Becoming a pilot is a dream for many. After all, you get to fly a humongous aircraft and travel the world in the process. There are many other reasons why being a pilot is a sought-after job. But one of the more compelling reasons behind this is a pilot’s salary. Is pilot salary really that high? If it is, what are other responsibilities and benefit that comes with it? Read on to know more about these questions.
US National Pilot Salary Figures
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median pay for pilots is $102,520 a year in 2015. For a large aircraft, the median annual figure goes up to as much as $126,000. However, the typical range is usually anywhere from $109,000 to $142,000 depending on various other factors.
On the other hand, the average salary for pilots in the US is much lower compared to its median figure. Indeed states that pilots make an average of $76,534 every year. The said salary information was gleaned from over 2,100 data points from employers themselves. Overall, pilots are paid a few levels above the national average salary in the US. Pilots who earn the highest are ones who have been employed in their airlines for a long time.
New Pilot Starting Salary
If you’re a newly minted pilot, chances are you’re in the lower totem pole of the salary spectrum. So what exactly is at the lower end? You’re looking at anywhere from $20,000 to $40,000 a year. Translated to hourly, this would be anywhere from $20 to $50 per hour. This depends on what airline you’ll sign up to, the aircraft you’ll be flying, and whether you’ll be flying domestic or international.
The thing about being a pilot is that your flight hours will be highly regulated. And you’re likely to spend as much time on the ground as you do on air. Airline pilots, on average, log around 75 flying hours a month. They then log another 75 for carrying out ground tasks such as record maintenance, pre-flight checks, and flight planning—to name just a few.
Aside from the hourly wage pilots receive, they also receive a training stipend as well as a per diem rate when based away from home. The said rate covers their meals and other additional expenses that come with traveling. Moreover, airlines also pay for a pilot’s accommodation when flying to places that are away from home.
Although the starting salaries for pilots have been reputed to be fairly low, recent development in the industry has seen entry-level pay for pilots to be on the rise.
As mentioned previously, one of the factors that affect pilot salary is the aircraft you’ll be flying. Pilot training will then depend on the type of aircraft you’ll be designated to fly.
For a large jet, a pilot’s salary can reach as much as $120,000 annually. While smaller jets usually net a pilot a salary around the $100,00 a year range. On the other hand, pilots who fly non-jet aircrafts make significantly less. Those who fly large non-jet aircrafts earn around $80,000 per year. While small non-jet aircrafts have a median salary of $85,000 annually.
The highest pay rate based on aircraft is when a pilot flies any of the Legacy carriers. It’s one of the oldest and largest carriers available in US. For instance, flying a Boeing 757 carries a $70 per hour pay rate. The pay then significantly increases after the first and second year. After a decade of flying a Legacy aircraft, a pilot can enjoy as much as $150 per hour pay rate. Even with a minimum logged time of 65 hours a month, a pilot flying a Boeing 757 can still stand to make around $50,000 a year. This doesn’t include the per diem rate.
However, not all airlines provide the same rate. Delta, for instance, pays about $200 per hour for flying the Boeing 757 on a pilot’s first year. By year 10, this is set to increase to $222. This translates to a salary of $160,000 annually on a pilot’s first year and over $170,000 on the 10th year. Both estimates don’t include the per diem.
As lightly touched on in the last section, pilot salary can vary depending on what airline you sign up with.Every airline will offer a different base pay rate depending on your ranking. Most often than not, major airlines will offer higher salaries compared to smaller, regional ones. Regional airlines also usually have smaller fleets which means lower pay for their pilots as well.
Despite the lower pay, pilots commonly fly with regional airlines as a way to gain experience. And for pilots who are on the rise, it’s a must to have experience first before being hired by major airlines. Island Air, a regional airline, pays its first officers about $40 an hour. This goes up to almost $60 by the 5th year. Their captains make almost $70 an hour on their first year and about $100 by their 5th year.
In comparison, one of the biggest airlines in US, Southwest, has a reported salary of $50 an hour or about $193,000 for its first officers on their 1st year. This rate is set to more than double by a pilot’s 5th year to $130 an hour. By a pilot’s 10th year, the hourly wage for a first officer would be around $150 an hour.
Captains, on the other hand, stand to make as much as $190 an hour for their first year with Southwest. By his 5th year this is set to increase to $200 an hour and $212 for his 10th year.
How Pilot Salaries are Increased
Every airline has their own pay schedule but almost each one raises their pay yearly. Expect the biggest salary increases to be in the first five years of a pilot’s career. More specifically, the biggest increase will be after a pilot’s first year of probationary period. The pay raise for those ranking as first officers is also much more substantial compared to those already ranked as captain. Despite this, a lot of importance is still usually placed on seniority as a basis for a salary increase.
