In some professions, you get trained on the job. Your future employer would pay not only for the cost of your training, but sometimes would even pay you wages while you are in training. Does that apply to pilots? Yes and No. I’ll start with the “No” part, but I’ll have some good news after. In general, it is extremely rare to have the ab initio flight training paid by the employer or another third party, unless that third party is your parent. Why would that be? Main reasons include:
- Anyone who says they want to become a pilot will not necessarily be able to become a pilot. Their skill level is a priori unknown. Pilot medicals is another gamble. Family life and unexpected life situations that might come up in the future also. Companies just don’t want to take such risks.
- Why would a company pay for your flight training, if they can hire a ready-to-go pilot with a minimal investment? Even if their wages might be higher than what you are willing to work for in return for training cost. The advantage of having a trained pilot right now, without upfront investment, is undisputable.
- Commitment concern. Luckily, slavery was abandoned centuries ago. Unluckily, you will have hard times convincing a company that you will indeed work for them long enough to pay off the invested in you training cost. Or pay off the balance of the debt if you decide to quit early. The risk increases exponentially if you are an international student with no prior ties to the country. Prior generations of candidates did pretty good job of ruining the reputation of the trainee’s financial credibility and reliability.
- Commitment concern – also yours! Flight training cost is a great long term personal investment these days because your pay increases as your pilot logbook extends. But the beginner pilot wages tend to be more moderate, while ab initio training cost is significant. That means the job commitment would potentially last many years. And you don’t even know if you like working in a given company! Do you really want to be in a position of being stuck with many years of job commitment vs. having to pay off the debt you cannot afford?
- Some select airlines in the world recruit pilot candidates in their “cadet” program. Chinese airlines seem to be more known for it (e.g. XiamenAir), but others do it too. I would not even endeavor trying to list them, because offers and conditions change daily – evolving with the aviation industry economy. Needless to say, the competition is usually fierce, and to be admitted into the program, you need to pretty much already be very competent and be able prove your abilities, knowledge and skills.
- Military is another long-term employer in many countries who would pay for your basic pilot training. Usually comes with a stiff competition, long-term commitment and “sign your life away” clause. They have big budgets. And this is one type of “corporation” that has no issue with a “debt recovery” shall you change your mind later. It’s not just a job for a couple of years, it’s the type of life you choose.
- Air Cadets Program in Canada is similar to the above, on a smaller scale. But – wow! – no strings attached. But a BIG upfront commitment – for a really tiny chance of getting the scholarship. Let’s have a quick reminder of what air cadets program is (we have a full article on it separately also). Air Cadets is a program for Canadian youth provided by the Department of National Defense (DND) of Canada. You have to be a Canadian citizen or a Permanent Resident. Age limit is from 12 to 18 years old. DND will pay for a private pilot license for 17-18 year old participants via the “Powered Flight Scholarship”. DND expects no commitment in return after the completion of the training. How do I get this scholarship? Well, you need to start at 12-13 and spend 5-6 years in the program. The Program includes weekly events and summer camps. You need to have good grades at school and do extra-curricular activities and volunteering. After all of that, when the time comes and you apply for the scholarship, you will have a competition of appx. 200 applicants for each spot available! Air Cadets program is great in general. But if you only do it for a small hope to get a free private pilot license, you might be disappointed. If you spend the same time working even for minimum wage, you can be more certain to get flight time in your logbook.
- Advanced and specialty training. Even though it’s hard to get your ab initio pilot training paid by an employer, the story changes once you have your pilot license and you need specialty training. Any airline expects that they will be training you on their specific type of planes, including paying for your type rating. Our flight school trains our instructors on the specific types of planes we have on our fleet. On occasion we have made special arrangements with dedicated team members for more extensive training provided at our Bottom line, once you have your credentials as a pilot, an employer knows you are serious about flying.
- It might seem that if a company pays for your flight training in exchange for your work later, then your training “free”. And that if you take a student loan then you are in debt and you have to pay it back. In reality, flight training paid by the company is no different than a student loan. A company advances you training instead of money. And you pay back later get deducted from your pay without ever getting to your bank account. But you give up a lot of your freedom and flexibility also. If you are committed to a flight school, and later get excited about bush flying, you are stuck and cannot change. On the other hand if your flight training cost was advanced by a bank, you have all the options in the world to switch employers, and keep paying off your student loan from your new pay cheque. It is also a more realistic to get financing from someone who gives loans professionally.