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The Average Salary of a Pilot

The job of an airline pilot has a certain glamour to it, traveling the world and getting paid to do it. However, unconventional working hours and plenty of time away from home can be a recipe for stress and burnout. This could be why airline and commercial pilots are compensated fairly well, earning a median annual salary of $115,670. That one number doesn’t tell the whole story, though, as it varies depending on who you fly for and where you’re based. 

The Average Salary of a Pilot

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary of the group the BLS calls airline and commercial pilots was $115,670 per year in May 2018. The BLS also tracks the job outlook for the careers it studies, measuring how many jobs the career will add between 2016 and 2026. The BLS job outlook for Airline and Commercial Pilots is 4%, which is about as fast as the average across all careers. According to the BLS, the U.S. will add 4,400 airline and commercial pilots between 2016 and 2026.

Where Pilots Earn the Most

The Average Salary of a Pilot

When it comes to tracking state- and city-level earnings data, the BLS looks at commercial pilots and “airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers” separately. Let’s take a look at where commercial pilots earn the most.

The mean annual wage for commercial pilots is $96,530 per year. According to BLS data, the top-paying state for commercial pilots is Georgia, where commercial pilots earn a mean annual wage of $130,760. Other high-paying states for commercial pilots are Connecticut, New York, Florida and Maryland. The top-paying metro area for commercial pilots is Hilton Head Island-Bluffton-Beaufort, SC, where the annual mean wage for commercial pilots is $128,600. Other high-paying metro areas for commercial pilots are Savannah, GA; Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA; Bakersfield, CA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO and Spartanburg, SC.

Now let’s take a look at where airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers earn the most. The top-paying state in this field is Washington, with a mean annual wage of $237,150. Other high-paying states for this profession are Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and California. Of the metro areas for which the BLS has data, the top-paying metro area for airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers is San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA, with a mean annual wage of $247,120. Other high-paying metro areas for this field are Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA; Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV; Denver-Aurora-Lakewood, CO; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL and Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI.

Becoming a Pilot

Typically, it’s easier to become a commercial pilot than an airline pilot. Because of this, many airline pilots start their career as commercial pilots. To be a pilot of any kind, you’ll need to have a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  To be an airline pilot, you’ll need an additional document known as a Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. This is also issued by the FAA.

In terms of education, you will need a high school diploma and a commercial pilot’s license to become a commercial pilot. To become an airline pilot, you will likely need a bachelor’s degree, although it can be in any subject.

The typical path to becoming a commercial pilot is to complete an FAA-certified flight training program. These are held both at independent flight schools and through colleges and universities. Once you’ve assembled enough flying hours, you can get a job as a commercial pilot.

Regional and major airlines typically require significantly more flight experience for new hires. This is another reason why many people start out as commercial pilots and then move on to working for an airline. According to the BLS, many commercial pilot jobs require a minimum of 500 flying hours, whereas entry-level airline jobs require somewhere around 1,500.

Bottom Line

The Average Salary of a Pilot

Have you ever flown out of an airport and wondered what it would be like to be a pilot? With an average annual salary of $102,520, pilots earn a good living. Not just anyone can become a pilot, however. Commercial pilots must earn a commercial pilot certificate, while airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers must earn the Federal Air Transport certificate and rating for the specific aircraft type they fly. Being a pilot is also a dangerous job, so it’s not surprising that pilots’ compensation is high.

Tips for Saving Responsibly

  • The median pilot salary is enough to live comfortably just about anywhere, but it’s still important to make sure you’re saving some of that money for emergencies and retirement.
  • To understand how to balance paying off student debt with your other financial goals, such as starting to save for retirement, consider consulting a financial advisor. SmartAsset’s financial advisor matching tool can help you find a person to work with to meet your needs. First you’ll answer a series of questions about your situation and goals. Then, the program will narrow down your options to three experts in your area who suit your needs.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/xavierarnau, ©iStock.com/Jacob Ammentorp Lund, ©iStock.com/amesy

Amelia Josephson Amelia Josephson is a writer passionate about covering financial literacy topics. Her areas of expertise include retirement and home buying. Amelia's work has appeared across the web, including on AOL, CBS News and The Simple Dollar. She holds degrees from Columbia and Oxford. Originally from Alaska, Amelia now calls Brooklyn home.
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