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Is a Pilot one of the highest paying jobs?

Does an Aerospace Engineer Earn More Than a Pilot?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports there were 61,400 aerospace engineers and 74,700 pilots employed in 2021. Aerospace engineers earned a median annual salary of ​$122,270​. By comparison, airline pilots and commerical pilots earned ​$202,180​ and ​$99,640​, respectively. Aerospace engineers and pilots both work in similar industries and have rigorous education requirements, but the job descriptions for an aerospace engineer vs. airline pilot are very different.

Aerospace Engineer Salaries

The median annual salary for aerospace engineers was ​$122,270​ in 2021, according to the BLS. The upper 10 percent of engineers earned ​$168,370​ and the lower 10 percent earned ​$77,440​. Salary was highest for the small group of aerospace engineers working in other professional, scientific and technical services who averaged ​$144,390​ per year.

Aerospace engineers earned the highest pay in Nebraska with a mean annual salary of ​$148,860​. Colorado, Arizona, District of Columbia and California also paid higher mean wages than other states.

Commercial and Airline Pilot Salaries

The median annual salary for commercial pilots was ​$99,640​ in 2021 while airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers earned a median salary of ​$202,180​ according to the BLS. The highest paying industry for airline pilots was scheduled air transportation with a mean annual wage of ​$203,010​.

The industry that paid the highest salary to commercial pilots was merchandise wholesalers with a mean annual salary of ​$198,980​. Commercial pilots earned the most in California, Maryland, New York, Georgia and Hawaii. Airline pilots earned the highest salaries in Florida, California, Washington, New York and Michigan.

Job Descriptions

Airline pilots fly aircraft that transports passengers or cargo. Commercial pilots operate aircraft to perform jobs such as crop dusting or aerial photography. For example, pilots who perform search-and-rescue operations are commercial pilots. Commercial and airline pilots also check the weather and flight schedules before flying a plane. During a flight, the pilot operates the aircraft’s controls, monitors the engines and fuel and navigates the plane.

Aerospace engineers design and direct the manufacture of aircraft, spacecraft, missiles and satellites. The engineer creates drawings, specifications and quality standards for the design. Aerospace engineers may specialize in aeronautical or astronautical engineering. Aeronautical engineers specialize in aircraft while astronautical engineers specialize in spacecraft.

Education and Training

Aircraft engineer vs. pilot salary reflects differences in education and training. Aerospace engineers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree while pilots may enter the field with an associate or bachelor’s degree. Some pilots and ground crew complete their flight and aircraft maintenance training in the military. Airline pilots, copilots and flight engineer education must meet federal regulations.

The U.S. Air Force, for example, minimally requires a high school diploma to qualify for flight engineer training. The job of a flight engineer is to perform checks on the aircraft before takeoff, including the engines, fuel and hydraulics.

According to the BLS, most pilots have a bachelor’s degree and require a license to operate an aircraft. To qualify for a pilot’s license, applicants must meet flight experience requirements. An airline pilot who flies passengers typically has extensive experience flying military or commercial aircraft. Upon hire, airline and commercial pilots also complete on-the-job training with their employer. In addition, airline and commercial pilots must pass a physical and vision examination and a written test.

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Licensing Requirements

Licensing is not a requirement for entry-level aerospace engineers, but those at an advanced level in their careers must have a professional engineer’s license, according to the National Society of Professional Engineers. To qualify for a license, engineers must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, at least four years of experience in engineering and a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering and the Principles and Practice of Engineering exams.

  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 17-2011 Aerospace Engineers
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Aerospace Engineers Work Environment
  • National Society of Professional Engineers: What is a PE?
  • U.S. Air Force: Enlisted Flight Engineer
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Airline and Commercial Pilots

Luanne Kelchner works out of Daytona Beach, Florida and has been freelance writing full time since 2008. Her ghostwriting work has covered a variety of topics but mainly focuses on health and home improvement articles. Kelchner has a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in English language and literature.

The highest paid aviation jobs in 2019

The booming aerospace industry continues to pay competitive salaries globally. At $54 an hour in 2018, aerospace product and parts manufacturing jobs was the second highest paying industry in Canada, after energy, while senior aerospace engineers in the UK also earn attractive salaries ranging between $55,000 and $75,000 a year. Aerospace-technology lists the five highest-paid aviation jobs based on the median salaries paid in the US in 2018.

