How to become a pilot if I don’t have money? 8 excellent options

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 Get A Private Pilot Licence

How To Get A Private Pilot Licence
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!

How to become a pilot for free

How to become a pilot for free
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.

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.

Now, the vast numbers of pilots out of work due to COVID19 will make it much harder to join the industry. 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
how much does a pilot earn first officer

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.

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.

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 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

How to become a pilot no money

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.

How to become a pilot for free

How to become a pilot for free

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

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

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

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!

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

How to apply: visit

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

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.

The scholarship launches on 29th November 2021 and applications will be accepted until 31st December 2021.

How to apply: visit

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.

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.

The cheapest way to become a pilot?

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.

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.

Listen to the Pilot Training Guide FREE with Audible here

See it on Amazon

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!

How to become a pilot no money

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