Pilot training: Safeguarding your investment

Main Picture © Matthias Mueller

Paying for your professional flight training is one of the most expensive investments you’ll ever make. At a time when few banks are lending, this means many students have to turn to the bank of mum and dad to pay for a chance at following their dreams. For the lucky few, there are a number of spaces on partially and sometimes fully-sponsored programmes. For the rest, it’s either a matter of working your way through the training or taking a loan secured on your house.

Whichever route you choose, you’re going to want to make sure that your investment is secure. So what steps should you take to be as certain of this as possible?

First, find out as much as you can about your selected ATO (Approved Training Organisation). As Captain Lee Woodward, Chief Operating Officer at CTC Aviation, explains, “We actively encourage all applicants to do their research thoroughly to ensure that they understand the career and have realistic expectations. Having made the decision to enter training we recommend that you continue to research; go to ATO open days, ask probing questions and uncover the truth regarding success rates in training, failure protection and what it genuinely covers – read the small print and pore over the exceptions. Most importantly look into the airline placement record for each ATO. By that I mean ask how much assistance the ATO gives to assist and how many pilots from the particular ATO make it into airline operations .”

If it’s a new set-up offering training at very low prices with no links to airlines, be very careful indeed. History is littered with the carcasses of failed ATOs, and while all of the established names in the UK and most overseas are as secure as you can get, a little research beforehand (including talking to past students) will ease your mind.

If you can, pay module by module rather than the whole cost of the training upfront. Even some schools offering integrated courses provide a pre-designated schedule to draw down payments in instalments over the period of your training rather than taking it all in one go.

To offer additional protection, pay for the training by credit card, which can provide some sort of insurance in the event of an ATO going under.

Find out if your chosen ATO offers a payment protection programme, such as the Bond Protection package offered by CTC Wings or the Skills Security Protection Plan from Oxford Aviation Academy. These plans guarantee to refund a percentage of your fees should you fail to reach the required standard to complete the course.

Throughout your training, keep your eyes on the bigger picture, in terms of the financial position of your chosen ATO and the industry in general.

Finally, remember the old adage: if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. We’re reminded of the story of a student who approached an ATO in America which was offering ATPL training for $45,000, a sum the student quickly persuaded the school into discounting to $25,000 – for a full ATPL course of training. Perhaps not surprisingly, soon after student paid his money, in full and upfront, the FTO went under and the student lost the lot.


A great source of impartial advice and is Pilot Careers Live, which brings together Approved Training Organisations, airlines, Universities and Armed Forces from all over Europe, to answer all the questions you have about a pilot career. Find out more about the next event near you at pilotcareernews.com/live