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How much do pilots make? You might be surprised

This is how much pilots make to fly your plane

Airplane flying out of Costa Rica
Josue Isai Ramos Figueroa via Unsplash

Airline pilots have a demanding, yet sometimes overlooked, job. With a mix of skill, focus, and experience, these modern-day navigators guide multi-million-dollar machines over thousands of miles while being responsible for hundreds of passengers’ safety. That’s a tall order, to say the least.

So, how much do pilots make? With responsibilities like that, it would seem they earn significant income. But do they? To find out, we researched the median airline pilot salary, along with the required training to get there. Here’s what we found.

Airline pilots undergo rigorous training

Airplane cockpit with pilot and copilot
Caleb Woods via Unsplash

As you sit in your window seat and the engines spool up, there’s a high-pitched whine before the brakes release, and then a roar fills the cabin. The airplane hurdles down the runway, the surroundings becoming a blur before the wheels go up and the climb begins. In that situation, you want a skilled professional at the helm. Today’s pilots are just that.

To become an airline pilot, candidates have several options. One path involves obtaining a specialized degree from a four-year college, like those found at Purdue University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and the University of Oklahoma. While students earn a degree in aerospace engineering or aviation, they can also obtain pilot credentials.

Military service is another route, where pilots fly high-tech machines in demanding conditions. Lastly, attending a flight school is another method, though costly, at up to $80,000.

No matter the pathway, airline pilots must meet several criteria. One is obtaining an instrument rating, allowing them to fly via instruments alone, no matter the weather. Another is having a multi-engine rating, certifying them to be pilot-in-command (PIC) of complex aircraft. Additionally, an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) Certification requires 1,500 hours of accumulated flight time, denoting a pilot’s competence at the controls.

However, there are exceptions to the 1,500-hour requirement. Those holding a bachelor’s degree in aviation need 1,000. Earning an associate’s degree in aviation reduces it to 1,250. Military pilots only need 750.

Airline pilots earn an excellent salary

View over airplane wing in Bahamas
Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2023, the average wage for airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers was $219,140. It seems fair that those responsible for transporting so many across great distances receive significant compensation. So when you sit down and strap in, you can rest assured you’re in the hands of a well-paid professional.

Airlines pilots go through lengthy training and must meet exacting requirements before getting behind the controls. That makes sense since they guide advanced machines through varying weather conditions and have to be on their game at all times. Along with those nuanced skills comes a healthy salary, a fair reward for someone with such an important job. For more information on pilot training, you can visit the Federal Aviation Administration website, which has detailed resources on this interesting field. 

Mark Reif
Mark Reif is a writer from Stowe, Vermont. During the winter, he works as a snowboard coach and rides more than 100 days. The…
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