What Pilot Makes The Most Money? A Detailed Look At Pilot Salaries

Deciding on a career as a pilot is a major decision. One of the biggest factors that aspiring pilots consider is how much money they can make by pursuing this career path. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Airline captains and senior pilots at major airlines can make over $200,000 per year, making them the highest paid pilots.

In this approximately 3000 word article, we will take a comprehensive look at pilot salaries across airline, commercial, private, and military pilots. We will break down pay ranges by pilot position, aircraft type, experience level, and other factors that impact earnings.

We will also look at career growth and maximizing long term pilot pay. Whether you are weighing aviation as a career or just curious about pilot pay scales, this article will provide detailed answers to the question: what pilot makes the most money?

Highest Paying Pilot Jobs

Airline Captains at Major Carriers

When it comes to the highest paying pilot jobs, airline captains at major carriers are at the top of the list. These pilots have years of experience and expertise, and they are responsible for safely flying large commercial aircraft with hundreds of passengers onboard.

Airline captains at major carriers often earn six-figure salaries, with some even surpassing the million-dollar mark. The salaries of these pilots are determined by factors such as their level of experience, the size of the aircraft they fly, and the airline they work for.

Senior Corporate Jet Pilots

Senior corporate jet pilots also enjoy some of the highest salaries in the aviation industry. These pilots are responsible for flying private jets owned by corporations or wealthy individuals. The demand for experienced corporate jet pilots is high, as they need to have exceptional flying skills and be able to cater to the specific needs and preferences of their clients.

It’s not uncommon for senior corporate jet pilots to earn salaries in the range of $150,000 to $300,000 per year.

Airline Pilots at Regional Carriers

Airline pilots at regional carriers, although not earning as much as their counterparts at major carriers, still have the potential to make a substantial income. Regional carriers typically operate smaller aircraft and serve shorter routes.

These pilots have the opportunity to gain experience and build flight hours, which are essential for career advancement. While salaries can vary, airline pilots at regional carriers can earn anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per year, depending on their experience and the specific airline.

Charter and Private Jet Pilots

Charter and private jet pilots are another group of pilots who can potentially earn high salaries. These pilots primarily fly private jets for individuals or companies on a charter basis. The income of charter and private jet pilots can vary greatly depending on factors such as the number of flight hours, the type of aircraft they fly, and their level of expertise.

Some experienced charter and private jet pilots can earn salaries in the range of $80,000 to $150,000 per year.

It’s important to note that pilot salaries can vary significantly based on factors such as experience, level of responsibility, and the type of aircraft flown. Additionally, factors such as union agreements, industry demand, and geographical location can also impact pilot salaries.

Before pursuing a career as a pilot, it’s advisable to research and gather information from reliable sources such as aviation industry websites like Payscale or Bureau of Labor Statistics to get a better understanding of the earning potential in different pilot jobs.

Pay Scales By Experience Level

Entry Level First Officers

Entry level first officers, also known as co-pilots, are usually the least experienced pilots in an airline. They have recently completed their flight training and have acquired their commercial pilot’s license.

While their salaries may not be as high as those of more experienced pilots, they still earn a respectable income.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for airline and commercial pilots was $147,220 as of May 2020. However, it’s important to note that entry level first officers may earn slightly less than the median due to their limited experience.

Entry level first officers often use this stage of their career to gain the necessary flight hours and experience required to advance to higher positions within the airline industry.

Mid-Career Captains

Mid-career captains are pilots who have gained significant experience and have progressed to a leadership role within the cockpit. They are responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft and the overall management of the flight.

As pilots gain more experience and earn promotions, their salaries also increase. Mid-career captains can expect to earn a higher income compared to entry level first officers. The exact salary range can vary depending on factors such as the airline, the type of aircraft flown, and the pilot’s seniority.

According to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), mid-career captains at major airlines can earn an average annual salary of $200,000 to $300,000. However, it’s important to note that these figures can vary and are subject to change based on various factors.

