Aviation students are missing out on $759,040 throughout their career by entering the job market years after their peers who attend accelerated pilot programs.
Why Do 4 Year Aviation Programs Exist?
To start, let’s talk about why 4 year aviation programs exist. Up until 2022 all of the major airlines and other desirable companies to fly for such as Fedex required a 4 year degree to apply.
The industry had maintained this standard for many years, which is why it traditionally made sense to simply attend a 4 year college while completing your pilot training.
However, major carriers began dropping this requirement in 2022 as pilot demand has continued to sore. Fedex was the last major carrier to retain this requirement and it dropped it in June, 2022.
But Aren’t 4 Year Aviation Degrees Preferred over Accelerated Pilot Programs?
Yes and no. Of course if everything was equal between two pilot applicants except one has a 4 year degree and one doesn’t, the applicant with the degree would likely get the job. However, keep in mind that these two pilots didn’t start training at the same time. You see one pilot likely started his training 6+ years ago while the non-degree pilot may have started his training less than 2 years ago.
Yet they are at the same spot applying for the same job.
This is important because if we change the scenario to having both pilots start training at the same time the non-degree pilot becomes much more preferred over the degree pilot.
This is because now the non-degree pilot likely would have 3-4 Thousand hours while the degree pilot would likely only have 1,000 if they qualified for restricted ATP.
Who would you rather fly with?
So a degree is not preferred over experience, but as stated earlier everything else being equal a degree would give an edge.
But I Can Get a Restricted ATP with a 4 Year Aviation Degree Program
Let’s look at this restricted ATP. If you train at a Part 141 school and complete a 4 year program with a major in Aviation you can qualify for a Restricted ATP at 1,000 hours. Only 500 Hours less than training at a Part 61 School.
This sounds great in theory but if a pilot completes the same training in 1 year instead of 4 years that 500 hours benefit quickly fades away. Even instructing at a slow school 500 hours in 3 years will not be an issue to come by. While at a busy flight school the 500 hours difference could be made up in under 6 months.
So 1 year and 6 months vs 4 years, what sounds better to you?
Career Earnings Difference 4 Year Aviation Program vs. US Flight Co. Accelerated Professional Pilot Program
Lets simply career compensation comparison by utilizing envoy’s airline pilot pay scale which can be found here: https://www.envoyair.com/pilot-career-compensation/
We will assume the same progression from hire date to captain promotion to top out.
Total Career Earnings Accelerated Program: $6,995,160.00
Total Career Earnings 4 Year Aviation Program: $6,441,120.00
This calculation is assuming a pilot would stay with a regional throughout their career. Most pilots would transition to a major airline, which again would follow the same trend significantly adding to the difference in career earnings.
Cost of Training at 4 Year School vs US Flight Co. Accelerated Pilot Program
As you likely know, attending a 4 year University is not a cheap endeavor. With rising costs of tuition students are leaving college with debt that they hang on to for a large portion of their working life. In addition you have room and board, meal plans which often go to waste, and books that have insane mark ups. In addition to all the added expense of attending a 4 year university the flight training costs themselves are often extremely inflated and the real costs are sometimes hidden into the “program cost”.
According to an article on flyingmag.com the cost to attend University of Dubuque’s Aviation Program in Iowa is $280,000!
|University of Dubuque 4 Year Aviation Program||$280,0000|
|US Flight Co Accelerated Program||$75,000|
When Does a 4 Year Aviation Program Make Sense?
With the information discussed it’s clear that for the most part 4 year aviation programs are dead. But there are certain scenarios where they still make sense.
For one, to qualify for your ATP Certificate (Required to fly for airlines) you must be 23 years old. So if you are fresh out of high school, you attend an accelerated program and build up your hours within a year or two you will still likely need to have to wait a couple years before moving on to the airlines.
However, I would still personally prefer attending an accelerated program as I would rather start getting paid as a pilot sooner and build up even more experience so as soon as I hit 23 I would have a lot more hours compared to most applicants.
You don’t have to be 23 to get commercial pilot jobs, only any job required an ATP Certificate, ie Airlines.
But if you have the time to wait anyways, and you really don’t want to miss out on the college experience, a four year program might be for you.
The other time a 4 year aviation program is the route to go is if you are not sure you want to fly for a living but want to be in aviation. A focus in airport management might be just what you are looking for. A job such as operations manager at a larger airport will most likely require a degree in Aviation Management or Airport Management.
If you are 20 or older attending a 4 Year University vs an Accelerated Program would be leaving a lot of money on the table.
4 Year Degrees Are Not a Bad Thing
While I almost never recommend someone spend the money on a bachelor’s degree centered around flying, I do still encourage people to attend college and get a degree.
Just do it in something else as a contingency plan.
Being a pilot, especially for an airline, depends on one huge thing. Your health! Flying for an airline requires a first class medical certificate. If you have to take ANY medication, it has to be on the FAA approved list or cleared with an Aviation Medical Examiner.
There are many conditions which you could develop, which could cause you to lose your medical certificate and end up out of a job.
For this reason its not a bad idea to have a bachelor’s degree in your pocket, but in something unrelated to aviation that you could fall back on as a worst case scenario.