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Airline Pilot Salary – How Much Do Pilots Make?

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    Nearly all pilots choose the career because of their love for flying, but the above-average pilot salary is a nice bonus.

    But if you’re considering becoming an airline pilot, you’re likely wondering, “how much do pilots make?”

    In this post, you’ll learn what a pilot salary looks like and discover just how much you could earn as a commercial airline pilot.

    Right now is one of the best times in history to become a pilot. Pilot salaries have been increasing year after year as more and more people are flying and fewer people are entering this job field.

    Whether you’re still in high school trying to choose a career or later in life considering a career change, an airline pilot career may be a great option for you.

    How is a Pilot’s Salary Calculated?

    Airline pilots don’t necessarily get paid a “salary”. Instead, pilots are paid per flight hour. Meaning a pilot is only paid while their airplane is running. As of May 2021, the median annual earnings for airline pilots was $202,180. But if you’re researching this as a possible career there is a lot more to consider than just the national average.

    A pilot’s salary is calculated by multiplying the number of flight hours by their hourly rate. For example the year 1 pay rate for an Envoy first officer is $90 per hour. If the pilot flies 84 hours that month they’ll receive $7,560. Plus, they’ll receive a per diem.

    A per diem is pay they receive for time away from base and is meant to cover food and other expenses while on the trip. It generally ranges between $1.50 and $3 per hour. So if a pilot is away from base for 15 hours and their per diem was $2.25 they would receive $33.75.

    In order to ensure pilots are not overworked, airline pilots are limited to 1,000 flight hours per year.

    It’s important to note that there are other benefits to working for an airline beyond the pilot salary, but we’ll get into that later.

    Factors That Determine Airline Pilot Salary

    Just like any other career, an airline pilot salary varies depending on a variety of factors. Each airline sets its pay rates based on the contracts it signs. These rates may be based on many different inputs.

    Years of Experience

    Years of experience is a key factor in the hiring of all commercial pilots, not just airline pilots. While the hiring at the airlines is based on experience, the offers for compensation are set by the contracts the airline has signed with their pilots. In relation to other commercial airline pilot opportunities, experience may dictate the amount of pay you are offered.

    For example: A small corporation is looking to hire a commercial pilot for their multi-engine airplane and has two pilots pursuing the same job. One flew for 5 years for a banner tow company in an American Champion Citabria, and the other was a contractor for 5 years and has flown a variety of single-engine and multi-engine aircraft. The contractor will likely receive a higher offer as he/she has flown in a wider variety of aircraft and has more overall experience.

    Pilot Salary 2022
    Sourse: US Buraeu of Labor Statistics

    Total Flight Hours

    As mentioned earlier pilot salaries are paid on an hourly basis, specifically per flight hour. Logically this means that pilots who fly monthly schedules with higher flight times are going to get paid a larger amount.

    Aircraft Type

    The airlines pay their pilot’s different hourly rates depending on which aircraft they fly. As a general rule, the larger the aircraft, the higher the hourly rate.

    In 2022, an American Airlines 737 first officer with 3 years of experience will be paid $161 per hour while a 777 first officer with 3 years of experience will be paid $198 per hour.

    You get to pick your monthly schedule of hours as well as the airplane you fly based on your seniority number (which is an essential aspect of being an airline pilot, as we have discussed in other blog posts. ) As your seniority number improves, you have more say in which aircraft and schedule you fly.

    How Pilot Salaries were Calculated Here

    All of the pilot pay listed on this page is based on a few important details. Due to the variable rate of pilot pay it’s difficult to give an exact estimate on how much you’ll earn as an airline pilot.

    All pay listed here is assuming 75 hours of flight time per month or 900 hours per year. Many pilots will fly more than this. The pay listed here also doesn’t include any per diem a pilot receives over the course of the year which could amount to more than $7,000 in a year.

    Airline Pilot Salaries

    Major Airline Captain Salaries

    Note that airline pay changes regularly.

    A commercial pilot salary will vary based on the aircraft they fly. Where available, we’ve included the plane associated with the listed pay.

    AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 12
    Alaska737$203,400$210,600$239,400
    American Airlines737$256,000$264,150$279,000
    Delta AirlinesA320$235,800$243,000$257,400
    Frontier Airlines$177,300$200,700$235,800
    Hawaiian AirlinesA321$227,700$234,900$247,500
    JetBlue AirwaysA320$221,400$233,100$254,700
    Southwest Airlines737$216,900$227,700$246,600
    Spirit AirlinesA320$175,500$198,900$234,000
    United Airlines737$234,000$241,200$254,700
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Major Airline First Officer Salaries

    Most major airlines are hiring first officers from a regional airline. As you can see, these pilot salaries start out quite low and in many cases, they start lower than the captain pay at the regional airlines. So pilots who make the jump are taking a small pay decrease.

