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.
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, Compass 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 consist of well-known names, such as American Airlines, Delta and United, 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.
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.