Commercial airline pilots can expect to earn about $123,250 a year once their career is established or potentially considerably more. This pay reflects their high level of skills and training. It also compensates them for the stressful job of ensuring that their passengers arrive safely at their destination. While a pilot just starting out might earn a salary of around $50,000, with experience and first officer credentials with a large airline, it’s possible to make upwards of $700,000 in some cases.
Here’s a closer look at what pilots earn. Read on for average salaries for commercial airline pilots, the necessary training, whom they can work for, and their typical career progression.
What Is the Job of a Commercial Airline Pilot?
Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes, but some also fly helicopters and other aircraft. They work variable schedules with overnight layovers. This is particularly the case for long-haul commercial airline pilots, many of whom fly worldwide and through different time zones. Airline pilots require a bachelor’s degree and experience as a commercial or military pilot. Commercial pilots must adhere to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requirements, which include flight training.
According to Inflight Pilot Training, most commercial pilots fly approximately 75 hours a month. They also spend around 150 hours completing flight plans, checking weather conditions, and preparing flight crews. Pilots also sleep overnight at destinations and may take several days off for rest. (After all, they are not immune to that jetlag you get when traveling far afield.)
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How Much Do Starting Airline Pilots Make?
Airline pilots start as first officers, and how much they make in their early years depends on the airline they fly for. Starting airline pilot pay can range from $56,000 to around a $100,000 a year salary. According to Epic Flight Academy, in year 1, a first officer could earn $56,000 with Air Canada and up to $100,000 with Alaska Airlines.
Wondering “How much does a pilot make an hour?” At $56,000, the per-hour pay would be $26.92 for a typical job. However, it’s worth noting that while pilots may work 50 or more hours per work, they on average only actually fly for 22 or so hours per week. Even the lowest salary mentioned here can be well above the minimum wage in many states, reflecting the level of training and skill pilots must have.
How Much Does a Pilot Make?
How much does a pilot make a year on average? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for commercial pilots was $123,250 in May 2022, which is the most recent data available.
However, according to Epic Flight Academy, pilots’ competitive pay varies widely depending on their years of service, the airline they work for, the routes they fly, and the type of airplane they fly. Epic Flight Academy reports an average pilot salary of over $200,000, with a range from $56,000 all the way to $700,000.
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The Mean Annual Salary by State for Commercial Pilots for 2022
Here’s a list of the mean annual salaries by state for commercial airline pilots in 2022 based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (This is the most recent year studied, but there is a good chance that salary inflation will increase these figures as time passes.)
|Annual Mean Wage (US$)
* Data from Career Explorer
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Pilot Job Considerations for Pay and Benefits
Most commercial pilots in the United States and Canada are members of the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), which means they are unionized. Belonging to a union means pilot groups can negotiate their pay, benefits, work rules, and work conditions. For example, the work of a cargo pilot is different from a commercial pilot, and the pay is negotiated considering the pilot’s working environment.
Some regional carriers offer first officers sign-on first-year bonuses as well as retention bonuses. According to CleartoDream, for example, Air Wisconsin provides a $5,000 sign-on bonus, an $18,0000 retention bonus, and various other bonuses up to $30,000 for pilots that reach certain milestones and qualifications. Many airlines also offer career-progression opportunities.
Using intel from The Pilot Guys and other sources, here is a typical career path for a commercial pilot.
1. Getting a Commercial Pilot’s Certificate
It’s likely to take one to two years to complete the training to become a commercial airline pilot. According to the Pilot Guys website, this can cost around $100,000. Once a pilot has their commercial pilot’s certificate, they complete instructor training and the 1,500 hours of flight time required by the FAA to become an airline pilot.
2. Instructing and Accumulating Flight Hours
Pilots can earn an entry-level salary of around $30 an hour teaching other trainee pilots as part of their instructor training. These hours go towards completing the 1,500 hours of flight time.
3. Flying for a Regional Airline
Newbie pilots typically start flying for a small, regional airline, such as Air Wisconsin or Endeavor. These airlines pay less than the bigger airlines like Delta or American Airlines, probably in the region of $50,000 to $100,000 a year.
4. Flying as a Captain for a Regional Airline
After two or three years and around 1,000 hours of flying, a pilot can work for a regional airline and become a captain. This is a good stepping stone to working for a larger airline, and salaries may reach $200,000. Pilot’s need experience flying larger and more complex aircraft to fly for a large airline.
5. Flying for a Major Airline
After two or three years as a captain for a regional airline, a pilot could join a major airline as a first officer. First officers for large airlines can sometimes earn up to and over $600,000 depending on their experience (sometimes five years or more) and whether they are flying long-haul routes.
Pilots can also fly overtime and earn thousands more. They are limited to 100 hours in a 28-day period and 1,000 hours of overtime a year. However, most pilots fly at least 70 hours a month. The combination of a high salary and overtime pay as well can be a path to building one’s net worth.
Other perks associated with being an airline pilot if you work for a large airline are visiting different parts of the world where hotels and meals are paid for. As a representative of a major airline, pilots receive a per-diem expense allowance when they are working.
Pilots also receive generous benefits. For example, those can include paid time off, health and dental insurance, and a retirement package. Pilots also receive free and discounted air tickets for family and friends.
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Pros and Cons of a Pilot Salary
There are plenty of advantages to earning a living as a pilot. Notably, pilots receive good benefits and discounted flights for friends and family. That said, there is a downside to a career as a pilot. These include long hours away from home and a significant amount of stress. Plus, the FAA mandates that pilots retire at age 65. For some, that’s a benefit, but others might want to find a job as a retiree after their career in the skies.
While you can earn a high hourly rate as a pilot, it’s wise to take a look at the upsides and downsides of this career to get the bird’s-eye view of what it’s like.
|Pros of a Career as a Commercial Airline Pilot
|Cons of a Career as a Commercial Airline Pilot
|Pilots are in demand, so salaries are increasing, and signing bonuses and benefit packages are common.
|Long hours; many long-haul flights are over 10 hours.
|Generous per-diem allowance when working and free and discounted tickets for family.
|For pilots who fly domestically or regionally, multiple short routes in a day can be stressful.
|Experience as a pilot opens doors. Pilots are often board members, flight school operators, and airplane brokers.
|An erratic schedule that makes life hard to plan.
|Retirement is required at age 65 for airline pilots, per the FAA. Some pilots appreciate this clear finish line for their career.
|Stress: Pilots are responsible for the lives of their passengers.
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Pilots will be in demand for the foreseeable future, and this profession can be an exciting one, involving the thrill of flying, the opportunity to travel, and the ability to earn a high salary, often in the six figures. The downside to a pilot’s life is a busy and unpredictable schedule, time away from home, and the stress of being responsible for their passengers’ lives.
If you have a passion for flying, this could be your vocation.
What is the highest paying pilot job?
The highest paying commercial pilots work for large airlines, such as Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta. Their salaries average around $200,000, but according to ThePilotGuys.com, some salaries can exceed $700,000 for pilots who fly long-haul flights and have lots of experience flying complex airplanes.
Do pilots make 300k a year?
Most pilots earn around $123,250 on average per year, with some making up to or around $200,000 a year. Some pilots do make $300,000 or more depending on whom they fly for and what experience they have.
How much money does a pilot make starting out?
Most pilots starting out make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year, including benefits. They may also receive signing bonuses if there is high demand for commercial airline pilots.
Photo credit: iStock/Portra
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