Ultimate Guide to Pilot Salaries in 2018

You are thinking about becoming an airline pilot, but you are just not sure what the pay looks like. There is no shame in this; salary pay scales for airline pilots are difficult to understand, and worse yet, difficult to find. The simple answer is that junior first officers at regional carriers start in the ball park of $24,000 per annum, and senior captains for major airlines on wide body jets are well into the six figures, some earning over $200,000 annually.

Average Industry Wage Review

Average Pay by Type-Commuter Class Aircraft

B717/MD-SeriesCRJEMB E-Jet
Captain (Senior)221105136
Captain (Junior)1936487
FO (Senior)1514470
FO (Junior)643242

Average Pay by Type-Single Aisle/Narrow Body Aircraft

Captain (Senior)219217234266
Captain (Junior)182176202242
FO (Senior)144143160182
FO (Junior)66627284

Average Pay by Type-Wide Body Aircraft

Captain (Senior)275311329269320
Captain (Junior)256290302244294
FO (Senior)189211225204219
FO (Junior)6783868484

Airline Pilot Salaries by Carrier

The pay range of commercial air carriers varies widely based on a number of factors. Each airline structures pay differently than others, driven by profitability. Within each airline, pay differs between airframes, and even between different series and sub-series of the same model.

American Airlines

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

Delta Airlines

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

United Airlines

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

Cargo Carriers

There are a lot of cargo carriers in the U.S., but the focus is the major, international carriers.


TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

FedEx Express

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

United Parcel Service

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

Charter Pilot Pay

Charter carriers do a variety of different missions, including ferrying sports teams, and flights chartered through travel agencies. Considering some charter airlines may only have a handful of aircraft, there are numerous charter companies out there. The focus here is on the most prominent charter air carriers.

Atlas Air

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

Miami Air International

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

Omni Air International

TypeCaptain (Sr.)Captain (Jr.)First Officer (Sr.)First Officer (Jr.)

Commercial Pilot Salary (Private Carriers Part 91)

Commercial pilots employed by corporations often referred to as ‘corporate pilots’, fall under Part 91 of the CFR. They fly the aircraft commonly referred to as ‘corporate jets’ (Cessna Citation-series, Gulfstream, Hawker Jets, Beech Jets, etc), which are relatively small, generally seating from 8-30. Basically, the larger the aircraft, the higher the rate. Light jets have a median income in the upper $60,000s for captains, FOs fall in the mid-$40,000s, and the rates go up from there. Since Part 91 pilots work directly for the corporation which they support (Walmart, Target Corp, Proctor & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Goodyear, etc), they are actual salaried employees rather than being paid per flight hour as airline pilots are.

How Pilot Salaries Work

Stating a pilot’s pay as salary is largely a misnomer. Pilot’s do not fly on fixed wages, per se, but are paid an hourly rate based on actual hours flown. The hourly rate is quite high in comparison to other hourly vocations, but pilots are also not guaranteed 160 paid hours per month. Trade unions negotiate minimum hours with airlines, generally somewhere around 60-80 per month.  Pilots are not paid for hours spent at work, per se, or hours spent commuting to and from work, which can be quite a few.

There are pros and cons to this arrangement that deserve consideration, which will be discussed further into this study. Each airline offers different pay and perks, but generally speaking they are all similar.

Starting Salaries

In order to understand the very broad range of salaries which airline pilots are subject to, an overview of the industry as a whole is in order. Airlines are broken down into different categories based on their size and scope. The most common types of airlines are regionals, major/nationals, and international carriers. There are other categories, but for the sake of simplicity these are the most common.

Regional carriers are what the name suggests: they fly short hops within a prescribed region. Regional carriers fly smaller aircraft, oftentimes twin turbines such as the Beech 1900, Saab 340, and the Bombardier Dash 8. These aircraft offer significant cost savings over jet aircraft for short haul routes, and they offer the ability of operating out of very small airports with very limited ground support equipment. Regional carriers are the traditional starting place for all airline pilots, the “ground floor” of the industry. Due to the 2013 regulation by the FAA, minimum requirements for First Officers have raised radically from 250 total flight hours and a Commercial rating to 1,500 hours and an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP).

Most regional airlines average around $35.00 per flight hour, with a monthly guarantee of 75 hours. This averages out to around $24,000-$26,000 annually.   

In order to get a shot at any airline, pilots must meet the minimum hour and rating requirements to even get a foot in the door. The most common way to build hours is to work as a flight instructor, often at local flight schools. The pay is sporadic and generally pretty low, with starting salaries ranging from $30,000-$40,000 per annum. Flight instructors can top out much higher, but since the job is generally an entry-level position, most instructors are on the lower end. The demographics of the profession reflect this, with nearly half of instructors falling into the 1-4 years of experience. Incidentally, the second-highest demographic of flight instructors are those with over 20 years of experience.

Pilots with the highest pay and lowest pay

So what segments of the market best the best and worst? This is not a simple question, nor is the answer simple. As a general rule of thumb, the lowest pay goes to the least experienced pilots which is a universal truth in all industries. Junior flight instructors at flight schools are at the bottom, along with junior First Officers flying on regional airlines.  

Captains on international airlines are predictably at the top of the pay scale, and ironically enough, first officers on major airlines still earn more than most captains at regional airlines.  


While there is no way to report accurate pay for all commercial air carriers in the U.S., this is intended to provide a solid basis for what you can expect to earn throughout your career from a variety of different parts of the industry. As the aviation industry continues to grow at a steady pace, forecasted at a little below 5% for passenger traffic and just over 4% for air cargo traffic, the demand for commercial airline pilots is going to be “extraordinary” according to Boeing with an anticipated demand for 617,000 new pilots globally over the next 20 years.

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