Airline Academy

How much does a pilot earn in the US?

  • Article by L3Harris Flight Academy
  • Published
  • Duration 9 minute read

If you are considering a career as a pilot, you might be wondering what the average pilot salary is.

Becoming a pilot is a significant financial and time investment in your future, but one that offers a path into an incredible career. As a pilot you have the potential to earn an attractive salary, with a great benefits package and travel the world.

How much you will be earning once you become a pilot will vary depending on whether you work for a regional or major airline, how much experience you have and the specific type of aircraft that you fly.

What is a pilot’s starting salary?

For many newly qualified cadets, the first step towards their career as a pilot is as a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI). Becoming a CFI gives cadets the opportunity to build up the required hours to qualify as a commercial pilot for a regional or international airline, while also earning a salary.

A newly qualified CFI can expect to earn upwards of $30,000 a year. Making becoming a CFI a great option for any cadet looking to build their flight experience for a career as a pilot.

At L3Harris, all graduates from our PPP and APT courses are guaranteed an interview to become a Flight Instructor with us, so they are in a great position to then apply for positions at regional airlines after building up the required hours.

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Regional airline First Officer salaries

Regional airlines also need First Officers as part of their crew. As many regional airlines are keen to avoid being seen as a stepping-stone to work at major airlines, First Officer salaries have become increasingly competitive.

To secure a role as a First Officer for a regional airline, applicants will often need to have experience as a CFI training cadets for Instrument and Multi-Engine Ratings.

As a First Officer, you can expect to earn around the following salaries for each regional airline.

Airline

Year 1

Year 6

Year 12

Air Wisconsin

$37,000

$50,000

$57,000

Endeavor Air

$52,000

$68,000

$74,000

Horizon Air

$40,000

$50,000

$52,000

Mesa Airlines

$36,000

$41,000

$49,000

Piedmont Airlines

$50,000

$56,000

$56,000

PSA Airlines

$50,000

$56,000

$56,000

Republic Airways

$46,000

$56,000

$63,000

Source: https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Salaries/airline-pilot-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm 

Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes532011.htm

Regional airline Captain salaries

Many of our cadets also go on to work in Captain and First Officer positions at regional airlines across the country. A regional airline operates smaller aircraft than a major airline, and often flies shorter distances carrying fewer than 100 passengers. As such, Captain salaries are typically lower compared to major airlines.

To become a Captain for a regional airline you will need to hold a Commercial Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine Rating and have completed an APT course. Applicants for Captain positions will also often be required to have experience working in a similar role, typically as a First Officer.

Some regional airlines pay their Captains by the hour to reflect the number of flight hours they have undertaken. Below are some of the expected salaries for the country’s leading regional airlines.

Airline

Year 1

Year 6

Year 12

Air Wisconsin

$71,000

$84,000

$100,000

Endeavor Air

$92,000

$103,000

$118,000

Horizon Air

$70,000

$82,000

$101,000

Mesa Airlines

$66,000

$77,000

$92,000

Piedmont Airlines

$76,000

$85,000

$96,000

PSA Airlines

$82,000

$92,000

$104,000

Republic Airways

$90,000

$101,000

$116,000

Source: https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Salaries/airline-pilot-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm 

Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes532011.htm

Major airline First Officer salaries

Becoming a First Officer is the first step for many airline academy graduates in their career as a commercial pilot. As a First Officer for a major airline, you can expect to earn the following. Again, your salary will vary depending on your level of experience, the airline you are employed by and the type of aircraft that you fly. The salaries below are based on approximately 1000 flying hours per year.

Airline

Year 1

Year 6

Year 12

Air Canada

$56,000

$157,000

$190,000

Air Alaska

$93,000

$158,000

$179,000

American Airlines

$90,000

$224,000

$245,000

Allegiant Air

$57,000

$128,000

$154,000

Cathay Pacific

$69,732

$95,712

$106,536

Delta Air Lines

$92,000

$220,000

$232,000

Emirates

$67,956

$78,768

$81,132

Southwest Airlines

$84,000

$171,000

$191,000

Source: https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Salaries/airline-pilot-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm 

Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes532011.htm

Major airline Captain salaries

Many cadets from L3Harris aspire to a career at a major airline. A major airline is an airline that is generating more than $1-billion annually in revenue. Some of the major airlines include: Alaska, American, Southwest, and United – just to name a few.

