Airline Pilot Salary

Epic Flight Academy students put in a lot of effort to become airline pilots. They make connections while at flight school that will stay with them throughout their careers. But the real question is… how much will they earn?

How Much Is An Airline Pilot’s Salary?

People choose an airline pilot career for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being their love of flying, and, besides, who wouldn’t enjoy the adventure of seeing the world? However, with the growing demand for commercial airline pilots worldwide, airline pilots’ salaries are an excellent reason to consider an aviation career. Have you have been thinking about becoming a pilot, but you’re concerned with how much pilots are paid? For the relatively small investment you make in flight training, the financial rewards of a pilot’s paycheck are more than sufficient. With an annual income in 2019 ranging from $42,000 to $350,000 in the U.S., it is important to understand how pilot salaries are calculated.

How much do pilots make?

Like other professions, pilot salary is not equal across the board. Pilot salaries vary annually among airlines, the type of aircraft, and even flying routes. Salary depends on various factors, such as pilot credentials, experience, job title, and pilot union agreements. Also, most people don’t realize that pilots are paid by the hour and not an annual salary. In 2019, according to GlassDoor, a website where people self-report their earnings, the average airline pilot salaries were respectable. GlassDoor reported the average base pilot annual pay in the U.S. was $113,709. They based this on reported salaries from 235 pilots. This varies among airlines. For instance, in 2020, the reported average pilot salary at Southwest at $178,765. Similarly, American Airlines was $167,391. United Airlines pilots reported an average salary of $181,418, and Delta pilots reported $160,608. Most importantly, pilot salaries continue to increase.

A very short answer is the median airline pilot salary for 2019 is $174,870, but keep reading to learn how to earn at the very top!

What are some sample salaries for airline pilots?

The 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median U.S. pilot salary at $174,870. (This means that half of all pilots earned less than this amount, and half earned more.) There are pilots working for major airlines making more than $300,000 per year. With so many factors impacting airline pilot salaries, it’s important to look at multiple perspectives and examples to have a real understanding of how much pilots earn. In other words, you want to know how much you can expect to earn. How much do pilots make is a simple question with a multi-faceted answer. Salaries vary whether you’re with a legacy or regional airline. We have shared examples of Captain and First Officer salaries for several major airlines. These salaries are based on flying 1,000 hours per year.

How is a pilot’s salary calculated?

First of all, remember that airline pilots are paid by the hour for actual hours flown. Federal law requires that airline pilots are to fly no more than 1,000 hours per year. This is to ensure they are well rested and ready to fly each time they enter the cockpit. Compare this to an average job where workers are expected to work 40 hours per week. Taking two weeks off for vacation, the average person works 2,000 hours per year – double that of a commercial pilot.

A pilot’s hourly rate increases for each year he or she has worked for an airline. The range in hourly rate also changes by airline and by type of aircraft. For example, a senior Captain flying a B777 for Delta can expect to earn $354 per hour. Delta pays a junior First Officer $92 per hour. Flying the same plane for United Airlines, a senior Captain earns $352, and the junior First Officer $91. All factors matter, such as whether you fly a Boeing 747 or a Bombardier CRJ200. Experience also counts, such as whether you’ve been flying professionally for one year or ten. It also matters which airline you have chosen to fly for. All of this plays a part in how your pay is calculated.

Why does pay range matter?

Remember that these ranges in pay are on a continuum from lowest to highest pay. This changes incrementally depending on your pilot experience with the airline. This applies to cargo airlines as well as passenger planes. FedEx Express pays a junior First Officer $78 per hour, and senior Captains earn $325. The range at UPS is even greater, with junior First Officers starting at $45 per hour and senior Captains earning $327. These are wide ranges among a few examples of freight carriers showing actual salary calculations.

What are some sample salaries for regional airlines?

Regional airlines typically start at around $37 per hour for a new First Officer. They determine your starting pay based on various factors, such as your flight experience and type ratings. Piedmont Airlines, a subsidiary of American Airlines, is one example. In 2019, this U.S. regional airline announced First Officer starting pay of $50-55 per hour and Captains at $76-96 per hour. Additionally, regional airlines tend to contribute 3-5% for your 401k, reaching 10% after you’ve been with them a while. Most regional airlines do not want to be a stepping-stone on your way to the major airlines. This is why their pay has become more competitive and generous. Pictured below are samples of regional pilot annual salaries.

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How do international pilot salaries compare to U.S. airline pilot salaries?

The airline pilot shortage is not just a U.S. problem. Many international airlines offer premium pilot salaries to entice American pilots to work for them. For instance, Emirates Airlines pays an average salary of $192,000 plus an additional $50,000 annually for housing. This is on the high side. Most international airlines pay pilots similarly to U.S. airlines. Piloting the larger jets pays approximately $121,000, while flying smaller jets internationally pays around $104,000. This is why many international flight students attend flight schools in the U.S. Training in the U.S. is more available and affordable than in many other countries. An FAA-approved license and ratings will transfer to any country. To properly compare pay rates between airlines, it is always advisable to review their hiring requirements.

What is a pilot’s starting pay?

