How to become a pilot if I don’t have money? Check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon for the best flight training advice to save you time and money! In chapter 2, I cover how to learn to fly with no money including flying scholarships and bursaries.

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How to become a pilot no money

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How to be a pilot with no money? How to become a pilot for free?

I have struggled with money in the past – with flying being completely unaffordable. I had the same issue: how to become a pilot with no money? My most challenging patch was soon after graduating from university with a mountain of debt.

I couldn’t afford to pay my bills and had a court order placed on my company to force my council tax to be paid directly from my salary. In my post about the dangers of pilot training loans, I shared how I lasted a whole month with £10.13. I now HATE leek and potato soup!

The affordability of pilot training and inequality of how the entire flight training system is presently based really grinds on me. I wish this could be a happy blog post about how pilot training is more available, but the truth is that COVID 19 has unfortunately made pilot training and ultimately a career as a pilot even less accessible than ever before.

Statistically, if you have a lot of money, you are more likely to get a job, than if you don’t. When ab initio flight training costs £60-100k, and a type rating (once in a job) costs £30k and has to be paid upfront, how many people can truly afford that? But that does not mean that not having money makes becoming a pilot impossible. You can save money by going modular.

I have been fortunate in certain circumstances that have ultimately allowed pursuing my dream of becoming a commercial airline pilot now flying the Boeing 737. But it took a while. My first flight was at 14 years old in the air cadets. I flew the Boeing 737 for the first time just before my 34th birthday. My journey took 20 years!!!

how to become a pilot if i don't have money b737

In this blog post, I want to share some of those ‘lucky breaks’ and ‘shortcuts’ I had to reduce the cost (and distance) of achieving what you truly want to. Please make no mistake about it; the journey to the flight deck will be challenging. Most will fail.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a large number of pilots out of work, and that taught me all the more how fragile the aviation industry can be. Anything you can do to reduce the financial cost of flight training is critical to minimise starting your first flying job with huge flight training loans to repay.

I was born in Zimbabwe and raised by parents who recognised education’s power to unlock opportunity, ultimately putting me where I am now. For those of you reading this from poorer backgrounds – anything is possible. Keep believing, and don’t give up.

How to become a pilot with no money: is it really possible?

Does such a thing really exist as free pilot training if you want to be a pilot but no money?

Yes, it does! These are some of the ways that I managed to progress my pilot training without paying a penny.

How to become a pilot if I don’t have money

These are a summary of all the options available for how to become a pilot if I don’t have money:

  1. Air Cadets flying scholarships
  2. Air Cadets gliding scholarship
  3. Air Cadets air experience flights
  4. Honourable Company of Air Pilots Private Pilot Licence (PPL) Scholarship
  5. Honourable Company of Air Pilots Gliding Scholarship
  6. Honourable Company of Air Pilots Flying Instructor Scholarship
  7. Air League Flying Scholarships & Bursaries
  8. Air League Gliding Scholarship
  9. University Air Squadron and University Gliding
  10. Learning to fly with the military
  11. Airline-funded pilot training (New – Dec 22!)

Option #1: Air Cadets

If you are still at school/ college, I would strongly encourage you to join the air cadets. Through the air cadets, I managed to accumulate around 15hours of flying in my teenage years – all completely free.

how much does a pilot earn first officer

Air Cadet Air Experience Flights

Each year in the air cadets, we had the opportunity to go for air experience flights. This was in the Grob Tutor aircraft and we would typically have 20-30 minutes in the air at a time and got to fly aerobatics.

The instructors are active or retired military pilots and on one trip, a 747-400 Captain from Virgin Atlantic took me flying. In terms of motivating you and teaching you the basics of flying – there is nothing better!

Air Cadet Gliding Scholarships and advanced glider training

The first step is to complete a Glider Introduction Course. This consists of spending a day at a gliding airfield. You will get the chance to have about 3 winch flights and the thrill and acceleration from winch launching is amazing.

How to become a pilot for free gliding scholarship

You will also get involved in running the airfield – launching gliders, retrieving etc. Gliding is the purest form of aviation and in flying a glider well, you will develop really good general handing skills along with stick and rudder coordination.