Late Career Captains

Late career captains are pilots who have reached the pinnacle of their profession. They have accumulated years of experience and have achieved the highest level of seniority within the airline. These pilots often hold prestigious positions and are highly respected within the industry.

The salaries of late career captains can be quite lucrative. These pilots have typically worked their way up through the ranks and have proven their capabilities as competent and experienced aviators. As a result, they are rewarded with higher salaries and additional benefits.

According to a report by AviationJobNet, late career captains at major airlines can earn annual salaries ranging from $250,000 to $350,000 or more. These figures can be influenced by factors such as the airline’s pay scale, the aircraft type, and the pilot’s years of service.

It’s important to note that these salary ranges are based on general industry trends and can vary depending on various factors. Additionally, pilot salaries can be subject to negotiation and may include additional benefits such as bonuses, retirement plans, and healthcare coverage.

Salary Variations By Aircraft Type

Wide Body Jets

When it comes to pilot salaries, flying wide body jets is often associated with higher earning potential. Pilots who operate these large aircrafts, such as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380, are typically compensated at the top end of the pay scale.

The exact salary can vary depending on factors such as years of experience, airline, and location. According to Payscale.com, the average salary for a wide body jet pilot is around $200,000 per year, with some experienced pilots earning well over $300,000.

Narrow Body Jets

While narrow body jets, like the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, may not command the same high salaries as wide body jets, pilots flying these aircrafts still earn impressive incomes. The average salary for a narrow body jet pilot is around $150,000 per year, according to industry sources.

It’s worth noting that this figure can vary depending on factors such as the airline, pilot experience, and additional responsibilities, such as being a captain or first officer.


Pilots operating turboprop aircrafts, such as the Bombardier Q400 or ATR 72, generally earn slightly less than those flying jets. The average salary for a turboprop pilot is around $100,000 per year. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this figure can vary depending on factors such as the size of the aircraft, airline, and experience level.

Additionally, pilots flying turboprops may have different work schedules and routes compared to their jet counterparts.

Piston Aircraft

When it comes to smaller piston aircraft, such as single or twin-engine propeller planes, pilot salaries can vary significantly. These types of aircraft are often used for flight training, personal travel, or regional operations.

According to industry data, the average salary for a piston aircraft pilot is around $60,000 per year. However, it’s important to note that this figure can fluctuate depending on factors such as the type of operation, location, and pilot experience.


Helicopter pilots have a unique set of skills and responsibilities, which can translate into higher salaries. The average salary for a helicopter pilot is around $80,000 per year. However, it’s worth mentioning that this figure can vary depending on factors such as the type of helicopter, industry (such as emergency medical services or offshore oil rig support), and pilot experience.

Helicopter pilots often undergo specialized training and certifications, which can contribute to their higher earning potential.

It’s important to remember that these salary figures are just averages and can vary depending on numerous factors. Additionally, pilot salaries can change over time due to factors such as industry demand, economic conditions, and labor agreements.

Therefore, it’s always best to consult reliable sources and conduct thorough research to get the most up-to-date information on pilot salaries.

Military vs Civilian Pilot Pay

Military Pilot Pay Scales

When it comes to pilot salaries, there are significant differences between military and civilian pay scales. In the military, pilots are compensated based on their rank and years of service. The pay scale for military pilots varies depending on whether they are part of the Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marines.

Generally, military pilots receive a base salary along with various allowances and bonuses. The military also provides benefits such as healthcare, housing, and retirement plans, which can add significant value to their overall compensation package.

It’s worth noting that military pilots often have to meet certain requirements and undergo rigorous training before they can fly. This includes completing flight school, logging a certain number of flight hours, and passing physical and mental fitness exams.

The demanding nature of military pilot training ensures that only the most skilled and capable individuals are selected for these roles.

