Real Answers from Real Pilots

Living after school with debt

So I was reading on line, and a lot of what I was reading were older news articals. But the question is, that once getting out of training and even being a instructor, that they were lucky they had a spouse or someone else to help with the money. Now with me it is me and going to be sally Mae or wells Fargo hand in hand. Is it going to be viable for me to make rent, and pay them back; without eating ramen every night with in the first little bit? Or is really going to be three plus years even with the everyone needing pilots?

Hey Matthew,

Well? How much is your rent? Seriously there are many factors but it definitely isn’t easy. The estimate right now is about 2 yrs from “0” experience to a Regional airline (if you Fast Track with ATP). Obviously if you’re training full time you won’t be working so that’s 6 mos without income. Once you get hired as an instructor, depending on how much flying you do you’ll have income but it won’t be much ($20-30 plus ATP has some tuition reimbursement programs). First yr pay at the Regionals has come up but it’s still not great (low $30k). Now the loans are student loans and they can be deferred until you’re actually making some money. While that probably isn’t the best idea fiscally (the interest will continue to build), it will help you stay afloat.

Keep in mind this is under ideal conditions and your actual time can vary. Now the industry is booming right now (and should continue to do so) but you do have to understand nothing is guaranteed. There are many things that effect aviation (the economy, fuel prices, etc). I don’t want to be a pessimist or paint a bad picture but I think it’s important to go into aviation with your eye’s open. Right now everyone is hiring like mad but that could change. I’m sure you’re a good guy, intelligent etc but some people just don’t interview well and get passed. Not everyone that goes to Harvard becomes a lawyer. Could be 2 yrs, could be more?

Is it worth it? I absolutely think so but yea, you could end eating a bit more ramen than you’d like.

Adam

Matthew,

If I could add to what Adam is saying, the first few years as an instructor and then at the regionals, but it is not impossible. It was tight for me in the beginning, but I managed to make it. Of course I did eat ramen from time to time, but I have to admit to actually liking the stuff :slight_smile: In all seriousness, you will be able to afford real meals and rent as long as you keep your spending in check. Make a practice budget and see how you think you will do.

As Adam mentioned, several of the regionals are now offering tuition reimbursement, you can read about that here: What Do Pilots Really Earn?

I also recommend taking a look at an article that I wrote about airline salaries, it is here: What Do Pilots Really Earn?

The first few years were tight for me, but I found it to be well worth it.

Chris

Thank you guys, and I have read pretty much everything in here that I could read. Even other ppls posts just to see… I know most of the questions are pretty much the same, just fraised differently. Lol I just have always loved flighing and have done some single prop trips up, and loved it. I just have been a chef for the past 14yrs and am nervous is all. Now Chris you said 20-30, is that dollars a hour or?.. And is it primarily salary or hourly and what you put in you get more?.. I know not all places are the same just trying to have a plan of attack is all… I just ready the articles and saw that theyvare hourly. Even as a instructor?.. Sorry I know my posts kinda go a few directions … Now Adam I know you have a degree, Chris did u get one after ATP? And how long did it take you guys to go from instructor to regional to major?

Matthew,

Pilots are paid hourly, there are restrictions on how many hours per month that a pilot can fly. For simplicity’s sake let’s say the limit is 100 hours per month, although most pilots fly about 85 hours per month. Instructors are generally paid hourly as well, you can see how ATP pays their instructors here: https://atpflightschool.com/airline-career-pilot-program/guaranteed-cfi-job.html

I had a degree before I went to ATP. My degree is in business administration and is from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. There are two general rules about degrees in the airlines. The first is that a degree is not required for the regionals and that one absolutely is required for the major airlines. The second rule is that it really does not matter what your major is, airlines just want to see a four year degree from an accredited school. If you do not yet have a degree do not get discouraged, many pilots complete their flight training and then work on a degree online while they are working for a regional airline.

I was an instructor for one year before moving on to the regionals, because of a change in the FAA requirements I would plan on his being two years now. I worked at ExpressJet for two years before moving on to Continental. I would love to tell you that it was my superior flying skills that got me there so quickly, but the reality is that I had some high up inside connections that helped me out. The time from regional to major can vary greatly, but I would say that 6-8 years seems like a good average.

Chris

Thank you very much sir. That is exactly what I needed to know.

Anytime. Keep posting your questions as you think of them.

Chris

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A post was split to a new topic: Mike - Introduction and Question

Do most pilots start flight training right after college (Not including those who go to an aviation college), or do some decide to work another job to pay off their college student loan debt before starting flight training?

