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Degree versus Pilot Training: How do they compare?

Bonnie23 Aug 2016 Posted in: pilot training, degree, university

Do you want to pursue pilot training, but feel the traditional university educational route is more affordable and more likely to get you a job? FTA did the maths, and the results may surprise you.

"Everyone’s skills need testing, but not everyone needs to acquire those skills at university – and not everyone needs to go to university before they start working" – Financial Times, November 2015

At FTA, we believe that commercial pilot training offers a viable, alternative form of academic and vocational study and a valid career option, when compared with the more traditional route of college and a university degree. At events like Pilot Careers Live, we meet many aspiring  pilots and parents, considering pilot training but often, parents are looking for the ‘security’ of a traditional degree when thinking about their son or daughter’s career path.

Although many pilots working today don’t have a degree, the pilot role is one that is highly skilled, well paid and rewarding in terms of career options. Becoming a pilot is now an accessible and attainable profession for many. In its yearly survey on the best paid jobs in Britain by the Office for National Statistics, the Aircraft Pilot role came out top, with an average earning of £1,800 per week. Although many airline pilots would say they don’t do the job for the money, the comfort of knowing you can earn a relatively high salary, in comparison to other jobs, can offset the worry of high training costs.

FTA is keen to share with 16-18 year olds that an integrated flight deck programme is an accessible option for them and that pilot training doesn’t have to cost more than a standard university degree. In terms of gaining a well rounded qualification, we believe pilot training can be compared to a standard 4 year degree course, which will tend to include thorough academic knowledge and extensive vocational grounding and/or experience. Recent reports in the press now cite the cost of a degree (including living costs) at £84,224 for a four year degree course. However, with FTA’s Integrated Flight Deck Programme starting at £66,950, it’s possible to qualify in approximately 18 months and start earning a salary; far earlier than those taking a traditional degree.

With regard to pilot job prospects, there’s a well documented and growing demand for pilots. A recent survey by AeroProfessional, stated that over 50% of airlines surveyed believe that there’s a pilot skills shortage and  ‘558,000 pilots will be needed over the next 20 years’ according to Boeing. Pilot training is highly vocational when compared with a traditional degree; the course prepares students for the job that they will actually do, in contrast to many traditional degrees, in which students may not even use in a practical way when it comes to taking a job. A BBC News article in August 2015 concluded that  ‘58.5% of graduates are in a job that doesn’t actually require a degree’. It’s not always easy to find a role straight from university and those that do, will not necessarily use the degree that they studied for over three or four years, at a cost of over £60,000.

The Times Higher Education Supplement goes further, believing ‘the number of 18 year old home applicants is likely to decline in coming years’. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has said the number of graduates has now ‘significantly outstripped’ the creation of high skilled jobs but by contrast, in the aviation sector there is a recognised shortage of high skilled pilot jobs worldwide.

By taking a commercial pilot training course, students have the ability to start earning as soon as they qualify, within 16-18 months of starting their course, at which point they can  start to repay any loans taken to fund the cost of training. As it stands 91% (and climbing) of FTA cadets from last year are already in jobs and former students have found roles with over 30 airlines.

FTA also offers a foundation degree option, which can be taken alongside the Integrated Flight Deck Programme and can also be topped up to an honours degree. This gives students both a vocational and academic qualification on completion of their course, as well as a frozen ATPL, which allows them to take a first officer role with an airline. We spoke to prospective students’ parents at Pilot Careers Live, many of whom had similar concerns that their children may be making a large investment in training costs without the added security of a degree. Our degree option, in partnership with Buckinghamshire New University, offsets such concerns.


Pilot Training



There’s no real difference in the cost of a standard three year degree and pilot training is less costly than studying for a ‘traditional’ four year degree (depending on the flight training school that a student chooses to train with and their course pricing). According to recent National Union of Students data, the average annual cost of living for students in England is £12,056. Based on this sum, a four year degree course will cost a student £48,224 (4 x £12,056) plus £36,000 in fees (4 x £9,000). So the total cost of a four year traditional degree course would be £84,224.

If we use the same £12,056 living allowance for pilot cadets across one and a half years, the living cost is £18,084. And if cadets choose the Integrated Flight Deck Programme at FTA, the course cost £66,995, making a total cost of £75,034 including living costs. Therefore, in real terms, becoming a pilot is almost as affordable as studying for a three year degree and certainly cheaper than a four year course (depending of the flight school, of course). The real difference being that within 18 months, pilots can join the job market, start their dream career and begin earning.

So perhaps it’s time to de bunk the myth of the £100,000 plus pilot training course in favour of more affordable courses that do not sacrifice quality of training. And perhaps its time to consider the job prospects and return on investment of pilot training versus the actual cost of taking a traditional degree – with no guarantee of a job at the end of it and the distinct possibility that students will not even use the degree that they have taken.

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