How much money does an airline pilot earn?

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The answer to this question VARIES WILDLY. That depends on if they are airline, military or corporate/charter, and the type of equipment flown, their years of service and various other factors. It is nearly impossible to put a true average figure out and have it represent anything more than a statistical figure. Unlike fields like Nursing, or Engineering, it's more like Attorney in that it can vary widely with the firm you work for and the type of work you do. For example, airline pilot pay is something the general public often has a lot of misconceptions about and they think everyone makes a ton of money. The general 'glamorization' of the career leads many people to think that airline pilots make $250-300K+ a year and that they work two weeks or less a month. While there are a number captains at the major carriers that do, they are the minority. The total number of captains at legacy and other major airlines in that income bracket is roughly 13,000-13,500 of the over 100,000 pilots working in the US airline industry.

That said: According to the Air Line Pilots Association, their average major (or Legacy)* airline member Captain is 50 years old, with 18 years seniority and makes $182,000 a year, this figure is biased down by the fact that USAir and United at the time were operating under Bankruptcy pilot contracts. A non-major airline Captain is 41 years old with 10 years of seniority and makes $70,000 a year. The average ALPA First Officer member at a major airline is 43 years old with 10 years of seniority and makes $121,000 per year, while an ALPA non major First Officer is age 35 with 3 years of service and makes $33,000. * A major airline is a carrier with more than a billion in sales annually. American, Delta, Northwest, United, Continental, US Airways, Southwest, Alaska (and even several 'regional' carriers) are considered majors by that definition. However, not all major carriers pilots are members of the ALPA union, notably AA & SWA who have their own in house unions.

Factors affecting pilot pay:
~ Airline (Legacy, Major, National, etc)
~ Time with the company (seniority)
~ Aircraft flown
~ Whether they are a Captain or First Officer (seat)
~ The hours in their monthly schedule
~ The pay scale at their specific airline

A pilots pay is figured upon the hourly rate for their seat and their equipment based upon the pay grade for their seniority. Each company also has a set 'minimum guarantee' flight hour pay in their pilot contract. This is generally about 75 hours per month but varies slightly by airline. (A few majors guarantee is only 65!) However, in no case will the pilot earn less than the 'minimum guarantee'. They may fly less than 75 actual flight hours, but they will still be paid for the 75 per their guarantee. If they get a flight schedule that is blocked for more flight hours than the minimum guarantee, they will then get paid for the greater amount of time flown instead, plus per Diem Flight crew make from $1.5-$3 per hour in 'per Diem for every hour they are away from their domicile on a trip to cover expenses. This generally adds a few hundred dollars to their pay check. There is also at many better carriers an "over ride" pay for international or night time of anywhere between $5 and $15/hour. Many airlines also have contracts written in such a way that a pilot can work 25-30 hours and get pay credit for over 100... but this usually requires seniority and other factors that don't always come into effect, such as training and hiring going on at the time.

It is also worth mention that most of these airlines still have 67% pensions in place for their most senior captains, and a 15-16% a month 401K gross contribution on top of the wages paid for the majority of the rest of the pilots.

A general comparison of starting monthly First Officer (probationary period) pay by airline*:

~ AMERICAN - $4,240
~ DELTA - $4,640
~ FED EX - $3,700
~ Hawaiian Airlines - $3,072
~ SOUTHWEST - $3,744
~ UNITED - $3,950
~ US AIRWAYS - $1,875
~ UPS - $2,187

Average First Officer "base" Pay, based on 5 years seniority is as follows:

~ AMERICAN - $10,700
~ DELTA - $10,100
~ FED EX - $12,000
~ Hawaiian Airlines - $10,500
~ SOUTHWEST - $11,000
~ UNITED - $10,400
~ US AIRWAYS - $6,600 (bankruptcy contract rates still in effect)
~ UPS - $12,200


(* all without per Diem based on minimum monthly guarantee, first year pay in smallest fleet type normally considered the "probationary period where there is little or no union protection and the pay is well below the normal scale.)


