Real Answers from Real Pilots

Student loan affordability

Sarah,

The program is nine months as a student, then the rest as a paid CFI. You can read more about CFI pay rates here: https://atpflightschool.com/airline-career-pilot-program/guaranteed-cfi-job.html

Being a CFI is very much a full time job and it does not allow for a second job, there simply is not time for that and flight instructing demands a high level of flexibility.

Chris

Sarah,

As a current FO at a regional I can tell you first hand that it is definitely possible to support yourself and make your loan payments. I highly recommend the tuition reimbursement program though. It makes things a lot easier.

Tory

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Thank you all so much for your answers. I have read a lot of the forums on here and they have all been very helpful.
Chris, I noticed that your home base is in Hawaii. Is that the regional airline you started with? Typically in a starting position do you get to chose where your home base is? I ask because I am currently back and forth between Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands. But the Virgin Islands are where I prefer to be. So I was wondering if that would be an option or something I would need to put off until down the road?
The main thing I am looking for in a career is the ability to travel and see the world. I’m not interested in having kids and don’t mind long hours and not being home much. Traveling as a bartender has been fun, but doesn’t allow as much traveling as I would like. Also, at 26 I’m starting to realize it’s really not what I want the end game to be.
Thank you all again for all of your helpful insight and advice,
Sarah.

Also, on the link you guys shared it says CFI pay is up to 42k annually? Does anyone know what the minimal pay would be? And what the salary difference depends on?

Sorry I meant Adam on the Hawaii question.

Sarah,

This should help answer your question about instructor pay:
https://airlinepilot.life/t/how-much-does-a-flight-instructor-earn/8061

Tory

Sarah,

I fly for Hawaiian and yes I’m based in Oahu. I’m originally from NY and my Regional was ExpressJet flying out of EWR. I always had a love of the islands and was fortunate enough to be hired here. As a pilot on eof the great benefits is the ability to commute but that also can be both stressful and challenging. There are no US carriers with VI bases so that means a commute for you. It can be done but know you’ll be losing days off getting back and forth.

As for careers that allow travel I have to say there are definitely easier and far less expensive options. Flight Attendants travel just like the pilots do and there’s no 9mos of training, 2yrs of flight instructing or $70k in loans. Not trying to talk you out of anything but if your desire is not to be on the flight deck or you don’t enjoy flying planes then save your money.

Here’s a link that explains the pay. The range (as with many jobs including being an airline pilot) is dependent on how much you work: https://atpflightschool.com/airline-career-pilot-program/guaranteed-cfi-job.html

Adam

Travel isn’t the only reason I am interested in the program. But it is the most important thing to me. I don’t like to be in one place for too long. I have never actually flown a plane, but have been on 6 seaters between the islands, sitting right behind the pilot, and thought that was a pretty awesome experience.
I want to gravitate away from waiting on people and dealing with rude customers for a living. So being a flight attendant doesn’t interest me. I know it would definitely be the easier route, but also much less rewarding.
If you do choose to commute to work, is there ever a chance that you would not be able to get a flight out to get to work on time? Getting flights with airlines you do not work for is based off seniority and seat availability right?
Thanks, sarah.

Sarah,

Yes you are correct, getting on other airline’s flights (and your own for that matter) is a matter of seat availability and often seniority (however if it’s you against other pilots from other airlines it’s usually first come). Sure there’s always a risk of not getting on a flight and that is YOUR responsibility. It’s great to be able to live wherever you like but it’s also a choice. Many airlines have “commuter policies” stating you have to have tried (and can document) that the first 2-3 flight were full etc BUT again it’s your responsibility to try AND be proactive. You need to be aware of holidays, weekends and weather. If you’re supposed to be at work Christmas Day, you KNOW the flights are going to be bad Christmas Eve so you may have to fly in 1,2 even 3 days early. Bad weather forecast? Again you had better get out before it hits. If you miss a trip or 2 it’s probably not an issue, make a habit of it and you can expect to get called into the Chief Pilot’s office for an unpleasant conversation about the fact you’re on probation and you responsibility…

Adam

Thank you! That does help.
How do you get more flying hours as a CFI to get to the 50 hour tier?
Also, with the tuition reiumbersement, while you are a CFI can the 500 a month from the airline go towards the monthly payments of your student loans?

Thanks Adam. So commuting doesn’t seem worth the risk.

Sarah,

To some degree flight hours are contingent on tnt number of students you have and obviously sometimes you’ll be busier than others. However an aggressive and motivated instructor can do things you augment their normal schedule. Again volunteer to work weekends, let the other instructors know you’re happy to pick up their flying if they need a day off etc.

As for the Tuition Reimbursement that’s exactly what its intended to do.

Adam

Sarah,

Never said commuting wasn’t worth it. I’m not sure the actual statistic but I’d bet more than half the pilots in the US have, do or will commute at some point in their careers. Some commutes are also more challenging then others. My point is simply it’s a responsibility and can require some extra effort.

Adam

Sarah,

I have never been based in Hawaii, you are thinking of Adam. Being based in the Virgin Islands will not be an option with any US based airline and commuting from there would be very difficult, if not impossible.

When hired at an airline, you will get to bid your base from those that are available to you. Sometimes you have a choice, sometimes you don’t.

Chris

Sarah,

I would really recommend against commuting. I have done it for years and wish I hadn’t. It has enabled me to live in Virginia, but has come at the cost of a lot of days off spent on airplanes and excess time away from my children.

Chris

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Tory,

After the tuition reimbursement and signing bonus if you got it, did you refinance your loan? Or you’re just still paying the original payments?

Cody,

Good question. I refinanced. Since it’s a personal loan, I wasn’t able to find a bank that was willing to refinance the loan. I was fortunate to have a family member agree to do it.

Tory

Oh, even though Wells Fargo and sallie mae consider it a student loan, other banks few it as a personal loan because it is not like a traditional student loan you would get for university?

I don’t want to get tied up in the definitions of private vs student loans. I’m just sharing what my experience was when I called some banks about refinancing. Companies like SoFi sent me letters in the mail. So, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to call. As soon as they realized that my loan was not used for a university, they lost interest. This question would be better answered by @Kirk.Clews in Finance.

Tory

No man this helps a lot. Really useful information for me to have now as opposed to later.