Real Answers from Real Pilots

Unique Situation

Hi all,
I’ve read through the FAQ a little bit but I think my situation is a little unique so I’m hoping you could give some advice.
I’m going into my sophomore year of college, majoring in accounting, but I have taken on a keen interest to aviation. I’m looking to start my PPL at my local flight school but I go back to college at the end of August and I would probably not have enough time in between now and then to totally complete my PPL realistically. There aren’t really any flight schools nearby my college that I could pick up alongside my college work, meaning I’d either have to finish my PPL before I go back (like I said, probably not realistic), or take a huge gap in between this summer and next summer, which I hear is not advised. Finance isn’t really my top concern.
For reference, the Flight School local to me right now is a Part 141 school so I don’t think I can do flight school online with anyone like Gleim or Sporty’s, and this particular school’s program is a 14 week program.
My other option is I could just focus on my schooling and getting my degree now, and then pick up aviation after I graduate, but a few people have mentioned to me that it’s important to train as quickly as possible, as one year off the end of your career is worth ~350-400k.
I will also note that I took an intro flight with my local flight school, and while 30 minutes in the air was cool, it wasn’t really enough to convince me whether it was something I do or don’t want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve considered starting with just a few lessons at my flight school but someone recommended that I do ground school before starting flight training. Hopefully you can advise on this too.

I hope you are able to answer my slew of concerns and that the professionals here could give me a little bit of advice to get my priorities straight.

Ben,

Your situation isn’t all that unique. While it is wise to begin flight training sooner rather than later, if you are already in college we always recommend finishing college before starting flight training.

We really only recommend obtaining your PPL at a local flight school if you aren’t sure if you’d like to make a career out of aviation. Plus, starting your PPL at a local flight school could actually take longer than expected. So, starting now doesn’t truly help you in the long run.

The thing is, the regionals do not require a degree but the majors do. So you might as well just finish your degree now and then enroll in an accelerated program after. This approach has proven to yield the best results.

Tory

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I appreciate the advice, Tory.
Perhaps in the grand scheme of things that ~350-400k at the end of my career will pale in comparison to spending a ton of extra money up front keeping myself current and juggling college/flying.

Ben,

I understand the financial perspective, but the other thing to consider is becoming the best pilot you can be. Trying to balance too much at once could lead to poor performance, either grades-wise or flying. That’s why we strongly recommend doing college and flight training one at a time. So while starting sooner is typically a good idea, there are other factors to consider. I’d rather you strive to get the best GPA possible and a perfect flight training record than trying to start too soon.

Tory

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Ben,

Tory covered this well. My question is when if you child earn your PPL over the summer how do you figure that’s going to save you a year to make money in the end?

Adam

Disclaimer; I’m not a pilot, so take everything I say with a grain of salt.

During the winter I stop riding my motorcycle. When spring returns, I’m not as confident as I was. My first rides of the season are in the parking lot re-training myself. It’s intuitive, so I pick it up quickly. I imagine piloting is the same way, but with higher costs and more things to re-learn. I’m sure it could save you some time, but you’ll be fighting an upstream battle to maintain that proficiency both with your time and funds. That kind of headache doesn’t sound worth it as a college student.

Also, since you mentioned the 400k income potential as a reason to starting sooner, if you’re planning to take out a loan then I would first take out a calculator and run the numbers.

Im assuming you’re ~20, graduating at ~22.

$95k (ATP from zero + exam/equipment) @ 10% for 15 years = ~$1000/month for 180 months. You’ll end up paying $183k ($88k in interest). You could always do some refinancing or extra payments to save money, but lets keep it simple.

If you instead worked for 3 years and saved to pay cash, you could start ATP when you’re 25. Yes you lose out on 3 years of flying, but if you invest the money you would have been paying for your loans at a conservative 8% (Average in stock market over long-term is 10%), you’d have $340k after 15 years. At that time you’d be ~40 years old. If you let that $340k sit there at 8% until you’re 65, you’d have $2.5m.

Yes you lost out on 3 years of flying, but instead of making a potential $1.2m from flying, you’re looking at $2.5m from investing. Also, what if you’re in your 50’s and cant renew your medical card? No more flying, no more 400k/year. Your investment however will still grow. On top of this, nobody says you have to pull the money out when you’re 65. Let it ride until you’re 70 and now it’s $3.8m, meanwhile your pilot salary has long since shriveled up. Lots of pros and only a few cons to this approach, I would recommend you consider it as an option.

Yes the 400k/year sounds nice, but your youth gives you much better opportunities. Of course, if you love flying and are willing to spend $1m+ for an extra 3 years, by all means. However since you said you’re not completely sure then I would advise this route… It’s what im doing anyways… Worst case scenario you’ll decide not to attend ATP, have work experience, and be 25 years old with $95k in the bank. Throw that into the market at 8% and you’ll still have $2.3m when you’re 65.

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Leon,
This is a very interesting take that I hadn’t thought about. Was worth the read. Thanks for your input.

Ben,

Welcome to the forum. There is really nothing unique about your situation, it is one that many people face. I did get my PPL while I was in college. It was a huge mistake and I regret it. My college studies suffered while I focused on flight training and the flight training itself took way too long. Then when I did go to ATP, I had to unlearn some of the bad habits that I had picked up at the local school. I would recommend focusing on your college studies, then going all in on your flight training after college.

That being said, if you are not 100% sure that you want to fly for a living, I would recommend taking lessons at least until you solo, and then stopping there. That should be enough to let you know if you really want to pursue this or not.

Chris

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While I appreciate Leon’s advice here, the math really does not work out and life is not just a math equation.

To begin with, seniority is everything in the airlines. It is money, but also quality of life, what airplane you fly, which seat you fly it from, holidays off, weekends off, being home for your kids birthdays, etc. A three year hit to your seniority could have a HUGE effect on your career.

I am not going to get into the specific of Leon’s math formula, but it is always better to make more money sooner. By the time I was 40 I had several times that $340k in my 401k, mostly just from the airline’s contributions. Now do the math on what that might end up being some day.

Chris

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Ben,

If you’re not 100% convinced that a flying career is for you, I’d recommend you take a few more “discovery” flights. Something that you can do over the summer or this fall on the weekends that wouldn’t interfere with school just to continue to feel it out. We don’t recommend you mix college and flight training so no matter what you should wait to begin your flight training until after you graduate. That way you can fully focus on your studies and getting a good GPA, then jump in to flight training with all your efforts. If you’re still on the fence by then, dip your toes in at a local flight school for just your private and then go from there potentially starting at an accelerated program like ATP with credit private. If you’ve decided you are ready for an airline career, then start right away with private at an accelerated program after graduation. However, the main goal is to not interfere flight training with college and definitely don’t start any flight ratings that you can’t finish and continue on because you’ll lose any proficiency with large gaps in training.

-Hannah

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Ben,

Or maybe consider taking lessons until your first solo. In my experience that’s a solid point to assess.

Adam

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Chris, Hannah, and Adam,

This is all great advice and I really appreciate you setting aside your time to give it to me straight. I will probably just test out the waters for now and reconsider when I have completed my degree.

Ben

Ben,

That sounds like a solid plan to me.

Chris

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