To secure a role as a Captain for a major U.S. airline, cadets are required to have completed a CPT or APT and completed 250 flight hours. Typically, you will work as a First Officer before progressing to Captain. If you are successful in your application to become a Captain you can expect to earn the following for 1,000 flying hours per year.

Source: https://www.glassdoor.co.uk/Salaries/airline-pilot-salary-SRCH_KO0,13.htm 

Source: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes532011.htm

Source: https://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/flight/modern/airline1.htm

Cargo airline First Officer salaries

First Officers are also in demand at cargo airlines. To qualify for First Officer roles with these airlines applicants will typically need to have completed an APT course with Instrument Rating and Multi-Engine Class Ratings.

The average pilot salary of a First Officer for a cargo airline is around the following.

Airline

Year 1

Year 6

Year 12

Air Transport International

$83,000

$156,000

$181,000

Atlas Air

$87,00

$135,000

$164,000

FedEx Express

$84,000

$202,000

$233,000

Kalitta Air

$117,000

$171,000

$198,000

Southern Air

$87,000

$135,000

$164,000

United Parcel Service

$50,000

$204,000

$235,000

Source: https://www.indeed.com/career/cargo-pilot/salaries

Cargo airline Captain salaries

Cargo airlines also offer a great career for cadets. Cargo airlines exclusively transport goods by air. Some airlines may have cargo fleets that operate alongside their commercial passenger aircraft.

Requirements for Captain positions at cargo airlines differ from that of regional and major airlines. Applicants will be expected to have at least 500 hours of flight time as the pilot in command and a minimum of 5,000 hours total flight experience. As well as standard Instrument Ratings and completion of a CPT or APT course.

A cargo airline pilot salary is typically around the following.

Airline

Year 1

Year 6

Year 12

Air Transport Int’l

$140,000

$230,000

$268,000

Atlas Air

$169,000

$196,000

$234,000

FedEx Express

$276,000

$311,000

$326,000

Kalitta Air

$154,000

$252,000

$293,000

Southern Air

$169,000

$196,000

$234,000

United Parcel Service

$50,000

$314,000

$329,000

Source: ​​https://www.indeed.com/career/cargo-pilot/salaries

What are the benefits of becoming an airline pilot?

Becoming a pilot is an incredibly exciting and rewarding career path. Here’s why we think anyone should consider pursuing a career above the clouds.

  • Great opportunities for career progression - As a pilot there are plenty of opportunities for progression. Many cadets start off life with us at L3Harris as a CFI and move on to become a First Officer at a major, regional or cargo airline, and then onto Captain positions
  • Every day is different - Each day, week and month you will have the opportunity to fly to different countries, work with different crews and interact with people from all over the world
  • Work-life balance - Being a pilot means you won’t be working a standard Monday-Friday 9-5. Typically, pilots work around 2 to 3 weeks per month. Giving you time to spend with your friends or family outside of work
  • Excellent pilot salary prospects and benefits - Pilots at any airline have the opportunity to earn an attractive salary, and there are some great perks to the job too. Nearly all airlines offer health benefits and annual raises, as well as travel discounts for yourself, family and friends. So, you can enjoy amazing vacations
  • Job security - Being a pilot requires a very specific set of skills and training. Because of this, a career as a pilot offers great job security as competition for jobs is often much lower than a typical office-based role

How do I become a commercial airline pilot?

At L3Harris, we offer a range of pilot training courses to get you on your way to securing a role as a commercial airline pilot. Our Professional Pilot Program (PPP), Airline Pilot Track (APT) and Commercial Pilot Track (CPT) all offer routes into a career in commercial aviation.

Our PPP cadets graduate with a Private Pilot Certificate, Instrument Rating, Single and Multi-Engine Certificates and Add-on Ratings, as well as a CFI Certificate. Many of our PPP graduates become CFIs with us to build up the required hours for First Officer positions at commercial airlines.

Our APT courses offer similar certifications to our PPP course, but can be the quickest route to securing your Commercial Pilot License and Certified Flight Instructor Certificate.

With our CPT course, graduates will receive the same qualifications as a PPP, without the certification to become a CFI. The CPT is the ideal course for cadets who are passionate about pursuing a career as a commercial pilot but do not want to work as a Flight Instructor.

For more information about our programs and courses, please get in touch with us today and start your journey towards becoming a commercial airline pilot with L3Harris.

What's next?

If you are feeling inspired by this article then we have several others that could be of interest to you. Excited for the next step? Feel free to look at our guides on ‘How to become a pilot’ as well as our FAQs.

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