Source: AOPA Magazine

» Q: I am a junior in high school and am looking to become a pilot. Should I go to a local flight school or a well-known school? How do I get to a flying career and what are the best options?—Yong

» A: Perhaps the most important question is, simply, what can you afford?

If you have zero flight time, the answers can be many. Presuming that you are thinking about an airline flying career, the main objectives are to obtain the required FAA pilot certificates and the minimum flight experience: the airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate and the required flight time, which can differ depending on the type of training you receive.

The first option is the local flight school. The advantages are that you can remain at home and, generally, the expense is likely to be less than enrolling at an aviation academy or college. You can train at your own pace, which could take more time overall. However, many of the local flight schools certified under Part 61 are not focused on nurturing future airline pilots. Local flight schools may or may not have professionally oriented flight instructors, advanced equipment, and industry connections to place you into employment. Additionally, you will most likely be isolated from pilots with similar goals. In an academy or college environment, you have a ready-made network of classmates who share your vision.

Also, you will need to acquire 1,500 hours of flight time to earn the ATP certificate, which means getting entry level jobs once you complete your training. You can probably expect to spend $40,000 as a minimum to get through all of your ratings and flight instructor certificates. There are several academies that immerse their students in full-time training that may require at least a temporary relocation. The benefit is a deep commitment to flight training with students of a like goal. These organizations have one objective: to prepare future flying professionals. Many academies have relationships with airlines that will take graduates once training is completed. The cost can run $65,000 and up.

Of course, there are universities and colleges that offer flight training as well as a two- or four-year degree. Here, the experience and price are all over the board. You can attend a nifty small school such as Hesston College in Kansas or Northwest Michigan College in Traverse City, where costs can easily top $40,000; a name-brand institution such as Purdue University or Kent State University; or a mega-university such as Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University or the University of North Dakota, where tuition can run near $175,000 for a four-year program. Training at some of these schools can reduce the number of hours required for the ATP certificate to 1,000 or 1,250 hours.

Other factors involve your comfort zone. Do you do better in a larger environment with lots of buddies and activities, or do you prefer a smaller universe? Final thoughts: Most airlines don’t care where you get your training, as long as you earn the time and the ratings. But, prudence dictates that you have a back-up plan, and wisdom seems to demand that you earn a college degree of some sort. Talk it over with your parents.

Wayne Phillips manages the Airline Training Orientation Program ( Send your career questions to and we’ll publish the best ones here.

Other posts