The Price Tag of Becoming a Pilot

Like many who frequent this forum, flying a jet 30,000 feet above the Earth has been a dream of mine since I was a teenager (currently a 23yr old college grad). I presently work at an unfulfilling media marketing job and am always looking for that next step. I know, deep down, that next step is pursuing a career as a pilot.

However, I have one thing holding me back:

The $70,000+ in student debt that goes along with pursuing this career.

The idea of being $100K in debt (I already have $27,000 in student loans from by bachelor’s degree) is enough to cause serious doubts about whether or not going down this path will be worth it.

Would anyone mind sharing their experience/thoughts regarding the price of becoming a career pilot? Was money painfully tight when you were instructing and flying for Regionals? Did things improve once you started flying for the Majors? Are these fears valid? Or is it actually not that big of a deal?

I plan on flying solo (pun intended) because I never plan on getting married or having children. So, I won’t have those financial responsibilities.

I appreciate any help this community can provide!


Welcome to the forums. The cost of flight school is certainly a valid concern, but it is one that I personally thought was not a factor. Any professional training is going to cost some significant money, whether it be law school, med school, or yes even flight school. To make money you need to be willing to spend money.

Instructing salaries (At ATP) are actually pretty good, especially when you consider that CFIs are brand new to professional aviation. I found that while money was tight, I was easily able to make all of my bills. Also keep in mind ATP’s Tuition Reimbursement Program that can pay up to $500 per month towards your loan payments.

The starting salaries in the airline industry have come up significantly since I was in the regionals. New First Officers are routinely starting at near $60,000 per year and of course go up from there. At the majors First Officers are starting near $100k and can easily make $200k, with Captains making even more.

All of this discussion ignores the real issue though of being happy with what you do for a living. Twenty three years old is awfully young to be working a job that you don’t like. $70k is a small amount when you consider both the financial potential that it unlocks and the satisfaction that it will offer you.

Have you taken an introductory flight yet? That really should be your first step on this journey.



Thank you for the warm welcome and your insightful answers.

I like what you had to say regarding professional training. I was talking to a buddy of mine the other day who is looking at law school and he’s expecting to have to pay upwards of $250K. $70K doesn’t sound too bad now… And you’re right, you have to invest a little if you want to make money.

I’ve been reading through the forum and have noticed regular talk regarding the higher wages and hiring rates for pilots recently. So, hearing you again speak to the pay is encouraging. My brain: “Wait, you’re telling me I can make six figures doing something I would do for free?? Where’s the dotted line!?”

As a newcomer to the workforce I’m definitely discovering the importance of doing something you want to do for a living. Thank you for speaking to that.

No sir, I have yet to take the introductory flight. It sounds like I should go ahead and get that on my calendar.

Thank you for your help!


Anytime, I am glad that I could be of help to you.

You can schedule an introductory flight at just about any local flight school, or through one of ATP’s locations, whichever is more convenient for you.

I have a business administration degree, I will never forget the day that I was sitting in Operations Management class and decided that there was no way that I could do that for a living. I have never looked back.




Although I personally did not finance the program, I definitely agree with Chris that the debt you will have is a minor setback in an otherwise very rewarding career. The pay at ATP nowadays is also pretty good and you shouldn’t have any problems making the payments, even with a second loan in my opinion.

I suggest that you take that intro flight and see if it really suits you. If it does, and this is truly what you want to do with your life, then forget about the debt…it’s only temporary.




I’m with my 2 buds up top. As Chris pointed out, there are few professions that come without a high pricetag and aviation surely does. The fact is the expense is one of the primary reasons many people don’t get into the industry, so yes your concern is valid. Additionally yes things will be tight the first few years, it’s called sacrifice. That said as Yarden points out this conversation is pretty much pointless if you’ve never taken a flight. MANY people dream of flying but until you do you really won’t know for certain. Now after that, whether it’s worth it or not only you can decide. From my cockpit seat in an A330 it’s not even a question :slight_smile:


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