After your Glider Introductory Course, you can apply for a gliding scholarship. The gliding scholarship gives you around 40 winch launches with the goal being to go solo. I flew a glider solo at 16 before I was legal to drive!

This is an incredible experience and I still remember getting to the top of the winch launch, looking behind me to find no instructor and realising this was for real! Again – all this was completely free!

how to become a pilot for free - gliding

If you do well on your gliding scholarship, you may be invited back to complete your Advanced Glider Training Course (AGT). The AGT expands what you did on your gliding scholarship with more solo work and starting the training process for you to become a gliding instructor.

Gliding had a massive impact on me and definitely taught me a lot of the basics that would help me later on. Make the most of it and apply.

Besides flying, the Air Cadets will provide many opportunities for you to hone your communication, problem-solving, teamwork and leadership skills. All of which are required in the flight deck.

The earlier you start your aviation education and building the non-flying competencies, the more time your knowledge can grow and compound which will ultimately put you at an advantage later on when going through professional pilot training and looking for work.

Are you hour building? Click here for the FREE Structured Hour Building Web App to help you get the most out of hour building and prepare for your CPL course!

Air cadet flying scholarships

Towards the end of my time in the air cadets, I applied and won a flying scholarship. This was 12 hours of powered flying to take you up to solo standard. I completed my flying scholarship at Tayside Aviation in Dundee and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.

The 12 hours I got in the Cessna 150 was an excellent stepping stone towards my Private Pilot Licence (PPL). I would encourage you to apply if you meet the requirements.

Option #2: Flying scholarships and Bursaries

Honourable Company of Air Pilots flying scholarships and bursaries

Private Pilot Licence (PPL) Scholarship

Towards the end of university, I applied for a PPL scholarship with the Honourable Company of Air Pilots and got one! The PPL itself consisted of a minimum of 45hours of flight instruction:

  • 25 hours of dual instruction
  • 10 hours of supervised solo time, which included at least 5 hours of solo cross-country flight time.
  • I also did a qualifying cross country flight which had to be at least 270 km (150 NM) that included landings at 2 aerodromes different from the departure aerodrome
  • With my 9 PPL theoretical knowledge examinations complete, the PPL scholarship concluded with passing my licence skills test.

Deadline: Check directly with The Honourable Company of Air Pilots – but the application deadline is typically in the Spring of each year.

How to apply: visit https://www.airpilots.org/scholarships-career-and-aviation/flying-scholarships/

PPL Scholarship application opening dates

December 2022 – 14th February 2023

Glidings Scholarship

If over the age of 16, gliding scholarships provide a 1 weeks course to take you from first flight to flying a glider solo! The gliding course takes place at a gliding club approved by the British Gliding Association.

Deadline: Check directly with The Honourable Company of Air Pilots – but the application deadline is typically early in the Spring of each year.

How to apply: visit https://www.airpilots.org/scholarships/flying-scholarships/flying-scholarships-2023/

Flight Instructor Certificate Scholarship

If you have a PPL licence (or greater) with CPL theoretical (or greater complete), this is one for you! The idea is that you get all your flying instructor training and examination paid for over the span of a summer.

Deadline: Check directly with The Honourable Company of Air Pilots – but the application deadline is typically early in the Spring of each year.

How to apply: visit https://www.airpilots.org/scholarships-career-and-aviation/flying-scholarships/

The Air League Flying and Gliding Scholarships

Air League Flying Scholarships & Bursaries

The air league has 12 hour flying scholarships as a stepping stone towards your PPL.

Deadline: Check directly with The Air League – but the application deadline is typically early in the Spring of each year.

How to apply: visit https://airleague.co.uk/our-programmes/scholarships-and-bursaries

Flying Scholarship application opening dates

Open until 30th April 2023

Air League Gliding Scholarship

The air league also has a 5-day residential gliding scholarship to get you from your first gliding flight and hopefully well on your way towards solo standard!

