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Airline Pilot Salary – How Much Do Pilots Make?

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In this post we’ll explore what an airline pilot salary actually looks like in 2023.

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

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 do Pilots get Paid?

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 their 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 salary, but we’ll get into that later.

Factors That Determine an Airline Pilot Salary

Just like any other career, a commercial 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 including years of experience, total flight hours, aircraft type, and of course, what company they work for.

Years of Experience

A major factor in answering the question, how much do airline pilots make is years of experience.

Years of flying experience is a key factor in the hiring of all commercial pilots, not just airline pilots.

At the airlines, contracts are in place that dictate the hourly rate pilots earn. These are based on how long they’ve been a first officer or captain at that company. In most of these contracts, the pilot’s salary or hourly rate, goes up with each year of experience at that company.

In relation to other commercial airline pilot opportunities, experience may dictate the amount of pay you’re offered.

Median Airlines Pilot pay
Source: US Bureau 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 pilot salary for a 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.

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’s salary will vary based on the aircraft they fly. Where available, we’ve included the plane associated with the listed pay. Here are pilot salaries by airline for captains.

AirlinePlaneYear 1Year 5Year 12
Alaska737$203,400$210,600$239,400
American Airlines737$309,000$319,000$336,000
Delta AirlinesA320$313,000$323,000$341,000
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$225,900$237,600$270,000
United Airlines737$312,000$320,000$338,000
Current as of October 2023. Source.

Major Airline First Officer Pilot 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$108,000$204,000$230,000
Delta AirlinesA320$110,000$208,000$233,000
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$83,700$152,100$173,700
United Airlines737$109,000$206,000$231,000
First officer salaries current as of October 2023. Source.

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

Commercial Pilot Salary – A Timeline

As we continue to answer the question, how much do airline pilots make, we need to look at airline pilot earnings over time.

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 toward a career as an airline pilot, it’s important to understand how much you will be making throughout your entire career.

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.

Keep reading for more information about commercial pilot salaries.

Sample Airline Pilot Salaries for Regional Airlines

New airline pilots start their career at the regional airlines. Regional airline pilot salaries are lower than the major airlines but most pilots only stay at a regional airline for a few years. Here are examples of regional pilot salaries by airline.

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
Commercial pilot salaries 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 commercial 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
Regionals commercial pilot salaries current as of November 2022. Source.

How Much do Airline Pilots Make per Flight?

As I’ve already covered, airline pilots are paid per flight hour. So answering the question, how much do pilots make per flight is pretty straightforward.

If the engine is running the pilot is being paid. So if they have a flight that’s 3.5 hours long and their current rate is $137 per hour their pay for that flight would be $479.50.

This is a somewhat simplified version but when a pilot is on a trip they will generally have multiple flights over the course of a few days plus they will receive their per diem. So in general you can take the length of the flight and multiply it by the hourly rate and get the pay for that flight.

However, the above is only for their normal flights. There are instances when the airline needs pilots to pick up other flights so they’ll offer 1.5x, 2x or even 3x pay for an individual flight. Which means a pilot can make quite a bit more on an individual flight.

Pilot Salary per Month

Below are estimates of how much you could expect to earn as an airline pilot salary per month. We’ve already discussed that pilot’s aren’t paid a traditional salary but if you want to read that section again click here.

A first officer at a regional airline just starting out can expect to earn from $6,000 to $8,000 per month (before taxes) during their first couple of years. A captain at a regional airline can earn roughly $11,000 to $15,000 per month (before taxes).

Major airline pilots earn substantially more. First officers at major airlines earn around $10,000 to $18,000 per month, while captains can easily earn over $20,000 per month during their first year as a captain. Experienced captains at major carriers like Delta or American Airlines have been reported to earn between $30,000 to $40,000 per month.

Current Airline Bonuses 2023

Another factor in answering, how much do pilots make, is bonuses. When airlines want to attract more pilots they’ll roll out specific bonuses based on the types of pilots they need.

  • 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.

Many airlines also offer bonuses to captains who join them.

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 commercial pilot salary. 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 in addition to the commercial pilot salary they offer. 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?

One last consideration in our question, how much do pilots make is 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?

International Pilot Salaries vs US Pilot Salaries

Commercial pilot salaries at large airlines outside the united states are generally competitive with the salaries offered by the major airlines in the US.

With 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 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 as a pilot salary.

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 Airline 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.

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Comments

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

  1. Christian

    How long does it take for a person to go from zero flight experience to a flying for a company?

    1. It all depends on how quickly you move through training and build flight hours. For those who treat training as their full time job they can get the training done in 6-9 months. Building the required flight time to reach airline minimums takes most people 12-18 months.

  2. Jonathan

    Which airlines requires degrees or which ones do? Another question is does it matter if you have a degree. Do you need flight school or college?

  3. ANDY USSERY

    Hi Liz, thanks for the terrific article.

    My daughter is a rising HS senior and after campus tours, info interviews, and online research she is determined to be a career pilot. She will take the Aviation Admin with Commercial Pilot option as her major which means a part 141 school, 1000 hours, BS degree and airline networking bennies.

    My question is this….when a pilot is on “reserve” status they are getting paid to sit at home as I understand it. That does NOT count toward the 1000 annual hour limit does it? So one could fly the average 700 hours and be on reserve for a few hundred more and end up with 1200 or more hours in a year? Am I missing something?

    1. Hi,

      The 1,000 annual hour limit is only for actual flight time so no, sitting on reserve doesn’t count as part of that 1,000 hours. However, you aren’t paid for every hour you’re sitting on reserve. Most airlines have a monthly reserve minimum guarantee, often around 75 hours. So if you were on reserve for the entire month you’d get paid for 75 hours. When you have a mixture of reserve and flying in a month the airlines have their own formula for attributing pay on those days when you’re on reserve.

  4. Denise Wieand

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

  5. 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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