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Average Commercial Airline Pilot Salary in the U.S.

Posted on: 02/21/2024

A commercial pilot who completed training and is licensed to conduct flights. This license allows the pilot to be paid for his flights, while recreational or private licenses do not allow him to be paid for his flights.

Commercial pilots can work on passenger planes, ensuring passengers’ safe and comfortable transportation to various locations. Some commercial pilots, for example, specialize in cargo transportation, which includes delivering goods and other cargo over long distances.

Starting as a first officer, airline pilots rise through the ranks as they gain experience and seniority, accompanied by salary increases. Federal regulations manage maximum work hours and set minimum rest requirements between flights.

Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month performing other duties such as checking weather conditions and preparing flight plans. Their schedule can be erratic and include several work days followed by weekends.

Because many flights require overnight stops, pilots may spend several nights a week away from home. The airlines provide accommodation, transportation to the airport, and reimbursement of expenses. The work schedule may be irregular, so non-standard working hours are possible.

Age limits for employment and continued employment as a commercial pilot may be determined by the laws and policies of a specific country or airline. To obtain a Commercial Pilot License in the U.S.  a person must be at least 18 years of age.

In the U.S. a pilot can serve in commercial aviation until age 65, after which he can retire or continue to work on charter flights. However, these pilots may stay on with a Part 121 carrier in some other role, such as flight engineer. They can also fly for a company that is not a Part 121 carrier.

What does the salary of a commercial pilot depend on?

Pilot earnings depend on many factors. An important part of a pilot’s salary is the payment in a fixed amount. This salary can vary greatly depending on the airline and the position of the aviator.

Pilots working on large commercial airliners typically have higher salaries compared to those operating smaller regional aircraft. More experience and higher qualifications lead to higher pay. Aviators with extensive experience and additional certifications can expect higher fees.

Captains usually have an order of magnitude higher salary than co-pilots. However, not always. In some airlines, seniority plays a big role, so co-pilots who want to avoid taking on the responsibilities of a captain receive higher and higher salaries over the years, often reaching the captain’s salary.

Pay also depends on employment. That is, there is a low base rate, and everything else is bonuses. The size of this “bonus” part depends on the duration of the flight, the nature of the routes, the type of aircraft, the rank, and the characteristics of the airline.

A separate part of salaries is also a security payment. Premiums may vary depending on various factors, such as the quality of work or adherence to rules and standards.

Interestingly, wages may depend on regional economic conditions and the cost of living in a particular region. For example, pilots working in more expensive locations can expect higher pay.

Demand for pilots leads to high salaries

The aviation industry can serve as an indicator of pilot demand. Currently, international transportation returns to pre-pandemic levels. North America and Europe will account for about 20% of global demand in 2024 – https://investors.boeing.com/investors/news/press-release-details/2023/Boeing-Forecasts-Demand-for-42600-New-Commercial-Jets-Over-Next-20-Years/default.aspx.

If airlines operate a lot of flights, this may indicate an increased demand for pilots. Accordingly, there is a shortage of qualified pilots, which leads to an increase in the wages of professional pilots. Projections show that 649,000 new pilots will be needed over the next 20 years to meet the demand of commercial operators.

There is also a trend towards a high average age of pilots. For the industry, this means that soon there will be a significant amount of pilot retirements. From 2017 to 2022, the average age of a pilot remained at approximately 51 years. According to Boeing research, 15% of airline certificate holders under the age of 65 will turn 65 by 2027, 32% by 2032, 47% by 2037, and 61% by 2042. That means that the industry faces early retirement, which in turn leads to an increase in demand for new pilots – https://pto.boeing.com/.

How is the pay for the work of a commercial pilot calculated?

A commercial pilot’s salary is made up of many different components, and calculating it can be a bit complicated given the variety of factors that affect this profession.

A pilot’s basic salary is his basic fee for work performed. The working life of commercial pilots is characterized by a varied schedule, including night flights, weekends, and holidays. The duration of their working hours depends on factors such as the type of aircraft and the nature of the route, according to the needs of passenger services and cargo logistics.

Many aviators are paid hourly based on the number of hours they spend in the air. The hourly rate may vary for different types of aircraft and may be higher for specialized tasks.

Work schedules can affect wages, especially if the pilot works at night or on off-peak days.

Some may receive bonuses for achieving specific goals, which may include safety achievements, high-performance levels, or special tasks.

Pilots may sometimes receive special payments or benefits, such as health insurance, pension contributions, relocation reimbursements, or other corporate benefits.

In addition, airline pilots are compensated for expenses, or “per diems,” for each hour they are away from home, and they may be paid extra for international flights. Airline pilots and their immediate families usually qualify for free or reduced fares.

How long can an airline pilot work?

Maximum working hours for airline pilots are regulated by aviation authorities to ensure safety and avoid fatigue-related incapacitation.

The main regulatory system is defined by the Federal Aviation Safety Agency (FAA) in the United States. However, the restrictions may vary, depending on whether the airline has established even stricter internal standards to ensure flight safety and compliance with aviation security regulations.

