FLYING Magazine

Becoming a pilot opens the door to a world of promising and lucrative career prospects. Although a pilot’s early career jobs may not be exceptionally well-paying, their salary typically increases significantly with more experience.

There are many types of pilot jobs throughout the country, and some of them offer higher earning potential than others. Here are the best paying pilot jobs:  

Major Airlines

The “big three” in the United States—American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines—have all recently had significant pay increases for their pilots. While airline pilot pay depends on seniority and aircraft type, the most senior widebody captains at these airlines can make upward of $500,000 per year.

Other large carriers—such as Alaska Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Spirit Airlines—also pay very well. The salary scales at these airlines are generally competitive with their largest counterparts, but the maximum earning potential for pilots is typically lower since they do not operate widebody aircraft.

A new first officer at a major carrier can expect to make between $90,000 and $110,000 per year, depending on the airline. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that  airline pilots had an average salary of $250,050 in 2023.

Regional Airlines

A few short years ago, new pilots at regional airlines were relatively poorly compensated. A new first officer—often still saddled with debt from flight school—would sometimes make less than $50,000 a year.  

However, increased demand for pilots at regional airlines have increased salaries, with many companies even offering hiring bonuses. The starting pay for a first officer at a regional airline is now typically within the range of $80,000 to $110,000 per year, and senior captains can command an annual salary of over $200,000.

Cargo

The salaries at large cargo airlines are competitive with that of their passenger counterparts. While FedEx and UPS pilots have a slightly lower starting salary than those at airlines like American Airlines or Southwest Airlines, their more experienced pilots have comparable pay scales.

However, pilots at cargo airlines that fly smaller regional aircraft are paid less. At some of these airlines, the pay is comparable to that of passenger regional carriers, but others have lower salaries for their pilots.

Business and Corporate

The schedule and lifestyle of a business or corporate pilot can vary greatly depending on their employer. Salaries therefore also differ significantly between individual pilots.

While some pilots work lots of flights on very short notice, others only fly long trips that are scheduled well in advance. Corporate pilots also fly a variety of aircraft, ranging from smaller propeller planes to large business jets.

Salaries for corporate and business pilots can start as low as $40,000 to $50,000, while the top-earning captains can earn upward of $300,000 per year.

Government

The federal government hires pilots for a variety of roles, including passenger and cargo transportation, law enforcement, and firefighting.

Pilots typically fall on the GS-12 to GS-14 federal government pay grades. In 2024, this means that their salaries range from $74,441 to $135,987.

Local and state governments also hire pilots for similar roles. The pay for these pilots is typically comparable to what the federal government offers.

Are Pilots Paid Well?

The salary of a pilot can vary greatly depending on their experience, schedule, and employer. Although early career jobs may not be very well-compensated, more experienced pilots—and particularly those at major airlines—have very high earning potential. 

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