ERJ instrument panel

Commercial Pilot Salary How Much do Airline Pilots Make?

Flying can be a very rewarding career, both financially and in terms of job satisfaction. Pilots undertake intensive training to develop a highly unique skill set. As a result, commercial pilots are paid well.

According to The Occupational Outlook Handbook, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, states that “The median annual wage for commercial pilots was $82,240 in May 2018”. In addition to annual earnings, pilots take part in company health insurance, life insurance and retirement plans. In many cases, these plans exceed what employees in other fields receive.

Airline pilot salary varies and can range anywhere from $28,000 per year to several hundred thousand per year depending on:

What can Airline Pilots Plan to Actually Earn? How Much do Pilots Make a Year?

Pilots are hourly employees and are paid by flight hour. Due to the constraints placed on pilots by the FAA, most fly about 85 hours per month. There are more work hours involved, such as preflight planning, but time in the cockpit, and thus the pay, is usually about 85 hours monthly. In addition to flight time, pilots are also paid per diem, which serves to reimburse pilots for the food and beverage expenses that they incur on the road. For this discussion, add in $4,000 per year to every annual salary to reflect per diem.

First Officer
(Year 1)
Captain
(Year 6)
Captain
(Year 12)
United Airlines
$96,820 $279,400 $292,660
Delta Air Lines
$97,840 $282,460 $295,720
American Airlines
$95,800 $286,540 $302,860
FedEx
$83,560 $267,160 $281,440
UPS
$52,960 $314,080 $328,360
Southwest Airlines
$89,680 $265,120 $283,480
Estimates based on flying a 737 for 85 hours per month and an additional $4,000 annual per diem. Note: these numbers are approximations and are not promises of future earnings.

Major Airline Pilots Earn the Highest Salary Regional Airlines versus Major Airlines

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the range of salaries for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers from less than $65,690 a year, to the highest 10 percent earning more than $208,000. However, these numbers only give us a glimpse of how much a pilot earns and how those earnings change over a career.

Regional Airline Salary Range
$50,000 - $131,500
Major Airline Salary Range
$96,820 - $400,000

Regional Airlines

The airlines are basically divided into two categories: regional airlines and major airlines. While some pilots choose to stay at the regionals, most use them as a stepping stone to the major airlines. Examples of regional airlines are Envoy Air, Mesa Airlines, Skywest, and Republic.

  • Regional airlines typically fly under the banner of a major airline but are not actually part of that airline; an example of this would be ExpressJet Airlines operating under the name “United Express®”.
  • Regional airlines usually fly smaller jets ranging from 50 to 75 passengers.
  • Regional airlines are where most civilian pilots get their first airline job.
  • Pay at the regional airlines is typically less than at the major airlines.

Learn more about Regional Airline Effective First-Year Pay »

Major Airlines

Major airlines consist of well-known names, such as American Airlines, Delta and United Airlines®, along with the cargo carriers FedEx and UPS. Pilots work many years to get hired by a major airline and almost never leave one to work at another. Pilots at the major airlines enjoy strong salaries and good benefits.

New hire pilots at American Airlines have the potential to earn $95,800 their first year of employment. From there the pay can vary depending upon what aircraft the pilot flies, but most sixth-year first officers at American are earning at least $180,460. While a twelfth-year first officer can easily make more than $200,000 a year if they pick up a few extra hours here and there.

The payoff in aviation comes when one becomes a captain for a major airline.

First Officer Captain
Year 1 $95,800 $264,100
Year 6 $180,460 $275,320
Year 12 $197,800 $287,560
Estimates based on American Airlines pilots flying a 737 for 85 hours per month and an additional $4,000 annual per diem. Note: these numbers are approximations and are not promises of future earnings.

Commercial Airline Pilot — A Seven Million Dollar Career

With union protections and seniority system, job security and guaranteed earnings, advancement at the established airlines are excellent. With the annual earnings of senior captains around $300,000, some pilots can expect a seven million dollar career in total earnings, illustrated below according to the typical career progression.

airline-pilot-career-earnings-pay-chart-2020

Commercial Pilot Annual Salary Calculator Calculate Hourly Rates into Annual Pay

Using the formula of 85 hours per month, $4,000 annual per diem, and the hourly pay rates, captains at Envoy Air earn between $81,520 their first year to $86,620 their fourth year. While a senior captain has the potential to earn $93,760 their eighth year to $101,920 in their twelfth year.

The hourly pay for airline pilots is based on their seniority with the company and typically increases after each year the pilot has worked for the airline. Pilots start as a first officer with first year pay, then climb in pay rates each subsequent year with the company. Once a pilot upgrades to captain, they begin earning the captain pay for the year they upgrade. For example, if a pilot upgrades to captain during their fourth year with the company, they will earn year four captain pay.

Airline Pilot Salary — How much do pilots make a hour, calculate the hourly rate to find out how much pilots make a year.
Envoy Logo First Officer
Embraer ERJ-145
Captain
Embraer ERJ-145
Year 1 $50/hr $76/hr
Year 4 $56/hr $81/hr
Year 8 $88/hr
Year 12 $96/hr
Note: these numbers are approximations and are not promises of future earnings.
Commercial Pilot Annual Salary Calculator
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Commercial Airline Pilot Career Seniority & What it Means to You

Seniority rules when you are an airline pilot. Seniority decides which monthly schedule you will fly, when you will take vacation, which aircraft you will fly, which crew base you will be working in and how soon it will take you to upgrade from first officer to captain. How soon you upgrade from first officer to captain will affect how much you will earn and when you can move up to a major airline.

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