Student Loans Arent the Only Way to Fund Your Training

Many say the finances don’t add up to being a pilot; there are other ways to fund the pursuit.

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If traditional numbers don’t add up, you might have to use some different methods to get yourself trained. [File photo: Adobe Stock]

Two of the dominant responses to our recent pilot shortage series surrounded the affordability of training and pilot pay entering the workforce. Many experts suggested that the numbers were just off.

For many who decide to go on this worthwhile pursuit of becoming a professional pilot, student loans offer an opportunity to pursue their dreams. Indeed, they seem quite generous. Between private and federal lenders, new students can get almost unfettered access to cash.

But should you fund your training only through student loans? Students attending colleges/universities enjoy the benefit of applying for federal and state financial aid grants (including federally backed student loans) for paying for tuition, books, and other fees. Elsewhere, pilots have options to complete all their flight training with companies that can take you from zero to hero in less than nine to 12 months that covers costs using a personal loan that starts accruing interest (often at significant rates unless collateralized by a home or other assets) with payment schedules that begin the moment the money is accepted.

The Back-Up Plan

The first came at the very start. In the first semester of my freshman year of college, before I even set foot in an airplane, I tore my ACL trying to earn a soccer scholarship. While inconvenient, my injury wouldn’t have been as disruptive in some other careers, but pilots need their legs to push rudder pedals. So a torn ACL stood in my way-both for soccer and aviation.

While incoming pilots are promised a lucrative career, I wonder if there is another way to unburden students for the future?

I set my soccer pursuits aside and had to rehab for the entire school year, missing a complete academic cycle in flight training. At the very beginning, I realized how tantamount my health would be to my career. Plus, aside from the disruption, the whole thing made me question putting all my eggs in one basket.

When I wrote about whether pilots should go to college, many people emailed me that a pilot degree offered many people something to fall back on if things went wrong. They were onto something, but I wonder what would happen if this could be the way experts advised those going into flight training. In other words, would it be better to counsel student pilots that, in addition to flight training, they should consider the broad trends of where the world is going and select a comparable field of study that they would enjoy equally, expecting that something could go wrong?

For one, it would let them know that other options are on the table-that if you have the mindset to be a pilot, there are equally rewarding fields worth pursuing. It doesn’t have to be something to fall back on.

Save Money. No, Really

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The other experience that shaped my career was the matter of paying for training each time I flew. Because I moved to the U.S. for flight training as an international student, I was only able to attend college because my parents could afford to send me there. I wouldn’t be privy to the riches of private and federal student loans some of my classmates benefited from.

In one way, my ACL injury bought us time to figure out consistent cash flow, because as most pilots will explain, the most efficient way through training is to move through it without stopping. If you have to pause, as many do, for financial reasons, later on, it may affect your proficiency. That’ll mean spending more on sessions to get refreshed.