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How Much Do Pilots Make? Complete Guide

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Have you ever found yourself wondering about what it would be like to live life as an airline pilot? Taking to the skies for your living sounds like a kid’s dream come true, so – why don’t more people apply to flight school?

Research shows that the pilot industry is experiencing drastic shortages of qualified pilots. If you enroll in flight school, pass your training, and log the correct amount of training hours, you’re almost guaranteed a job when you join the workforce.

Airline profits continue to climb as more people decide to utilize air travel. Whether you’re flying within the United States or internationally, plane tickets are not getting any cheaper.

In 2009, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) released regulations that require pilots to extend their training hours and take more downtime between flights. While this safety measure makes sense, as no-one wants a tired pilot flying the plane, it also puts tremendous pressure on the airline industry.

It’s interesting to note that these regulatory changes occurred right as the previous generation of pilots started to retire en masse. As a result, the shortage of qualified pilots skyrocketed, giving pilots more leverage with the airlines during wage negotiations.

Pilots are some of the best-paid professionals on the planet. After qualifying for your pilot’s license and completing your mandatory hours, you’ll find it easy to negotiate a salary that’s well over 6-figures.

However, a few factors determine the size of your paycheck as an airline pilot. Let’s unpack everything you need to know about how much pilots make in annual earnings, and how you can enter the industry in a top-paying job.

What Does a Commercial Airline Pilot Make?

There are a few factors that determine the size of your paycheck as a pilot, and one of them is the size of the plane you fly. Those plots that fly Boeing 777 airplanes that cater to hundreds of passengers, typically earn the most money.

So, as an aspiring pilot, how do you end up with a juicy employment contract that allows you to fly these planes? Like with any other job, your seniority at the airline plays a significant role in progressing your career and boosting your earnings. Most pilots typically find an airline they enjoy working for, and then they stay there for the rest of their careers.

You might not be aware that airlines pay their pilots by the hour. According to Federal law, pilots operating in the United States may not fly more than 1,000-hours per year. This cap prevents airlines from overworking their pilots and placing passengers in danger.

However, it also means that you have a cap on your earnings, and there’s no way you can get past the 1,000-hour mark. According to our research, the best-paid pilots flying Boeing 777s internationally, receive a pay grade of $320 per hour.

These positions typically go to the pilots that have seniority on the airline, so as a newbie pilot, you can forget about flying these planes for a few years. However, with time and persistence, you’ll eventually rise to the cream of the crop, and eventually, your airline will offer you the opportunity to fly these planes.

Pilots want to fly the biggest planes, for the most extended trips. For instance, taking a Bowing 777 from the U.S to Australia is typically a 15-hour plane trip each way, netting you 30-hours of flying time in the biggest plane possible.

If we plug that example into the hourly rate, we get 30-hours multiplied by $320, giving you a paycheck of $9,600 for a round trip.


Read: How Much do Uber Drivers Make? Complete Guide

How Much Does a Private Pilot Make

The same FAA rules that apply to the commercial pilot industry, also apply to the private pilot industry as well.

Federal law limits you to 1,000-hours of flight time per year. The commercial pilot industry has a mandatory retirement age of 65-years old, and many pilots that reach this age, and still want to keep flying, migrate into the private airline industry after they retire.

Private pilots have a similar pay structure to commercial pilots. According to research on the industry conducted by Glassdoor, the average annual pay for a private pilot is between $100,000 to $122,000. Most of the private jet companies pay pilots by the hour, and they have unions as well.

However, some private jet companies, such as Delta Jets, are not unionized, and they pay the pilots a salary, with most pilots earning a minimum of $100,000 per year. Life as a private pilot is exciting, and most of the time, you work according to a schedule that has you working for eight days straight before taking six days off to rest and recover.

As a private pilot, you get to enjoy a lifestyle of freedom, as opposed to commercial pilots that don’t know where they are going until the last minute. Private pilots also get to visit the more obscure airports around the world, and they might even get to rub shoulders with celebrities and the elite as well.

What Are the Salary Differences Between Major and Regional Airlines?

Those pilots working for regional airlines like American Eagle and Delta Connection, make far less than pilots that fly for the majors. Most regional pilots flying for airlines are using it as a stepping stone to penetrate the commercial market, and score a job with the major airlines.

Estimates show that pilots working for regional airlines make an average of $50,000 per year. However, due to the pilot shortage, many regional airlines are offering incentives to entice pilots. Signing bonuses of up to $15,000 are a popular method to attract top talent, and some airlines might also provide additional perks as well.

International Vs. U.S. Pilots

If you’re willing to relocate to destinations like Dubai or other Middle Eastern countries, international airlines are eager to pay you far more than if you base yourself out of the United States.

Middle-Eastern and Asian airlines are feeling the brunt of the pilot shortage, and China is in desperate need of qualified and experienced pilots for its airline fleets.

Airlines like Qatar Airways and Emirates offer captains monthly salaries of up to $16,000, and they also provide a housing allowance, and eight days off every month as well.