Ajay 12 June 2019

1. Air Traffic Controllers – $124,540 a year ($59.87 an hour)

the most paid aviation jobs in 2019

The job of an air traffic controller, a guiding voice and a traffic adviser to the pilot, includes checking paths of incoming and outgoing flights within the airspace, issuing clearance for scheduled and non-scheduled flights, and handling emergency situations.

ATC controllers may play the role of a tower controller, who handles airport traffic; or approach and departure controller, who ensures safety in the aerodrome airspace; and en-route controller, who facilitates flights passing through their airspace.

The median pay of air traffic controllers hired by the US Government is $129,180 a year while controllers employed for scientific community and technical services are paid less at $97,690 a year. The pay varies with the traffic handled by the aerodrome and the candidate’s experience. The job requires long-term on-the-job training and experience in the levels of complexity related to flight paths.

Most of the air traffic controllers are recruited by the US Federal Government, which stands at approximately 90%. A controller is not allowed to work for more than ten hours continuously as the job requires greater concentration, situational awareness and sharp reflexes.

2. Airline and Commercial Pilots – $115,670 a year ($55.6 an hour)

the most paid aviation jobs in 2019

Becoming a pilot requires a licence issued by the respective civil aviation authority. Separate licences are issued for airline and commercial flights. Airline pilots fly according to the scheduled flight plan at an average of 75 flying hours a month. Commercial pilots fly non-scheduled flights, individual, and business flights based on demand.

A pilot’s income is generally tied to the number of flying hours. Based on the accumulation of the requisite number of flying hours and experience, the first officer can be designated as the captain, who is deployed along with a co-pilot when the flying hours are longer. The median pay of a scheduled air transportation pilot is $148,740 whereas that of a non-scheduled air transportation pilot is 30% less at $103,800. Commercial pilots are paid even less than airline pilots at $81,550.

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Pilots perform their duty in three different phases with safety as the anchor of work. The first part includes performing pre-flight checks and obtaining navigation and technical clearances. The second task includes take-off, in-flight checks, communication with ATC, and responding to the emergencies or glitches during flight following established procedures. The final leg includes a safe landing roll, post-flight checks, and documentation.

According to the guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and local aviation authorities, a pilot is allowed to fly for a fixed number of flying hours in a week.

3. Aerospace engineers – $115,220 a year ($55.39 an hour)

the most paid aviation jobs in 2019

An aerospace engineer may be an airframe engineer, a power-plant engineer or an avionics engineer, based on the specialisation and expertise. Aerospace engineering jobs are either in aeronautics, which deals with the design and development of aircraft; or astronautics, which deals with those of spacecraft and associated parts.

Holding 9% of aerospace engineering jobs, the physical research development and engineering industry offers the highest median pay of $124,430 a year for aerospace engineers.

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The navigation and control instruments industry and the federal government, which hold an engineering workforce of 10% and 14% respectively, offer approximately $120,000. The aerospace product and parts manufacturing industry, which employs the highest percentage (38%) of aerospace engineers in the US, offers $113,840 in median pay.

Aerospace engineers must possess a licence issued by a competent authority to practise as an engineer. The work demands foresight, investigation and reasoning to identify potential failures or breakdown of the components.

4. Aerospace engineering and operations technicians – $67,010 a year ($32.22 an hour)

the most paid aviation jobs in 2019

Aerospace engineering and operations technicians perform requisite tests on new aircraft or spacecraft components. They ensure that the components are calibrated to the acceptable standards laid down by the aviation authorities. Technicians working in manufacturing and industrial parks perform aircraft assembly and instrument fitment on the aircraft.

The aerospace product and part manufacturing industry, with 31% representing aerospace engineering and operations technicians, is the largest employer and offers a median pay of $66,800 a year. Testing laboratories and engineering services industries account for 15% each and pay between $69,690 and $71,880 a year.

Technicians in scientific research and development services are paid the lowest, at $61,800 a year.

Advanced technologies such as three-dimensional printing, additive manufacture, and composite structure are also creating jobs for aerospace engineering and operations technicians.

5. Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians – $63,060 a year ($30.32 an hour)

the most paid aviation jobs in 2019

The aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians ensure the airworthiness of the aircraft. The work includes repair, replacement, and modification of aircraft components, airframe, avionics equipment, and power plants. The workplace can be aircraft hangars, repair shops, and overhaul units.

The positions include airframe and power plant (A&P) mechanics, avionics technicians, designated airworthiness representatives (DARs), inspection-authorised (IA) mechanics, and repairmen. The technicians work under the supervision of a licence holder, who is authorised to certify the job. A licence may be gained by clearing an aviation authority test.

The scheduled air transportation industry employs 22% of the mechanics and technicians at a median annual wage of approximately $83,870. A total of 30% of the mechanics and technicians are involved in support activities for air transportation, drawing a median annual salary of $54,350.

The aerospace product and parts manufacturing industry, which employs 15% of aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians, offers $64,510 a year. The federal government pays approximately $58,420 to avionics technicians and aircraft mechanics and service technicians.

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According to the FAA safety regulations a technician should be given rest for a period of at least 24 hours during any consecutive days. The technicians follow the maintenance procedures laid down in official manuals to perform maintenance at scheduled intervals.

7 Most Lucrative Pilot Careers (in 2020)

7 Most Lucrative Pilot Careers (in 2020)

So, you’ve officially earned your pilot’s certificate. Congratulations – now what are you going to do with it? If you’re like many newly minted pilots, you may be wondering what pilot careers you can choose from. Of course, you’re looking for a job that you enjoy, but there’s more to it than that.

If you’re being honest, you are also looking for a career that comes with a generous paycheck, right? And why not? You’ve earned it.

So, here you go – check out our list of the 7 most lucrative pilot careers and discover how you can put your pilot skills to work with an engaging job that provides the salary you’ve been looking for.

1. Astronaut

Many apply but few are chosen. As NASA continues gearing up for the Artemis program’s anticipated lunar landing in 2024 and the subsequently planned manned Mars missions, more and more pilots are drawn to becoming an astronaut.

Do you have what it takes? In the original Mercury days, astronauts had to be military jet aircraft pilots with engineering background and there was a max height of 5’11”.

The selection parameters have changed a bit since then, and today’s prospective NASA astronauts must meet the following 4 criteria to be considered:

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Hold a master’s degree (or accepted equivalent) in a STEM field such as biological science, computer science, engineering, mathematics or physical science
  • Have a minimum of 2 years of related professional experience after receiving degree or have logged at least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command time on jet aircraft
  • Be able to pass the NASA long-duration flight astronaut physical

If you meet those criteria, you can join the other roughly 18,299 applicants a year who are vying for a few coveted positions. The Astronaut Selection Board reviews applications and assesses each candidate before inviting a small group of potential selectees to interview at the Johnson Space Center. Half of these candidates will get second interviews and a lucky few will be chosen to begin a two-year basic training program.

Pay varies based on whether you are civilian or military. Military astronauts will transfer over at their current military pay rate while civilian pay is based on government pay scales. In either case, the average pay is lucrative.

Average base salary: $132,814

2. Federal Government pilot

You may have heard that certain government jobs come with excellent healthcare and retirement benefits, but you may not have realized that the government hires pilots. That’s right – you can be a government employee with an office in the sky.

You’ll have to do a bit of research and digging around to find out what jobs are currently available because many government agencies hire pilots. You could fly de Havilland Twin Otters or WP-3D Orion Hurricane Hunters for NOAA or get picked up by the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management or even the FAA.

Another subset of federal government pilots are airborne law enforcement (ALE). The FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and other policing agencies utilize ALE pilots to support mission operations.

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Since these are federal jobs, in addition to department and role-specific criteria, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) sets minimum requirements for all aircraft operators. For the most part, the OPM requirements simply align with the FAA criteria to earn the appropriate pilot certification for the role.

Average base salary: $115,153 — $126,158

3. Cargo pilot

In our global economy, there is increased demand for reliable, fast transportation and mailing options. Shipping companies like DHL, FedEx and UPS hire cargo pilots to ferry packages, mail, freight and perishable items to their destinations.

As a cargo pilot, you will fly both small and large aircraft, often in the early morning or late-night hours as you support next day air shipping logistics.

To qualify as a cargo pilot, you must have your commercial pilot certificate and hold an instrument rating so you are eligible to fly during IFR conditions.