In the U.S., most pilots’ first paid job is the position of certified flight instructor. They first earn a private pilot license, instrument rating, commercial pilot, and instructor training, and then they teach others to fly. This is mainly because of the 2013 FAA “1,500-hour rule.” The rule requires all First Officers flying for commercial airlines to have accrued a minimum of 1,500 hours to qualify for their Air Transport Pilot (ATP) license. In order to log these required hours, pilots become instructors. This allows them to “build time” in their logbooks, hone their skills, teach new pilots, and get paid.

Most CFIs earn a modest $30-40 per hour, depending on the flight school. The critical component for U.S. pilots is that they can build their hours without having to rent the use of an airplane, which could be costly. Once they have earned their ATPL, pilots can expect to be hired as a junior First Officer with a regional airline at an hourly rate of $35-70, depending on the company. 

Why does starting pay seem low compared to overall pilot salaries?

The reason pay starts on low side is because airlines are investing what will later become part of your salary into your training. This is why your pay isn’t great the first year. Although you have your CPL and have logged the minimum hours to fly commercial, you must be trained in the airline’s fleet. International airline pilots earn their ATP with different minimums depending on the country. For example, flight students from Colombia, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia know that when they train in the U.S. and return home to begin their flying careers, they only need to have logged 250 hours instead of 1,500. Most have logged these required hours before leaving the U.S. Therefore, most international flight students can begin their airline pilot careers without first becoming instructors. To fully understand the number of hours needed to fly in your country, check with the Civil Aviation Authority there.

Do pilots receive a minimum daily guarantee?

Yes, most airlines use the model of a minimum daily guarantee. Remember, pilots do not fly for 40 hours per week. Pilots are only allowed to fly 1,000 hours in a calendar year. Therefore, most airlines offer a monthly guaranteed minimum hours, usually around 75 to 80. Some offer minimum pay on a daily basis, typically around 4.1 hours. This guaranteed minimum ensures you’ll have a paycheck even when a flight is grounded.

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Do pilots ever receive signing bonuses?

Yes, regional airlines frequently offer signing bonuses. For example, in 2018, Envoy Air offered a $45,000 signing bonus for qualifying pilots, and Air Wisconsin offered $31,000. Envoy Air, Silver Airways, and GoJet Airlines offered signing bonuses ranging from $5,000 to $12,000. Trans States offered a $44,000 first officer signing bonus. In 2019, Piedmont Airlines announced an $18,000 bonus. Signing bonuses have become more common due to the pilot shortage, especially with regional airlines. Therefore, this is good news for pilots who have recently completed flight school and want to begin their aviation careers. In addition to signing bonuses, some airlines pay annual bonuses to employees. For instance, in 2019, Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air workers shared $120 million in bonuses due to outstanding performances in 2018.

Can I earn overtime and earn beyond my base salary?

Yes, pilots can earn 100-300% increases by working on their days off. The airline you work for often pays these rates just to make sure a scheduled flight happens. When a pilot is making $500,000 annually, they are typically picking up this overtime to make that happen.

Do I need a college degree to fly for the airlines?

Although most airlines do not require a college degree, many do assign value to having a degree. Many airlines use a point system to determine the best candidate and rate of pay. A college degree can give you an edge during the hiring process. Epic Flight Academy has partnered with Daytona State College where your flight training transfers as college credit.

Does networking help in the hiring process?

Yes, we see this again and again. Your qualifications will ultimately carry you across the finish line to the pilot job you are seeking. However, we know of many instances where friends helped former classmates land new positions. We frequently hear from our graduates who share their new positions and other career information. They network through social media after graduating from flight school and continue to support each other once they launch their aviation careers. Your flight school is also a source for networking. Here at Epic, we frequently host events for our students to meet representatives from our partner airlines. Airline reps enjoy meeting students during their training and build relationships with them. All of this leads to strong connections that help our flight students on their career paths. Never underestimate the power of networking.

What kinds of benefits do airline pilots receive?

Airlines typically provide excellent employment benefits. These include health, life, dental, and vision insurance and a retirement plan. You also receive paid vacation time, sick days, holidays, and other personal time off benefits. Most airlines provide per diem to cover food expenses, etc. Perhaps one of the greatest benefits is the pilot’s schedule. Because a pilot can only fly 1,000 hours per year, you often have as much as two weeks off every month, resulting in greater leisure time than most occupations. Most airlines offer free airfare via jumpseats. This is typically extended to family members as well based on seniority and other factors.

Pilots can also find themselves overnighting in some wonderful locations. As a result, they enjoy spontaneous sight-seeing and memory-making. Employees in any field of work often forget about the value of benefits. These benefits cost employers real money. When calculating your actual pay, always remember to include your total benefits package to understand the value of your compensation. In today’s gig economy where people are frequently contracted as freelancers and receive no benefits, pilots remain fortunate considering the many benefits paid by their employers.

How many years can an airline pilot work?

