Become an airline pilot—not just CFI—in 8 months for $40,000. Yes, really.

There is a massive pilot shortage! Everyone run for the hills! Everyone no to the local airport and buy a plane!


Becoming an airline pilot has been the dream of many young aviators and is often seen as the pinnacle of flying jobs (there are many other exciting and equally valid choices, of course). Yet the cost of fuel, aircraft maintenance, and paying flight instructors a decent wage has pushed the cost of the traditional flight school path to airline-dom over $79,995. And that only gets you 275 hours and a CFI job after nine months, after which you’ll spend over a year flight instructing to get to ATP minimums. With starting wages at regional airlines still pretty low, the cost/benefit of this transaction seems to many not to add up.

Yet there are many who will do it no matter what. $80,000 is a small price to pay when the lifetime earnings are potentially so huge. My brother has a middle-aged coworker who is quitting his middle management job to begin this journey to the airlines. Clearly the cost is not to great for some, and neither should it be. Being a pilot is a great, exciting, rewarding career. It’s also exciting getting there.

My question is, is there a cheaper path to the airlines? The answer requires some creativity but is unequivocally yes.

The idea means buying an old Cessna 152 like this one on eBay right now--$15,000 with 1800 SMOH and IFR equipped. This will get you 90% of the way to your 1,500 hours and private, instrument, and commercial ratings. The other 10% will come from the multiengine rating and the 25 multiengine PIC hours required for a restricted ATP and an airline interview. Here's how I arrived at the $40,000 figure:
  • about 1450 hours at 4gph (no need to go fast!) @ $4 per gallon, half of that shared with a safety pilot: $17,500
    • I said it would require some creativity! There are some spots in the U.S. that are even less than $4 per gallon, and relocating for a few months may be worth it. I bet your instructor may be interested in building some time with you so he/she could get that airline job sooner, too. A post on Barnstormers ought to get some interest rolling in.
  • Various mx cost $3,000
    • You may not even need an annual, but who knows what will come up.
  • 70 hours dual @ $30/hr $2,000
    • a pad from the bare minimum of 55 hours for private, instrument, and commercial
  • Multi-engine rating  $4,000
  • Multi time building 25 PIC hrs @ $125/hr (with a safety pilot, of course): $3500
  • Examiner fees $2,000
  • Misc expenses $1,000
  • Engine field overhaul in your trusty Cessna: $10,000, minus the 500 hours of time/value you leave on it: $5,000
    • Or not! Every once in a while you see someone who has taken their faithful Continental or Lycoming to 3,000 hours, and with the regular use this one is going to get, it may do the same. Better to budget for it, though.
  • Sell your 150 for a bit less than you bought it for: cost $2,000
    • In other words, you paid $15k with a high-ish-time engine but are selling it with a mid-time engine with "just" 1,500 more hours on the airframe. You could likely fetch $19,000 if you give it a good wax. 

Total $40,000!

I know this idea circumvents the valuable airmanship gained by teaching others to fly, and that is a major caveat to this plan. I also acknowledge that this might only work these days when regional carriers literally can't hire enough pilots to fly their planes. This is just one idea to get to regional airline hiring minimums the cheapest and the fastest.

I also know that this is a hellish schedule, averaging over 6 hours of flying every day for 8 months. It would require scheduling your field overhaul months in advance and timing it to overlap with your multiengine rating and time building. It means doing two dual flights a day and then going out for an evening time-building mission. It means getting dead serious about your instrument flying, because you'll need to be sharp for your impending airline interview. It means no social life and eating beans for a year. It means getting creative with financing. It probably will take a bit longer and cost a bit more. But it also means you can get to a regional carrier a year sooner and for half the cost of the traditional flight school. Sometimes it pays to be a bit non-traditional. You may just end up keeping that old Cessna, just for fun.


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