great deal of self motivation and dedication. The idea of course is to prepare you for the airlines but it is not airline training (which makes ATP seem easy). The reality is while most people (given enough time and attention) can probably earn their Private license not everyone can or should be an airline pilot. The job requires certain abilities that despite the fact mommy and daddy said “you can do anything” that simply ain’t true. For some that’s a hard pill to swallow and it’s far easier to blame ATP then to blame yourself. ATP has 59 locations to better serve their students needs. Each location maintains equivalent instructor/student ratios and all students receive the save high level of attention and assistance they need to be successful. The difference really is you’re held responsible for holding up your end. Like the airlines you have a finite amount of time to complete each phase. Unlike most flight schools who are happy to keep taking your money you cannot take as long as you like. Your instructor will work as hard as they need to help but you’ve got to do the heavy lifting and the thousands of successful airline pilots who trained with ATP would agree.

  2. I’m calling foul on this one. The price is fixed and any additional expenses (checkride fees, headsets etc) are clearly stated. ATP does not use FAA minimums in that fixed cost and the vast majority of students don’t go over their allotted time. Again for those who do it’s easier to blame ATP than yourself. Know what happens if you go over at the airlines? You’re done.

  3. ATP flight instructors are paid based on flight hours (again just like the airlines pay). It’s an entry level position and no it doesn’t pay well. The average ATP instructor earns in the upper $20ks. Whether that’s enough to live on is really up to you, you’re expenses and your ability to tighten your belt. It must cases it will require some sacrifice but it’s definitely doable. Yes ATP may offer you a job at a different location and there may be lousy weather there. The key word in that statement is “offer”. It’s your option to accept it or decline and wait or go elsewhere. As for termination are you saying after YOU invested $90k in flight training you’d like ATP to keep and assign you a substandard instructor because they’ve “sacrificed”? It if were my money (and it was) I’d want to know that ATP is going to provide me with the best instructors they can get knowing that those who under perform are replaced. Ultimately the flight instructor position is a huge perk that ATP offers to their successful students. There’s currently a waiting list of about 3mos and ATP is constantly receiving requests from pilots who didn’t train with ATP for positions. It’s really up to you and if you can find something better then by all means.

Finally ATP really isn’t for everyone and that’s where much of the negative feedback comes from. If however you truly want to be an airline pilot and are willing to put in the work there is no better route available to you. I’m a Capt for a Major airline and can honestly say I would not be where I am now had it but been for ATP.

Hope this helps.

Adam

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Jade,

Good questions, let’s get to them.

  1. I would not describe ATP as cut-throat at all. ATP’s program is certainly demanding, but not overwhelmingly so. When I was an ATP student, I really struggled with the instrument portion of training. I had a great flight instructor that spent countless extra hours with me in the simulator. A, he wanted me to succeed, B, his success was dependent on me as well. After some extra simulator time, I got my issues straightened out and passed my check ride. Yes, there is a huge difference between being a flight student and being an airline pilot. ATP is in the business of training pilots, they have been doing it for decades and know how to help students succeed. They certainly teach you how to crawl, then walk, then run. They would not be so successful if they did not.

  2. The price is fixed and includes plenty of flight time. That being said, not everybody does well in training. Some people are just not natural pilots, just like I could never be a painter or a sculptor. At some point the decision has to be made whether to discontinue training, or allow the student to pay for extra. As for examiner fees, it clearly states on ATP’s website that they are not included and will total around $7,200. Airline Career Pilot Program / ATP Flight School This is how the vast majority of flight schools operate.

  3. Almost all flight instructor jobs that I am aware of are paid based on flight hours, as are the airlines. They do offer jobs based on where they have availability. It does not make sense for ATP to over staff a location just because multiple people want to work there, if there are not sufficient students, then none of the instructors would be flying.

I have found that many of the negative stories online take on a whole different light when you read the other side of the story. People are great keyboard warriors, but they never want to talk about their own faults.

I took out a l pan to cover my flight training as well, so I certainly understand the hesitation you might be feeling. I would encourage you to go visit an ATP location and ask your questions directly to students and instructors there. Also, check out the “Student Experiences” section of this forum. We do not edit those posts in any way, so it is all straight from current and former students.

Chris

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Jade,

Hey, I thought I would add to Chris and Adam’s responses, but from a recent students perspective. First off, it’s a good sign that you have done this much research into choosing the correct flight school for you. It’s a big decision! A year ago, I was in the same position looking at the reviews of ATP asking the same questions.

