Airlines that pay for pilot training

Most airlines run cadetship programs that are costly and only accessible to a handful of students. There are airlines that pay for pilot training, however, and this article looks at how that is possible.

Introduction – Airlines that pay for pilot training

 Not everything in life is free, or so they say. Airlines that pay for pilot training are few and far between, but there are ways to become a pilot for free. Are there any strings attached though? What can you expect? Cadetships are available at a lot of the major airlines, but costs can run over $100,000. How can you avoid that?

  Some avenues do offer a free route into the industry, but they aren’t easy to come by. Joining the military is one way but that doesn’t speak to everybody. Scholarships are available in Australia, the USA, the UK and many other countries, but they are as rare as hen’s teeth and sometimes only offered to certain under-represented genders or races, for very good reason. Let’s take a deep dive into cost-independent ways into the industry and see if there are airlines that pay for pilot training.

Can you train to be a pilot for free?

 YES! YOU CAN! While there are ways into aviation that are expensive, there are ways that you can get into the cockpit for free. One of the most common ways to do this is via the military. By joining as a trainee pilot, you actually get paid to fly aircraft. The military will put you through your training and many commercial pilots have gone through this route. However, this isn’t for everyone for obvious reasons which leads to the next question. Are there commercial airlines that pay for pilot training?

Airlines that pay for pilot training
Joining the military is one way of training to be a pilot for free, but it’s not for everyone

Which airlines provide free pilot training?

 Nothing in this world is free, so the answer to this question is none of them…but the answer is also some of them. Clear as mud?

 While there are some airlines that will cover the vast majority of your pilot training, it will look to be recouped in some other way, somewhere down the track. This is actually a good thing for pilots and airlines alike. Good for pilots as it will help more people realise their dream and good for airlines as it begins to address the pilot shortage that is heading our way in the coming years.

  There are scholarships now widely available however, not everyone will be able to apply for them. A lot of scholarships being handed out are aimed at improving equality in the industry, so are heavily leaned toward funding women and ethnic minority candidates. This is great news, and it’s incredibly exciting to be able to open the talent pool to allow greater inclusivity into the cockpit. The AOPA has information on scholarships readily available so head to that link and check out the scholarships available in more detail.

 Which airlines provide free pilot training though? Some of the big carriers around the world offer great cadetship programs however most have an initial upfront cost. A lot of these cadetships are open to using student assistance, so you can apply for a loan after you enroll. This is then paid back when you can afford to do so, much like your normal university student loans. Some are also payable once you work for the airline, with Rex in Australia putting such a scheme in place which states you have to work for the airline for seven years, otherwise you are forced to pay back the training costs.

 Qantas, Australia’s flagship carrier, offer scholarships for Women in Aviation and have also given scholarships to three budding Indigenous pilots to celebrate their centenary year. Information on this can be found on their training school website.

  British Airways also offer scholarships to students in surrounding communities to the airline. This gives free training to 200 students across the United Kingdom. Such scholarships give aspiring pilots a fantastic opportunity to fly for a world-renowned brand and given the opportunity to learn and work in a world-class environment. More details on the British Airways cadetship and ‘Inspire Gliding Scholarship’ programs can be found by clicking this link.

Airlines that pay for pilot training
British Airways offer scholarships to students across the UK

Emirates is another airline that offers scholarships to students that meet a certain set of criteria. This scholarship is offered through Emirates Aviation University. The Chancellor’s Scholarship is offered to 10 students a year and covers 100% of the flight school tuition fees as long as the eligibility requirements are met. This criterion includes outstanding personal and academic qualities throughout the program.

American airlines also offer Education Foundation scholarships to employees and their children, up to $2,500. You can read more about their scholarships and their eligibility requirements here.

Airlines that pay for pilot training
American Airlines offer scholarships to employees and their children as well

Skywest Airlines are another provider of scholarships and you can read about their Pilot Pathway program here.

