Guide to Flight School Loans

By Jacqueline DeMarco · March 10, 2022 · 8 minute read

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Guide to Flight School Loans

To pursue a career as a pilot, aviators need to attend flight school. While learning how to fly a plane looks a lot different than the more traditional college experience, a proper education is a key element of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, similar to a four-year college, flight school isn’t free.

Let’s take a closer look at what flight school is, what flight school loans are, and what options future pilots have regarding how to finance flight school.

What Is Flight School?

While a four-year degree isn’t necessarily required to become a commercial pilot, students do need to attend an established flight school if they want to forge a career as a pilot. Here’s an example of how flight school can be incorporated into a future pilot’s education plans if they want to work as an airline.

A four-year degree is typically a requirement to become an airline pilot. Airline pilots might have a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as aircraft operations, aviation, or aeronautical engineering. Airline pilots must also attend flight school (also known as pilot school) where they will do two months of ground training and will secure 1,500 hours of flight experience, as well as spend 50 hours flying a multi-engine airplane. Last but not least, pilots must obtain a commercial pilot’s license or airline transport pilot certification to work as an airline, which attending flight school can help them achieve.

How Much Do Flight Schools Typically Cost?

Flight school can be expensive. How much it costs to attend depends on the type of pilot license the student pursues. Here’s a look at typical pilot school costs for different career paths.

•   Sport Pilot: $4,400

•   Recreational Pilot: $6,500

•   Private Pilot: $10,000

•   Commercial Pilot: $30,000

•   Flight Instructor: $5,000

•   Airline Transport Pilot: $5,000

Recommended: How to Pay for College

Typical Costs Associated with Flight School

There are quite a few costs that students can expect to run into while attending pilot school and they can add up fast.

•   Medical exams: $75 to $200

•   Aeronautical knowledge test fees: $140 to $165

•   Practical test fees: $350 to $550 (but can be more depending the type of test)

•   Training supplies (such as headset and textbooks): $500 to $1,000

Choosing a Flight School

Not all flight schools are created equal and prospective students need to take their time to research their different options and uncover which flight school is the right fit for their education, career, personal, and financial needs.

1. Cost

A major factor most students will need to take into consideration when choosing a flight school, is the cost of attendance. It’s important to not just compare the cost of each school, but to compare what the cost covers. It’s hit or miss if a school includes things like VAT, landing fees, navigation fees, instructor costs, fuel surcharges, exams, or training materials in their overall cost or if those expenses are separate.

Some flight schools allow students to pay in installments or to pay as they go, which can make attending flight school more financially feasible for those who can’t pay for it upfront or who don’t want to take out loans to cover the cost of their education.

2. Career Opportunities

Some flight schools have relationships with airlines or other employers of pilots and as a result, have programs that help their students get a job once they graduate. Students can ask the flight schools they’re considering about what type of partnerships they have and if they offer any programs that can lead directly to employment.

3. Training Environment

If possible, it’s helpful to tour flight schools in person to get a better idea of what the training environment is like. An established flight school with its own training facility and modern equipment, as well as enough personnel required to provide proper training, is key. There are plenty of flight schools that are “one man shows” and they can’t provide the same level of training as more established flight schools.

Look for a flight school that operates from a suitable airport and that has all of the equipment required throughout the different stages of training. For example, typically only large flight schools own flight training devices or flight simulators.

4. Instructors

Of course, it’s really important to attend a flight school that employs well-trained instructors with ample experience. This is especially important as students move into the more advanced part of their training. Ideally, the instructor-to-student ratio will be one instructor for every four to five students.

5. Aircrafts Used at School

Students can also take the type of airplanes that a flight school has into consideration. Ideally, their planes won’t be more than 10 years old and will be well-maintained. Similar to a good instructor-to-student ratio, it’s a good sign if a flight school has an airplane-to-student ratio of one aircraft for every four to five students — this can help avoid training gaps when maintenance needs arise.

Flight School Financing Options

It can be hard for some students to cover the costs of flight school before they start working as a pilot. These are a few financing options that flight school students may or may not have available to them.

Federal Student Loans

Sadly, federal student loans don’t always apply to flight school, but they can in some circumstances. Federal student loans are usually only available to students attending accredited aviation programs at universities and colleges.

More often than not independent flights schools don’t qualify for federal aid, but there can be exceptions, so it’s worth checking with a school to see if their program qualifies for federal aid. If the program does qualify for federal student aid, students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply.

Recommended: Types of Federal Student Loans

Private Student Loans

Students who don’t qualify for federal student loans may find that a private student loan is more obtainable. Private lenders will generally evaluate a borrower’s credit history and income among other factors, when making their lending decisions. It’s important to shop around when it comes to private student loans as interest rates, terms, and loan amounts can vary greatly by lender.

It’s also worth noting federal student loans have certain benefits (like income-driven repayment plans) that private student loans do not. For this reason, private student loans are typically considered only after all other options have been evaluated.

Recommended: Private Students Loans vs Federal Student Loans 

Scholarships & Grants

Applying for scholarships and grants for school is a great way to get money that doesn’t need to be paid back to put towards flight school expenses. There are scholarships designed for specific career paths such as pursuing a career as a commercial or military pilot, but there are also more general scholarships available for students who haven’t determined what path they want to go down.

The following organizations may have scholarships available to help with the costs of pilot training.

•   Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)

•   Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA)

•   Aviation Exploring

•   Aero Club Foundation of Washington

•   Aircraft Electronics Association (AEA)

•   National Air Transportation Foundation (NATF)

•   National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA)

•   Ninety-Nines (International Organization of Women Pilots)

•   Virginia Aviation Business Association (VABA)

•   Women in Aviation International (WAI)

•   AeroClub of New England

•   LeRoy W. Homer Jr. Foundation

Each scholarship will likely have it’s own eligibility criteria and application requirements, so be sure to consider those as you research the scholarships that you may qualify for.

If a student is attending an accredited flight school that is eligible for federal financial aid, they may qualify for a Federal Pell Grant. This grant is usually awarded to undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need and have yet to earn a degree.

Paying for Flight School With SoFi’s Private Student Loans

Flight school students that plan to take out private student loans may find that SoFi’s private student loans can help them finance their education. SoFi’s private student loans only take a few minutes to apply for and help borrowers to repay their loans in a way that’s convenient for them by allowing them to pick a monthly student loan payment and rate that fits their budget.

Borrowers don’t have to worry about fees and can enjoy a six-month grace period after graduation, which gives them time to get settled in their exciting new career as a pilot before they need to start making monthly loan payments.

The Takeaway

Ideally, students will choose to attend a flight school with good connections to airlines so they can more easily land a job after graduation. In turn, this will make it easier to pay off any debt accumulated by student loans for pilot training.

Learn more about SoFi private student loans.


Is it hard to get into flight school?

How hard it is to get into the flight school depends on the program, especially for students looking to pursue their pilot education at an accredited university instead of a private flight school.

Does FAFSA cover flight school?

Generally FAFSA only provides financial aid to students attending accredited ​​aviation schools, but some exceptions do apply.

What airlines will pay for flight school?

Some airlines offer training programs that can help cover the cost of flight school and make it easier for pilots to land a job after graduation.

Photo credit: iStock/skodonnell

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