A lot of people dream about the old days of flying, you know the ones portrayed in the feature film by Steven Spielberg, Catch Me If You Can. This is where Tom Hanks plays the federal agent running all over the world trying to catch the conman Frank Abagnale, being played by Leonardo Dicaprio. This movie is loosely based on a true story about the conman’s life. While Mr. Abagnale was not a real pilot he did live a pretty rich life portraying a pilot, of course by breaking the law every which way he could, he successfully conned his way into millions of dollars. Now their is a point to bringing all this up, the lifestyle of a person jet-setting around the world and seeing all the sights and making lots money while getting to be a full time tourist really does bring a lot of people to aspire to be a commercial pilot. But how true is it, and how much do pilots really make?
Now before you set out to become a full time commercial pilot you really need to ask yourself one tough question… can you be happy as a full time commercial flier? While this sounds simple enough to answer, that is not an easy question to answer, nor is it one that can be answered quickly. There is way too much to learn about the aviation industry to really know for sure, but one thing is certain if you find it’s your passion, you will love it. It’s just like the old saying, “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life!”
Assuming you love flying and want to do it as a vocation there are a few things to consider. How do you get there and when you do get there will you be able to make it a successful living? It really all depends on how you go about doing it actually. First off, if you are able to get someone else to pay for your training then you are already WAY ahead of the game. Either a rich uncle or Uncle Sam, if they choose to pay for your training and flight time that is always the best option. Just like college, if you can get a grant or scholarships… do it. Oh yeah, you’re going to need a college degree too (don’t want to forget about that!). Of course Uncle Sam will require a commitment for your free flight training and it usually is about 5 to 10 years of your life, depending on the branch of military or service you choose. But that’s not bad at all, especially if you consider the type of aircraft you will have available to you…..the finest in the world!
There are a lot of other routes if you choose too; you can work a full time or part time job and pay as you go to fund your training. Achieving your licenses and certificates this way may not be a bad choice, but it does tend to be the longest route of gaining your experience and flight time. But if you are able to build flight time and gain all your certifications and not go into debt over it than there is a lot to be said for that. A third option would be to pay for training route, now this tends to be a highly concentrated program that will basically engulf you in a training environment and let you really see how commercial aviation operates. They tend to be very expensive but are able to give you the training required and flight time needed very quickly (relatively speaking). Please be careful with this option, if you acquire too much debt from these programs a flying carrier, at least the first few years, usually cannot support that debt load. So let’s talk a bit about commercial aviation compensation.
How much do pilots make?
Pilot compensation is probably one of the most asked questions regarding an aviation carrier, and it can be one of the most difficult to answer. Only because flying as a carrier has many different applications and they don’t always pay the same. For arguments sake we will focus on the major and regional airlines here in the US.
Forbes recently ran an article titled, What Common Dream Jobs Actually Pay? In the article they talked about the dream jobs that most of us had growing up, on the list the second most desired job was a pilot. They went on to mention a few statistics that are pretty important. The Bureau of Labor Statistics say that there are 66,270 airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers in the US and 34,990 commercial pilots. Do the math really quick and you’ll see that’s 101,260 people, or 0.03% of the American population. That’s a pretty elite group of people I’d say. The average yearly salary is $128,760 for the airlines and $80,140 for a commercial pilot. Not too bad at all, but there is definitely more to this. You see most pilots start out in the regional airlines as more of an apprenticeship position, and they don’t make a lot of money either. This is pretty important when considering the amount of money shelled out to train and educate yourself as a pilot. Here is a quick chart showing the average hourly pay rates for the regional airlines here in the US. Please keep in mind that most regional pilots don’t actually go on the clock until they close the door on the airplane, so that can easily equate to only 21 or 22 hours a week, even though it actually requires a much bigger commitment of your life, something closer to 60 hours a week.
The major airlines actually account for a much higher pay rate. Below you can see the average yearly salary for the major airlines here in the US. You can see the very exponential increase in salary as tenure and airline experience is gained. Also keep in mind that a lot of airlines will pay higher salaries when bigger or more advanced aircraft are flown, for instance if you are a captain on the Boeing 737 then you can expect to average “x” number of dollars. If a position is available and you qualify to move up to say a Boeing 747 or 777 then you can expect your pay to increase by a factor determined by your company. Also looking at the increase of pay as tenure is gained you can say that the pay as an airline pilot is pretty much back-end loaded.
But let’s be honest here, pilots fly because they like to fly, it’s their passion, their calling in life. They don’t do it for the money, but if they are able to plan properly it can be a very fruitful and rewarding career. Please let us know your thoughts on this by leaving a comment below or if you have any questions we’d love to hear those too.