 Getting into the industry free of charge can be difficult. Scholarships are the route to go down to get 100% free training through the airlines, however, they are few and far between and the chances of you actually getting one are slim. A lot of the airlines that pay for pilot training do it by offering assistance with fees, usually with an upfront cost. These airlines will tie you to certain conditions, however, such as staying at that airline post-training for a number of years or paying it back over a certain amount of time.                                                                                          

How many years does it take to become an airline pilot?

 This is variable and it all comes down to which path you choose to go down in order to take to the skies. If you go to university it can take 3 years of study and flight time to achieve your commercial airline pilot licence. If you go down the route of building hours through a flying school then this can be done as fast or as slow as you like, mostly depending on how much money you have available to put yourself through the training. There are varying factors that will decide how quickly you become a professional pilot. There are airline pilots who have completed training in less than 12 months in some cases, depending on the skills they have developed as well as their flight experience. There are of course benefits to taking more time with the training in terms of cementing the learning and building the skills but again, each student will be different.

“Prepare for the unknown, unexpected and inconceivable … after 50 years of flying I’m still learning every time I fly”

Gene Cernan

Do you need to go to university to be a pilot?

 You DO NOT need to go to university to become a pilot. There are various avenues you can wander down and they all vary in cost and sacrifice. Some avenues may appeal to you and speak more to your current situation, while others may have too high of a risk level. Some of these avenues include building hours in a course through an independent flying school or seeking a cadetship at an airline. Going to university is one clear path, but it is not the only one and it is certainly not a mandatory requirement to acquire a job as a pilot and to have a successful career in aviation.

Airlines that pay for pilot training
You can study to become a pilot through University or through independent flight schools. It can take less than 12 months or several years, depending on the program and your flight experience

Is becoming a pilot worth the cost?

The answer to this question is entirely subjective. What can appear to be an acceptable outlay for one person may be unacceptable to another. What it dissipates down to is your desire to become a pilot. Is it the ultimate goal for you? Is becoming a pilot a dream of yours, and you will stop at absolutely no obstacle to achieve this dream? Then the cost is probably worth it. Do you just like the idea of flying but in reality, it’s more an attractive proposition than a dream? Then the considerable cost and sacrifice may not be acceptable to you.

The overall feeling amongst those in the aviation space is that if you want it enough, then you’ll get it. This is no matter what the cost is. Sometimes the cost is NOT financial either. It can take years of boring flying jobs in remote towns to achieve your first big break. If you want it enough, then the cost is worth it. Listen to the Pilot to Pilot Podcast to take in other pilots’ journeys and see if the cost and sacrifice they have endured would be acceptable to you, in comparison to the benefits of a career in aviation.

“Good judgement comes from experience. Unfortunately, the experience usually comes from bad judgement”

Airlines that pay for pilot training
If you do your research, yes, you can study to be a pilot for free, assuming you meet eligibility requirements of individual airlines and their programs

Summary – Can you get flight training free?

  It’s encouraging that there are initiatives out there that are putting the under-represented minority into the cockpit through scholarships. This allows a greater diversity of thought and knowledge into planes and our skies. Getting into aviation via the traditional route is incredibly expensive, and with an impending chronic pilot shortage within the next decade, it is imperative that inclusivity is vastly improved upon to allow a greater number of talent access into the aviation industry.

 While the number of airlines that pay for pilot training is few and far between, major carriers are making it a lot easier for pilots to achieve their dreams with fee assistance and scholarships. Follow the links in this blog and you never know, you might achieve your dream of becoming a pilot and save yourself a lot of money!

eBusiness Institute
eBusiness Institute


Ken is a passionate aviator, a professional pilot and flight instructor. He has over 17 years of flight experience across hundreds of aircraft ranging from recreational, aerobatic, historic, commercial and military aircraft, training hundreds of students along the way. Find out more.

Ken has 42 posts and counting. See all posts by Ken

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