Aside from the standard salary that pilots get, there are also other forms of compensation that add to their total pay. Many airlines offer profit-sharing schemes as well as bonus and incentives to their pilots.
It has been reported that negotiations are in order for an increase in salary for pilots in some major airlines. In Delta, unions have been lobbying for as much as 13% increase in 2016 as well as an additional 3% raise in 2017. This will then be followed by a 3% boost in 2018 and 4% in 2019. With 2015 being the year that airlines made its highest profits, industry pundits are looking at a pay increase for pilots in the coming years.
Job growth for this career is slated to grow at 5% from 2014 to 2024 which is average. The forecasted employment change between 2014 to 2024 is about 5,400. All in all, the outlook for a pilot career will be steady in the next 10 years with little to no change.
However, a study by University of Dakota has forewarned a shortage of 15,000 pilots by 2026 which could put a dent in the growth of the industry. Should this shortage happen, it’ll no doubt slow down airline growth in the coming years. More specifically, it could increase labor costs as travel demand grows.
Due to this impending shortage, many regional airlines are increasing their pay and bonuses in order to attract more people into the flying career path. Major airline carriers haven’t felt this shortage since they hire mainly from regional airlines.
Pilot Job Description and Career Path
Being a pilot requires a number of serious responsibilities. Their biggest one is to transport a carrier and its passengers safely to the designated destination. They are also in charge of making sure that the aircraft is in good working order before every flight by doing pre-inspections. Another one of their responsibilities is modifying a flight plan in cases of emergencies.
Once you pass the hiring process, you’ll then start out as a flight instructor. The salary for a flight instructor usually starts out low. The common hourly rate for an instructor is anywhere from $15 to $20. This doesn’t include benefits such as health insurance, sick leaves, and vacation times. Due to this, there are some states that allow flight instructors to receive public assistance since the majority of pilots starting out are also beginning to pay their debts as well.
After a stint as a flight instructor, many new pilots move on to flying charter either in corporate flight, a small commercial airline, or flying freight while others directly work as a regional airline pilot. Once you’ve amassed enough experience, most pilots then go on to work for major airline carriers. Flying in any of the said options entail benefits and bonuses aside from the standard salary.
In terms of ranking, you may have to stay as a first officer for a couple of years before you’re promoted as a junior captain. Following a few years as a junior captain, you will then get promoted as a captain. In total, you’ll have to wait at least seven years before you can occupy the left seat of the cockpit as a captain. The key thing here is to stay in just one airline in your career so you don’t lose your seniority status.
How to Become a Pilot
If you want to know how to become a pilot, we have just the right information for you. The basic requirement to being one is having a college education. Most airlines require their pilots to have a bachelor’s degree rather than just an associate one.
Although not always necessary, it’ll be helpful if you get a college degree program that’s related or close to being a pilot so that you’ll have a solid educational foundation. An example would be mechanical or aerospace engineering. Some airlines also prefer pilots who have taken courses in liberal arts and aeronautical engineering subjects. You can then take classes in a flight school that’s certified by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA.
The next step is to rack up on flight hours so you can earn your pilot license. For this, you have to have at least a minimum of 250 hours. If you’re 18 or older you can then complete your other requirements such as a physical examination to determine if their eyesight and hearing are sound. It also serves the purpose of assessing whether you have no physical impairments whatsoever in terms of doing your job as a pilot.
Aside from this, you also have to take a written exam that will test your flight expertise and knowledge about safety. The test will be monitored by an FAA-certified instructor. You might also be required to take other additional licenses or tests depending on your pilot position. Some airlines also require their pilots to take intelligence and psychological tests.
Once you’ve passed all the requirements to be a pilot and have been hired by an airline, you’ll then undergo pilot training. Some airlines such as Emirates have their own training facility that they exclusively use for training their pilots. Other airlines like EasyJet partner with other flight training schools in training their pilots.
Airline training usually integrates specific requirements unique to that airline as each one has different operational procedures and policies. Training usually covers topics such as jet orientation, crew cooperation, and line-oriented flight training—to name just a few. Pilots will be equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills that will prepare them to serve as a pilot flying both domestic and international flights.
Pilot training is also structured depending on the license it confers (e.g. Multi Pilot License). It can also be laid out according to a pilot’s position and what aircraft he’ll be flying. For instance, first officers usually receive a different training from captains.
Aside from actual flights, you’ll also be undergoing flight simulation training according to your airline’s operational requirements. The first six months is usually done in a classroom in order to build your aviation expertise. You will be regularly tested on your knowledge throughout the period and will then undergo actual flight training in the airline’s designated training center.