Commercial Pilot Salary At Each Stage [ Career Progression ]

SOUTHAFRICAPPL- Commercial Pilot Salary At Each Stage Career Progression

Becoming a commercial pilot is an exciting journey, but understanding how much money you can make at different points in your career is really important. The pay can be different in the USA, the UK, and Europe, and it depends on which type of plane you’re flying, like a Boeing, Airbus, or an Embraer. Learn about which factors Influence pilot Earnings.

Here’s a simple breakdown of how much commercial pilot salary and other opportunity in the USA, UK, and Europe can earn as they move up in their careers:

Pilot Career Progression – An Overview

Starting Out:

When you’re just starting as a pilot, you can expect to earn about $50,000 in the USA, £50,000 in the UK, or €50,000 in Europe. This is your beginning salary, and it goes up as you gain more experience.

Progressing in the USA:

In the USA, salaries have been going up, especially for pilots at regional airlines. Some new pilots are now making up to $100,000 a year, including bonuses, which is a good improvement.

Senior Pilots in the USA:

For experienced pilots in the United States, the pay is even better. Senior captains at big airlines like American Airlines can now earn more than $590,000 a year. This is a big increase in how much they used to make. Delta Airlines has also raised the pay for its flight crew by 34% in the last few years.

Overall Trend:

Pilot salaries have been going up since 2021. Back then, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the median salary for airline captains, first officers, and second officers was about $203,010. This was already a good salary, and it’s expected to go up by 20-40% because there’s a shortage of pilots. This means the pay for pilots is likely to keep improving.

The Main Factor Impacting A Commercial Pilot Salary

A big part that affects how much money a commercial pilot makes is how long they’ve been working as a pilot. As they spend more time flying planes for an airline, they get better and can earn more money. This is important because it helps them become a captain, which means even more money. Getting there also depends on how long they’ve been in the job.
The Salary Journey Of A Commercial Pilot: Salaries at Each Stage

Let’s break down how much a commercial pilot earns at each stage of their career:

Starting as a Flight Instructor (Only in the USA):

When you first become a pilot, you won’t make a lot of money right away. The money you make at this stage is much less than what you’ll earn later when you’re an airline transport pilot (ATP).

In the USA, there’s a special rule called the “1500-hour rule” by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA). Before you can work for a regional airline, you need to have flown for 1500 hours.

To get to this milestone, most pilots become flight instructors, teaching others to get their pilot’s licenses.

The pay for this job usually falls between $15 and $45 per hour, with an average of about $30 per hour.

Once you’ve reached 1500 hours, you can move on to a regional airline.

Remember, as you keep going in your pilot career, how long you’ve been with the airline is super important in deciding how much you make. It’s also the key to getting closer to becoming a captain with the chance to make even more money. If you want more details about how much commercial pilots earn, we have a blog post that tells you everything you need to know about pilot salaries.

Entry-Level Pilot Pay


When you start as a pilot in the United States, especially in regional airlines like Air Wisconsin and Endeavour Air, you can expect to earn around $35,000 to $50,000 per year. But things are changing for the better.

Regional airlines are realizing how important it is to keep their pilots and not just use them as a stepping stone to major airlines like Southwest, Delta, or American Airlines. So, they’re offering more money.

Now, with joining bonuses, flight pay (known as per diem pay), and other perks, new pilots in regional airlines can make as much as $100,000 in their first year! However, it’s important to know that the range can still vary, from $50,000 to well over $100,000 in 2023.

Major airlines like Delta Airlines and FedEx pay even more than regional airlines, and we’ll talk about this difference soon.

Entry-Level Pilot Pay in the UK/Europe

If you’re pursuing a pilot career in the UK or Europe, you don’t have to worry about the 1500-hour rule, which means you can fly for a major airline right after your flight training. This is a benefit not available in the USA.

Starting salaries for pilots in the UK and Europe usually range from £30,000 to £50,000 or €30,000 to €50,000, depending on the type of aircraft and the airline you work for. When you consider things like flight pay and compensation for time away from your base, it’s possible for these pilots to earn £45,000 to £65,000 or €45,000 to €65,000 in their first year.

While UK and European pilots might not make as much as their American and Canadian counterparts at the beginning, it’s still a decent income. American pilots will eventually catch up and earn more, but it’s important to remember that early careers in piloting aren’t known for high pay.

As you progress in your pilot career and gain more experience, your salary will naturally increase to reflect your time in the industry.

Entry-Level Pilot Pay

Let’s talk about how a pilot’s salary grows as they gain experience. It’s like leveling up in a video game, but in real life!

In the first five years of your pilot journey, you’ll see the biggest increase in your earnings. This is when your income goes up a lot and can become quite substantial.

Once you finish flight school and training, your pay as a commercial pilot will go up by about 70% from your first year to your fifth year on the job. That’s when you start making good money.

In the United States, to work for a major airline, you need not only 1,500 flight hours but also a certain number of hours flying specific aircraft (usually bigger turbo-propeller or smaller jet planes).

So, most pilots in the USA and Canada usually start with smaller regional airlines before moving on to bigger ones like Southwest or Delta.

But here’s some good news – Southwest Airlines has made it easier. They now require only 500 jet/large turbo-prop hours instead of 1,000. This means pilots at smaller regional airlines can get to major airlines with better pay faster.

Now, let’s talk about becoming a Short-Haul Captain in different regions:

SOUTHAFRICAPPL- Commercial Pilot Salary full detail of its Career Progression

Becoming A Short-Haul Captain


Before you can apply to major airlines, you’ll need at least 500 hours of flying experience (though many require at least 1,000) on bigger and more complex planes like large turbo-propellers or smaller jets (like Embraer ERJ).

If you’re flying 700-900 hours a year, you can meet these requirements fairly quickly. But here’s a choice in your career path – you might think about becoming a regional airline captain first instead of going straight to a major airline. As a regional airline captain, you can make around $200,000 a year after a few years with the airline. It’s something to consider because, even though you make more money at this stage, it might limit your future earning potential compared to working for a major airline.

UK & Europe

In the UK and Europe, it usually takes about five years of flying for a major airline to become a short-haul captain. However, this timeline can vary depending on the demand in the industry.

Becoming a captain means a significant boost in your pay, with a basic salary of around £/€100,000, and many airlines offer even more than that. Your earnings can increase further with flight pay and bonuses like overtime.

So, not a bad deal, right? Just five years in the industry, and you’re looking at a pretty substantial increase in your income.

That’s the simple breakdown of how your pay grows as an entry-level pilot. With hard work and dedication, your pilot career can really take off

Regional vs. Major Airline Pay Scale

When you work as a pilot for a smaller regional airline, you can later aim for a higher-paying job with a larger major airline. This is a common path for many pilots.

Regional airlines are now increasing the money they pay to pilots to encourage them to stay longer and not just use regional airlines as stepping stones to major ones.

As you accumulate more flying hours and experience, your pilot salary will increase significantly and quickly when you move on to a major airline.

In the United States, there’s a shortage of pilots, which has led major airlines to increase the amount of money they pay by more than 30%. This means that a new first officer at a major airline can make more than $100,000 each year. These salaries increase rapidly; after five years at a major airline, you can earn over $250,000.

So, the choice of when to join a major airline has a big impact on how your pilot career progresses.

Experienced Pilot

Experienced captains in the United States who fly for major airlines can make well over $500,000 every year.

In the UK, senior captains can earn more than £200,000 annually.

In Europe, senior long-haul captains can make over €250,000.

As you continue your career as a pilot, from starting out to the middle of your career and beyond, you’ll make more money as you gain more experience and seniority. It’s not a secret that your earnings will likely increase as your career as a pilot moves forward.

Long-Haul vs. Short-Haul

When you’re thinking about being a commercial pilot, the choice between long-distance and short-distance flights can really affect how much money you make. In general, pilots who do long flights tend to earn more than those who do short ones. But there’s a trade-off. To be a captain on long flights, you need a lot of experience, often around 10 years or more.

This situation leads to a big question in your pilot career: do you want to become a captain early in your career by starting with short flights, or do you take the path of a first officer on long flights (who earns more than a first officer on short flights) and wait until you have the experience needed to become a captain?

What Determines a Commercial Pilot’s Salary?

Now, let’s talk about what decides how much money a commercial pilot makes.

Seniority Matters: Seniority is a big deal in the world of airline pilots. It’s all about how long you’ve been working for the airline. Seniority is very important in your pilot career and affects how much money you make. The longer you’ve been working, the more senior you become, and this usually means a higher yearly salary.

Experience Counts: Just like in many other jobs, experience is important in aviation. As you move up in your pilot career, you’ll eventually qualify to be a captain. Captains earn more than first officers, but this is also linked to seniority. You need both experience and seniority to become a captain.

Airline and Location: Not all airlines pay the same, even within the same country. As you progress in your pilot career, you may reach a point where you can choose where you want to be based. Choosing a location with better pay can really boost your pilot salary. Usually, major airlines offer better pay compared to smaller regional ones. For example, working for a big airline like American Airlines often means a bigger paycheck compared to a smaller regional airline.

The Type of Aircraft: As you move up in your pilot career, you might get the chance to fly different types of planes. Generally, flying long-distance planes tends to pay more than flying short-distance ones. So, piloting a big plane like an Airbus A380 will usually result in a bigger paycheck compared to flying a smaller one like an Airbus A320.

That’s why many pilots start their careers with short flights and aim to switch to long ones as soon as they can in their pilot career journey. It’s all about balancing experience, seniority, and the type of flying you want to do to get the best pilot salary.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)

In 2021, the average pay for commercial pilots in the United States was about $203,010. But due to a shortage of pilots, it’s likely that these numbers have gone up by about 30-40%. Some experienced captains are even making over $600,000 each year.

There are a few things that can impact how much a pilot earns. One big factor is how long they’ve been working for an airline – the longer, the more they make. Bigger planes mean more money. Flying more hours also equals higher pay, and pilots can earn extra cash from working overtime.

Yes, some airlines offer better salaries to pilots. This includes major international carriers, cargo airlines, and regional airlines in high-demand areas. However, keep in mind that pay can vary a lot based on the airline’s size, the type of planes they use, and the specific job a pilot has.

Airlines often give extra money based on how many hours pilots fly each month. More hours in the air mean more pay. But there are limits set by the FAA and the CAA to make sure pilots don’t work too much.

Absolutely! Earning an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate or getting advanced ratings in specific types of flying can lead to higher pay.

Many people start by getting a private pilot license, but it’s not necessary. You can also find a flight training school with a fast training program and connections to major or regional airlines.

Becoming a pilot can be a significant investment, usually ranging from $60,000 to $100,000 or more. This cost is similar in pounds and euros. Generally, the faster you finish your training, the more expensive it will be.

Before you can join a regional airline, you usually need to accumulate 1,500 flight hours. This requirement comes from the 1,500-hour rule set by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the United States.


Before you can join a regional airline, you usually need to accumulate 1,500 flight hours. This requirement comes from the 1,500-hour rule set by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the United States.

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