Airline Hiring of Ex-Military Pilots

One advantage of being a military pilot is the potential for a smooth transition into a civilian career as an airline pilot. Airlines often value the skills and experience gained in the military, and many actively seek to hire ex-military pilots.

These pilots bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise to the civilian aviation industry, making them highly sought after by airlines.

When it comes to hiring ex-military pilots, airlines generally take into account their flight hours, type ratings, and overall experience. Military pilots often have the opportunity to fly a wide range of aircraft, including advanced fighter jets and transport planes, which can make them attractive candidates for commercial airlines.

Additionally, their disciplined work ethic and ability to perform under pressure are highly valued in the aviation industry.

It’s important to note that while military pilots may have an advantage in terms of experience, civilian pilots also have the opportunity to build their skills and gain experience through flight training programs and regional airline positions.

Earning Potential After Military Service

After completing their military service, pilots have the potential to earn a higher salary in the civilian sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $147,220 in May 2020.

However, it’s important to recognize that this figure can vary significantly depending on factors such as the airline, type of aircraft flown, and level of experience.

Civilian pilots have the opportunity to progress in their careers and earn higher salaries as they gain more experience and move up the ranks. Many pilots start their careers at regional airlines and then move on to major airlines, where they can earn even higher salaries.

Additionally, pilots who choose to pursue advanced certifications and ratings, such as becoming a captain or flying international routes, can also see an increase in their earning potential.

It’s worth mentioning that pilot salaries can also be influenced by factors such as geographical location and the demand for pilots in a particular region. For example, pilots flying in high-cost cities or in regions with a high demand for air travel may have higher earning potential compared to those in less populated areas.

Factors Military Pilots Civilian Pilots
Base Salary Varies based on rank and years of service Varies based on airline and experience
Benefits Healthcare, housing, retirement plans Varies based on airline
Transition Opportunities Potential for smooth transition to civilian airlines Opportunities for career progression and higher salaries

Maximizing Long Term Earnings

When it comes to pilot salaries, there are several ways to maximize long-term earnings. Pilots have the potential to earn a substantial income throughout their careers, but it often requires strategic career moves and advancements to reach the highest pay scales.

Changing Airlines or Corporate Jobs

One way to increase earnings is by considering opportunities with different airlines or corporate aviation jobs. While starting salaries may be similar across the industry, pilots can negotiate higher pay as they gain experience and move up the ranks.

Some airlines may also offer more competitive pay and benefits packages compared to others. It’s important for pilots to research and compare their options to ensure they are getting the best possible compensation.

Upgrading Aircraft Type Ratings

Another way to boost earnings is by upgrading aircraft type ratings. Pilots who are qualified to fly larger, more complex aircraft often earn higher salaries. This is because these types of aircraft require more advanced skills and experience.

By investing in additional training and certifications, pilots can position themselves for higher-paying roles within the aviation industry.

Pursuing Management Positions

Some pilots choose to pursue management positions within their airline or organization. These roles often come with increased responsibilities and higher salaries. Pilots who have a strong background in aviation and demonstrate leadership skills may be considered for management positions, such as chief pilot or director of operations.

These roles not only offer higher pay but also provide opportunities for career growth and advancement.

Flying Part Time While Retired

After reaching retirement age, some pilots choose to continue flying on a part-time basis. This allows them to maintain their skills and earn additional income while enjoying a more flexible schedule. Pilots who fly part-time can often choose their assignments and have the option to accept or decline trips based on their availability.

While the income may not be as high as full-time flying, it can still provide a steady stream of earnings for retired pilots.


A career as an airline, corporate, private, or military pilot can be financially rewarding, with senior captains and pilots at major airlines and corporations earning well into six figures. However, it takes many years of experience, training, and developing skills to reach the highest paying pilot jobs.

Strategic career choices, such as aircraft type ratings, and continuing to work part time after retirement can maximize earnings over a pilot career spanning decades. We hope this detailed outline provides perspective on pilot pay scales and what it takes to become a top earning aviator.

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