Pilot Salary Potential in the United States - AeroGuard

Pilot Salary Potential

Many students, when looking into a new career, often look at what type of salary they can expect to receive from this new career. Some students will look at the cost of schooling for this new career. Really, it’s important to look at both to ensure that the career will give you a positive return on your investment in your schooling. Flight training can be as much as a four-year college degree, and you might wonder is it worth it? The good news is, being a pilot can be a very lucrative career. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the average annual airline pilot salary as of 2019 is $174,870.

How Much Do Pilots Make?

While the average pilot salary may be $174,870, how much pilots make will vary depending on the airline they fly with, the type of aircraft they fly, the routes they fly, their amount of experience, and so on. Since pilot seniority plays a part in all of the above, you could even say pilot salary is also dependent on pilot seniority. Additionally, pilot salary also depends on how much a pilot actually flies. This is because pilot salary is paid by flight hour and not on an annual salary basis. Over the past few years, airlines have increased pilot salary and have begun offering increased benefit packages such as profit sharing. This increase in pilot salary will continue to trend upward over the coming years due to the looming pilot shortage that’s sure to come.  The data to the right suggests a pilot can currently make upwards of $8 million over the course of their lifetime. As with many careers, it depends on the determination, work ethic and tenacity of each pilot, but the possibilities are bright.

Careers with the Highest Pilot Salary

There are many pilot careers to consider when entering into the aviation industry. However, more often than not, a student’s goal is to become an airline pilot since that is generally the career with the highest pilot salary. The most popular pilot jobs when starting out are regional airline pilots and charter pilots. From there, pilots move their career to either cargo pilots or major airline pilots. This is where pilots will be paid toward the top of the pilot salary range.

Regional Vs. Charter Operations

Once a pilot meets the aeronautical experience requirements for an Airline Transport Pilot certificate, they can either continue with their current role or transition to a larger operation. Traditionally, the best paying pilot roles are typically at the airlines and therefore many aviators choose to continue down that path. Alternatively, larger charter operations have various scheduling and pay differences that some aviators may prefer over the lifestyle at the airlines.

Regional First Officers have a starting pilot salary of between $40k-$50k. That may seem low to some but keep in mind this is only starting salary. At this point, you have no experience and the airlines are investing a lot of money in you through providing extensive training to you on their fleet and more often than not, providing you with your ATP certificate, which are additional costs that you are now saving. Some pilots will have the opportunity to upgrade to Captain in as little as 2-3 years which then increases the pilot salary to $60k-$80k minimum. Since this is an hourly paid position, pilots have the opportunity to manipulate their schedule to fly more hours and increase their pay. A Regional Pilot’s schedule will be determined by seniority. The schedule is generally fixed and can be scheduled up to a month in advance which provides a good work/life balance so pilots can schedule personal events around their pre-determined work schedule. Pilots can change domiciles to improve seniority, they receive free travel benefits for themselves and immediate family, which is always a nice perk, and allows pilots to not have to live in the area where they are assigned. They can use their flight benefits to easily commute back and forth.

Charter pilots on the other hand, are one of the few pilot positions that are paid more often than not on a salary basis. This pilot salary is based on the size of the jet flown as well as their years of service. A charter pilot’s salary can rage anywhere from $60k-$200k. Unlike a regional pilot, a charter pilot has a widely varying schedule since they are often on an “on-call” format. They generally receive 12-15 days off per month and do not have a set domicile where they are stationed. Instead, the companies generally cover their commute to where they need to be for their next flight. Shifts can start in different cities all over the world.

Major Airline and Cargo Operations

When people think pilot career and pilot salary, they generally think of working for major carriers like United, Delta, Southwest, UPS or Fedex. This is because these are the highest paying pilot careers with the most flexible schedules. These operations typically run similar to the regional airlines, but they fly much larger jets. By flying larger jets, pilots are better compensated and with better work life balance.

  • Pay: The range varies significantly based on seniority and aircraft but can be anywhere from $65-$150k within the first 5 years and can increase to upwards of $300k
  • Schedule: Pilots generally fly 3-4 day trips with around 12-15 days off per month. In the largest jets, the trips are usually international and transoceanic.
  • Location: Pilots are assigned to domiciles which are the bases from which flight trips begin and end. Airline pilots have travel benefits and therefore can fly for free so many choose to live elsewhere and commute to their assigned domiciles.

Mean Annual Salary for Airline Pilots and Copilots in the U.S.

  • 2019: $174,870
  • 2018: $169,560
  • 2017: $161,280
  • 2016: $152,770


*Source: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Start Earning a Pilot Salary

Now that you’ve taken the time to understand the income potential of becoming a pilot and even looked at a comparison of a few of the more popular pilot jobs out there, you’re probably asking yourself, how do I start? You’re not alone. Many people have the dream of becoming a pilot and earning a pilot salary but aren’t quite sure exactly how to get there. Our “How to Become a Pilot” guide will teach you everything you need to know on how to get started toward your new career. If you have any questions, simply fill out the form below and we’ll get you connected with someone who can help.


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