For domestic flights, the FAA sets a maximum duty time of 14 hours.

For international flights, the FAA also sets limits on maximum duty time, which depends on various factors, such as the number of flight segments and time spent in the rest area.

The FAA limits flight hours for pilots during a certain period, such as no more than 100 flight hours in 28 days.

After the maximum time on duty, the aviator must have sufficient time to rest before the next duty period.

Airline Pilot Salaries

In 2023, piloting is ranked as one of the highest-paying jobs in the U.S., beating out other jobs and industries. According to the U.S. News, pilots entered the TOP-10 most profitable jobs. This definitely shows the attractiveness of this profession in the context of financial stability and high incomes.

Top-paying States for Commercial Pilots

The highest-paying states for commercial pilots in the US can be determined by a variety of factors, such as economic activity, standard of living, demand for aviation services, and other factors. Factors affecting the high salaries of aviators in these states can include high competition between airlines, large aviation hubs, volumes of passenger and cargo services, as well as a higher level of living costs in these regions

States with large international airports, such as Connecticut (Bradley International Airport), can be key hubs for airlines, contributing to high wages. The state also has a large number of financial institutions and corporations, which can lead to demand for business aviation services and high-paying commercial pilots.

New York, especially JFK and LaGuardia airports, is a hub for international and domestic flights. Pilot salaries in this state can be high due to heavy passenger and cargo traffic.

A significant number of technology companies and startups in Massachusetts require frequent use of business jets, which also affects the demand for aviators.

Georgia has a major airport in the city of Atlanta, which is a major logistics hub for many airlines. Also, business jets are widely used to support business life in this region.

Nevada stands out because it combines business and tourist flights. Since the state is home to Las Vegas, which serves as one of the largest tourist destinations in the world. high earnings for commercial pilots are shaped by the demand for frequent flights.

Top-paying regions for pilots

Salaries for pilots vary depending on the geographical location and the level of development of the aviation sector. In Europe, due to the growth of the aviation industry, the salaries of pilots are high. However, in Asia and the Pacific, where there is much more aviation activity, pilots command more competitive salaries. In countries of Africa and South America, where the aviation industry is not so well developed, pilot salaries are lower compared to other regions.

Captain First officer
Asia-Pacific $100.000-150.000 $50.000-100.000
China $180.000-200.000 $100.000-120.00
Europe $100.000-150.000 $50.000-100.000
Middle East and Africa $100.000-150.000 $50.000-100.000
North America $150.000-200.000 $100,000-150.000
South America $50.000-100.000 up to $50.000

Salary Examples for Captains

 

The duties of a captain of an airliner include a wide range of responsibilities that cover flight safety, the management of crew and passengers, and the overall successful execution of flights.

These duties require a high level of professional competence, leadership, stress resistance, and the ability to work in a team. Captains of large airliners are key figures in the aviation industry, responsible for the safety and efficiency of air travel. Over the years, their experience and skill have increased their wages proportionately.

It is worth mentioning that if the aircraft is large and complex, pilots who operate such aircraft may have a higher salary compared to pilots of regional aircraft or small airlines.

Based on statistics from Delta Air Lines, pilots receive the following salary

Aircraft Type 12th Year 8th Year 4th Year 1st Year
A-350/A-330/B-767-400  $447.24 $433.83 $420.44 $410.37
B-757/767-300/A321NEO  $374.36 $360.13 $348.84 $340.36
B-737-900/A-321  $360.85 $349.87 $338.95 $331.01
B-737-800/700/A-319/320  $358.97 $348.24 $337.47 $329.57
A-220-300  $346.39 $335.90 $325.42 $317.60
A-220-100  $332.21 $322.15 $312.11 $304.60
B-717  $323.02 $313.32 $303.68 $296.60

Salary Examples for First Officers

The First Officer or simply the second pilot who works on the plane under the direction of the captain (commander of the aircraft) also has a good salary.

In airlines, he performs important duties, working with the captain to ensure safe and efficient flight operations. The duties of the First Officer complement the work of the captain and are an integral part of the safe and efficient performance of flights.

Based on statistics from Delta Air Lines, pilots receive the following salary

Aircraft Type 12th Year 8th Year 4th Year 1st Year
A-350/A-330/B-767-400  $305.50 $292.82 $265.29 $116.05
B-757/767-300/A321NEO  $255.69 $243.10 $220.13 $116.05
B-737-900/A-321  $246.47 $236.20 $213.87 $116.05
B-737-800/700/A-319/320  $245.19 $235.07 $212.95 $116.05
A-220-300  $236.59 $226.73 $205.34 $116.05
A-220-100  $226.89 $217.45 $196.91 $116.05
B-717  $220.61 $211.51 $191.61 $116.05

How to increase pilots’ salary

Any profession involves career growth. There are several ways for a commercial pilot to increase his salary.

