Getting it for free: Really?

October 21st, 2013 by Amy Laboda

How a scholarship can make the difference, and why you should help.

I once interviewed an airline pilot who absolutely did not want anyone to know that a scholarship for a jet type-rating had been the catalyst for that person to reach the right seat on a Boeing. That pilot feared reprisal from the other pilots at work, and for good reason. There were pilots at the airline that were known for hazing those they felt had not “earned” their way to the jet cockpit.

If those hazers had only spent a little time on a scholarship committee with any one of the numerous organizations, including AOPA, that solicit and administrate these aviation scholarships, then they might change their tune. I spent years reading and “grading” applicants for Women in Aviation, International’s scholarships and I can tell you that 90 percent of those who apply, especially at the upper realm (Boeing 737 and Lear 45 type ratings) are prodigiously over-qualified for that which they apply. And 100 percent of those who are awarded said scholarships are not just deserving of them, they typically perform well ahead of their peers in both the classroom and the cockpit. It is too bad the scholarship winners can’t challenge the hazers to a “fly-off.” I think we’d see who the best pilots were, then.

Airlines, by the way, know all this—which is why they offer scholarships. One year, during the awards ceremony for the Women in Aviation, International scholarships, then Chief Pilot at American Airlines Cecil Ewell awarded the four type-rating scholarships that the company had promised, and then called the 10 runners-up onto the stage. He smiled at them, and applauded them for applying for the awards, and told them that they all were over-qualified for positions as pilots at American Airlines. “So,” he said, “I can’t offer you scholarships, because those have already been awarded. I can, however, offer you jobs. Show up Monday, fly your simulator test, and if you pass that you’ll be processed.” That was that. Ten new airline pilots. All qualified or better for their positions. He’d saved his company both time and money by hiring them from their scholarship applications and interviews.

Some people have also quietly bemoaned to me their worries that these scholarship winners don’t appreciate the leg up that they are given in the aviation training world, and don’t advance the way someone who had to pay out of their pocket would. I’d beg to differ there, too, and I’ve got years worth of “Where are they now?” stories that I’ve collected and published to prove it. Scholarship recipients are moving ahead, persevering longer in the profession, even, during economic downturns, perhaps because they might have just a little more in reserve, since they didn’t drain every last penny out of a savings account to obtain their training. Or maybe it is just that they are so determined to make it in aviation. I’m not sure, but I’d bet their success ratio is a heady mix of both, and maybe even a few more reasons. But know this: they succeed in aviation at a rate higher than the general populace.

If we are serious about growing the ranks of aviation and sustaining a vibrant general aviation culture into the next 100 years, we’ve got to pay it forward again and again. There are terrific opportunities for qualified individuals of all walks in life to step into aviation and advance out there. Look them up at,,, and more. Google “aviation scholarships” and send the results to someone you know with a dream. Then take your place among the ranks of those who want to help.

Amy Laboda

Amy Laboda has been writing, editing and publishing print materials for more than 28 years on an international scale. From conception to design to production, Laboda helps businesses and associations communicate through various media with their clients, valued donors, or struggling students who aspire to earn scholarships and one day lead. An ATP-rated pilot with multiple flight instructor ratings, Laboda enjoys flying her two experimental aircraft and being active in the airpark community in which she lives.

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The opinions expressed by the bloggers do not reflect AOPA’s position on any topic.

  • Catherine

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  • Bill

    I’m not one of the hazing pilots, but I can say that much of the cause of resentment comes from scholarship programs available only to specific groups and not open equally to all interested applicants. Awards that target only women, so-called minorities, etc… They say they want to be equal but don’t practice it themselves, and often accelerate people to a level that so many “Paid their dues” to earn.
    Hazing is wrong, but so is discrimination.

  • Bill

    ‘ Women in Aviation’, NAACP, BET, United negro college fund, etc, etc. They are all the same. Helping people of certain races or genders as long as they are NOT white men. You people make me sick. It SHOULD be scholarships for anyone with the desire and performance to achieve their dream. I spent five years as a military aviator before I was looked at by the airlines. They were busy hiring unqualified ‘minorities’.
    As far as a flyoff, I challange anyone you can come up with, including yourself Amy. Anytime, anywhere.