Airline Pilots

How Do You Become a Pilot?

Becoming a pilot requires you to spend the better part of a decade in training. An airline pilot needs to have a proper understanding of all of the controls and systems operating the aircraft.

Every time they take to the sky, pilots are responsible for the safety of dozens, or hundreds of people, depending on the type of plane they are flying. Therefore, it’s understandable why the FAA regulations around qualifying and managing pilots are so intensive.

Any prospective pilot has to meet the criteria of finishing their training, and meeting the required 1,500-hours of flight time before they receive their qualification. Pilots also need to be in good physical and mental health, as well.

Studying a degree is essential if you want to get a job as a pilot. While some airlines will accept any degree, most of them prefer if you qualify for an aerospace-related degree. That could involve earning a bachelor’s degree in aviation, aircraft operations, or aeronautical engineering.

Pilots need to have strong problem-solving and communication skills, as well as excellent observation, reaction time, and depth perception. Flying can put you in pressure situations, and you need to have complete control over your emotions while dealing with a crisis.

How Do You Become an Airline Pilot?

Flying for the airlines sounds like a dream job. You get an excellent salary, and plenty of time off to do whatever you want between flights. However, there’s a shortage of pilots for a reason. That reason is that it’s challenging to qualify for the job.

Here are the steps you need to take to complete your training and get a job as a qualified pilot.

Step 1 – Study and Complete a Bachelor’s Degree

Military pilots don’t need any degree to fly in the army, and they can also apply for a job in the private sector if they have extensive experience. However, for the most part, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree if you want to join a flight school.

Step 2 – Apply for Flight School

To qualify for your pilot’s license, you’ll need to join a flight school and log time in the air. If you want your commercial pilot’s license, you’ll need to log 250-hours of flight time, as well as 1,500-hours of flight time with an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP).

Airline pilots also receive training on instrumentation, and they need a minimum of 40-hours of flying experience both in-air and in simulation. This qualification shows that pilots can fly a plane in low visibility conditions.

The flight school will only take you so far, and you’ll probably have to hire a flight instructor to help you complete your mandatory training hours.

Step 3 – Get Your Pilots License

After completing your mandatory flight time of 1,500-hours, and you’ll need to pass a written and physical exam as well. Pilots need perfect 202/20 vision, and if your vision is below this level, you can forget about a career as a pilot. You also need excellent hearing and no physical handicaps.

Step 4 – Obtaining Professional Pilot Experience.

After applying with the airline, you can expect them to run you through an interview process to test your physical and psychological health. You’ll also need to take a drug test to ensure that you don’t have any addictions to substances that could jeopardize the safety of the passengers on your plane.

After the company hires you and brings you onboard, you’ll have to complete 25-hours of flight time, and you can consider this as the final step in your interview process. During this probation phase, you’ll also have to co-pilot with experienced captains as well.

While there are plenty of job opportunities with the major airlines, many new pilots decide to start their careers at a regional airline to gain experience.

Step 5 – Progress Your Career as an Airline Pilot

As an airline pilot, you’ll need to keep up with your training and study for other certifications that qualify you for flying different aircraft. Eventually, with plenty of hard work and experience, you could reach the rank of captain. As a captain, you get the best salary in the industry, and job opportunities are waiting for you at any airline you decide to join.

In Closing – How Much Does Pilot Training Cost?

One of the major reasons why there is a global shortage of pilots is that it’s incredibly expensive to finish your training. Research shows that pilots may only recover the costs of their training and education after 8 to 10-years of working.

Some flight schools offer “zero-to-hero” programs that can set you back as much as $70,000. However, by the time you graduate from the school, you have 250-hours in the pilot’s seat, and all that’s left for you to do is complete the federally mandated 1,500-hours of flight time. However, you can work while you log these hours, but you might not make much during this training period. Some of the typical jobs taken by pilots achieving their 1,500-hours is working as a flight instructor at a flight school.

You might also have to take on the tedious jobs of traffic reporting, banner tow, or you could fly pipelines. All of these jobs have low pay, but you can consider it as part of your school; fees for earning your pilots license as a qualified and experienced commercial pilot

However, if you have the cash available, the fastest way to complete your certification and log your mandatory hours is through paying for the flight time yourself. However, flying 1,500-hours at $100 per hour, and you can understand how many aspiring pilots choose to work through their training to reduce costs.

However, after completing your training, you’ll have the rest of your career to claw back the money you spent on your training, and after 8 to 10-years, you’ll be back in the black, with a world of opportunity in front of you.


Oliver Dale is Editor-in-Chief of MoneyCheck and founder of Kooc Media Ltd, A UK-Based Online Publishing company. A Technology Entrepreneur with over 15 years of professional experience in Investing and UK Business.His writing has been quoted by Nasdaq, Dow Jones, Investopedia, The New Yorker, Forbes, Techcrunch & More.He built Money Check to bring the highest level of education about personal finance to the general public with clear and unbiased