  1. I wouldn’t describe ATP as cut-throat. Yes, the training requires significant effort, mostly independent, and I think that’s where some students struggle. Unlike a college or other schooling experience, there is no assigned homework, quizzes, or due dates. Most of you’re studying will be geared towards you’re own success as a pilot and you’re upcoming success in a checkride. Your instructor is there to guide, help, and motivate you along the way, but by no means will layout a full study plan for you each day. Ultimately, it comes down to the student’s willingness and motivation to be successful. I mostly felt that the students I met who struggled or who were not as successful at ATP, simply did not put in the time or effort to overcome the obstacles in their way or consistently ignored the help and guidance they were given. ATP is a business, and they have a reputation of training great pilots, hence all of their airline partnerships, so it is in their best interest to ensure that every graduate of their program is a safe and competent pilot. During my time as a student, I never felt pressured to be successful or deal with consequences, all of the instructors you will meet have been through the exact same program and know what it takes to help you be successful!

  2. As Chris and Adam mentioned, the price of ATP is fixed, and in that cost is a set number of hours for each phase of training. If, perhaps, you reached the end of a phase and either you or your instructor thought that you might need additional flight or sim time, ATP lets you know the additional cost per hour of each. All of the instructors I had were very conscientious of their students allotted flight time and for many phases, I finished ahead of time. In terms of additional costs such as examiner fees or initial supplies, I took the option to add those fees to my loan and was refunded the amount so I could personally pay the examiner when the exam came along. Once you begin training, ATP will let you know all of the other occasions where you could accrue additional fees, such as no-show fees or coming to flights un-prepared, but I found that as long as you have good communication with your instructor, they will be reasonable and avoid them as necessary. As I mentioned, all the instructors are former students and they know that you want to avoid any additional fees.

  3. I believe that almost all flight instructor jobs are paid based on hours (whether that be flight time, sim time, or ground training time) and ATP is no different. Once you finish the program you are free to decide what is the next step in your career. If you’ve been successful, ATP will offer you a position as a flight instructor at one of their locations, or you could work at a different flight school. At ATP you won’t be the highest paid instructor, smaller flight schools might pay more, but you will be guaranteed consistent flight hours and committed students. Ultimately, this gives you a quicker path to a higher paying flying position, whether that be a corporate or regional position. This is why many former students, such as me, are willing to wait a few months after finishing for a position. In terms of instructors being fired for minor issues, I believe that those instances are very rare. ATP has a very organized set of rules that keep students and instructors safe; as long as you follow guidelines and don’t intentionally break any rules, ATP will do their best to protect you as any business would. As a student, I never saw any instructors fired randomly or for minor issues.

Just to reiterate what Adam said, ATP is not for everyone, it is a fast-paced flight training program and requires a lot of commitment. Most students are hesitant at the beginning, it is a big, life-changing decision, but I can tell you that those 9 months of hard work are well worth it. I started with very little connection to the airline world, and I was straight out of college with no significant savings, so I was hesitant too. Now, I’m sitting here a CFI/CFII/MEI having not flown a plane a year ago and I can’t believe how much I learned! I have no doubt that if you’re career goal is to be a pilot and you’re willing to put in the work, there is no better flight training option.

Best of luck!

Roscoe

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Jade,

I don’t know the official number, but about 80% of ATP students are successful. That said, I have yet to meet someone that is part of that 80% group and speaks so poorly of the program. Negative reviews always come from the 20%, in my experience.

I would bet you either met, are reading blogs or are watching videos of the students that are part of the 20% group that were not successful at ATP. Does it really surprise you that someone in the 20% group that found another school to finish their training speaks so poorly of the school they flunked out of? It does not surprise me in the least.

The question is, who should take responsibility for their shortcomings?

It has been said before and many times before you asked the question, but ATP is not for everyone. That is why we strongly encourage people to be absolutely sure before they enroll. We never sugar coat. We provide clear and honest expectations of the program and we don’t edit any posts from students in the Student Experiences section of the forum.

You’re not alone when you say you’re terrified. I was too. You are already further along than I was when I was in the research phase. You have a better understanding of what will be expected of you than I did.

Tory

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Thank you all very much for the insight and feedback. The internet is a ridiculous place half the time, and many use it simply as a diary and/or to retaliate against others for whatever reason - it’s difficult to get a clear picture of anything. Without this forum, I don’t know if I would have found solid information on pilot life at all.

Your responses were very useful in crafting the sales pitch I’m using on my boyfriend (and myself) - so thanks!

Much appreciated!

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Jade,

Anytime. Let us know how else we can help you.

Chris