What do the highest paid pilots make?
What Is a Pilot’s Average Salary?
When considering entering or switching employment industries, it is important to assess a job position’s salary. As someone interested in beginning a piloting career, have you ever wondered, “How many hours do pilots work in a week or month?” Both compensation and the work put into your paychecks are valid considerations in the piloting industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average commercial pilot salary is $134,630 per year. And the BLS states that this profession is growing at a faster-than-average 13 percent clip, largely thanks to the current shortage the airline industry is facing due to early retirements the pandemic was responsible for.
However, pilot salary is dictated by a variety of factors. This includes the type of pilot and the seniority of the pilot. For instance, the average pay for a first-year pilot is likely far less than for an experienced one. Some pilots early in their careers may only make $45,000. However, experience matters – and the longer pilots work and master their craft also translates to higher earnings potential. The highest-earning pilots are reported to make $180,000 or more per year. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at how pilot salary is calculated, why pilot pay range matters, compare to private pilot salary, and more of what you need to know as it pertains to pilot pay.
Private Pilot Salary
As private pilots either fly planes for private customers or taxi corporate executives nationwide, they can take many different job opportunities. Typically, private pilots work for smaller, or private, companies that can result in growing a greater career autonomy.
Before you begin assessing private piloting job positions, you must have already obtained your private piloting license. Alternatively, you may also be in the process of completing your licensure in a piloting program.
Private Pilot Starting Salaries
With the growing need for pilots, starting salaries offer a surprisingly generous range. However, as the salaries range based on the job position you accept, it is hard to generalize a specific salary. Therefore, we list below common starting salaries based on the job position you take.
- Air Traffic Controller: starting annual salaries begin at around $124,450.
- Maintenance Test Pilot: starting annual salaries begin at $67,000.
- Flight Course Instructor: starting hourly wages range from $16-$26.
Average Pilot Salary
Depending on what you privately pilot, your average salary may drastically change. For example, private pilots for jet companies earn an average of $111,800 a year. However, many private jet companies compensate at hourly rates and are unionized.
Private Pilots Work Schedule
The FAA mandates that pilots of any industry do not exceed 1,000 flight hours a year. For numerous reasons, this mandate allows pilots the necessary rest time between flights to ensure safe transit.
Private pilots often experience a more regular and reliable work schedule. For example, a private pilot can find relief in knowing that after eight days of working they will receive six days off afterwards. However, there may be the rare exception of a last-minute scheduling.
Additionally, private pilots get to experience the luxury and accessibility of flying to many private airports around the nation. Therefore, you will experience shorter taxying times during departure and arrival flight procedures.
Commercial and Airline Pilot Salary
While facing a current piloting shortage, you have the unique opportunity to experience a more stable job field. This is especially true for commercial and airline pilots.
Commercial and Airline Pilot Starting Salaries
As a commercial pilot in 2019, the lowest reported starting salaries listed just under $45,000. However, with accrued experience and longevity as a pilot, the highest reporting earnings exceeded $179,440. Therefore, it – quite literally – pays to be a pilot long-term.
Fortunately, exploring careers as an airline pilot proves more profitable from the beginning. When starting a position as an airline pilot, the lowest 10 percent earn less than $74,100. However, the highest 10 percent reported salaries exceeded $208,000. As a result, you will quickly find value in how long it takes to become an airline pilot.
Average Annual Salaries
The Occupational Outlook Handbook for Airline and Commercial Pilots reports the median pay for airline and commercial pilots in 2019 was $121,430, a salary that quickly repays your commercial pilot license investment. Below are a few additional pilot salary statistics as of May 2019:
- The median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $147,220.
- The median annual wage for commercial pilots was $86,080.
Commercial and Airline Pilots Work Schedule
Although the salary proves rewarding, there are many skills and requirements needed as a commercial or airline pilot. One of them involves a flexible work schedule and availability. With variable work schedules, commercial and airline pilots may work several days in a row followed by another few days off. However, seniority at an airline company may enable pilots to receive preferred routes and more concrete schedules.
