What Factors Affect a Commercial Pilot's Salary?

Jeremy Laukkonen

Many different factors can affect a commercial pilot's salary, though the main consideration is typically seniority. Pilots who have a lot of flight hours, and have flown for the same company for many years, tend to make substantially more than entry level pilots. Salary is also highly dependent on whether a pilot is a captain or first officer, and other factors such as the industry he works in, the routes that are flown, and the number of hours worked each month. There are many different industries that a commercial pilot can work in, each of which offers varying levels of pay. A commercial pilot's salary can even depend on the specific company he works for, as different businesses within the same industry often have significantly different pay scales.

Pilots aboard long haul wide-bodies, such as the Boeing 747, usually command the highest salaries among a carrier.
Pilots aboard long haul wide-bodies, such as the Boeing 747, usually command the highest salaries among a carrier.

Commercial pilots are highly trained individuals who are authorized to receive payment for piloting, or co-piloting, various types of aircraft. A Commercial Pilot's License (CPL), or the more advanced Airline Transport Pilot License (ATP) are typically necessary to have this type of career. There are also different type ratings for airplanes, helicopters, and other types of aircraft a commercial pilot is authorized to fly. Since a pilot's job prospects are affected by his license and ratings, those can be important determining factors for a commercial pilot's salary.

Many crop dusting pilots operate their own businesses, so they choose between salary increases and equipment investments.
Many crop dusting pilots operate their own businesses, so they choose between salary increases and equipment investments.

Among pilots who have similar credentials, and work in the same industry, the biggest determining factor for salary is seniority. Brand new commercial pilots tend to have fairly low starting salaries, and they typically act as first officers rather than captains. After a significant amount of seniority as been built up, a captain can make four to eight times more than his starting pay. Seniority is typically not the same thing as experience, as it only refers to the amount of time spent with a specific company. That means a commercial pilot's salary will typically suffer if he has to find work with a new company, even if he has many years of experience, although both factors certainly do affect pay grades.

As there are fewer certified commercial helicopter pilots in the job market than pilots who fly fixed wing aircraft, they can often command high salaries.
As there are fewer certified commercial helicopter pilots in the job market than pilots who fly fixed wing aircraft, they can often command high salaries.

A commercial pilot's salary can also depend on the industry he works in. Some industries pay better than others, and some individual companies also have significantly higher or lower levels of pay. Commercial pilots who work for passenger airlines tend to make less than those who work for cargo airlines, though there are exceptions. There are also many other industries that employ commercial pilots, such as private air charter companies and medical transport services, each of which has its own independent pay scales.

Seniority may affect a commercial pilot's salary.
Seniority may affect a commercial pilot's salary.

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