A look at how to become an airline pilot without money

Strapped for Cash? 4 Ways to become an airline pilot without money!

So, you want to become a pilot, but you don’t have the money? You’re not alone! Many people dream of becoming a pilot, but assume that they can’t because of the high cost of training. In the UK, to go from zero to fully qualified airline pilot — known as an ab-initio ATPL — can cost upwards of £150,000!

However, there are several ways that you can become a pilot without spending a penny! In this blog post, we will explore four different methods that will help you break into this exciting and rewarding career without breaking the bank.

We’ve ranked the methods from the quickest and most straightforward, to the most winding and time-consuming. But don’t worry, all 4 methods won’t cost you a penny!

So, let’s explore how you can become a pilot without spending any money…

Method #1: Sponsorship

Timeframe: 2 Years

Upfront cost: £0
Total cost: £0

EasyJet aircraft

Someone will simply hand me the money to become an airline pilot, covering all the training costs upfront? Technically, yes. Schemes like the EasyJet Amy Johnson initiative are rare, but they do exist!

If you’re looking for the quickest way to become a pilot without spending any money, your best bet is to look for one of these schemes. Typically, they come in two flavours, airline specific grants and training scholarships.

Airline specific schemes, like the aforementioned Amy Johnson initiative, are created by airlines to fill a specific demand. For example, EasyJet identified a huge gender imbalance in their pilots, and wanted to encourage more women into aviation. They decided to offer 6 female pilots fully paid training courses if they were successful in their application to the airline’s pilot training scheme.

Non-airline specific schemes offer a similar route to becoming an airline pilot, without the attachment of an airline job at the end of it. Examples include Flight Training Europe Jerez’s fully funded ATPL scholarship.

FTE have identified the difficulty facing aspiring pilots from low-income backgrounds, and offered 2 fully sponsored places on their airline co-pilot training course. Aside from the free flying training, FTE’s course literally includes everything — from food and board to training materials, and medical costs. Winners are selected based on their aptitude in initial selection alongside, family income.

Method #2: Airline specific cadet schemes

Timeframe: 2-3 years (including selection process)

Upfront cost: £0
Total cost: £80,000 – £100,000+

British airways airbus aircraft used on their future pilot scheme

Unlike in the USA — where aspiring airline pilots traditionally have to work their way up to flying for the major carriers — most large European airlines offer specific cadet programs.

These are designed to take someone with little or no flying experience and turn them into a fully qualified First Officer on a modern commercial jet. There are no flight instructors, crop-dusting, or hours building schemes required.

The downside to these schemes is that they aren’t cheap. Most usually come with a large upfront loan and an employment contract that ties you to the airline for several years. However, some airlines offer unsecured loans, or loans against backed by the company. An example of this was the British Airways Future Pilot Program (BA FPP).

This means that prospective candidates won’t have to provide money upfront. Instead, the airline will take on the debt, and cadet pilots will start on a lower salary, repaying their debt in the form of a bond.

The main downside to this option is that you will be taking on a large amount of debt, which can be difficult to repay if you decide that the airline life isn’t for you. However, most large airlines have a pathway for the loan to be repaid with your job, the programs generally cover the entire cost of training, and virtually provide a guaranteed job after graduation (as long as candidates pass!).

The competition for these spots is fierce, but if you are lucky enough to be selected, it is an excellent way to become a pilot without spending any money.

Method #3: Military training

Timeframe: 4 – 12 years

Upfront cost: £0
Total cost: £50 — £30,000

Military tanker aircraft followed by two fighter jets

If you are looking for adventure and a way to become a pilot without spending any money, then you could join the military. The competition is tough, but if you are successful, you could find yourself flying some of the most advanced aircraft in the world. And, best of all, it won’t cost you a penny!

One downside to flying training via the military are minimum service lengths. Currently, both the RAF and the Navy have 12-year minimum service commitments for pilots. However, UK Army air core pilots only have a 6-year commitment. Equally, commitment lengths can fluctuate, with short service commitments offered when demand for military pilots is high.

With the RAF now operating the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) and the Boeing P-8A Poseidon – based on the 737-800 – there are now career paths that can look and feel very similar to civilian pilots. You might still deploy for weeks at a time with your aircraft to far corners of the world.

Military flying careers — Flyer

Having obtained military pilot training, you may be wondering how to switch to become a commercial airline pilot. Does it cost tens of thousands to start again? In reality, UK military pilots will have passed many of the same ratings as their commercial counterparts, in some cases switching to commercial standards can be as little as paying an administrative fee.

In addition, some military pilots — such as those flying multi crew aircraft like the airbus A330 — will have the skills and qualifications required to be accepted straight into a commercial role without any additional cost.

Method #4: Modular training / scholarships

Timeframe: 2 – 20 years

Upfront cost: £0
Total cost: £40,000 – 60,000+

Flying training schools can offer pilot instructor courses cheaply or even free

If you have your heart set on becoming a commercial pilot but don’t have the money to pay for training, then modular training could be the perfect solution. Modular training is essentially the name given to flying training at your pace. Trainee pilots will complete every step major training schools offer in their full-time ATPL courses, but spread this out over a period of the trainees choosing.

The great thing about this approach to flying training, is that you can spread the cost of training over a period of time, alongside having the flexibility to study around other commitments such as work or family. However, this modular route can also be achieved without any upfront costs.

Some trainee pilots have used the modular route to learn to fly free!

  • Initial flying training scholarships to start your journey can be competitive, but are still significantly easier to attain than some ultra-competitive airline schemes.
  • As an example, the Guild Of Air Pilots (GAPAN) offer several PPL and gliding sponsorships each year
  • Once pilots have a PPL, some modular training schools offer free upgrades to the next step (an instructors rating and a commercial pilots licence) in return for a commitment to working as a flight instructor
  • This route is similar to the airlines cadet schemes in method #2, whereby training is given without any upfront cost in return for a reduced salary
  • By taking time to work through the modular ATPL route, some airline pilots managed to make their entire flying training, from PPL to CPL, to hours building and initial airline job without paying a penny!
Free pilot hours building as a crop duster pilot
Parachute dropping pilot and parachutists

Many modular pilots take on work crop dusting, or even parachute dropping, building vital flying hours for free.


Despite the enormous upfront cost of obtaining an Airline Pilot’s Transport Licence (ATPL), there are still ways to become a pilot without breaking the bank. For aspiring aviators without wealthy backgrounds, hopefully this article has given you some idea to how to become an airline pilot without money!

The four different ways that you can become a pilot for free are hugely varied — including sponsorships, flying instructing and even military service — however they all have one thing in common. Hard work.

Finally, it can be difficult to break into this career with money, so all the methods listed to obtain £100k+ of training for free are super competitive. Aspiring aviators will need plenty of research, commitment, and — if we’re honest — a bit of luck!

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