Commercial pilots can have exciting and lucrative careers. However, the tuition for flight school is quite a financial investment: at least $30,000 for two months of ground training plus 1,500 hours of flight experience. Altogether, it takes about two years for someone with no experience to become a commercial pilot.
If you’re considering flight school but can’t pull together that kind of cash, you’ve got options, from scholarships and grants to military — and airline-sponsored training.
Typical Cost of Flight School
In the U.S., to become a commercial airline pilot can cost upwards of $30,000. Associated costs can also add up: There’s an initial medical exam ($75-$200), test fees ($500-$700), and supplies like headsets and books ($500-$1000). Depending on the flight school, you might also be on the hook for instructor fees, fuel surcharges, landing fees, and more.
If you just want to fly but don’t have your heart set on being a commercial airline pilot, you’ll pay less for training and certification. You can become a recreational pilot for $6,500, or a private pilot for $10,000.
10 Tips for Paying for Flight School
Even if you have money set aside for flight school, financial help is always good. Below are the top ways that aspiring pilots help cover their costs.
• Federal loans and grants
• Military tuition assistance
• Sallie Mae flight training loans
• Private loans
• Working at a flight school
• Personal loan
• Airline-sponsored training
This may be the least complicated method of funding your education. But as noted above, just because you have savings doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider other ways to fund your dream. Also, you may need that savings to support yourself over the two years it takes for someone with no experience to earn their commercial pilot’s license.
2. Federal Loans and Grants
You may be eligible for undergraduate student loans if you attend an aviation program at an accredited university or college. (Most of these programs are located east of the Rocky Mountains, for some reason.) Independent flight schools usually don’t qualify for federal aid, but it’s worth checking with your program just in case.
If your school does qualify for federal aid, simply fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to apply. First, be sure to read our complete guide to the FAFSA.
The same application will submit your information to the federal Pell Grant program. These grants assist students with exceptional financial need and generally don’t have to be repaid (unlike student loans). The maximum amount available for the 2022-2023 academic year is $6,895.
As with academic programs, scholarships are available for flight school. Check with your flight school of choice for guidance. The Federal Aviation Administration also shares information about grants and scholarships.
SoFi’s Scholarship Search tool can help you find flight school funding. For the School Type filter, choose Trade or Tech, and select Aviation for your Field of Study.
4. Military Tuition Assistance
The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill may pay a portion of your flight school costs depending on the program you select, whether you’ve received benefits in the past, and other factors. Veterans who qualify can receive funding to help with tuition, housing, and books and supplies. Go to VA.gov for details. (And keep an eye on current legislation for possible changes to the G.I. program.)
5. Sallie Mae Flight Training Loan
Check with your flight school of choice to see if they offer Sallie Mae funding. To qualify, you’ll need to be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. These loans are specifically created for students who attend schools that provide professional training and trade certificates instead of degrees. Students may borrow amounts up to the full cost of attendance.
6. Private Student Loans
Private student loans are offered by banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Interest rates and repayment terms vary by lender and the type of program you’re enrolled in. Shop around to find the best terms you can qualify for.
For more information, check out our guide to private student loans.
7. Work at a Flight School
Working at a flight school in a non-pilot capacity may earn you a discount. Flight schools are known to offer generous employee discounts on aircraft rental, and for accepting some work hours as flight hours. If you have your eye on a particular school, ask about career opportunities and employee discounts.
8. Personal Loan
Personal loans provide borrowers with a lump sum — typically from $5,000 to $100,000 — that they pay back in equal installments plus interest. Because personal loan funds can be used for almost any personal expenses, they can be a good option for older students with excellent credit histories.
It’s important to note that some lenders don’t allow personal loan funds to be used for post-secondary education, so check with your lender.
HELOCs (home equity lines of credit) allow you to borrow against equity in your home, on an as-needed basis. Throughout the draw period, you can take out money up to your pre-approved limit. HELOCs are often used for big expenses; flight school can qualify.
Airlines are currently experiencing a dire shortage of pilots. As a result, U.S. companies are beginning to follow in the slipstream of European airlines by offering pilot training programs.
Frontier Airlines announced it will open a two-year training program in partnership with ATP Flight School. Candidates must be 19 years or older, have a high school diploma, and pass a background check. After their training is complete, grads will have a guaranteed job waiting for them with Frontier.
Alaska, Delta, United, and JetBlue have created similar pilot development programs.
Why Go to Flight School?
What sort of personality do you need to become a commercial airline pilot? According to one NASA study, pilots should be low in anxiety, depression, hostility, and impulsiveness. The ideal pilot is high in conscientiousness, deliberation, striving, dutifulness, and assertiveness. If this sounds like you, you’ll probably fit right in at flight school.
Once your training is complete, your job outlook is golden. Due to current pilot shortages and better-than-average job growth, airlines no longer require pilots to have a four-year degree or an educational background in aviation and aeronautics.
If that doesn’t convince you, how about this: Pilots earn on average $135,000 a year (and free travel!).
Flight school is pricey: $30,000 or more for two years of education and training. But financial aid is available — from scholarships and need-based grants to programs subsidized by the G.I. Bill and airline companies. Take care when selecting your flight school, because only certain accredited programs offer opportunities for federal aid.
If the idea of taking out a private student loan fits into your plan, SoFi makes it easy to check private student loan rates. Named by U.S. News and World Report as a Best Private Student Loan Company, SoFi makes it convenient to explore the possibilities.
SoFi private student loans offer competitive interest rates for qualifying borrowers, flexible repayment plans, and no fees.
Can you go to flight school with no money saved up?
Financial aid is available for qualifying candidates. If you enter an undergraduate aviation program at an accredited college or university, you can submit a FAFSA. Also, due to the current shortage of commercial pilots, several airlines have developed pilot training programs that place graduates in airline jobs.
Do airlines pay for flight school and training?
It’s complicated. Airlines do have pilot development programs that require no prior experience or educational background. However, funding varies by company — some may offer financing (basically, a loan) rather than subsidizing tuition. Check with Frontier, Delta, United, Jet Blue, and Alaska Airlines to see how their programs are structured.
What makes the cost of flight training so high?
It’s expensive to rent aircraft for training purposes. Additional costs may include surcharges for fuel, insurance, instructor fees, and so forth. A school must cover its costs, and one way to do so is through student fees.
Photo credit: iStock/mladn61
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