Pilot and ATP student commits suicide using Cessna 172

2 Feb 24 5 Comments

On the 24th of January 2024, a brand new Cessna 172 was stolen from ATP Flight School in Addison, Texas, and deliberately crashed, killing the pilot who was the only occupant.

ATP Flight School claims to be the largest commercial pilot flight academy in the US. ATP offers airline-oriented flight training and is said to be a fast track to become a pilot with United Airlines and other top US airlines.

With the ATP Airline Career Pilot Program, which is their focus, students with zero hours/experience pay just over $100,000 to walk out as a commercial multi-engine pilot and a certified flight instructor. The graduates then build up their flight hours as instructors until they meet minimum hours required by the airlines. ATP Flight Schools are described as high-stress and with constant pressure.

A quick search on ATP on the flying subreddit found me the following recent quotes:

Now, your instructors are humans, and they are not malicious. But ATP is like a machine and the instructors seem to feel an enormous amount of pressure to push you through! Be ready to study harder than you have ever done before and to treat every flight like a check ride. This is the only way to prepare yourself for success.

Literally, I would wake up at 3am to fly at 4am, then proceed to study at the training center until 5pm. After that, I would go to the gym for an hour, return to the student housing and study until 10-11pm. This happened almost every day for 4 weeks. The 4am flights didn’t happen everyday, so on most days I would show up at 8am at the training center for ground study. This was tough! These days were spent building your lesson plans and practicing them with your peers. Those who showed up passed the ride, those who did not study were the ones who didn’t make it.

You will be doing the bare minimum to get you checkride ready as fast as possible and push you along to the next rating. It is fast paced and high stress. It is not for everybody and thats ok. I loved it and never busted a checkride. Your might get a 300 hour CFI or a 1000 hour CFI. You dont get to choose. I ended up getting a 300 hour one who would show up hungover so I got myself a mentor (with literally every single rating the FAA issues from A&P/IA to DPE, seaplane to rotary) to teach me the ins and outs of aviation after graduating and I now feel like I have a solid foundation of knowledge along with a dash of confidence. To paint a better picture, I started with 8 people and finished with 3.

I recently moved across the country to start flight training at ATP in Arizona, I have around 18 hours so far, my instructor keeps getting mad at me and stressing me out by telling me I’ll never be a pilot. My approaches are bad, my communication with atc are bad, I’m not really catching on to designated flight zones, i’m terrible at flying in traffic, I just don’t know what to do. I’ve been doing non stop ground work, but I don’t even want to fly anymore.

I want out, because looking at my finances, assuming I pass everything (which is unbelievably uncommon), I will most likely owe $130,000 in student loans. With the pay rate at which instructors get, there is absolutely no way I can repay that loan, as well as my other bills, as a CFI with ATP. Not to mention that I’m not even guaranteed a job, and could potentially wait months for an opening. However, if I discontinue the program, there’s a good chance that I will still owe nearly $70,000. 70k for 12 months worth of living expenses, checkride fees, sim fees, overflight time, actual flight time, ground fees, online course fees, fuel surcharge, post and pre-flight fees, and more. In fact, I’ll be lucky if I just owe 70k. Not many know about this information, but if you’re thinking about ATP, don’t! No dream is worth being taken advantage of like this.

Now, that’s not to say there aren’t plenty of good pilots coming out of the system, but if you don’t fit in? It sounds like it is soul destroying.

The Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP, registered in the US as N23107, is apparently the same as the Cessna 172S (the most recent model, introduced in 1998) with leather seats and dual-axis autopilot. N23107 was manufactured in 2023 with an airworthiness date of 22 December 2023 and then purchased by ATP Aircraft 1 LLC. ATP use “Career Track” as their call sign; the Cessna 172 had a call sign of Career Track 655.

On the Wednesday evening, about 19:00 local time, a pilot attending ATP Flight School took the aircraft for a flight without permission. ATP do not lock their aircraft; the students have codes in order to gain access to the airport.

Local media referred to the pilot as a “student pilot”, which is not quite correct: having received his PPL on Christmas Eve of last year, he was both a pilot and a student.

