Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Financing The Flying Dream

The best sources to fund your flight training

It's no secret that learning to fly is expensive. Recent studies by AOPA and other general aviation groups have confirmed that the cost of flight training is one of the major barriers to entry into aviation for the average person. Those studies are a direct result of the fact that student pilot starts are at a historic low while the projected need for pilots in the coming years is uncharacteristically high. The convergence of the two is causing great worry in every corner of aviation, and much of the focus of various industry groups has been how to reduce the cost of flight training.

Traditional sources of financing aviation have transformed in recent years or have disappeared altogether. Many lenders left the aviation-financing market as the current financial crisis deepened. Sallie Mae loans—a staple resource of flight-training cash—severely cut back the number and amount of their loans in 2008. Even the GI Bill has morphed from its original form to something altogether different. It's simply not as easy today to find sources for funding flight training.

It's important to divide aviation training into its two components: the academic, educational side, and the flight training/ratings side. That distinction is important because different financing is available for each aspect, with more opportunities available on the academic side. In addition, students have a choice of going to a flight-training academy that specializes only in accelerated flight training and ratings acquisition, or to a flying program that's part of a college or university that offers both flight training and a degree program, fulfilling both requirements. In our search to find the best financing sources, we spoke to both academies and colleges to bring you the latest on financing your flying goals.

If you think scholarships only apply to college aviation programs, you'd be surprised. All the academies we spoke with offered sources for flight-training scholarships, though many student pilots don't consider them. In fact, this relative obscurity makes scholarships the first source of funding that prospective pilots should investigate. Kurt Barnhart of Kansas State University tells us, "Hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships go unrewarded each year." The trick for the student pilot is finding them.

Every flight-training student should invest in a publication called The Collegiate Aviation Scholarship Listing, available from the University Aviation Association website ( For just $19.95, the book (also available on CD) consolidates publicly available information concerning aviation scholarships in one place. The publication describes how to obtain applications for more than 700 aviation scholarship awards with a total value in excess of one million dollars.

The second trick is combining small scholarships together for larger dollar amounts. For example, many EAA chapters offer scholarships that range from $250 to $1,000. The 99's organization has many scholarships in the same dollar range, as do niche organizations like the Regional Airline Association and many others. Probably out of laziness, few people apply for these smaller awards. Combining three, four or more of these scholarships could fund a lot of training. Even more surprising is that many require nothing more than meeting an application deadline, supplying a reference letter and writing a short essay. There's a free database offered of some 300 aviation scholarships on


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