    In the past few months, many major airlines have started announcing bonuses for pilots who move from a regional carrier to a major so the pilot salaries listed under year 1 in the table below will likely increase significantly in the next couple of years for most major airlines.

    AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 12
    Alaska737$83,700$141,300$161,100
    American Airlines737$81,000$152,100$171,000
    Delta AirlinesA320$82,800$149,400$168,300
    Frontier Airlines$67,500$125,100$156,600
    Hawaiian AirlinesA321$72,900$144,900$171,900
    JetBlue AirlinesA320$84,600$149,400$170,100
    Southwest Airlines737$75,600$147,600$171,900
    Spirit AirlinesA320$54,900$123,300$154,800
    United Airlines737$81,900$154,800$173,700
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Pilot salaries posted above do not include sign-on bonuses or other benefits.

    Commercial Pilot Salary – A Timeline

    It goes without saying – pilot salaries are at their lowest at the beginning of your career and highest towards the end. Before beginning your path towards a career as an airline pilot, it’s important to understand how much you will be making throughout your entire career.

    Airline pilot earnings timeline

    The figures above are based on averages across different airlines but can give you a good idea of the airline pilot salary you can be expecting as your career progresses. It’s also worth noting that the timeline above is stretched out a little longer than what some would experience.

    With the current pilot shortage the world is experiencing, some pilots have found the move from a regional airline to a major airline even faster.

    For example, prior to Covid many regional airline pilots made it to the majors after only 3-5 years.

    You probably noticed that at a couple of spots on the graph, pilot salaries drop, particularly when you jump from being a regional airline pilot to a pilot for a major airline. This does not necessarily mean you get a drop in pay.

    As an incentive for pilots to start at a new airline, sign-on bonuses are sometimes distributed. You would technically earn more money during your first year due to that sign-on bonus.

    Sample Airline Pilot Salaries for Regional Airlines

    Regional Airline Captain Salaries

    AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 12
    Air WisconsinCRJ200$72,900$85,500$98,100
    Endeavor AirCRJ200$81,900$89,550$105,300
    Envoy AirCRJ700$131,400$144,900$168,300
    Horizon Air$72,900$82,800$99,900
    Mesa AirlinesCRJ900$135,000$147,600$170,100
    Piedmont AirlinesERJ 145$131,625$145,125$168,750
    PSA Airlines$135,000$148,500$172,125
    Republic Airways$81,000$89,100$104,400
    Skywest AirlinesCRJ200$126,000$142,200$172,800
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Regional Airline First Officer Salaries

    Few pilots remain first officers at regional airlines for very long. Most will become a captain at a regional airline within a few years and then from there, move to a major airline. This is why some pilot salaries aren’t listed for year 5 and beyond.

    AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 8
    Air WisconsinCRJ200$54,000$54,000
    Endeavor AirCRJ200$46,800$60,300
    Envoy AirCRJ700$81,000$97,200$97,200
    Horizon Air$43,200$53,100
    Mesa AirlinesCRJ900$90,000$99,000$99,000
    Piedmont AirlinesERJ 145$81,000$97,200$97,200
    PSA AirlinesCRJ$87,750$100,575$100,575
    Republic Airways$45,900$49,500
    Skywest AirlinesCRJ200$81,000$89,100
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Current Airline Bonuses 2023

    • Endeavor Air offers a $10K training completion bonus.
    • Envoy Air, as an affiliate with American Airlines, offers more than $150k in their bonus package for those who are eligible. This includes a $15k signing bonus for all new pilots, a $30k bonus for those that upgrade to captains, a $70k flow bonus to American Airlines, and an additional $50k bonus paid at flow, earned pro-rata with qualifying hours over two years. In addition to these, Envoy offers $10k near captain entry, a $7.5k type rating bonus, and a $15k bonus for direct entry captains.
    • Horizon Airlines has a pilot development program where they will give private pilots a stipend of $12.5k while they get their training done. They also have a new hiring bonus of $5k – $17.5k, depending on the plane you are flying and up to $50k in bonuses for experienced pilots.
    • Mesa Airlines offers a $20k sign-on bonus for all new hires, with an additional $10k for all simulator instructor positions.
    • Piedmont Airlines, an additional affiliate with American, offers the same $150k+ in bonuses for their pilots as Envoy.
    • PSA Airlines, another affiliate with American Airlines, offers the same bonuses as Piedmont Airlines and Envoy Air.
    Pilot salary for SouthWest Airlines

    Do Airline Pilots Receive Signing Bonuses?