The pilot told ATC that he was going to perform touch-and-go manoeuvres, which are common during training. For a touch-and-go, the pilot literally touches down on the runway and then quickly reconfigures the aircraft and takes off again without ever slowing down. The point is to practice landings as efficiently as possible by immediately going back into the circuit and setting up for a new landing.

Here is the audio from LiveATC.net archive but it is hard to listen to:


The following is my transcription of the the exchange between Addison Tower and the pilot.

Addison Tower: Career Track 655, runway 34, cleared touch and go.

Career Track 655: 34, cleared touch and go.

The pilot performed one touch-and-go but after the aircraft had pulled away from the runway, the pilot made a chilling call to the Tower.

Career Track 655: Addison Tower, Career Track 655 is actually going to depart to the east. I’m climbing up through the clouds and then just going to head outside of everything and … Uh, about right now, you’ll probably realise that I’m not going to listen to your instructions and I’m just heading to East Texas and I’m Career Track. So, I’m going to pull the Comm 1 circuit breaker and the Comm 2 circuit breaker right here, soon as I unkey the mike.

Pulling the circuit breakers means that the two radios (Comm 1 and Comm 2) will no longer function, so there’s no way to contact the pilot.

Addison Tower: Career Track 655, [this is] Addison Tower. Say again?

And then there was silence. It was instrument conditions, with cloud cover in the area reported as low as 200 feet with low visibility.

The controller tried repeatedly to contact the pilot and received no response.

The pilot departed from the circuit heading east and then flew a figure eight before turning left for a northbound heading and then another left turn towards the north west, travelling a total of 100 nautical miles. The ADSB track is available on Globe ADS-B Exchange.

Then, the Cessna climbed to 11,000 feet before starting a rapid descent at nearly 5,000 feet per minute. A normal descent in a small aircraft like this is around 500 feet per minute.

The audio was posted to social media sites within a couple of hours, before the wreckage had been found.

With the low cloud, it took search and rescue over two hours to find the wreckage, which was eventually spotted at around 23:00 local time using a drone.

The NTSB is examining the wreckage and data from the flight while the FAA investigate regulatory issues involved with the taking of the aircraft.

5 Comments

  • From what I read here, ATP does not come across as much as a bona fides flying academy, rather as a ruthless cash cow for the owners.
    A CFI who repeatedly reports for duty hung over?
    A regime that requires unrealistic hours of study – and then puts student pilots through actual flight training?
    Far too much pressure.
    It reminds me of the movie “Full Metal Jacket”.
    What type of aircraft, or simulators, do they use for IFR and ME training?
    How many pilots actually made it into the airlines?
    Obviously, the suicide pilot cracked under the pressure.
    Maybe there was financial pressure as well?
    Poor guy!
    My heart goes out.

    • As an ATP Graduate I can say: Like anything, there are good and bad situations. For me, ATP was a wonderful experience. Yes, it was the toughest thing I ever did in my life…but looking back, I would do it again. It’s all how you look at it.

  • “ATP does not come across as much as a bona fides flying academy, rather as a ruthless cash cow for the owners.”

    In the US, it’s not clear there’s a difference.

    The one difference I see between ATP and most for-profit “educational institutions” is that ATP loses (or forces out) those who can’t stand the training, and appears (from Sylvia’s description) to be respected enough that survivors who can build up their hours can actually get a serious job; most of the for-profit schools string along students to keep collecting tuition, and see many of their “graduates” unable to get jobs in the fields they’ve ostensibly trained in. These institutions had survived in large part because either their “training” isn’t actually checked — people are studying in fields that don’t have independent competence exams — or not enough noise is made about the fraction of graduates who fail their independent exams. (I wonder whether ATP has staff who are certified to test would-be private/instrument/commerical pilots or must get them from outside?) This is starting to change — some of the worst offenders have been shut down — but there is still cleanup to be done, and there’s a political party looking out for donations from these institutions instead of the interests of the students and the public. I don’t know whether this person was as horridly oversold as I constantly read happens to potential students of non-aviation for-profit trade schools, but I’m not surprised to hear that someone was so stressed by the process described in the quotes that he thought this was a way out. All sympathies to him — and here’s hoping that some of those quotes (e.g., the hungover instructor) get followed up.

