Besides the RAF is there a way of becoming a pilot without spending tens of thousands of pounds on flight training? I'm finishing university and looking to go into a career in flying, I can't join the RAF since I am partially colourblind so I would not be allowed to train as a pilot in the Air Force.

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    $\begingroup$ Marry a really rich person. There are additional benefits to that too. $\endgroup$
    – Farhan
    May 1, 2015 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ This is tough to answer. The money has to come from somewhere and a lot depends on your situation, your goals and how serious you are about becoming a pilot. Some options are a training grant, a higher education grant, support from your family, selling your house, getting a bank loan, etc., possibly combined with moving to another country where training is cheaper. $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    May 1, 2015 at 16:08
  • $\begingroup$ I was more wondering if there are any programs done by airlines where you get tuition payed and then work the hours off or something like that $\endgroup$
    – Naim Sen
    May 1, 2015 at 16:14
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    $\begingroup$ See this answer regarding British Airways. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    May 1, 2015 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ Also, are you sure that the colorblindness wouldn't be a problem for becoming an airline pilot? At least in the U.S., a Class I medical certificate (required for airline transport pilots) has the requirement that the pilot have the "Ability to perceive those colors necessary for the safe performance of airman duties." If RAF considers your condition a no-go, then EASA might, too. If you can't easily tell red from white, for example, that's going to be a big problem. :) $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    May 1, 2015 at 16:20

2 Answers 2


There's a finite minimum set of requirements you must meet to get that ATPL and type ratings, and there's a finite minimum cost associated with that.
Nothing's going to change that. The only thing you can possibly, maybe, change is who is going to pay that money.

So don't fail any of the tests. The ONLY way to reduce the cost is to complete the training in as short a time as possible. Which means minimising flight hours, simulator hours, and retaking of courses. All of which boils down to passing every test first try.

And it will still take tens of thousands of pounds.

Going the Air Force route is also takes tens of thousands of pounds, except the air force (and thus other people, taxpayers) pick up part of the bill.
Same with every other scenario in which you're not paying everything yourself. Someone, somewhere, is paying for it.
Used to be (and maybe still is, but it's unlikely given the glut of unemployed pilots) some airlines would take on people and train them from scratch. But that's now rare. Most at the very least require you to have your PPL already, and many won't hire you unless you are qualified on at least some aircraft in their fleet.

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    $\begingroup$ Same with every other scenario in which you're not paying everything yourself. Someone, somewhere, is paying for it. Very valuable point to remember. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    May 2, 2015 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ I understand that, I wasn't looking for someone to teach me to fly for free rather a subsidized program by an airline because hopefully they want to train pilots haha. Thanks for the advice on the tests though, I wonder how brave a bank would have to be to give me a loan like that $\endgroup$
    – Naim Sen
    May 2, 2015 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ "Someone, somewhere is paying for it:" ...and will expect something for their money, which is why military pilot training comes with a service obligation. $\endgroup$
    – cpast
    May 2, 2015 at 23:12
  • $\begingroup$ In addition to the cost, the FAA is setting some pretty high bars for U.S. airline pilots which I would assume are being mirrored elsewhere. An FAA commercial pilot's license requires a minimum of only 250 hours total flight time including a minimum number of hours in various specific situations (night/adverse weather, >50mi from home airport, multi-engine or jet aircraft). To fly for a major airline, however, requires 1500 hours total flight time before they'll even let you in the cockpit, then another 1000 hours as FO before you can fly as Captain. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    May 4, 2015 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ On the bright side, since the U.S. Armed Services went volunteer/career, they've worked much harder to retain their trained flight officers for at least the full 20 years, a strategy also mirrored by other nations, so you don't see nearly as many of those pilots transitioning to civilian work as you did 30-40 years ago with the mass HDs of servicemen after a major engagement. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    May 4, 2015 at 22:48

It looks like British Airways may still offer their Future Pilots program, which Danny Beckett mentioned in this answer.

Another possible option would be to move to another (probably non-Western) country for a while. Southeast Asia in particular is experiencing a large amount of growth in airline traffic and seems to hire lots of American, Australian, and European pilots, so you might be more likely to find openings in a program there that would cover the cost. The Middle East might also be an option, given their current huge growth in airline traffic, though I'm not sure what their hiring policies are like.

Cathay Pacific is an example of such a program in Southeast Asia. Among their listed programs for hiring flight crew is their Cadet Pilot Programme. They hire people from all over and send them to a flight training school in Australia. I remember them even advertising this program on the plane the last time I flew with them (a couple of years ago.) Being a former British colony, someone from the U.K. would probably fit in well there. I think every pilot I had on my last trip with them was either American, British, or Australian. Seems like it would be a fun airline to fly for, too, if you were ok with moving to Hong Kong for at least whatever their commitment period is. With the vast majority of their flights being international on wide-bodies, you'd likely get to heavy jets much more quickly than you would in Europe or, especially, the U.S.

One additional thing to note, though, as I mentioned in my comment earlier, if you don't meet RAF's requirements due to your eyesight, you may also have trouble getting the necessary medical certificate for an Airline Transport Pilot license, especially in Europe or the U.S. It turns out the EASA's requirement's regarding color vision are pretty much identical to the ones I mentioned in my comment earlier regarding FAA standards. According to the UK CAA:

(a) Applicants shall be required to demonstrate the ability to perceive readily the colours that are necessary for the safe performance of duties.

(b) Examination
(1) Applicants shall pass the Ishihara test for the initial issue of a medical certificate.
(2) Applicants who fail to pass in the Ishihara test shall undergo further colour perception testing to establish whether they are colour safe.

(c) In the case of class 1 medical certificates, applicants shall have normal perception of colours or be colour safe. Applicants who fail further colour perception testing shall be assessed as unfit. Applicants for a class 1 medical certificate shall be referred to the licensing authority.


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