Gliding Scholarship application opening dates

Open until 30th April 2023

Deadline: Check directly with The Air League – but the application deadline is typically early in the Spring of each year.

How to apply: visit https://airleague.co.uk/our-programmes/scholarships-and-bursaries

Other Air League Scholarships in Bursaries

The air league also has bursaries for:

  • ATPL Ground School Scholarship
  • UAV Drone Scholarship
  • Airline Pilot Standard Multi Crew Course (APS MCC)

How to apply: visit https://airleague.co.uk/our-programmes/scholarships-and-bursaries

Aviation South West Fully Funded Flying Scholarship

Aviation South West offers a fully funded flying scholarship to take you from zero experience to a full commercial pilot with a UK CAA and EASA Licence.

The scholarship takes place at Aviation Southwest in Exeter in the UK and also in Malta to gain the EASA licence.

How to apply: visit https://www.aviationsouthwest.com/applications-are-now-welcomed-for-our-2023-fully-funded-scholarship-programme/

Aviation South West Fully Funded Flying Scholarship closing date

Closing date 31st May 2023

FTEJerez ATPL Scholarship

FTEJerez has announced that they will provide two full ATPL Scholarships. Through this initiative, they sponsor the full price of an Airline First Officer Programme (FTE’s integrated ATPL course) for two successful candidates.

The scholarship is open to UK and EU nationals who are able to commence training in 2022. Selection is based on academic merits and performance during selection. Selection will follow a similar path to their cadet selection.

How to apply: visit https://www.ftejerez.com/scholarship/

FTEJerez ATPL Scholarship application opening dates

Monday 29th November 2021 – Friday 31st December 2021

Option #3: University Air Squadron & University Gliding

For those eligible, the University Air Squadron is a brilliant way to fly during university and be paid for it. Check directly with your local squadron. This is an excellent option for those with ambitions of flying in the military.

Although not completely free, the university environment does provide for subsidised flying through university gliding clubs.

My university subsided a lot of my gliding whilst there. During university, I went from being a solo glider pilot (through the air cadets) to gaining my badges to allow me to fly cross country and compete (with woeful results!).

Towards the end, I started looking at how to become a gliding instructor. Without University Gliding, I probably would not have won my PPL scholarship with the Honourable Company of Air Pilots.

Check out my YouTube video on how to get your private pilot licence here!

Option #4: Military flying (Army, RAF/ NAVY)

The military is probably the only current option of learning to fly for free as a career. If you are eligible and meet the requirements and is something you would like to – go ahead! I was not eligible (due to nationality), but with all I had done previously in the air cadets, military Fast Jet flying always had an appeal!

Option #5: Paying for flying school by getting a job first

I used a combination of Air Cadet, University gliding and flying scholarships and then working for around 12 years as an engineer in the Oil and Gas industry to afford to complete my pilot training. Delaying your flying ambitions (briefly), getting an education/ learning a new skill before trying to become a pilot is an excellent idea.

The huge numbers of unemployed pilots and the aviation industry’s fragile nature have taught me that you really do need a backup plan. To add – most new pilots can expect to be on self-employed seasonal contracts (work the summer and off in the winter). If you don’t have a profession/ skill you can fall back on whilst out of work, things can become tough.

Option #6: Explore working for flying arrangements (sometimes abroad)

Although not completely free, some jobs will allow for free or subsidised flying as a form of payment. An example could be working as a coordinator at a flying school and instead of getting paid in money, you get paid at a lower rate but have access to significantly reduced aircraft rates. This may be an avenue worth exploring to allow you to progress your flying whilst also working.

Hour Building by towing gliders

Whilst you will need a private pilot licence and probably a certain amount of experience including a tail dragger rating, towing gliders can be an excellent way to build your hours and earn a modest wage whilst hour building.

You can get 200-300hours in a year as a tug pilot, which could save you the £12-15k hour building cost to meet the 200hour total time Commercial Pilot Licence requirement. When not towing gliders, you can do other jobs on the side to supplement your income.

The lifestyle will be modest, but Gliding as a whole is extremely rewarding. If you are in the South of England, check out Lasham Gliding Society!

Option #7: Take a pilot Training Loan – *RISKY OPTION* be very careful!

With pilot jobs being scarce and those lucky enough to remain in employment now on part-time work and taking pay cuts – be very cautious about taking a loan for your pilot training. Whilst I love being a pilot, the profession is far from secure, and at any moment you can lose your job, be put on unpaid leave or be forced to take a pay cut.

There is no easy answer as to how to fund your pilot training – gone are the days where you took a £100k or 150k loan and expected to be on a £45K first officer salary from day one to repay the loan. That does not exist anymore.


Option #8: Crowd funding

Crowdfunding has become a genuine way of learning to fly for free. Pilot training is extremely expensive with a lot still to be done to open up flying and make it more inclusive.

Why not set up a GoFundMe page for donations to pay for pilot training. There are some amazing stories of others who have been successful in raising enough money to pay for pilot training through crowdfunding.

Option #9: Airline-sponsored pilot training

British Airways Speedbird Pilot Academy

British Airways has unveiled its new “Speedbird Pilot Academy” aiming to make the dream of becoming a pilot more attainable. This initiative eliminates the cost barrier traditionally associated with pilot training, providing an equitable platform for aspiring aviators.

British Airways A380 departs London Heathrow Airport
British Airways A380 departs London Heathrow Airport – Shutterstock (Arnold Aaron)

Key Takeaways:

  1. Program Overview: Those selected for the program will train at an approved flight school, fully funded by British Airways. Once training is successfully completed, candidates will secure a position as a British Airways pilot.
  2. Breaking Down Barriers: With the exorbitant costs associated with pilot training, many talented individuals have been deterred from pursuing this career. British Airways is investing multi-million pounds into this program, ensuring it’s a genuine career path regardless of financial background.
  3. Diversity in Aviation: The airline is staunchly committed to enhancing diversity in the aviation sector. By promoting this program, they aim to attract candidates from various backgrounds, emphasizing that opportunities aren’t just limited to those who can cover initial training costs.
  4. Requirements: Among other criteria, applicants should be between 17-55 years old, have relevant academic qualifications, be fluent in English, and possess a valid passport that allows worldwide travel.
  5. What’s Included: Benefits comprise of training to obtain a fATPL, accommodation, food allowances, and financial support for obtaining a Class 1 medical. Additionally, a dynamic career path, varied roster patterns, company pension, and life insurance are among the other perks.
  6. Immediate Benefits Upon Joining: New joiners can enjoy unlimited discounted airfares for friends and family, discounts at select outlets, and benefits like private medical cover and a competitive salary.
  7. Application Process: Prospective candidates must submit their applications, complete required tests by 25th September 2023, and provide relevant supporting documents.
  8. Testing: The selection process involves a situational judgement test, followed by a math test and a checking test, with each test being eliminatory.

For those who’ve dreamt of soaring the skies and providing exceptional flight experiences, this initiative by British Airways is a golden opportunity to make that dream a reality. Everyone, from all walks of life, is encouraged to apply and embark on this thrilling journey.

How to apply: visit https://careers.ba.com/job/london/speedbird-pilot-academy/22348/54600080768

Application opening dates: 19th September 2023 until 25th September 2023

TUI Airline Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) Cadet Programme

TUI's new Boeing 737 MAX 8, delivered 2018. (© 2018 TUI)
TUI’s new Boeing 737 MAX 8, delivered 2018. (© 2018 TUI)

TUI Airlines has just announced that they will have a fully funded TUI Airline Multi-Crew Pilot Licence (MPL) Cadet Programme for those with little or no flying experience.

Training takes you from zero experience as a cadet to a fully qualified first office flying the Boeing 737 in 19 months!

No finance is needed upfront. Instead, training costs will be deducted during your first four years of employment. The salary is £32,867 (post deduction) 

How to apply: visit https://careers.tuigroup.com/uk/pilot-cadet-programme/

Application opening dates: From 14th December 2022

Areas and ideas to save money during my pilot training

PPL scholarship

Through the Honourable Company of Air Pilots, I did not have to pay for my PPL

Hour Building via hour building packaged & no equity scheme

I got an hour building package with ANT in Blackpool.

