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Airline and Commercial Pilots Pay Salary

The median annual wage of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $103,210 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Among airline pilots, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $54,980 and the top 10 percent earned more than $166,400.

The median annual wage of commercial pilots was $67,500 in May 2010. Among commercial pilots, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,860 and the top 10 percent earned more than $119,650.

According to the Air Line Pilots Association, International, most airline pilots begin their careers at about $20,000 per year. Wages increase each year until the pilot accumulates the experience and seniority needed to become a captain. The average captain at a regional airline company earns about $55,000 per year, while the average captain at a major airline company earns about $135,000 per year.

In addition, airline pilots receive an expense allowance, or “per diem,” for every hour they are away from home, and they may earn extra pay for international flights. Airline pilots also are eligible for health insurance and retirement benefits, and their immediate families usually are entitled to free or reduced-fare flights.

About 62 percent of all pilots are members of a union. The figure is even higher for the airline industry, in which 95 percent of airline pilots are members of a union, including the Air Line Pilots Association and the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations.

In May 2010, average annual wages in industries employing the largest numbers of commercial pilots were as follows:

Aerospace product and parts manufacturing$98,640
Nonscheduled air transportation             68,720
Other ambulatory health care services             64,130
Support activities for air transportation (including airports)             57,550
Technical and trade schools             57,080

Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and work an additional 150 hours per month doing nonflight duties. Pilots also have variable work schedules, according to which they work several days in a row followed by several days off. Flight shifts also are variable, because airline companies operate flights throughout the day. Flight assignments are based on seniority, so more experienced pilots get preferred routes.

Pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because flight assignments often involve overnight layovers—sometimes up to 3 nights a week. When pilots are away from home, the airlines provide hotel accommodations, transportation to the airport, and an allowance for meals and other expenses.

Commercial pilots also have irregular schedules, typically flying between 30 hours and 90 hours each month. Because commercial pilots frequently have many nonflight responsibilities, they have much less free time than airline pilots. Although most commercial pilots remain near their home overnight, they may still work odd hours. Pilots for a corporate fleet may fly regular schedules.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition