Pilot Salary: How Much Do Pilots Really Earn?

A pilot's cap placed in front of coins, a calculator, flags and an airplane.

Nowadays it’s hard to find a job that you love and pays you well, some would even call it impossible. However, these people haven’t looked well enough, because by being a pilot you can have your cake and eat it too.

Read also: How much are pilots really paid?

To say that a pilot salary is good income is barely scratching the surface. The average first-year pilot earns about $100,000 dollars a year. This number could be doubled depending on the airline and your qualifications, and that, of course, does not include the other benefits that are provided to pilots. So if you want to accurately calculate the pilot salary do not forget to add: 

  • Health insurance: life, dental, vision insurance, etc. 
  • Vacation and paid time off
  • Employee discount (which is also passed to family members)
  • 401K retirement plan
  • Pilots can earn 100-300% increases by working on their days off
  • Signing bonuses have become more common due to the pilot shortage, especially with regional airlines
  • Job security

Which airlines pay the highest?

Let’s get to the juicy information, what are the best airlines to work for?

Before we get into the names, you need to establish that not all pilots fly the same kind of 

aircraft and each type has its own set of rules and different rates. In this article, we are going to focus on the most popular and valuable two, which are passenger and cargo aircraft.

  1. Passenger aircrafts: as suggested by the name, passenger aircrafts transport travelers with a minimal amount of luggage stored.
  2. Cargo aircraft: on the other hand, cargo aircraft are completely filled with goods to be transported. The aircraft doesn’t have any seats nor windows inside, just a big loading door which is used to fill the plane with goods.

Why is knowing the difference between both important? Well, even though they might be operated by the same airlines, the pay varies to some degree.

For example, FedEx, which is a shipping company, offers its pilots an average of $320,000 yearly and you get a yearly raise. Other shipping companies like Air Transport International offer their pilots an average of $230,000 a year, which is, of course, increased yearly with added bonuses.

Passenger/commercial airlines like Emirates Airline offer their first-year pilots an average of $174,000 subjected to an increase based on the season and your certificates. Another example is AirFrance, which offers an average of $200,000 for its experienced pilots.

There is no doubt that a captain’s salary will be much more than a first officer and you can become a captain by just earning more flight hours, which isn’t bad considering pilots are paid by the hour. Let’s talk about money. Alaska airlines offer its first-year captain a minimum of $300,000, but a first-year officer earns a minimum of $100,000. 

If you are looking for something more general and just want to know which countries/airlines offer the highest payment, here is the list you’ve been looking for!

Middle East

  • Qatar: Qatar airways are a state-owned airline; it offers its pilots a minimum of $230,000 plus allowance.
  • UAE: airlines such as the Emirates Airline offer their three-year pilots $220,000 in addition to bonuses.
  • KSA: Saudi Arabian Airlines with its award-winning economy class and a whopping 34 inches of seat pitch offer their pilots an average of $100,000.


  •  : a pilot working in a Chinese airline e.g. China Southern Airlines, can earn up to $300,000 excluding any bonuses or added benefits.


  • Netherlands: $245,000 is the average yearly salary for a KLM pilot. An experienced captain can cash in $305,000/year.
  • France: in AirFrance a senior pilot can earn up to $235,000 by just flying two hours a day long haul and one and a half hours short-haul.
  • Germany: one of the largest airlines in Germany is Lufthansa and the average pay for its pilots is $203,000.

North America

  • Canada: an experienced pilot in AirCanada can earn up to $225,000 and could increase this number by working extra hours
  • The United States: the average salary in the US differs from one airline to another and even varies within the airlines themselves. For example, American Airlines’ average salary ranges from $40,000-$477,000. What determines the salary is the years of experience, your qualifications, and whether you fly internationally or not.

Read also: Why are pilots paid a lot?

The numbers mentioned above are huge and as you can see they are more fulfilling than any normal desk job. Why is that?

At first glance, you might think that a pilot’s job is easy: you wear your uniform, greet some passengers, and look dashing. Then you take off, turn on the autopilot, and take a quick nap, when you are almost there you wake up and then land, and wave goodbye to the passengers.

When you think of it this way, it does seem like an easy job and a well-paid one, so why aren’t there pilots scamming airlines that are willing to pay them millions? 

Well, because as nice and as easy as this job might sound like, it’s much more than looking sharp and landing a plane.

  • Long training period

Aviation school isn’t like your basic university; when you have earned all your flying certificates and collected the required flying hours, you are good to go. Airlines don’t need to give you extra training or a test period, they know for a fact that if you passed your exams then you are a good pilot, unlike other jobs where the companies have to put you under a prohibition period. 

Airlines are in dire need of pilots, constantly. As the number of passengers increases, the number of flights increases thus increasing the demand for pilots. To attract more pilots to work for them and encourage more people to get their aviation license, airlines offer them a hefty paycheck.

  • Pilot’s lifestyle

Pilots don’t have your normal 9-5 working hours, they might have a 12-hour shift around the globe and that’s not an easy thing to do. On the bright side, their days off don’t match the rest of the world, which makes it easier for them to fly their families into exotic places when they are empty making it seem like the place is all theirs.

There are numerous reasons why being a pilot is hard, however, it’s one of the most fulfilling jobs, both professionally and financially.

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