Saving money during ATPL Exams

I did my ATPL theory via distance learning. I managed to live at home and save on accommodation costs, whilst continuing to work in my engineering job.

How to reduce the cost of your Commercial Pilot Licence

I did my CPL with Westair on a Single Engine Piston aircraft. There is no need to complete your CPL on a twin. I estimate that this saved me around £7k.

Can I become a pilot without money?

Definitely! I started learning to fly without any money and this is how:

  1. Join the Air Cadets. They have (completely free) gliding introductory courses, gliding scholarships, air experience flights (powered) and flying scholarships.
  2. Apply for a Private Pilot Licence (PPL scholarship) with the Honourable Company of Air Pilots
  3. If you want to become a flying instructor, apply for the flying instructor course scholarship with the Honourable Company of Air Pilots.
  4. Join the Air League. The Air league have gliding scholarships and flying scholarships. If preparing for your ATPL theory exams, they also have bursaries to help you with that too.

Cheapest way to become a pilot

I read a post from one of my followers today, and it is clear that flying remains prohibitively expensive and out of reach for many despite their ability. This section will share the cheapest ways to become a pilot.

Become a glider pilot

The hourly rate of gliding is roughly 10% of what it would cost in a powered aircraft. Gliding offers many advantages – you have to be good in your stick and rudder coordination, you become much more adept at reading the weather as you have to find thermals, wave or ridge lift. 

Completing a gliding course for around £300-£500 will allow you to reach the solo standard, and from there, you learn to soar. Gliding is tremendous fun. Unlike a flying school, gliding clubs are very social places. 

Gliding is an all-day activity, i.e. you arrive in the morning, help set up the airfield and would typically be there all day even after you have flown to help with the running of the airfield, i.e. retrieving, towing, and winching gliders.

You can work towards the various gliding qualification, and once you have your glider pilot licence, if your ambition is to fly powered aircraft, you can convert your glider pilot licence into a Light Aircraft Pilot Licence (LAPL)

Completing your LAPL on a motor glider can be thousands of pounds cheaper. motorglide.co.uk recommends you budget around £5,000 for a LAPL in a motor glider vs >£8,000 in a powered aircraft.

LAPL is cheaper than a PPL

Getting a Light Aircraft Pilot Licence can be a lot cheaper than getting a full PPL. If all you want is to fly recreationally and in good weather, then a LAPL is often a more economical alternative.

A LAPS has lower hour requirements compared to a PPL. For example, to get a LAPL, you need 30 hours flying (6hours solo), 9 ground school exams and 80NM solo navigation and test.

In comparison, a PPL requires 45 hours flying (10hours solo), 9 ground school exams and 150NM solo navigation and test. 

The price difference between a LAPL and PPL is around £2,760, according to Leicestershire Aero Club

Motor gliding

Flying a motor glider instead of a Cessna can save you a fortune. For example, motor glider hours count towards your total time of hour building, but the net cost is much lower. A motor glider per hour costs is about £100/hr vs a Cessna or Piper Warrior hourly rate of £180 per hour.

If you have access to a motor glider or your local gliding club has one, then this can be a great way to hour build at a fraction of the cost.

Microlight cost less

Microlights can offer a cheaper way of becoming a pilot. You can get your microlight licence for around £4000, and if you want to go all the way to a full PPL, then doing so with a microlight could save about 35% compared to doing your PPL in a Cessna or Piper aircraft. 

According to flymac.co.uk, flying microlights is around 30% cheaper than flying a regular C150 or PA28, which means it is less expensive to maintain your licence. Microlights also need less distance to take off and land in, so you have more places you can fly into. The smaller the airfield, the cheaper the landing fees, giving even more savings!

If planning to fly recreationally, then the medical requirements to fly a microlight are much lower, meaning you can complete self-declarations saving on annual medical costs. 

