If you are a high school student, or parent of a high school student, interested in becoming a career pilot this is relevant to you.
We recently had multiple events here at Crosswinds for High School kids, along with their parents, looking to possibly become pilots as a career. We discussed the career path to becoming a professional pilot. It became clear to me that many did not understand the process, college options, and how getting a pilot license before going to a college program is beneficial. I wanted to write this article to briefly explain the process and help you better understand your options.
There are many different types of pilot careers, all with distinct pro’s and con’s. You could be a Commercial Airline Pilot, Charter Pilot for on-demand passengers or cargo transport, Corporate Pilots as part of a large company’s flight department, EMS Pilot, firefighting Pilot, bush Pilot, etc. All these different types of pilots come with their own types of on-call and working hours. The majority of pilots are looking to become airline pilots, or start their career as an airline pilot, so we’ll take a closer look at that path.
The first thing to know is that to get a job in the regional airlines (feeders to the main hubs where major airlines fly from), which is usually the first airline job sought by pilots, typically requires an associate’s degree. In order to eventually get a job in the major airlines (like United or Delta), you will likely require a bachelor’s degree. At Crosswinds Aviation, our recommendation is that no matter what path you take, plan to get a bachelor’s degree. Note that the airlines don’t really care what your degree is in or where you get it, just that you have one.
The next thing you’ll need is your FAA certificates. Generally speaking you will need your Private, Instrument, Commercial Single-Engine, and Commercial Multi-Engine pilot certificates. You will get these ratings at any collegiate aviation program that you attend.
You will also require 1500 hours of flight time to qualify for your ATP (Air Transport Pilot) rating before you are eligible to be hired into an airline. The 1500 hours could be reduced to 1250 or 1000 hours if you start your instrument rating at an approved collegiate aviation program. For example, Western Michigan University (WMU) has their restricted ATP certification for 1000 hours. Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) has their restricted ATP certification for 1250 hours. Please Contact Us for more information about the collegiate aviation programs available in Michigan. They are all top notch programs but each very different. It’s important to be informed and visit each of them to find the right one for you.
Since making a good living as an airline pilot is largely dependent on Seniority, the sooner you can get hired by a regional airline, the sooner you will gain Seniority and higher pay. The real trick is how to get all your ratings, and build as many hours as possible by the time you have your bachelor’s degree.
Usually pilots will get their Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) Rating and instruct while completing their degree to make money while building hours. So, the sooner you can get your CFI, the sooner you can start making money instead of paying for the hours you’re flying.
Getting your Private Pilot license in a college program will typically take anywhere from 1 semester to 1 year, depending on the program. If you start a College Aviation program with your Private Pilot license, you can start right away on your instrument rating. This means that you have eliminated about 1 semester to 1 year of training during your college education. If you are able to get your Private Pilot license in High School, you will essentially be able to start making money and building hours much earlier. This could end up making a huge difference; having the ability to help pay for the cost of college by instructing, in addition to the number of hours you will have accumulated by the time you receive your degree.
From a purely financial perspective, receiving your Private Pilot license at a smaller school like Crosswinds Aviation will be anywhere from $4,000 – $9,000 less expensive than obtaining the equivalent rating through a college program. This is largely due to far less overhead expenses at a smaller flight school. One of the parents whose son got his Private Pilot license with Crosswinds Aviation, and is now attending NMC’s aviation program in Traverse City, estimated their direct cost savings to be about $12,000 when considering the costs incurred in getting the Private Pilot license, plus other considerations like room and board, and earning potential over the semester gained. Since NMC is on the lower cost side of the aviation programs, you could expect to save even more at other college programs which are higher cost. When putting this information into perspective over the bigger picture, and taking into account that the Private Pilot license at Crosswinds averages about $10,000, it’s essentially like getting the private rating for free.
There are some other additional benefits to getting your Private Pilot license in High School:
- Allows student to assess if flying as a career would be something they would want to do before making college decisions based on becoming a pilot. We have had students who were accepted to aviation colleges and found that becoming a pilot was not for them after taking a few lessons with us. This is a success story from our perspective because very little was invested before coming to that conclusion.
- We have a Memorandum of Understanding with NMC where you can earn 10 Credits toward their aviation degree program if the Private License is completed at Crosswinds Aviation.
- Demonstrates to potential employers someday the commitment and passion the student has for Aviation by getting a license before college. This can be a significant competitive advantage.
If you are considering a career as a pilot, please Contact Us at Crosswinds Aviation. We would be more than willing to sit down with you and your parents to see what the best and most cost effective options are for your situation.