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How Much Do Pilots Make?

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Being a pilot is a really big job. Whether they’re flying a commercial airline filled with passengers or a cargo plane brimming with packages, they have a ton of responsibility.

Maybe you’re thinking of becoming a pilot. Or, perhaps you’ve recently traveled by plane and are in awe of all that they do. Regardless, you’re curious about the size of their paychecks.

How Much Do Pilots Make?

Many different factors go into a pilot’s salary. This includes their job type, size of the plane they typically fly, years of experience, flight hours and employer.

Therefore, the average pay for pilots depends on their specific job category. Here’s a breakdown of the median annual salary for airline, aircraft and commercial pilots, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

However, pilot salary listed as an annual number is a bit misleading. If you’re wondering “Do pilots get paid per flight?” The answer is yes, according to Thrust Flight, a flight school in Addison, Texas.

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Therefore, even pilots with the exact same job, experience and employer could essentially have different salaries, if one has more flight hours than the other. While ambitious pilots might take on more trips than some of their colleagues, there are limits to the amount they can work.

Most pilots are privy to federal regulations that set the maximum work hours and minimum rest requirements between flights, according to the BLS. Generally speaking, airline pilots spend an average of 75 hours per month in flight and another 150 hours performing other job duties — i.e., checking weather conditions and preparing flight plans.

Airline Pilots, Copilots and Flight Engineers

Likely who crosses your mind when you think about the profession, airline pilots are mostly employed by airlines that carry passengers and cargo. Typically the pilot with the most experience, the captain, is in charge of the flight and serves as the supervisor for the rest of the crew members.

Otherwise known as the first officer, the co-pilot is second in command of the aircraft. While not necessary on newer aircraft, some older planes require a flight engineer — i.e., a third pilot — to monitor instruments and operate controls.

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Whether you’re thinking about becoming a pilot or just interested in the job in general, you’re likely curious about salary specifics. Median salaries were noted above, but that doesn’t really offer specifics about the pay at different career levels.

You’re not alone if you’re wondering “How much do pilots make starting out?” or “What is the highest paid pilot?” This varies according to several factors, including plane type, years of experience, job title and individual carriers.

To offer an idea of the salary differences between captains and co-pilots — both first-year and more seasoned — Thrust Pilot shared a look at estimated average salaries across several major carriers. Here’s a few examples to highlight standard pay scales at different companies — not including sign-on bonuses or other benefits.

Major Airline — Captain Salaries

Airline Plane Type Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
Air Canada A320 $190,000-$211,000
American Airlines A320 $255,000-$278,000
Hawaiian Airlines A321 $245,000-$267,000
Southwest Airlines 737 $241,000-$274,000
Spirit Airlines A320 $260,000-$283,000

Major Airline — First Officer Salaries

Airline Plane Type Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
Delta Airlines A320 $92,000-$187,000
Hawaiian Airlines A321 $36,000-$186,000
JetBlue Airlines A320 $92,000-$185,000
Southwest Airlines 737 $84,000-$191,000
United Airlines A320 $91,000-$193,000

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Regional Airline — Captain Salaries

Airline Plane Type Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
Air Wisconsin CRJ200 $71,000-$100,000
Envoy Air CRJ700 $85,000-$108,000
Mesa Airlines CRJ900 $67,000-$93,000
Piedmont Airlines ERJ145 $76,000-$96,000
SkyWest Airlines CRJ200 $75,000-$103,000

Regional Airline — First Officer Salaries

Airline Plane Type Year 1-Year 8 Salary Range
Air Wisconsin CRJ200 $37,000-$53,000
Endeavor Air CRJ200 $52,000-$68,000
Mesa Airlines CRJ900 $36,000-$43,000
Republic Airways Unknown $46,000-$58,000
SkyWest Airlines CRJ200 $46,000-$62,000

Of course, as with workers in many other industries, pilots have the potential to earn overtime pay.

For example, United Airlines offered triple pay to pilots who picked up extra flights from Jan. 4, 2022 to Jan. 29, 2022, according to NBC News. Even better, those who piloted additional flights between Dec. 20, 2021 and Jan. 3, 2022 earned three-and-a-half times their standard salary.

Salaries for Other Commercial Pilot Jobs

Serving as a pilot for a major airline carrier isn’t the only way to work in this profession. Commercial pilots also fly planes, but in a different capacity.