The main factor affecting a pilot’s salary is seniority. Since airlines operate on a seniority system, the pilot who has worked the least will have the lowest rating on the list. When you start working as a pilot, you will be at the very bottom of the list. Accordingly, you receive a lower salary than fellow pilots. As the length of experience gained while working for the company and how quickly the movement up this list occurs – the pilot’s salary changes. A higher place in the seniority-based system also affects the choice of better routes and more convenient flight schedules.

Possession of specialized skills

The ability to work effectively in a team and interact with other crew members affects your rating as a pilot. Be reliable and dedicated in the performance of your duties. Stability and dedication are usually rewarded.

The more flight hours, the higher the value of the pilot. Airlines often prefer aviators with extensive experience.

Obtaining a pilot’s license, instructor’s license or rating for different types of aircraft increases opportunities and means a higher salary level.

Also, consider the type of aircraft you will fly. Yes, depending on the airline and the region, the numbers may vary, but the average indicator shows that the salary for a Boeing 777 captain can range from $225,000 to $275,000 or more per year. The pilot of The Boeing 747 receives from $250,000 to $300,000. The salary of an Airbus A320 pilot can range from $150,000 to $200,000 per year.

Execution of special tasks

Change of place of work to larger airlines can lead to higher wages due to higher workloads and higher standards. Do not forget that maintaining and expanding the network of professional contacts plays a key role in finding new opportunities.

Obtaining additional education or specialization in a specific field of aviation can make a pilot more in demand. For example, participation in education, seminars, and training allows aviators to maintain a high level of professional competence.

Сompensation for commercial pilots beyond their regular working hours

Such reworking occurs for various reasons, such as long flights, changes in time zones, large numbers of passengers or cargo, as well as unforeseen situations such as worsening weather conditions or technical problems.

Overtime pay can be a significant component of income for pilots. Aviators should be paid additional hourly pay for work that goes beyond their normal work schedule.

Some airlines may offer a flat rate for each hour of overtime. Pilots may also be given bonuses or bonuses for performing certain types of work or for working in special conditions. In addition to financial compensation, pilots may be given additional benefits, such as extra time off, flexible schedules, or access to entertainment programs.

Benefits provided to airline pilots

Pilots not only work in an interesting professional environment but can also enjoy leisure time in a variety of places. Their business trips provide an opportunity to spontaneously explore the sights and create unforgettable experiences.

Another significant advantage of the pilot profession is a pension. Each pilot is guaranteed minimum pension payments after leaving the company. The more he works for one company, the higher his retirement allowance will be. There are known cases when the minimum pension was 10,000 dollars per month. Also, today’s large airlines add up to 16% of the pilot’s salary to his pension fund, where the money is also kept at interest.

Thus, after retirement, the pilot will not only have a significant amount in the pension fund (it can be several million dollars for 30-40 years of career), but the airline will also pay him a pension for life, the amount of which depends on years of service.

Сhallenges that airline pilots face

The duties and responsibilities of an airline pilot turned out to be a difficult task. In addition to piloting the aircraft, they also have to determine a safe flight path, analyze flight plans, check the condition of the aircraft, and monitor the instruments in the cockpit. A commercial pilot is responsible for making the right decisions in the event of an emergency in order to ensure the safety of all persons on board.

Although pilots are given several days off per month, they may be required to fly the aircraft for a large portion of their shift. Their work schedules are erratic, which can make their lives unpredictable as tasks can change from day to day. Employees may be tasked with making several short flights in one day, and quickly tackle a long flight the next. Pilots are in the service of the airline even when they are not at work, so they must be ready for any challenge when they come for duty.

Airline pilots do not always work with the same crew members on every flight. Pilot captains may be paired with a junior pilot but with a very experienced group of flight attendants. Regardless of who they work with, an aviator must communicate effectively with their team to ensure their standard operating procedures (SOPs) are followed. Teamwork also helps improve communication and build trust so the airline crew can work efficiently throughout the flight.

Although today’s aircraft are designed to withstand any adverse weather conditions, the task of pilots is to operate them safely during thunderstorms, strong winds, and turbulence. Even if they have carefully planned their route to avoid worsening atmospheric conditions, airline pilots cannot control sudden weather changes. That is why aviators spend many hours of training to effectively control the aircraft in difficult weather conditions and to know how to navigate safely in such situations.

Pilots flying internationally are exposed to long flights and time zone changes. This can cause problems with breakfast and sleep, and lead to jet lag. Because of the job description, many flyers suffer from stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, and unhealthy diet. And if they don’t make the necessary lifestyle changes, their health can deteriorate, which can affect their productivity at work.

The aviation industry, like any other, is subject to drastic changes such as economic crises, pandemics, and technological innovations. This creates great uncertainty in planning a pilot’s career and the stability of his work. However, at the same time, these changes can open new development opportunities, for example, in the integration of advanced technologies in the field of aviation or the management of crises. In such conditions, pilots need to be ready to adapt to changes and to constantly improve their skills to remain competitive and safe in their professional activities.

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