Here is a "base with no overtime" Captain pay comparison* at 12 years of seniority, by the largest type in fleet (best paying):

~ American 777 - $15,352
~ Delta 777 - $23,040
~ Fed EX wide body $22,572
~ Hawaiian Airlines A330 - $18,800
~ Southwest 737 - $18,350
~ United 747 - $22,830 (currently pending new contract 28% increase)
~ US Airways A330 $12720
~ UPS (all a/c) $24,100


In the civilian career path progression, a pilot will usually work at a regional carrier before moving on to a major airline. Regional new hires make close to $20K a year to start! While some regional pay close to $30K after 3 years or so, it takes several years at other to make that much. Starting out in this career one must expect to make some very low wages until they begin to build seniority with their airline and move up the pay scale Largest connection carrier, "Express" or regional affiliate airlines starting gross monthly pay:

~ American Eagle $1,725
~ Chautauqua - $1,650
~ Mesa - $1,596
~ Mesaba - $1,800
~ Pinnacle $1,575
~ Skywest $1,425

(*all without per diem, based on minimum monthly guarantee, 12 pay in largest fleet type)

Max captain pay at the same airlines (roughly 15-18 years seniority) is as follows:


~ American Eagle $8,880
~ Chautauqua - $8,300
~ Mesa - $6,900
~ Mesaba - $7,200
~ Pinnacle $7,200
~ Skywest $9,100

Most airline pilots fly between 75 and 90 hours per month. Some fly less and others may fly up to 100-120 hours per month depending on the regulations governing the type of flying they are doing. (i.e., domestic, international, freight, etc.) Pay varies by the airline, but in the U.S., pay could range from as low as $25-$30 per hour for a junior pilot at a commuter airline, up to $300 plus for a senior pilot at a major carrier. The industry has been experiencing a downward trend in total pay recently due primarily to airline economics, but also due to reduced flying hours for safety (fatigue) reasons. Some overseas carriers pay more than U.S. carriers, but any comparison must be adjusted for the cost/standard of living in those countries.

It varies widely, especially in the aftermath of the events of 9/11 where many of the legacy carriers filed for bankruptcy (United, Delta, Northwest, US-Airways ...) The cargo carriers were largely unaffected and, for the most part, have surpassed the passenger airlines in pay and benefits. This is particularly true for Fed ex and UPS. Historically, pay at regional airlines has always been low - and still is. This is because that this has normally been considered the "training ground" for younger, less experienced pilots, before they move up to a major airline where the pay improves dramatically.

On average, pay at a regional carrier is around $30,000. It is lower for pilots with less seniority and, naturally, higher for pilots who have upgraded to captain and have gained seniority. .

Competition from low cost carriers, high fuel prices, and the ability of passengers to shop for the cheapest fare via the inter net has put considerable pressure on airlines to cut costs. Unfortunately, the airline employees have paid the heaviest price in shouldering these cutbacks - the pilots, by far, taking the biggest cuts.
It should be noted that pilots typically get paid for each hour they fly (down to the minute) - not a salary. So the "hourly rate", coupled with the number of hours flown, drives their pay.

Pilots were also working much longer hours for less pay as airline managements have demanded increased productivity since the 9/11 downturn. Most airlines have either terminated or frozen their pension plans and have transitioned to generous 401K contributions (14-16%). This is however slowly being reversed with the latest contracts from Hawaiian, Delta, United and soon American/ USAir.

Recent legislation (effective December 13, 2007) has allowed pilots to continue flying to age 65. Previously, pilots could not fly past 60-yrs-old. Whether it is considered a viable or desirable career option depends on the individual. There are many who maintain that the airline industry is extremely cyclical and that the better pay and benefits (pre-9/11) could very well return. Currently, however, it's not the job it used to be, but slowly climbing back. It is unlikely to ever be the job it was in the mid 70's where a Captain earned enough to buy a new Cadillac every month (the equivalent of $60,000 a month in todays dollars).

In a nutshell, there is no such thing as an average pilot wage, as the jobs vary greatly, from small "commuter" or regional airlines with generally low wages, and high productivity, to large "Legacy"* carriers which are considered the "major league" of jobs.

*Legacy airlines are: American, USAir, Delta, United, Alaska, and Hawaiian Airlines.
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