    I note that Sylvia cites United as hiring ATP grads; when I Googled “pilot training”, ATP’s sponsored link came up first but United’s own flying academy comes up fourth (the first non-sponsored link). I wonder how many graduates of other schools United takes, given that there are 3 other major airlines (and several smaller ones) interested in those graduates.

    To one of Rudy’s other points: ATP apparently has at least some up-to-date aircraft; I did my IFR training and my only IFR flight in a C172 (much earlier vintage), so I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that ATP was using IFR-capable C172’s for that part of training. I don’t know what is the lowest-level Cessna that is complex enough for the final stages of a commercial license, but I expect that’s what ATP uses; anything more would be an added expense.

    And I wonder about the idea that students who have gotten their CFI can build up hours at ATP; even if >50% of students (per one of the blockquotes) don’t get that far; ISTM that one instructor would handle >>2 neos, meaning some grads have to find teaching jobs elsewhere (and how many just-for-beginners flight schools are there, given how expensive flying has gotten?) or build up hours through traditional drudgery (e.g., banner towing — a few lucky ones might get to fly tourists around Denali, Grand Canyon, etc., or for tiny airlines that still don’t use turbine engines) to fill the gap between the ?200? needed for a commercial license and the ?1500? needed to test for an ATP.

  • A few remarks: (Well, few?)
    A “flying academy” is supposed to be a step above a flying club, where a 300 hour CFI can successfully teach students the skills for a PPL in a congenial and relaxed atmosphere.
    Training for a professional career requires more.
    ATP seems to be a pressure cooker.
    Do they submit potential candidates to a selection process?
    Do they give the candidates an honest appraisal of their basic ability to manage a complex piece of machinery, in full motion, to absorb the necessary skills to perform in a situation of high stress?
    Do they explain that hey will have to demonstrate an ability to absorb and apply a lot of rules and regulations, apart from the theoretical knowledge required (this can be managed by any student at high school leaving certificate level)?
    To be able to apply skills and knowledge under high stress and in an atmosphere where a very high ability to remain disciplined?
    And all that whilst remaining a competent member of a skilled team?
    These skills can be assessed before taking a huge amount of money from a candidate who may never get a job with enough pay to have a re4alistic chance of repaying their student loans.
    Even if they graduate; let alone drop out before graduating.
    Some airlines use specialist institutes as part of this assessment.
    In many cases the candidate is charged a reasonably modest amount.
    It may involve psychological and basic motor skills.
    I once did a test to measure my reaction time. It was simple: standing under a rack, like a soccer goal. Rods were suspended and released at random. I had to try and grab them as they fell. I passed that one (to paraphrase Donald Trump:: “I aced it!”
    I was also sent to a psychologist. I don’t know the outcome, but since I was hired I “aced” that one as well.
    Some airlines hire pilots directly from a flying academy. They usually are given a flight check. I was put in a simulator and given a problem to solve whilst flying. I “aced” that one too!
    This process, “Grading”, may not be free of charge, but it can weed out candidates who are not suitable for an airline career, before they really commit themselves to bank loans that they may never be able to repay.
    Any profession has people with exceptional ability among its ranks..
    The airlines need pilots, many. Top flying academies cannot churn them out in sufficient numbers, so graduates from the sharks among the institutes may well be considered.
    The industry is not looking for the next generation of Chuck Yeager or Sullenberger. If that were the case, very few airlines would employ more than a handful of pilots. They are looking for the “average” man or women. But by “average” I mean: people of average ability among a group of highly skilled professionals.
    In my flying career I was no more than “average”.
    I started when I was working in the office of a flying school, and could avail of flying lessons at a ridiculously low price. I did that only to know more about the background of my job.
    I soloed after about 7 few hours in a Piper Cub.
    Then I took a job in Nigeria and joined Lagos Flying Club. I got my PPL there. And a year later I got a basic CPL.
    And became a banner-towing pilot. With a few thousand hours on mainly Piper Super Cub.