Alex,

Everyone’s path is unique. You have to find the path that’s right for you, and you are the only one that can make that decision. Is there something specific we can help you with?

Tory

Alex,

As Tory said everyone is different and you have to do what works best for you. That said you should keep in mind that seniority is EVERYTHING at the airlines and effects every aspect of the job. What that means is if you can start you should.

Adam

Thanks for the quick responses

I don’t believe my specific question can really be answered just yet, but it would be nice to know the many ways many people get help to finance their flight training while at the same time having college debt. I want to start at ATP right after college. I heard a lot about tuition reimbursement and much more. To me personally, I dont mind a change in life style after college or anything. I am okay with lowering my budget and much more as long as I have air in my lungs, food to eat, a career as a pilot, and enough money to pay off student debt.

Alex,

As you said, this is something that you’ll have to figure out on your own. There aren’t many options out there. It costs money to fly. If you won’t be able to pay for training out of pocket, you’ll have to borrow more money from a bank or from a relative. The banks that ATP uses are Sallie Mae and Wells Fargo.

Tuition reimbursement is nice, but keep in mind that you won’t be eligible for that until you are a CFI. Only CFIs that instruct for ATP and have at least 500 hours are eligible.

Tory

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Alex,

I began flight training right after college. It was tough financially, but I managed.

Chris

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Gentlemen,
I’m a big fan of Dave Ramsey, and his stance on flight school debt is a hard “no”. I’m trying to grapple with the idea of paying these loans off. What are some numbers you can give? Are you guys still paying loans off? How have you seen this impact your ability to do things like buy a house? Do you have spouses that have helped by working to contribute additional income? What about paying off loans with a small family?

If I was single, I would jump in this head first. But, with a wife and a child on the way, it really makes me reconsider. Part of me wonders if I’ve missed my chance?

Just curious, what are his reasons for a “hard no” on flight school debt? It seems like a no-brainer “yes” with the potential return on investment - particularly with the current trending and projected climate of hiring and wages.

Logan,

I’m single, no kids and no college debt. This was my first loan. The bank’s interest rate was high. So, I was able to get a relative to pay the bank. Now I make payments to my relative at a lower interest rate. I’ve been flying for a regional for 10 months now. I should have my loan paid off by 2025 or sooner depending on how things go.

Although I did it without a family to support, there have been many before you that have. It is possible.

Tory

Logan,

I like Dave Ramsey too but I’m not sure how much of an expert he is when it comes to aviation training and careers? This industry has changed considerably in the last few years and I’m not certain he’s up to date. Beyond that I have to be honest, again while I enjoy (and have used) many of Ramsey’s principles to lower my debt I would not for one second allow him to determine whether or not I would/could/should follow my dreams but that is entirely up to you.

As for the rest I recommend you contact ATP and they can give you actual/current rates and payments. The rest of the questions the answers are as varied as each individual person and their situation. I paid off my loan years ago (I have a wife and 3 kids) and I’m sure there are others who haven’t. There are pilot’s who have been very successful and live quite well and I know there are others who have not and are struggling. Some have wives that help, some don’t, some have been kicked out of the house and others their wives have paid the loans for them. The reality is the only thing that matters is YOUR personal situation. Call ATP, get some numbers and then sit down and do the math. If you can afford it then YOU need to decide if it’s worth it or not. Or you can leave it up to Dave Ramsey :slight_smile:

Adam

Logan,

If I had followed Dave Ramsey’s advice I would be making $70k somewhere as a mid level executive, maybe $100k if I was lucky. Instead, I make three times that doing something that I enjoy and I couldn’t have done it without the debt that I retired long time ago.

Chris

I appreciate your responses, and I agree. I think when Ramsey gave the example, he was assuming $50,000 each year for four years… like a college flight program. It might be different if he were to look at it now.

Another worry I have is that I will apply for the financing and begin to find that for some reason I will dislike flying… sounds crazy… but I took a few private pilot lessons this last winter, and enjoyed it, but was stressed about catching on to everything. I was worried about spending the money, I was working full-time, and in school. So, being totally dedicated like at ATP, and being full time in the program sets me at ease a bit, but, I’m still worried. Is it at all common for new pilots to be nervous to the point that they feel overwhelmed, or lack of confidence? How do you bust through this? Any suggestions as far as “testing the waters” before jumping into the training program? I’ve always been an AvGeek, but I guess I’m just wondering if I’m just a geek, or a potential pilot?