Similar to that of a private pilot, federal regulations limit the minimum and maximum requirement regarding flight hours and resting periods between. On average, airline and commercial pilots fly 75 hours a month and log up to 150 hours each month performing other duties. These duties include checking weather conditions and preparing flight plans.
One thing to keep in mind is that commercial pilots are mandated by the FAA to retire by age 65. While this should by no means discourage anyone from pursuing a piloting career, it should be a consideration depending on your current age. However, even at 65, your piloting career does not have to end and result in retirement if that is not your desire. You can continue your career by transitioning to private piloting or flight instructing.
How is Commercial Pilot Salary Calculated?
Pilots don’t typically earn an annual salary like most full-time professionals. Instead, they earn hourly wages for the time they spend flying as well as a per diem to account for time spent away from home. Most airlines guarantee pilots will fly at least a certain number of hours per month, which helps them understand what their baseline salary is. In fact, most pilots fly about 75 hours per month and then spend other time working on other flight-related duties, which may include preparing flight plans
Ultimately, pilots are paid for the number of hours flown each year. However, you will need to consider a pilot cannot fly more than 1,000 hours each year for the safety of everyone involved by ensuring pilots are well-rested. Knowing this, you have some control over the money you make, as pilots who schedule more flights will end up making more money.
Your compensation offers will likely increase as you gain more years of experience. Typically, you will start as a first officer and work your way up to a captain, where you will see a significant jump in your hourly rate. Having more experience will allow you to apply for available captain positions. As a bonus that comes with seniority, you will be able to pick out your schedule each month, deciding the number of flights and type of aircraft you get to fly. This will ensure you get closer to the 1,000 minimum hours.
Type of Aircraft
It’s advantageous to get experience flying different kinds of aircraft, but as a rule of thumb, the larger the aircraft you fly, the larger the hourly rate. When picking your flights, choosing the largest flights available will let you earn more money.
Although two pilots in a similar position will earn roughly the same, salaries can vary if the pilots work at different airlines. When deciding what airline to work for, do your research to determine the pros and cons of different airlines, and prepare for interviews to get the job at the place you want.
What Do Chicago Pilots Make?
According to Salary.com, the average salary range for a pilot in the Chicago area is between $131,700 and $171, 700 per year, with the median salary coming in at $152,100.
Why Does Pay Range Matter?
The salary range for pilots – let alone any profession – shows that pay doesn’t come at a fixed amount and rewards experience and tenure. So, while a pilot may begin their career at a lower annual salary, as they grow and progress, they’ll likely earn significantly more money.
Begin Your Piloting Journey with J.A. Flight Training
Piloting for either private or commercial careers is a rewarding industry. While receiving fair compensation, you get to explore the world with a front row seat. If now is the time for YOU to start flight school, start looking at next steps!
J.A. Flight Training is conveniently based in Chicago’s western suburb, Sugar Grove. No matter which career path you follow, you can count on experiential learning with the most up-to-date equipment, flight simulators, and aircrafts available. We are proud to offer world-class training that prepares our students for a successful future as a pilot through flexible classes and affordable programs.
If you would like to receive more information about our flight training program, contact us today to get started on your new career path!
January 31 , 2023
Life of a Pilot: How Many Hours Do Pilots Work?
The everyday life of a pilot looks glamorous to many people. Flying to a different destination several times…
December 20 , 2022
FAA Airman Medical Certificates
Although not required to begin flight instruction, you won’t get too far in the world of aviation without…
November 29 , 2022
IFR vs VFR Flying | How to Understand The Difference
If you’re getting started in the world of aviation, you may or may not have encountered the terms…
Airline Pilot Salary
With a worldwide shortage of pilots creating ample job opportunities and increasing salaries at airlines, airline pilot salaries are a topic of major interest. Understanding how pay works for pilots can help you decide whether this career is right for you.