In the U.S., airline pilots are required by the FAA to retire at the age of 65. However, they can still fly as private pilots for companies like NetJets, where the average pay is $111,800 per year. The mandatory retirement age in the U.S. is one of the main causes of the pilot shortage. Airline pilots must also maintain a healthy lifestyle to avoid losing their Class 1 Medical, which is required of all ATPs. Pilots should never smoke or use drugs. They must limit alcoholic intake, exercise regularly, and get plenty of rest. In other words, good pilots take all steps necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid losing their Class 1 Medical.

Can I really get paid to do what I love?

Yes. Pilot job growth potential is above average for jobs and job security. Many people who become pilots do so for less tangible reasons than pay and perks. Pilots often profess to having a “calling” to fly. Perhaps there are pilots in their family tree or inspirational stories of military missions. Maybe the desire to fly is innate in humans, just stronger in some. We understand the deeper reasons people choose this career path, however many are certainly motivated by salary.

We provide pilot salary information to help you understand the nuanced ways pilot salaries are determined and factors that contribute to increases in salary. After all, you have to make a living, and isn’t it wonderful when you can get paid to do what you most love? Therefore, we provide examples of pilot salaries to give you an idea of the range. Whether fractional, charter, regional, law enforcement, or major airlines, starting pay is generous. And, the longer you fly, the more you earn. Pictured here are examples of charter pilot salaries.

Are there trends in pilot wages?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles salary data on airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers. In 2018, the Bureau reported the median salary at $140,340. Compare this to the median salary for all workers in the U.S., which was only $38,640. Trends clearly show pilot wages on the rise.

Median Annual Pilot Salaries in the United States:

  • 2018: $140,340
  • 2017: $137,330
  • 2016: $127,820

Are pilot incomes expected to increase?

Yes, the upward trend in pilot salaries and bonuses shows no signs of abating. Southwest Airlines will increase pilots’ salary by nearly 30% in 2020 according to their new contract. An average Southwest pilot earned $230,626 in 2015, so their pay is certainly above average. Delta pilots voted for a similar deal. With the ongoing pilot shortage and increase in air travel, airline pilots can expect a steady rise in wages.

Do pilots belong to labor unions?

Many pilots do join unions to advocate for their best interests, including wages and benefits. The Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) is the largest union for pilots in the world and represents 63,000+ pilots from around the world. This includes the U.S. and Canada. ALPA is a member of the AFL-CIO and the Canadian Labour Congress. Airline Pilots Association is the labor union that represents pilots from American Airlines.

What can a pilot do to earn at the top?

First and foremost, be a good pilot.

This means taking your currency requirements seriously and focusing on safety first. This includes maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Enjoy a balanced diet, regular exercise, sufficient sleep, avoidance of tobacco products, and little to no alcohol use, because good health is highly valued.

Second, be a good employee.

This means being on time, being a good colleague, maintaining a positive attitude (especially when faced with challenges), and being flexible. Adhere to your corporate values, which likely emphasize customer satisfaction. Your work reputation follows you, therefore you need to make sure it’s a good one.

Third, do your research.

You may have reasons for wanting to live and work in a particular region, so keep this in mind when deciding to pursue a job. Then, find out what the different airlines are paying a pilot with your credentials. Legacy airlines, such as Delta and United, are known for paying pilots at the top. However, with various signing bonuses and benefits packages, you may be surprised at what other airlines offer. This is a good time to assess your professional relationships to see if someone in your network can share relevant information.

Fourth, negotiate respectfully and confidently.

You know your value, and the pilot shortage gives you something of an advantage. Decide what it is you really want in terms of salary and benefits, and be prepared to ask as well as to compromise. Refocusing your priorities from time to time is a good way to make sure you are asking for what you really want. A younger pilot may be more focused on salary, whereas a long-time pilot may be looking for more personal time off. Know what you want before you ask when negotiating your airline pilot salary.

Fifth, always prepare.

Whether you’re going to your first job interview or your fifth, prepare yourself. Follow proven tips on how to get a job as a pilot. Pay careful attention when you prepare for your job interview. Prepared pilots are successful pilots. Most importantly, learn all you can about the company ahead of time.

News and trends regarding airline pilot salaries

  • May 3, 2020Pilot salaries increase based on the airline they work for. For example, your location impacts your salary at American Airlines.
  • January 20, 2020Delta Airlines’ profits were high, therefore they paid all 90,000 employees an extra two months’ salary as a bonus.
  • January 7, 2020CNBC has added airline pilot to its best paying jobs list of 2020, the first time the position has appeared on its list. They report a salary of $146,600.
  • December 26, 2019CNBC reported that airlines are set for their 10th consecutive year of profits. This is the longest streak of its kind in four decades, and airline employees are expecting raises in 2020.
  • December 16, 2019Dallas Morning News reported that American Airlines is leading the pilot hiring surge. In addition, the pilot shortage has a direct impact on airline pilot salary.
  • November 8, 2019 – The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) reported both seasoned and rookie pilots are in high demand. Pilots at age 65 are forced to retire from airline pilot jobs, so they are increasingly sought after as Part 135 charter pilots.

Being an airline pilot has always offered a rewarding career and now more so than ever! Therefore, do your research to make sure you receive the best flight training possible.