These pilots perform unscheduled flight operations, such as aerial applications, charter flights and aerial tours. Additionally, commercial pilots can be responsible for completing other duties, such as scheduling flights, coordinating aircraft maintenance and loading luggage onto the aircraft.

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A wide-ranging field, they might also serve as a flight instructor, cargo pilot or a corporate pilot. If you’re wondering “How much do pilots make?” you’re probably also curious about the average salaries for this type of work.

Here’s a few examples of estimated average salaries for commercial pilots, according to Thrust Pilot.

Charter Airlines — Captain Salaries

Airline Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
iAero Ways $168,000-$192,000
Miami Air International $96,000-$163,000
Omni Air International $192,000-$270,000

Charter Airlines — First Officer Salaries

Airline Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
iAero Ways $90,000-$100,000
Miami Air International $47,000-$98,000
Omni Air International $118,000-$184,000

Cargo Airlines — Captain Salaries

Airline Plane Type Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
Air Transport International 767 $147,000-$255,000
FedEx Express 767 $276,000-$326,000
Kalitaa Air Unknown $154,000-266,000
Southern Air 767 $142,000-$196,000
United Parcel Service Unknown $50,000-$329,000

Cargo Airlines — First Officer Salaries

Airline Plane Type Year 1-Year 12 Salary Range
Air Transport International 767 $87,000-$173,000
Atlas Air 767 $92,000-$172,000
FedEx Express 767 $81,000-$226,000
Southern Air 767 $87,000-$137,000
United Parcel Service Unknown $50,000-$212,000

How To Become a Pilot

Now that you have the answer to the question “How much do pilots make?” you might want to learn more about the process to become one. The process to become an airline pilot is typically more rigorous than a commercial pilot.

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Generally speaking, airline pilots usually need a bachelor’s degree, along with experience as a commercial or military pilot. They also attend flight schools or complete a flight-training program led by independent Federal Aviation Administration-certified instructors.

While some employers may require commercial pilots to have a degree, others only have flight training as a prerequisite. As for flight hours, the FAA requires 250 total hours for a commercial pilot certificate.

Conversely, most airlines require pilots to have 1,000-2,000 or more flight hours as a prerequisite for employment, according to the FAA. While each airline creates its own minimum experience requirements, the number of available pilots and demand for air travel plays a role when setting this standard.

Of course, both airline and commercial pilots are required to complete on-the-job training that complies with FAA regulations upon hire. Typically lasting several weeks, this usually involves a mix of classroom training and flight school.

Additionally, pilots are required to earn ratings for the specific aircraft they fly. These are usually secured during employer based trainings.

To maintain their expertise, pilots are also made to perform specific maneuvers and procedures a set number of times during a designated time period. Additionally, they must take part in other periodic trainings as required by the FAA and/or their employer and submit to regular medical examinations.

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Working as a Pilot

Life as a pilot varies greatly by the type of job held. For example, a pilot who provides ambulance services will likely work close to home and follow a set schedule. Conversely, an airline pilot could be away from home for days at a time.

As airline pilots become more seasoned in their career, they’re able to have more say in their flight assignments. Based on seniority, pilots who have worked for an airline for many years are able to secure the routes and schedules they want.

However, unlike many careers, pilots have a required retirement age. Federal law mandates retirement by age 65.

Being a pilot is hard work that requires a huge amount of concentration. Passengers literally put their lives in pilots’ hands, so there’s no room for error.

Despite the pressure associated with the job, those who truly love to fly wouldn’t dream of a career in any other field. All the time spent training and clocking flight hours are just steps needed to secure a job that makes them truly happy.

As you likely noticed, starting salaries for pilots also aren’t notably high at most companies. In fact, first-year pay for first offers is actually below the annual mean wage in the U.S. — $58,260, as of May 2021 — in some cases.

Of course, salaries can also reach six figures for more seasoned pilots, meaning seniority literally pays. Despite the hefty paychecks often associated with spending more than a decade, this is a job driven by a passion for flying.

While money is likely a motivator for many pilots in the type of jobs they seek, it’s a safe bet that their passion for flying is what drove them to seek out this career path. Those who are able to secure a generous living, while doing what they love, are simply able to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Information is accurate as of Sept. 28, 2022.