    At this time most regional airlines give out signing bonuses to attract commercial pilots due to the pilot shortage. Bonuses may vary based on the pilot’s experience. We’ve seen bonuses ranging from $5,000 to over $15,000.

    For example, if you already have a type rating for one of the aircraft you’d be flying the airline may give you a bigger signing bonus since they don’t have to spend as much money training you.

    [Searching for the perfect headset for your flight training? Check out our guide on choosing the best pilot headset.]

    Commercial Airline Pilot Benefits

    Pilots enjoy plenty of benefits aside from the pay. Especially during times when the industry is strong and, airlines are struggling to compete with the other airlines to bring qualified pilots to their airline.

    Free Travel

    Most airlines allow their pilot’s free travel on flights that have empty seats, including a seat for a friend or family member.

    Many pilots use these free trips to explore the world or to simply visit friends and family regularly.

    Per Diem

    Airline pilots receive a very attractive per diem on top of their hourly wage. This amount is to cover your expenses while on trips. Often, the amount is larger than what you spend so could add to your annual income.

    Healthcare and Insurance

    To remain competitive with the other airlines, most companies have very attractive healthcare and life insurance benefits for their pilots.

    Bonuses

    While bonuses are not guaranteed in any business, in the good time’s airlines will offer sign-on bonuses to be competitive in hiring. Others offer yearly profit sharing based on the airline’s income as well as other contractual agreed-upon amounts.

    Do Airline Pilots Make More with Overtime Pay?

    Overtime pay is available at many airlines. When an airline needs to ensure a flight happens they will offer anywhere from 100% to 300% (or more) to get pilots to pick up the job.

    At this time in 2022, this is an incredibly common occurrence. And with no end in sight for the pilot shortage, this will likely continue for years to come.

    So when looking at the pilot salaries above, remember that isn’t all you could earn. Your earnings could climb significantly higher with overtime pay.

    Pilot pay at American Airlines

    How Long Can an Airline Pilot Work?

    In the United States, the FAA requires an airline transport pilot to retire at age 65. This doesn’t mean you can’t be a pilot after 65, it simply means you can’t hold an ATP. While some pilots do retire at 65, others continue to work as charter pilots, flight instructors, or any of the other commercial pilot jobs listed below.

    Do Airline Pilots Belong to Unions?

    Most airline pilots belong to unions in the United States. These unions negotiate pilot salaries and other benefits. There are a few major airline pilot unions including Air Line Pilots Association, the Allied Pilots Association, and Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.

    International Pilot Salaries vs US Pilot Salaries

    Airlines around the world are facing the same pilot shortage. While individual requirements vary from country to country to become pilot, the pay is actually quite similar.

    Just like in the US, pay will depend on which airplane you’re flying and how many years you’ve been flying. If you’re considering non-US airlines to work for as an airline pilot you’ll want to carefully consider their base locations. That will dictate where in the world you can live.

    Pilot’s Minimum Guarantee

    Most airlines give their pilots a monthly minimum guarantee. This way pilots know they’ll receive some pay even if some of their flights get cancelled due to weather, maintenance, or other issues.

    For most US airlines, the guarantee is around 75 hours per month but there are a few airlines that offer daily guarantees.

    Will Pilot Pay Continue to Increase?

    With the ongoing pilot shortage, it certainly appears that pilot pay will continue to grow. While there’s no way to truly predict the future, Boeing’s recent report indicates that the pilot shortage will be here for many years to come.

    There are a high number of pilots forecasted to retire over the next 10 years which will likely make the pilot shortage only get worse in the short term which means pilot salaries will also likely increase.

    Pilot Salaries for other Commercial Pilot Jobs

    Flight Instructor

    Many pilots will work at a flight school as an instructor as their method of gaining their FAA-required minimum hours, but some love it so much they choose to become a career flight instructors. A career instructor can expect a pilot salary anywhere from $40,000 to $75,000 annually.

    Many instructors will go on to work as chief flight instructors for a flight school where your salary can go even higher.

    Cargo Carrier

    In terms of pay, cargo pilot salaries are probably the most competitive with commercial airlines.

    The pay structure for cargo pilots is very similar to that of major airline carriers.

    Cargo Airline Captain Salaries

    AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 8
    Air Transport International767$147,000$234,000$255,000
    Atlas Air767$92,000$160,000$172,000
    FedEx Express767$276,000$310,000$326,000
    Kalitta Air$154,000$244,000$266,000
    Southern Air767$142,000$160,000$196,000
    United Parcel Service$50,000$312,000$329,000
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Cargo Airline Pilot First Officer Salaries

    AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 8
    Air Transport International767$83,000$151,000$181,000
    Atlas Air767$87,000$108,000$137,000
    FedEx Express767$81,000$193,000$226,000
    Kalitta Air$116,000$162,000$193,000
    Southern Air767$87,000$108,000$137,000
    United Parcel Service$50,000$200,000$212,000
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Charter Pilot

    Charter services offer private flights to businesses or individuals. A charter pilot needs to have a professional attitude as they will be dealing with clients even more directly than pilots flying for airlines.