Average salary: $105,144

4. Airline pilot

When many people hear that you are a pilot, they will automatically assume you are an airline pilot since that is the type of pilot they are familiar with. Airline pilots require the most extensive training, must hold the highest level of medical certificate and are expected to have logged extensive hours as pilot-in-command.

Expect to start building hours with a smaller, regional airline before you are ready to level up and interview with one of the major industry players. The career progression takes you from a co-pilot/first officer who is building up hours and experience to a captain who is the main PIC of the aircraft.

Pay naturally increases with experience and promotions, but the average pay is in the six-figure range.

Average salary: $102,588

5. Military pilot

While the rest of the careers on this list are in the civilian sector, another route you can choose to take your pilot career is to join one of the branches of the military and become a military pilot.

All 5 branches of the United States Armed Forces – Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy – have aircraft, and they recruit the most skilled pilots who display the highest degree of aptitude. Aptitude is tested using the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) or the Air Force Officer Qualifying Aptitude Test (AFOQAT), physical fitness tests (PFT), an Officer Aptitude Rating and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB).

As with other military positions, there are age restrictions. According to, the cutoff for Navy and the Marine Corps is 26. The Air Force requires you to meet a selection board before you are age 28 ½ and to enter undergraduate pilot training (UPT) before your 30 th birthday although they do offer waivers up to age 35 in certain circumstances. The Army is mainly looking for rotary wing pilots and their age cutoff is under 33 as of the date of the convening board with potential waivers for highly qualified 33 and 34-year olds.

The most restrictive and selective branch for military pilots is the Coast Guard. To become a Coast Guard pilot, you must have already been a pilot in a different branch of the military. Even then, you will be run through an Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) prior to selection for training on fixed-wing and rotary aircraft. You must be older than 21 and younger than 32 with a minimum of 500 hours as a rated military pilot and full-time flight experience in the previous two years to qualify.

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The highly competitive process of becoming a military pilot also comes with a commitment to serve a set number of years, so be sure that fits into your life plans prior to signing the dotted line. If it does, you can enjoy a competitive salary as well as all of the other benefits that come with military service.

Average salary: $101,595

6. Commercial pilot

The job description of a commercial pilot is varied and can include all sorts of interesting taskings. Within the more broad “commercial pilot” category, there are plenty of niche markets to choose from.

Pilots who hold a commercial pilot certification are eligible to fly charter flights, do crop dusting, aerial photography or even search and rescue operations.

Word to the wise: if you choose to pursue a position with a charter flight company, be prepared to take on additional non-flight duties. When they are outside the cockpit, charter flight pilots can be found coordinating aircraft maintenance, scheduling flights, loading luggage and even escorting passengers to the aircraft.

Whatever else the job of a commercial pilot may be, it certainly is not boring, and the pay isn’t so bad either.

Average salary: $81,965

7. Aerial Firefighter

The final job on this list may just be one of the most unique, exciting, meaningful and potentially highly lucrative of piloting positions. Welcome to the world of aerial firefighting.

When ground-based firefighters need additional resources and support to attack and gain control of a large, fast-moving, or remote fire, they often turn to aerial firefighters.

As an aerial firefighter pilot, you could be tasked with either a fire-bombing or observational mission support role.

New fire bomber pilots will likely start out flying a fixed-wing single-engine air tanker (SEAT) like the Thrush 510 or Air Tractor 802 Fire Boss. Once you’ve logged many hours and are ready, you can move up to larger tankers and repurposed jets that have a fire-retardant payload capacity of more than 3,000 gallons.

If you’re assisting on the observational front, you will fly an aircraft that functions as an aerial observation platform for the forward air controller who is directing the fire bombers and coordinating the attack.

The U.S. Forest Service is the largest employer of aerial firefighters although other agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs also have openings. With the increased number of wildfires in recent years, the pilot pool has shrunk greatly. State agencies like CalFire are in particular need of new pilots to fill the gaps.

The low-end average salary for this job is respectable, if not something to write home about, but the room for advancement is where the real excitement lies. Prove yourself, put in your time, and you could be on your way to a highly lucrative top-end salary.

Average Salary: $73,600 to $113,800 (captains on large tankers can make $100,000 the first season and up to $360,000 as a senior captain).

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