Were you actually able to afford Flight School?

Hey guys, Leah here! I’m a young, 19yr woman currently working part-time in retail. I was originally a full-time student after I graduated in 2020, but stopped pursuing my General Studies A.S halfway through since I couldn’t come to a conclusion of what I wanted to do after years of careful deliberation. Instead, I took to the internet to research jobs and careers that didn’t necessarily require degrees and stumbled upon commercial piloting! I’m here on this forum, so, needless to say, it really tickled my fancy. However, I’m still hesitating and have a lot of doubts despite planning a discovery flight for next week, and the primary reason is the cost!

Now, I don’t really have a great understanding of finances, loans, debt, or anything about it, but all I understood was that in order to afford any and all of the schools I’m interested in (Academy of Aviation, ATP, and Epic Flight Academy), I’ll need a loan. It’s daunting to take that leap of faith and start applying for those loans, especially if you’re haunted by stories of people living in debt for their entire lives and never being able to escape it!

I just wanted to ask and see if, starting at the CFI point in the academic timeline, were you guys able to live somewhat comfortably? Was the investment into your career as a commercial pilot able to keep up with the loan payments? Am I just overthinking this and making myself paranoid? I’d love to know!


Before we dive into the finances I’d like to point out a couple of things. First and foremost, no you don’t need a degree to fly for a Regional, but you will if you want to fly for a Major (and you will want to fly for a Major) so at some point you will need a 4yr degree. Second while the internet brought you to the idea of flying, you don’t mention any flight experience and no, sitting in the back of a Delta flight going on vacation doesn’t count. If the answer is no, before you start doing the math and entertaining loans, you really need to go for an intro flight or take a lesson and see if this is really something you’d like to do. Lastly I don’t know what your adversion is to getting a degree, you should know flight training is hard, really HARD and will require a great amount of time, effort and hard work. Just something to keep in mind. Now for your questions:

  1. Everyone has a different idea of what comfortably is but in most cases the answer is no. Instructors on the average earn in the mid to upper $20ks. The good news is if you’re successful in training, you may be able to secure conditional employment early from a Regional and receive Tuition Reimbursement which helps considerably.

  2. Yes and most people are able to pay off their loans early.

  3. No but again, until you actually fly an airplane it’s really not something you need to worry about. You could hate it and move on to something else.



I totally get your concerns! They are very valid and it is no secret that pilot training is very, very, expensive. I am a current ATP student and I earned my private pilots license going to a local school and paid out of pocket for it. During that time, I cut every little penny I could to pay for it. I ended up quitting my job and getting a loan for ATP. So, in a way, yes I was able to afford it.

While the loan amount is large, there are so many opportunities for repayment, including the airline you work for. (check out tuition reimbursement and bonuses)

While I’m not yet a CFI, I know several at ATP and others, and as far as ATP CFI is concerned, They seem to be fairly comfortable. Won’t have large amounts of disposable income, but plenty to eat, a place to live, and a reliable car are possible as an instructor. You said you don’t have a great understanding of finances, I’d recommend you look into that.

As for a degree? Yeah, you’re going to need a degree if you want to fly for a legacy carrier. Other operators or some low cost carriers may not require it. As always, do your homework.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT get into aviation for the sole purpose of “I saw they make a lot of money”. Yes, a great income is possible, and likely but pilot training, is very difficult. I went through my fair share of learning experiences as I started out. PLEASE make sure your heart is in it. You gotta love it for this to be worth it.



Thank you so much for responding! You’ve given me a lot to think about and a lot of things to look into in the meantime! I have an intro flight scheduled for next week, and if things go as well as I hope they do, maybe then I could look into my options!



Thanks a lot for taking the time to respond! As you and Adam have mentioned, education does apparently play some role in this line of work, and I’ll definitely take that into consideration as I look at my next steps. I’ll also try to touch up on my financial literacy, as I’m sure that it’ll come in handy in the future! You and Adam have both really given me a lot to think about, and it’s greatly appreciated!


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  1. What others have said is all good advice to take in and analyze.

  2. Atleast for the moment, a 4yr degree is not needed to get hired by some Majors, Frontier and Spirit being the 2 biggest. Me and 3 others I’m friends with are in training with Associates or some college. That being said, it’s still a good idea to have a degree for backup career and score bigger points with “Legacy Airlines” like Delta, United, AA, & Cargo FedEx & UPS.

  3. Use the resources available to you! Join Women in Aviation and/or the 99s, or FAST. These are all groups that cater to mentoring / fostering new female aviators jumping into the industry. You also have here & Aviation Career Mentorship on FB

  4. There are cheaper ways to become a pilot, but they usually take a longer amount of time. Time in this industry means less seniority, which is generally not good. That being said, you’re young and can’t fly for the airlines for a few years anyway so you have time.

  5. Living comfortably for me was defined as living with a roommate, with parents or significant other that provides income. Homemade lunch and not going out goes a long way, as does a cheap reliable car.

My advice is to get a mentor and really dive into one of the groups mentioned above. They can give you lots of great advice.
Be mindful sometimes they tend to steer away from fast track programs like ATP. I did ATP and worked here as well as a smaller school and on my own. All have their merits depending on your goals and situation. So do your research and then do what’s best for you.