Flight School Loans, Aid Can Help Fulfill Your Dream of Becoming a Pilot

 December 18, 2020
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There’s a lot of information out there about how to pay for college. But if you’re looking for flight school financing, including flight school loans, you might be feeling a bit lost.

Just because you want to become a pilot and not a professor doesn’t mean it costs any less. In fact, studying to be a commercial pilot could easily run around $70,000 for one year. That’s compared to the average cost of a four-year, private university, which sits at $32,410 a year, according to The College Board.

Don’t worry, however, as you still have options. Here’s everything you need to know about flight school loans, as well as aviation scholarships and other options.

How to get flight school loans

Like college, aviation training is expensive, and it’s unlikely you have the savings or income to pay for it in full. That means you’ll likely have to rely on loans. But flight school loans are a bit different than borrowing funds to attend a traditional university. Let’s look at each option, starting with federal loans.

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Federal student loans for flight school financing

When applying to college, the first thing you’re told to do is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). However, that’s not typically the case when it comes to flight school.

Filling out the FAFSA unlocks federal financial aid, which is only available to accredited colleges. Unfortunately, most flight schools and training programs don’t fall under this accreditation (although some, such as the National Aviation Academy, do qualify).

It’s best to ask schools you’re considering if they accept federal financial aid. Here are some types of federal student loans you could receive for flight school:

  • Direct Subsidized Loan: This type of loan is available to students who prove they have financial need, and there are limits on how much you can borrow. The Department of Education pays the interest on subsidized loans while you’re in school, during deferment and for the first six months after you leave.
  • Direct Unsubsidized Loan: Here too, you can only borrow up to a certain amount, but you don’t need to show financial need. You’re responsible for paying all interest, and the interest will accrue while you’re in school.
  • Direct PLUS Loan: This type of loan is available to parents of aviation school students. They can borrow up to the cost of tuition minus any financial aid, but they’ll need to submit to a credit check to qualify.

In addition to possibly getting government-funded flight school loans, filling out the FAFSA could also unlock the Federal Pell Grant. Since this is not a loan, it doesn’t need to be repaid. You just need to demonstrate financial need to qualify. The maximum award amount for the 2020-2021 school year was $6,345.

Flight school loans from private lenders

Many flight schools are ineligible for federal loans. And even if you can get them, they might not cover your full cost of attendance. In these cases, you might have to consider private student loans for flight school financing. But there are a few important things to know before applying:

Not all private lenders offer flight school loans

It’s important to note that not all private lenders issue loans for flight school, as it’s considered a trade school. On the other hand, some banks, credit unions and online lenders — such as Sallie Mae — have specific loan programs geared toward those in trade school programs, including aviation school.

Private loans differ from federal loans

Federal student loans are issued by the government, whereas private student loans are offered through private lenders and other financial institutions. For private loans, the eligibility requirements, interest rates and repayment terms are determined by the lender. Be sure to shop around to find the lowest rates and your best overall loan.

Pros and cons of private student loans

Private student loans can help you cover any funding gaps, and they can have higher borrowing limits and (sometimes) lower interest rates than federal loans.

But since eligibility for a private student loan is dependent on your credit history, you might not be able to get one if you have a low credit score. Likewise, a low credit score could mean you’ll pay a much higher interest rate compared to a federal loan.

You might have to start making payments on your loan while still in school, which can be hard if you don’t have an income yet. Be sure to understand all the terms before taking out a private loan.

Also, be aware that it’s usually best to exhaust any federal loan options if you do go to a flight school that offers them. Federal loans have a lot of benefits, such as flexible repayment plans and forgiveness programs, that don’t typically exist among even some of the best private student loan options.

Other types of flight school financing

In addition to federal and private student loans, there are other ways to find flight school funding. Make sure to investigate some of these options:

Help from your school

Many nationally recognized flight schools have financing options available as part of their program. Talk with them when applying to see how they can help you pay for your education.

For example, top commercial pilot school Airline Transport Professionals (ATP) works with companies to provide flight school loans to enrolled students. Meanwhile, students enrolled in the Aviator College of Aeronautical Science and Technology are eligible for federal financial aid, as well as flight school loans, through PNC and College Ave, among others.

Pilot training financing

In addition to flight school loans, you can find funding specifically for aviation training. Some examples include:

  • Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) Aviation Finance offers multi-rating (private and instrument) financing for as little as $75 per month, depending on your credit score and how much you borrow.
  • American Airlines Federal Credit Union is accessible to Air Transportation Industry employees for loans up to $40,000.
  • WE Florida Financial has the We Fly program, which provides a fixed-rate line of credit for up to $30,000.

Scholarships and grants

There are scholarships and grants available to aviation school trainees. Take a look at these sources of funding opportunities:

Don’t forget to seek out non-aviation scholarships that reward you for your background, interests and community service.

Airline training programs

Some airlines have training programs you might want to consider. You could land a job and reduce the cost of flight school.

JetBlue, for example, launched its four-year Gateway Select program. While it costs $110,000, accepted students are:

  • Provided with all required commercial flight training
  • Guaranteed a job upon completion
  • Paid as flight instructors

PSA Airlines has a Cadet Program that offers tuition reimbursement. It’ll pay for Airline Transport Pilot Certification Training Program courses and will expedite the interview process with American Airlines.

Also, through its Propel Company Pilot Career Path program, Delta Airlines trains current employees who are looking to transition to the cockpit. Employees who meet the program requirements can receive funding via Wells Fargo student loans and are guaranteed work as a Delta pilot.

If there’s a particular airline you’re interested in working for, check to see what training programs are available.

And don’t let the high price tag of training deter you from pursuing your dreams. There are plenty of options available to aspiring air captains, from federal aid and scholarships to private options for flight school loans. Look into all your options to see which combination works best for your budget.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

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