    The salary is higher than most time-building jobs, with the average charter pilot salary in the US earning approximately $75,000.

    Charter Pilot Pay

    Charter Pilot Captain Salaries

    While there are quite a few small charter airlines across the United States, here are a few of the larger operations that post their pay publicly. These charter airlines typically fly large jets which is why their pay closely resembles airline pilot pay.

    AirlineYear 1Year 5Year 8
    iAero Ways$168,000$178,000$192,000
    Miami Air International$96,000$116,000$163,000
    Omni Air International$192,000$248,000$270,000
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Charter Pilot First Officer Salaries

    AirlineYear 1Year 5Year 8
    iAero Ways$90,000$98,000$100,000
    Miami Air International$47,000$83,000$98,000
    Omni Air International$118,000$154,000$184,000
    Current as of November 2022. Source.

    Corporate Pilot

    A career as a corporate pilot is similar to a career as an airline pilot in many ways.

    It’s a very competitive job, you will likely need a high number of hours to be considered, and you are typically flying larger turbine aircraft.

    The differences are of course the number of passengers, the type of aircraft you are flying, and where you will be flying. Many may consider corporate pilot as more attractive than airline pilot due to the more consistent schedule and locations.

    You will likely not be required to move as you would early in your career as an airline pilot.

    A corporate pilot salary may start out around $60,000 annually (first officer) but has the potential to earn $180,000 or more as they gain more experience and stay with a corporation longer.

    Corporate pilot salary

    Stunt Pilot

    For extreme thrill-seekers, aerobatics might be a fun career for you. Aerobatic pilots, or stunt pilots, perform in aerial shows, compete with other aerobatic pilots, and train pilots in aerobatic flight.

    The pay of stunt pilots varies tremendously, but the median earnings of this job pay between $50,000 and $70,000.

    It is a very difficult career to break into, and you will need to be passionate about the job in order to break out.

    Tour Guide

    The job of a tour guide could be for you if you enjoy small groups and consider yourself a people person. The job is location-dependent and can vary greatly in hours.

    You could be doing a lot of hours during peak season, and be earning very little during the off-season, so this gig isn’t for everyone. Average earnings are around $52,000 annually.

    Banner Towing

    Like instructing, most who tow banners are using the job as a way to build hours. The pay is similar to instructing and can range from $20-$50 an hour.

    Crop Duster

    One of the more unique and niche commercial pilot jobs on this list, a crop duster (also known as “Aerial Applicator” or “Agricultural Pilot”) is a pilot that uses aircraft to aid in agricultural care.

    They may apply pesticides, fertilizers, or even plant seeds using their aircraft. This job requires not only aviation training (commercial rating) but agricultural knowledge.

    You will need to be knowledgeable on different types of pesticides and fertilizers, and familiar with agricultural practices. If you are able to overcome this knowledge hurdle, you are rewarded with a job that can pay higher than $100,000.

    How Much Do Pilots Make – Conclusion

    How much a pilot earns each year largely depends on how much time they are able to fly. As we’ve outlined in this article, as an airline pilot moves from First Officer to Captain and from a regional airline to a major airline their salary continues to increase. If you want to maximize your airline pilot pay, your goal should be to become a captain at a major airline.

    Comments

    4 responses to “Airline Pilot Salary – How Much Do Pilots Make?”

    1. Denise Wieand

      Thank you so much for responding Brian!!! Great information that you provided and I discovered through your generous suggestions!

    2. Shawn Davis

      The corporate pilot pay is low. FlexJet and NetJet pilots start out at 100k plus and make up to 350k.

      1. Denise Wieand

        My son is interested in becoming a pilot, currently finishing sophomore yr in high school. What path would u recommend and are any of the airlines offering to pay off loans or provide scholarships?

        1. Brian Brassaw

          For a high school student headed into their junior year, I’d recommend he go take a discovery flight if he hasn’t already flown in a small aircraft. This is always a good check to make sure this is what he really wants to do. Then, once he graduates high school, I’d suggest attending a full-time flight training program like our Zero Time to Airline program instead of college. We have an entire article on flight training vs college you should read.

          As far as paying for training, many of our students will take out a loan from a partner like Sallie Mae. Then, once they get a job at a regional airline, they’ll use some or all of the signing bonus to help pay down the loan. With the ongoing pilot shortage, airlines are offering substantial hiring bonuses that continue to increase. By the time he graduates high school, there may be additional incentives the airlines are offering.

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