How much money does a Jet Blue pilot make?
Pilot Pay: Want To Know How Much Your Captain Earns?
Congress expressed shock and dismay to learn that regional airline pilots start at very low salaries after the NTSB said the co-pilot on the Colgan Air commuter plane that crashed near Buffalo on Feb. 12 earned only $16,000 a year. (The company later said she earned $23,900.)
That situation has existed for decades, though the financial difficulties of the industry have clearly driven pilot salaries lower. But regional airline pilots are essentially paid in hours of experience, not cash. They build jet flight time that gets them higher-paying positions as captains, and eventually, they hope, jobs at major airlines. They accept low pay in order to get a big payday later in their flying careers. Right or wrong, that's how the industry has worked.
Of course, major airlines have been furloughing pilots more than hiring them, so it's been increasingly difficult for regional airline pilots to get on the seniority track at big airlines, which leads to high salaries. But even the high salaries aren't nearly as high as they used to be. There was a time when wide-body international captains worked a few trips a month and earned $300,000 or more a year. Economic pressures have choked that golden goose.
Just how much do pilots at major airlines earn these days? FltOps.com, an information source for pilots, recently released a salary survey. On the low end, first-year pilots at US Airways would, theoretically, earn a minimum $21,600 a year. For that, they would work 72 hours a month at the controls of a plane (lots more hours are involved in flight preparations, overnights and sitting around waiting).
US Airways hasn't been hiring pilots, so there aren't any first-year pilots. But that's the starting minimum by contract. Airline pilots typically can earn more with overtime, extra trips, per-diem allowances and bonus pay for international trips.
At the top end of the airline scale, Southwest Airlines has a first-year minimum of $49,572. Southwest typically hires more-experienced pilots than other airlines do, so it can demand thousands of hours in the logbook -- enough to qualify to fly as a captain -- from its applicants.
On average, starting pay at major airlines is $36,283 -- about double where many regional airlines start pilots, but darn low for mid-career professionals who likely take a pay cut from regional airlines to latch on to a major carrier.
And how big is that big payout they hope to get someday? FltOps said on average, captains top out at minimum salaries of $165,278.
The lowest top-scale captain's salary was $123,480 at JetBlue Airways, and the highest among passenger airlines was again at Southwest: $181,270 a year. Many Southwest pilots pick up more trips than the minimum scheduled -- some fly right up to the federal limit of 1,000 hours of flying a year -- so their actual paychecks are higher.
The only airlines offering higher pay right now: UPS and FedEx. Their captains max out at a minimum of more than $200,000 a year.
At Delta, American, United and Continental, the top minimum for captains is between $156,000 and $167,000 per year.
The obvious lesson: A profitable company, whether UPS, FedEx or Southwest, can pay its workers more.