Real Answers from Real Pilots

Worth taking out a loan or should I save up to pay for ATP?

Hey All!

I’m 21 and currently working on my PPL at the moment. I just had a quick question for all of you who have gone through or are going through the process right now.

I’m graduating this spring with a degree in Mathematics and currently have a full time job offer as a data analyst with full benefits and decent pay. And was wondering if you guys think it would be better to save up for ATP or if it would just be better to get a loan and start ATP right away? I estimate that if I want to be frugal for a few years I can save about $24000 a year to put away for my ATP courses. This would mean working for 2-3 years before starting ATP but I would leave ATP debt free or close to it! Is that time spent saving worth it in the long run or are loans easy enough to pay back that it wouldn’t be to big of a deal to jump right into ATP after graduation?

Bran,

Totally your call and these are what we call “grown up decisions”. Obviously not incurring debt if you don’t have to is always beneficial. That said there are definitely benefits to starting sooner than later. First and foremost EVERY at the airlines is based on seniority. When I was at a Regional I was one of the last pilots downgraded when the airline made cutbacks. The pilots in the class 2 weeks ahead of mine got to keep their seats. Seniority will effect the airplane you fly, your schedule, your pay, EVERYTHING. The other thing to consider is pilots have a finite amount of years they can fly. Top tier Capts at Majors currently make over $300k a year. Waiting 3 years to save the money for tuition equates to close to $1million dollars of income you’ll never see. It’s for those reasons I prefer to look at a loan for training more as an investment in your future rather than debt. Ultimately again the choice is yours.

Adam

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Bran,

I would caution you against waiting to begin your training. A few years
can make a HUGE difference in your career at the airlines and end up being
the difference between being a 777 or 737 captain, or having holidays off,
etc. Seniority is everything in the airlines, if you want to fly for a
career, I would get to the airlines as soon as possible.

Chris

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I’m with the other mentors for the same reasons they have mentioned. I
could have continued saving before starting flight school too, but I chose
to take the loan. If this is truly what you want to do then don’t wait.

I’ve been a first officer at a regional for 10 months now. Paying off the
loan is hard in the beginning. With the help of tuition reimbursement, I am
able to make my minimum payment and make ends meet.

Tory

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Thank you all for you comments! Reading into this more and reading your posts has definitely helped me make the decision to seek out a private loan from family and get the ball rolling on this. I’ve worked as programmer / data analyst for a little over a year now and although its fun and the pay is good it is no comparison to the joy I get when I’m flying!

A little off topic but have have any of you guys heard of guys going through the ANG then joining the airlines? I’ve been working with an f-15 pilot here at my local base to see if I’d be a good candidate for the guard and my scores are looking pretty competitive for a heavy unit and ok for fighters. How would going this route affect my timeline on joining the airlines?

Bran,

I have many friends who started in the ANG. Great equipment, great training and you can’t beat the price. There are only 2 caveats. First it’s a HUGE commitment. Not that there’s anything wrong with that and if you have a desire to serve your country I commend you highly BUT if you ask anyone in the Guard they will all tell you joining solely as a means of learning to fly and getting to the airlines is a mistake. Make sure your heart is in it. Second while flying fighters is very cool ask your friend how many hours he has and how much flying he actually does and you’ll see it can take a while to get the mins to get to a Regional let alone a Major.

Adam

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Hey Adam!

Thanks for the great replies! If I did happen to get a heavy unit I believe I’d be done with flight training, air frame training, and the 1 year of full flying period within about 3-4 years in the Guard. At which point I’m not sure what certifications I’d have but I think it would be all of them, and somewhere at or around 1000 hours. After which I’d have to build up myself to that 1500 mark for the regionals. Which doesn’t sound to bad to me since I have been wanting to serve since I was a child.

One big question for me is that I’ve heard of guys finishing up there 10 year commitments and immediately getting pulled into a major airline as a FO. Would you say thats a normal thing for guys who leave the air force with 3000 to 4000 hours of flight time? Or regardless of flight time do military pilots start at the regionals are work there way up the chain just like everyone else?

That question is having a huge impact on whether or not I want to pursue the Air Force instead of just going straight through ATP!

Bran,

That’s a really difficult question to answer and honestly there are no guarantees or right or wrong answers. I do know pilots who came right out of the military and were hired at Majors. Thing is most had considerably more than 3-4,000hrs. The Majors get applications everyday from Regional Capts with 5-6,000+hrs who have also been operating as airline pilots many within the airline’s route system. Don’t get me wrong the airlines like military pilots but you still need to be competitive and the reality is military pilots do not fly as much as the RJ guys do. Now, 10 year from now, IF the pilot shortage continues and IF it deepens 3-4,0000hrs may cut it? But those are BIF IFs. Will it? Unfortunately none of us have crystal balls. Totally your call but what I will say is if you have the desire to serve, the pilots I know who have (and still do) are all glad they did.

Adam

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Thanks Adam! Definitely some food for thought for me to think about but I really appreciate the input greatly!

Bran,

I have seen it go both ways for military pilots, some go straight to the majors, others go to the regionals for a year or two first to build up their flight time.

If you want to go to the ANG, that is great, but do it because you want to serve the country and be part of the military lifestyle, not because it may be a quicker route to the airlines.

As an aside, if you ask really military pilots and not just recruiters, you will find that many of them spend several years flying desks and not airplanes.

Chris

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I’ve definitely heard some nightmares of guys flying a desk for years because of cuts so that is definitely something I’m also thinking about! Thank you for the reply Chris!

Bran,

The desk assignments are not always because of cutbacks, in many cases it is just because that is how the military works, officers can spent a large amount of time doing administrative work.

Chris

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