Home/distance learning during flight training

If you can learn to fly from home, that is probably one of the cheapest options to learn to fly as you save on accommodation costs. During ATPL exams, I completed my study from home, which reduced my expenses, and it also meant that I could keep my full-time job and continue earning. 

If you already have a job, consider doing your pilot training around your existing career during your evenings and weekends instead of doing a full-time pilot training course. The benefit of doing your pilot training part-time around your existing job is that you can continue to receive an income whilst learning to fly.

Pilot training via the modular route does not necessarily take longer than a full-time course if you put your mind to it. Integrated pilot training duration is 18-24months on average and can be matched via the modular path. 18-24 months outside of employment is a long time of zero income, so it is worth getting a job/ qualification beforehand.

I believe part-time modular pilot training and has the advantage of being able to work at the same time as progressing your pilot training. Modular pilot training does have its issues too- no total ownership of your training, you have to motivate yourself etc. Modular training does not always work for everybody.

Take your time and spread the cost

We all want everything yesterday, but spreading the cost of pilot training over a longer time may make it more affordable than concentrating it over a short period. It took me ten years to get from PPL to the right-hand seat of a Boeing 737, and I could not have done it any faster as I did not have access to the money and financing beforehand.

Get a well-paying career in another field or start a side hustle.

Although not directly contributing to making pilot training cheaper. The cost of pilot training in the UK is around £70,000- £110,000, depending on who and how you complete your training. 

Suppose you can get an asset worth that amount beforehand, e.g. a buy to let property, or a side hustle or start a business. In that case, it will mean that you kind of ‘get pilot training for free’ as effectively your asset then pays for pilot training. 

Which is the cheapest country to become a pilot?

Changing countries that you complete your pilot training in can significantly reduce the cost of pilot training.

  • Poland is one of the cheapest countries to become a pilot.
  • The USA offers cheaper pilot training packages, but be mindful that you may need to convert your licences if you are planning to fly in Europe.
  • Hour building in the USA has always been famous because of the excellent weather and friendliness of the air traffic framework to general. 
  • South Africa is another alternative to get cheap pilot training. 

How to become a commercial pilot for free?

I do not believe free commercial pilot training exists anymore. Through a combination of scholarships and bursaries e.g. Honourable Company of Air Pilots PPL scholarship, Air League ATPL theory scholarship etc, you can reduce the overall cost of commercial pilot training.

How to become a pilot without fees

Check out the various scholarships and bursaries from the Honorable Company of Air Pilots and Air League. The Air Cadets are also an excellent avenue to learn to fly if you are still at school/college.

Can a poor person become a pilot

100%. Take advantage of any bursaries and flying scholarships available, e.g. Honourable Company of Air Pilot or the Air League. There is still a long way to go in terms of eliminating the high upfront cost barrier. Still, hopefully, in future, schemes will be available that open pilot training to everyone.

Is 24 too old to become a pilot?

Certainly not! I became a commercial airline pilot at 33 and now fly the B737 in Europe. The minimum age to get your Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) is 18, and you can fly commercially up to your 65th birthday!

If you found this useful and want to learn more, check out my best-selling Pilot Training Guide on Amazon.

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If you have any questions or I have missed anything, please leave me a message in the section below – I would love to hear from you!


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  1. I have been trying to become a pilot, even just a private pilot for 35 years. I have tried to open businesses, tried to save up, and steered clear of drugs, parties and alcohol. Nothing got me there. I learned to fly from friends who had their own aircraft but at the age of 52, owning a PPL is still an unreachable dream. I tried applying for the Air cadets through the years but got turned away five times because I am white. A life wasted chasing a dream…

  2. In my country, white people are not allowed to even apply for Aircadets.
    I have been trying to become a pilot, even just a private pilot for 35 years. I have tried to open businesses, tried to save up, and steered clear of drugs, parties and alcohol. Nothing got me there. I learned to fly from friends who had their own aircraft but at the age of 52, owning a PPL is still an unreachable dream. I tried applying for the Air cadets through the years but got turned away five times because I am white. A life wasted chasing a dream…

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