What salary does an airline pilot earn?

One of the key questions that must be considered for any vocation is compensation. What salary does an airline pilot earn?   We ask Captain David Santo, here’s his answer.

Paula Williams: Next question of course we want to get right down to the nuts and bolts. What kind of salary can I expect?

Captain David Santo: Well, that’s a very good question because it’s a pretty wide spectrum. The entry level into the aviation career field is typically flight instructing if you don’t come through the military. I did not. I was a civilian pilot. I flight instructed. That was what I would call starvation wages. You were building time. You transitioned into some type of a corporate flying student or a commuter flying opportunity or even some cargo on demand charter operations, and the pay gets a little better. I think of it this way, Paula, it’s like being a doctor. You don’t start out at the top. You have to work you way up. You’re going to have to pay your dues a little by. This is like being an intern. I forget the other term they use for a doctor while they’re going through their initial early stages of building their experience. It’s very much like that. 

Paula: A resident who doesn’t make a whole lot of money, but they work their tails off I think. 

David: That’s exactly right. Then when you get to the top of the career field, and again it varies greatly on what region of the world you’re in, there are some regions of the world that airlines pilots are makes in excess of 350,000.00 a year comparable to U.S. It may not be in U.S. Dollars, but that’s their earning pay. I think you’re going find even here in the U.S. An airline captain is a significant six-figure income if he’s flying for a major mainline airline carrier. If you’re flying for a commuter even some of the commuter jobs after you build up enough time and experience and move up to the left seat, are starting to see better pay wages. Overall lifetime earnings you’re looking at a multi-million dollar job.

Paula Williams: Great. There was one conversation that we had not to long ago and you told me there were two different career paths really that an airline pilot can take one of them is the route that you took, which is basically being a student pilot and building time. The other is basically going from zero to an airline pilot or first-officer as quickly as possible and getting that jump cutting through that period of low pay. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Captain David Santo: Well, I think is we’re seeing a global demand. The global demand for airline pilots is really being fueled by the demand for the middle class. As the middle class is going bigger in what we would have considered in under industrialized in third world countries, that middle class wants to enjoy the opportunity to travel. We’re your looking at statics, and these statics were put out originally by Boeing but I think they’ve been validated even by the U.S. Accounting office, your looking at almost a half a million new entrant airline pilots needed over the next twenty years to meet the global demand. Now the part about that is we’ve never seen that demand before, and there’s not currently the training infrastructure really to even supply that demand. That’s really great news. This is very well documented and published. 
 How do we take advantage of that? Well, there’s a couple of things that we can do to take advantage of that. A lot of that training is offshore. Those offshore opportunities are now looking to American pilots, European pilots, North America pilots to fill their first-officer seats because they don’t have enough of their nationals who have come up through the ranks who can fill those positions. We have talked to many folks, who have taken a very exciting career choice that wasn’t there for me when I was coming up through the ranks, to go fly Airbus or Boeing equipment outside of the United States for a few years as first officers, as contract pilots, build their experience level, come back to the U.S. They really they leapfrog or bypass the rest of us that had to do flight instruction and fly freight in the middle of the night. They really went from Flight School, ab initio, through a type rate program, offshore got a job, built some sometime up, came back, and they were the front of the line to get the airlines job now because they have experience in the A 320 and the 737 already.

Paula Williams: Right. Then getting seniority quickly is another thing that you mentioned as being incredibly important?

Captain David Santo: Well, Paula, like you and I have talked about seniority in the airlines it’s a really strange system. I think it’s hard for people to get their arms around if they’ve not been in this industry before. For most airlines everything is based on date-of-hire seniority. Your base assignment, your bid assignments, your aircraft assignments all are based on how senior you are, what your seniority number is. In my particular airline for example, we’re getting close to about 3,000 pilots, and I’m somewhere around the seniority of 509. That puts my in top twenty some percent, a little better than that, for pilots, which means I have my pick of bases or I have a better shot at my pick of bases. I’ve now been a captain for a lot longer. The captain pay is still substantially betting than first-officer pay depending on how hard you want to work. I’ve said that had I’d had the opportunities that young people have now to break into the industry sooner, to land an airline job, to land that airline job that they want to spend their career at, the quick you can do that the quicker you’re going to build up your seniority. That’s going to equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions of dollar in lifetime earnings by the time you retire.

Paula Williams: Right. That’s not just money. That’s also quality of life because you get to chose, have a better selection of bases, flights, and schedules really that has to do with your life it sounds like?

Captain David Santo: Well, one of the common questions we get asked in the Flight School is from parents. The parents are trying to help their young son or daughter make a decision about is this a career path that they should pursue? Of course there parents not being in aviation or business they want to know what’s the return on my investment? If we spend this money, is my investment going to work for my son or daughter. I would have the same question. 
 The answer is we really need to show them what the lifetime earning is versus the initial expense. It’s absolutely worth it. Now I would like to qualify that because I’ve had some people call me and e-mail me and push back and say Dave I’ve been stuck in a dead in computer job for twenty years. What I typically find that when I press them and say have you been applying? Have you been trying to make a move into an airline? Typically what I hear is I haven’t been applying because I don’t want to take a pay cut. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to make the sacrifices that would come along with doing that. I would caution people to say are there people in this career that have been less successful than others? Absolutely. That’s no different than any other career path. I think there’s an old saying that says successful people are those who do the things that unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do or haven’t had the opportunity to do.

Paula Williams: Right.

Captain David Santo: I think that if you’re a person who’s dedicated to this career path and you’re willing to do what it takes, you can create a tremendous career and be very successful at it. You’ve got to take ownership with making that happen. It’s still not going to fall on your lap. 

Paula: Right. Exactly. I think that’s true of any career. We’ve taken a little more time with this slide than others. I think it’s really very important to students and to their parents and others to really understand that that opportunity is there for a good salary.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts

Our Locations


Live Chat available 9am-5pm EST, or please email

Copyright 2024 Aerostar Training Services LLC | All Rights Reserved | 3954 Merlin Drive, Kissimmee, FL 34741 USA | 1-407-888-9011
Site – Aviation Marketing by ABCI | Privacy Notice