    • Nathan Lee

      So much for being judged by content of character and not color of skin… Minority group scholarships have always bothered me as well.

    • Larry M. Coleman

      Bill, the pharmacy called. They said you never refilled your last prescription and are afraid you’re off your meds again.

      Naturally, it couldn’t be your INCREDIBLE lack of personality that caused you not to be looked at by the airlines. No, of course not. It’s just GOT to be some liberal conspiracy against you. I mean, who wouldn’t want to spend hours next to you in a cockpit hearing all about how awesome you are?

      You know what all those failed airline interviews have in common? No, not minorities. What they all have in common is you. THAT’S what should you make you sick, instead of whining about everyone else and issuing sad little challenges to anyone who doesn’t immediately think you’re as insanely great as you do.

      • Don Lear

        Mr Coleman,
        I don’t usually respond to blogs but I thought your response was completely unfair to Bill’s comments. I began my professional flying career when qualified white men were being bypassed for an airline job while minorities were being hired with much less experience. Did I miss my medication as well?
        I too believe that EVERYONE should be able to get scholarships regardless of race, gender, or creed. Seeing Bill spent years in the military only proves his deep desire to attain a coveted airline seat. You don’t know this man and to insult him because you disagree with his candid remarks is wrong. BTW, I didn’t read where Bill had ANY interviews. I understood he was not called. Maybe you should check the label on your prescription. The one that warns too much will cause you to jump to conclusions.
        Don Lear
        ATP, 727,737,747,757,767, Lear, HS125, CE-500

        • Donnie M

          Right on Don. Larry needs to take a chill pill…lol.

        • Larry M. Coleman

          If you’re that good, you will be hired regardless of what other people, animals, martians, or blueberries apply. The excuse that anyone who didn’t get hired always uses is that it is because someone “took” their job and the world is rigged against them. It’s a nice, convenient way of making yourself feel better by placing the blame on someone else. Signing off with an alphabet soup of letters and numbers under your name is something that people who want to make themselves feel better do, too.

          (Are you going to say I just insulted you by pointing that out? I hope not, because at least I didn’t say–as Bill did–“you people make me sick.”)

          You’re right that I don’t know Bill. But I do know that I’ve met dozens of people just like him: people who think they’re the greatest thing to ever happen to aviation and can’t let one second go by without telling you that. Every time they walked in the room, they sucked the life out right out of the air. So they go to an interview and the interviewer feels the life sucked out of the desk in front of him and thinks, “I’d hate to be next to this guy in a cockpit from NY to LA. Next.” They don’t get called and naturally it’s because of some woman or some minority or someone else besides them. Eventually, out of the sheer power of numbers, they get picked up by some company, then spend their time complaining that they haven’t made captain in nine months on the job. Must be because the black guy who just got promoted ahead of him had some affirmative action thing. (The fact that the black guy had seniority number about a thousand higher is irrelevant to our hero.)

          If you feel so strongly about scholarships being for anyone, then start your own and be part of the solution instead of just complaining about the problem. I did. That’s the beauty of freedom: you don’t have to get someone else’s permission to pitch in and make things better.

    • Amy Laboda

      You all really need to take the time to research before you post these scholarships. Though the name of the organization is Women in Aviation, International, the scholarships are open to men and women. If you read the scholarships, or the organization’s mission statement, you’d know that. does not discriminate.

  • Fred

    Welcome to the world of liberalism!

  • Roger

    Hazing is not new. United, back in the 1960’s, had a program for qualified employees that would pay for their commercial rating and the required 300 hours. They would be hired as second officers but did not get to fly the airplane, had to do all the preflights in rotten weather, got paid next to nothing, AND had to carry the captain’s bags. But, they also knew if they persevered the rewards would be there.

  • Larry Davis

    I agree with Bill. I’m not an airline pilot but I agree scholarships should be available to anyone. No reverse discrimination please.

  • Amy Laboda

    And AOPA, NBAA, EAA scholarships and more were all named in this post. So, why would you even jump on the WAI scholarships (again, which does not discriminate based on gender or race)?

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