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  • Laura Laster

How Your Choice of Flight Training Programs Affects Your Future

If you read about getting the coveted Restricted Airline Transport Pilot (R-ATP) certificate, you would think it was fairly straightforward. According to www.boldmethod.com: “Graduates from approved four-year universities with a Bachelor's degree and an aviation major need only 1000 hours total flight time and 200 hours cross-country time if they:

  • Complete at least 60 credit hours of aviation related coursework,

  • Hold a Commercial Pilot Certificate that was earned through the university's part 141 training program,

  • If they complete less than 60 credit hours, but at least 30 credit hours, they need 1250 hours total flight time and 200 hours cross-country time”

Key to this whole path is the FIRST bullet point. You must complete at least 60 credit hours of aviation related coursework. That sounds simple as well. Students who attend an aviation degree program must be getting at least 60 credits of aviation related courses, right? After all, the students I work with at LeTourneau University (LETU) are graduating at over 125 credits.


From working directly with the FAA office that approves the “aviation related coursework,” I can say for sure that it is not just as simple as it seems. Many courses that I would consider to be aviation related are not automatically or easily approved by the FAA. For example, Advanced Gas Turbine Engines lab is not an approved aviation related course. Neither is Aircraft Inspections. If you want to fly for an airline, an additional 500 hours of flight time is going to take you many months to accrue, costing you pilot senority in the long arun.

All the details for what the FAA uses in its criteria of what they consider to be “aviation related coursework” are found in Advisory Circular 61-139. Each accredited college or university must go through a lengthy application process for the courses and majors it wants to have approved toward the golden 60 credit hours for its students.

The result is that it is absolutely critical for students on a professional pilot track to do the research and ask pointed questions of the university they are considering. Ideally, the university you are considering should allow the student to review its Letter of Authorization with the FAA and compare it with course sequences so that the prospective student knows for sure if his or her degree choice will allow them to reach the magical number of 60 credits. The magic 60 credits allows the pilot to qualify for the R-ATP with 1,000 hours total time. Better yet, the university will have all this in usable form publicly accessible on their website so prospective students can see what courses are actually approved and count towards the hour requirement. Unfortunately, many schools have little to no concrete or specific information available to review online, and many college admissions personnel are just not familiar with aviation jargon.

Be extremely cautious of making the decision to start flight training before attending college! In my working with students, I have seen disappointment among students who have done some flight training, especially an instrument rating, outside of a university environment, because they will not qualify for a R-ATP certificate.

The FAA doesn’t allow credit to be given for flight training not done in an approved degree program. Often these lost credits cause the student to be just shy of the 60 credit mark causing them to have to fly 250 or even 500 hours more to reach ATP minimums. Again, in today's pilot shortage driven regional airline industry, seniority is king. Don't sell yourself short by failing to do your research!

For more information, and to review R-ATP in detail on the LETU website, visit http://bit.ly/R-ATP. If you speak flow charts, I've created a PDF flow chart to walk you through what you need to accomplish.