How Much Do Pilots Make? Salary Information and FAQs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated July 29, 2022 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated July 29, 2022

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Professional pilots are hired by companies or individuals to fly airplanes, helicopters or any other type of aircraft. Regardless of the employer and aircraft type, a pilot requires extensive training before being licensed to operate independently. It’s a potentially lucrative career, but the earnings greatly depend on the complexity of the tasks and the size of the employer.

In this article, we describe common pilot duties, explain the average salary for pilots and answer other frequently asked questions about pilot salaries.

What do pilots do?

Pilots fly and operate all types of aircraft for different purposes, such as transporting people or cargo, performing rescue operations, taking aerial photographs and more. Airline pilots are hired by a single company and perform scheduled flights transporting people or cargo, while commercial pilots can work for multiple companies and perform a variety of flight-related tasks. Aside from safely operating the aircraft, all pilot types share these common responsibilities:

  • Determining what flight route is the safest and most efficient

  • Performing aircraft inspections both before and after a flight

  • Keeping constant communication with the required agencies and personnel

  • Maintaining accurate flight records

  • Ensuring the safety and comfort of everyone on board the aircraft, including passengers and cabin crew

  • Verifying the integrity of the aircraft

Those who wish to become pilots can begin their training either in the military or in a flight school that has been certified by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To become a licensed pilot, a trainee must pass a series of theoretical, physical and practical tests to show that they have the skills, knowledge and physical ability to successfully operate an aircraft. Different types of pilot require different levels of certification and licensure, so it’s a good idea to research each type of certification and licensure’s requirements.

Related: How To Become an Airline Pilot: Steps and Requirements

How much do pilots make?

Salaries for pilots depend on many factors, such as the size of the hiring company, rank, seniority within the company, the number of hours worked each month and location. The average salary for a pilot in the United States is $84,439 per year. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided. Pilots can also enjoy a variety of employment benefits, including:

  • 401(k) retirement plan

  • Health insurance

  • Disability insurance

  • Housing stipends

  • Paid housing

  • Life insurance

Related: 8 High-Paying Pilot Jobs (With Salaries)

Pilot skills

Pilots also need a distinctive set of soft skills, such as:

  • Crew resource management: Although they are solely in charge of piloting the aircraft, pilots are also part of a larger team. They need to be able to successfully interact with the crew onboard and manage them throughout the flight.

  • Communication: Flying an aircraft is a highly complex operation, and those who are tasked with successfully completing the flight need to communicate efficiently to ensure the safety of the people and cargo on board. As the main person in charge, a pilot must have the proper communication skills to quickly and successfully get their messages across.

  • Ethics and professional demeanor: Pilots need to be respected by both customers and staff and are also the main representatives of their hiring company's image. This can also help enhance passenger experiences and promote a positive image of the pilot and airline.

  • Decisiveness: The responsibility of operating an aircraft will inevitably present unpredictable situations. With the combination of training exercises and personal resolve, a pilot must be comfortable making quick decisions to maintain overall safety.

  • Adaptability: Pilots often need to adapt to different time zones and cultures. Their flight schedules present unusual working hours and often require long periods away from home, so many pilots must constantly adapt to new environments.

Related:Soft Skills: Definitions and Examples

Pilot salary frequently asked questions

Here are answers to the most frequently asked questions about how much pilots make:

How much does a new pilot make?

After completing their initial flight training, commercial pilots typically start their careers as flight instructors in order to build their flight time. The FAA requires 1,500 hours of flight time before a pilot can earn their air transport pilot (ATP) license to become a first officer (second-in-command). Becoming a certified flight instructor allows them to log flight hours, improve their skills and knowledge and earn a salary while helping others become pilots. The average salary for a flight instructor is $66,338 per year. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link(s) provided.

Related: How To Become a Commercial Pilot: Step-by-Step Career Guide

How many years can you work as an airline pilot?

FAA regulations require all airline pilots to retire by the age of 65. There are still many professional opportunities as a private pilot after official retirement. Another important aspect of a pilot's overall longevity is their health, as they must pass physical examinations periodically. A successful medical checkup means that the pilot keeps the Class 1 medical certificate required to fly for a commercial airline. Pilots younger than 40 need to take the tests once every year, while those over 60 need to take them every six months.

How much do U.S. airline pilots earn compared to international pilots?

The average earnings for U.S. pilots are similar to those of international pilots. Many international companies are seeking American pilots and can pay significant relocation fees on top of the yearly wages. Certification, experience and licensure can also affect how much an international company might pay a pilot.

How are pilots' salaries calculated?

Airline pilots are paid according to the number of hours flown. The number of hours a pilot can work in any given year is a maximum of 1,000 flying hours, this is to help ensure the safety and integrity of pilots and prevent them from overextending themselves. The hourly rate is the most important factor in calculating a pilot's pay due to this limitation in work hours. Hourly earnings vary from airline to airline and can also vary according to the pilot's seniority and type of aircraft they fly.

Related:6 Tips For Your Next Salary Negotiation

Can networking get you a better-paid job as a pilot?

Networking generally increases a professional's opportunities, and this also applies to pilots. Although the pilot's qualifications and seniority are the most important factors in deciding their salary, the contacts you make through various opportunities throughout your career, starting from flight school, can lead to better-paid roles. Joining professional pilot organizations or attending social networking events can help you network with other airlines, pilots or other organizations.

Related: 7 Types of Networking Opportunities

What are the trends in pilots' wages?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers was $202,180 in 2021. The projected job outlook for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers is 14% between 2020 and 2030. For aircraft pilots and other types of flight engineers, the outlook is 13%. For commercial pilots, they can expect a job outlook of 11%.

What can a pilot do to maximize their earnings?

These are the most efficient ways to increase your earnings as a pilot:

Get hired by a major airline

Airline pilots typically make the most, compared to other types of pilot specializations, such as rescue pilots, tourist pilots and others. There is a significant difference between the average earnings of pilots hired by regional airlines and those who work for national and international airlines. Although most major airline pilots also start their careers by working for smaller airlines, a good record as a local airline pilot can potentially get you a job at a major airline or major cargo carrier.

Earn seniority

Another major factor that determines pilot wages is the level of seniority at the respective company. Once aspiring pilots complete their initial flight training and the 1,500 flight hours necessary for earning their ATP certificate, they are eligible for an entry-level pilot position at a regional airline, which is typically that of a second-in-command (SIC) first officer. Dedicating yourself to gaining experience, flying hours and pilot certifications can help you advance into higher-ranking positions that can increase your earning potential.

Seek employment opportunities in better-paying states

Salaries for pilots with similar seniority levels and working for similarly-sized airlines can vary according to the state they're based in. For example, a pilot in Atlanta, Georgia, can earn an average base salary of $122,201 per year. This differs from pilots in Chicago, Illinois, who earn an average base salary of $59,951 per year.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the links provided.

Work a seasonal job as a tourism and sightseeing pilot

Some tourist areas are only properly visible and accessible by plane, meaning that there is a constant need for pilots who can carry tourists in small planes while narrating the entire experience. Many of these jobs are seasonal, meaning they can potentially be a good way for a pilot working a full-time job elsewhere to increase their yearly earnings. Researching different tourist areas can help you discover the pilot opportunities there and learn about the seasonal offerings.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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