    It took me a long, long time to get the funds together for an instrument rating. In those days, airlines were laying off. Not hiring. So it was a stroke of luck when I came in contact with an industrialist with a PPL and instrument rating. He had just bought a brand-new Cessna 310 and took me in on an occasional basic as a safety pilot.
    Only, he had a rapidly expanding company to run. And so I qualified with a ME and IFR rating long before he did.
    Of course, he wanted to make use of his aircraft, so that got me a full-time job which brought me into the world of professional aviation.
    My wife had used her savings for my IF rating, we had no huge bank loans but by the time airlines really started hiring it was too late for me to make the step.
    Our C310 operation was voluntarily monitored by airline captains to ensure a professional standard.
    Eventually I did get into an airline, , but I was “behind the hiring curve”.
    Yet, I accumulated more than 22.000 hours without accident.
    And was PIC on such diverse aircraft like Cessna 310/340, Piper Aztec, Shorts Skyvan, Shorts 3-60, Metroliner 2, ATR 42, Fokker F27, Learjet 25D, SN610 Corvette, Cessna Citation 500/550/560 and was “pipped to the post” for command on the Bac 1-11. One command slot was available, another FO had been hired a week before me. That meant more seniority, so I got the ATR instead.
    I have no idea how many pilots who graduated from the likes of ATP found their way into serious airlines.
    Small commuter airlines seem to work on a shoestring budget. The oversight of aviation in the USA, with its enormous number of operators, is a hard task for the FAA. I am not criticizing the FAA, it is a very professional organisation, but in some cases corners are being cut if the operator thinks that they are sufficiently out of sight..
    Here in Europe the CAA is not as overwhelmed by the sheer numbers and consequently I think that the standard is in general a bit higher.
    But even so, commuter crew salaries are low, much lower than airline pay.
    In my early days as captain with Ryanair the driver of the bowser who filled the tanks of the BAC 1-11 and ATR 42 that I flew got paid substantially more than a junior captain like me.
    That has changed. Dramatically.
    But I must come to a conclusion of this essay..
    The point that I am making is that the current demand for pilots has enabled ruthless flying schools to convince candidates to part with a lot of money, without any real guarantee that they will ever make a decent career out of it.
    Of course, some of the more talented, or lucky, graduates will find their way in. But many, if not most, will have to scrape by financially for many years before landing a job that will enable them to repay their loans and maintain a half-decent style of living.

  • I attended that very school in 2013 when I got double pneumonia ,the vice president kicked me out because I wasn’t flying and I guess and not making them any money. Apparently the way it works is they can charge the amount of the flight fuel and the flight instructor time but only when you’re actually there, so I’m out three months with double pneumonia, and they are just on me every day to be at the field. I’m like dude I have double pneumonia. Are you kidding! ? They weren’t getting paid so they want me back in school ASAP.

    So it was a nice Christmas present to be kicked out of flight school when I worked really hard to get in, and it was a little devastating to be quite frank.

    Long story short, I have my pilot certificates I got them somewhere else, but ATP was a mistake! Don’t attend there!

    They saddled me with a horrible instructor who was a racist and he would often smoke by a 737.

    They use high-pressure techniques on the students and they’re on your case all the time dude, you just can’t fly and not be just either really pissed off all the time or just tense , there’s no relaxing and they don’t care about their students .

    When I first attended there , the administrator of the school tried to shake me down for a $3000 bonus. I don’t know where that came from. Or what justification is he used.

    I studied hard I studied real hard. I wanted it, but they kicked me out…

    the vice president, Jim – calls me up and ask me “who gets double pneumonia in September? “ He kicked me out leaving me with a student loan that I had to pay with nothing to show for it.

    Logan was the victim- he was prob just a good kid with dreams of aviation and they unpacked all their little tactics on him to get that sweet student loan money, and just rode his azz busted on him to where he just had a n epic meltdown… We are human beings and we all have our threshold.

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