Pilots don’t earn a flat annual salary like some professions. Instead, they’re paid an hourly wage for each flight hour flown, along with per diem. Most airlines guarantee a minimum number of hours per month, so that pilots can count on at least a minimum amount of monthly income.
A regional airline pilots in the U.S. typically starts out making an hourly rate of $20 – $50 per hour, or about $20,000-$40,000 per year, depending on the airline, type of aircraft, and the pilot’s experience level. And although prospective pilots may imagine a lifetime in the air, the reality is that pilots spend just as much time on the ground as they do in the airplane. The average airline pilot logs 75 hours a month in the air and sometimes up to 150 hours per month performing ground duties like simulator training, maintaining records, performing pre-flight inspections, flight planning and traveling to and from hotels and airports.
In addition to the pilot’s hourly wage, he or she often receives a pay stipend during the training period, as well as a per diem rate when away from home. This allowance covers meals and other incidentals the pilots may accrue. And airlines typically pay for lodging when a pilot has to stay away from home overnight.
Salaries by Aircraft
Pilot salaries vary according the type of aircraft that they’re flying and how long they’ve been at an airline. The median annual salary for the pilot of a large jet is an impressive $121,408. For a small jet, the median annual salary is $104,219.
Non-jet aircraft pilots make significantly less. The pilot of a large non-jet aircraft earns a median annual salary of just $79,106. For a small non-jet, the median annual salary is $85,418. Pilots undergo different training for each type of aircraft that they’re certified to fly, so it’s worth considering these facts before you begin your education.
How Salaries Increase
Each airline has its own pay schedule, but nearly all offer standard raises annually. Thanks to this steady increase, airline and commercial pilots can expect to work their way up to a median annual wage of about $117,290 and higher. Pilots experience the biggest salary increase in their first five years. This increase is often larger for first officers than for captains, and the largest jump in salary often occurs after a one-year probationary period. Nearly all first officers go on to become captains after several years of experience.
Legacy carriers – the largest and oldest carriers in the U.S. – have some of the highest pay rates for pilots. A first officer in a Boeing 757 at Delta Air Lines, for example, starts out at $70 per hour the first year, and second-year pay is substantially more. After 10 years a first officer at Delta will earn $151 per hour. At the 65-hour minimum guarantee, a Boeing 757 first officer starts out making at least $55,000 per year and by year 10 will be making more than $120,000 per year, not including per diem.
By comparison, a captain at Delta in the same airplane starts at $206 per hour year one, and by year 10 makes $222 per hour. This equates to about $160,000 the first year and $173,000 by year 10, not including per diem.
For the major airline Southwest, first officers begin with an hourly wage of $57 their first year. By year five, this has more than doubled to $130 an hour. By year 10, a first officer’s hourly wage is $148 with Southwest. In the first year, a captain for Southwest makes $191 an hour. By year five he earns $200 an hour, and by year 10 $212 hourly.
Regional airlines pay less, and pilots fly smaller aircraft. Flying for a regional airline is the most common way to gain experience required for the major airlines, so it’s a necessary step for most up-and-coming pilots.
On Island Air, for example, a first officer makes $43 per hour the first year, and $58 per hour the fifth year. Captains for the same airline earn $67 per hour the first year, and $97 per hour by year five.
The good news is that with today’s pilot shortage in full force, regional airlines are forced to make themselves more competitive when it comes to hiring pilots, and many are offering paid training, relocation expenses, sign-on bonuses and bridge programs to their major airline partners, and better benefits for pilots. Island Air is currently offering a $12,000 joining bonus with $5,000 toward relocation expenses. Piedmont Airlines is offering a $15,000 joining bonus and according to their website, guaranteed employment with American Airlines.
Prospective pilots who are dedicated to this career have great potential to earn impressive salaries with less than a decade on the job. Those who take to the skies for their entire career can enjoy a very comfortable salary by the time they reach retirement.
The following infographic will help you visualize the current airline pilot salaries:
*This pilot salary information is to be used for those considering a career as a pilot actual airline pilot salaries may vary based on individual airlines and economic conditions. This information was based on a 2015 data.