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Airline Pilot Salary – How Much Do Pilots Make?

August 28, 2020

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Nearly all pilots choose the career because of their love for flying- but the pay is a nice bonus.

But if you're considering becoming an airline pilot you're likely wondering, "how much do pilots make?"

How is a Pilot's Salary Calculated?

Airline pilots don't necessarily get paid a "salary". Instead, pilots are paid per flight hour. As of August 2020, the average airline pilot salary in the United States was $102,851 , but if you're researching this as a possible career there is a lot more to consider than just the national average.

In order to ensure pilots are well rested and not over worked, airline pilots are only allowed to fly 1,000 hours per year. So with that piece of information and the pilots hourly rate, you can find out what your maximum earning potential is for an airline pilot's salary.

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 Airline Pilot Salary

Just like any other career, an airline pilot's 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 5 years for a banner tow company in a 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.

Total Flight Hours

As mentioned earlier airline pilots 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 pilots different hourly rates depending on which aircraft they fly. As a general rule, the larger the aircraft, the higher the hourly rate.

You get to pick your monthly schedule of hours as well as the airplane you fly based on your seniority number (which is a very important 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.

Major Airline Captain Salaries

All salaries listed below are based on flying 1,000 hours per year and are an approximation  based on available information. Note that airline pay changes regularly.

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

Airline

Plane

Year 1

Year 5

Year 12

Air Canada

A320

$190,000

$198,000

$211,000

American Airlines

A320

$255,000

$263,000

$278,000

Delta Airlines

A320

$251,000

$260,000

$274,000

Frontier Airlines


$184,000

$208,000

$245,000

Hawaiian Airlines

A321

$233,000

$241,000

$254,000

JetBlue Airlines

A320

$234,000

$246,000

$269,000

Southwest Airlines

737

$241,000

$253,000

$274,000

Spirit Airlines

A320

$186,000

$210,000

$247,000

United Airlines

A320

$260,000

$268,000

$283,000

Major Airline First Officer Salaries

Airline

Plane

Year 1

Year 5

Year 12

Air Canada

A320

$56,000

$151,000

$190,000

American Airlines

A320

$90,000

$169,000

$190,000

Delta Airlines

A320

$92,000

$166,000

$187,000

Frontier Airlines


$58,000

$130,000

$162,000

Hawaiian Airlines

A321

$58,000

$149,000

$177,000

JetBlue Airlines

A320

$89,000

$158,000

$180,000

Southwest Airlines

737

$84,000

$164,000

$191,000

Spirit Airlines

A320

$58,000

$131,000

$164,000

United Airlines

A320

$91,000

$172,000

$193,000

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

Pilot Salary - A Timeline

It goes without saying- you earn the least at the beginning of your career and the most 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.

pilot salary timeline

Dips in pay on chart above are due to sign-on bonuses

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, the bar line drops, 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 Pilot Salaries for Regional Airlines

Regional Airline Captain Salaries

Airline

Plane

Year 1

Year 5

Year 12

Air Wisconsin

CRJ200

$71,000

$81,000

$100,000

Endeavor Air

CRJ200

$86,000

$94,000

$110,000

Envoy Air

CRJ700

$83,000

$91,000

$106,000

Horizon Air


$70,000

$80,000

$101,000

Mesa Airlines

CRJ700

$62,000

$69,000

$84,000

Piedmont Airlines

ERJ 145

$76,000

$83,000

$96,000

PSA Airlines


$82,000

$90,000

$104,000

Republic Airways


$90,000

$99,000

$116,000

Skywest Airlines

CRJ200

$75,000

$83,000

$102,000

Regional Airline First Officer Salaries

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

Airline

Plane

Year 1

Year 5

Year 8

Air Wisconsin

CRJ200

$37,000

$49,000

$53,000

Endeavor Air

CRJ200

$51,000

$64,000

$67,000

Envoy Air

CRJ700

$83,000

$56,000


Horizon Air


$40,000

$49,000

$52,000

Mesa Airlines

CRJ700

$36,000

$41,000

$49,000

Piedmont Airlines

ERJ 145

$50,000

$56,000


PSA Airlines


$50,000



Republic Airways


$46,000

$55,000


Skywest Airlines

CRJ200

$45,000

$58,000


Do Airline Pilots Receive Signing Bonuses?

At this time most regional airlines give out signing bonuses to attract pilots due to the pilot shortage. Bonuses may vary based on the pilots 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? Check out our guide on choosing the best pilot headset

Additional 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 pilots 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 pilot's 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 times airlines will offer sign on bonuses to be competitive in hiring. Others offer yearly profit sharing based on the airlines income as well as other contractual agreed upon amounts.

Other Types of Pilot Jobs and How Much They Pay

Flight Instructor

Many will opt to 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 instructor. A career instructor can expect to earn anywhere from $40,000 to $75,000 annually.

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

Cargo Carrier

In terms of pay, this is probably the most competitive with commercial airlines. Cargo Carriers.

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

Cargo Airline Captain Salaries

Airline

Plane

Year 1

Year 5

Year 8

Air Transport International

767

$140,000

$223,000

$268,000

Atlas Air

767

$142,000

$160,000

$196,000

FedEx Express

767

$268,000

$301,000

$317,000

Kalitta Air


$150,000

$238,000

$286,000

Southern Air

767

$142,000

$160,000

$196,000

United Parcel Service


$50,000

$312,000

$329,000

Cargo Airline Pilot First Officer Salaries

Airline

Plane

Year 1

Year 5

Year 8

Air Transport International

767

$83,000

$151,000

$181,000

Atlas Air

767

$87,000

$108,000

$137,000

FedEx Express

767

$81,000

$193,000

$226,000

Kalitta Air


$116,000

$162,000

$193,000

Southern Air

767

$87,000

$108,000

$137,000

United Parcel Service


$50,000

$200,000

$235,000

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 in the US earning ~$75,000.

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.

Airline

Year 1

Year 5

Year 8

iAero Ways

$168,000

$178,000

$192,000

Miami Air International

$96,000

$116,000

$163,000

Omni Air International

$176,000

$227,000

$273,000

Charter Pilot First Officer Salaries

Airline

Year 1

Year 5

Year 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

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, 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 like you would early in your career as an airline pilot.

corporate pilot 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.

Stunt Pilot

For the 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 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 seed 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.

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