What Is the Minimum Salary for a Commercial Airline Pilot?

Air carrier pilots are highly trained professionals who transport passengers and cargo to destinations throughout the nation, continent and world. Airlines pay their pilots based on seniority, or the amount of time they have been with their respective employers. While the average salary for commercial airline pilots was $111,680, according with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as of May 2008, pilots new to the profession earn far less.

  1. Regional Airline Minimum Salary

    • The regional airlines are where most pilots begin their air carrier careers. These small airlines, also called commuter or feeder carriers, connect passengers from small, outlying airfields to major airports where the individuals can board major airline flights. Pilots start off as first officers at regional air carriers before advancing to more lucrative captain positions. Commuter airlines' minimum salaries for pilots start at around $18,000 per year, according to a June 2009 article by Scott McCartney, an aviation columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

    Major Airline Minimum Salaries

    • Major air carriers are career destinations for commercial airline pilots. These airlines, sometimes called legacy carriers, fly passengers and cargo on both domestic and international routes. After gaining experience at the regionals, pilots move to the major airlines. Like at the commuter air carriers, major airline pilots start as first officers before advancing to captain positions after gaining more flight experience. As of 2009, major airline minimum salaries ranged from a low of $21,600 at US Airways to $50,971 at FedEx Express, with an average minimum salary of $36,283 per year, according to fltops.com.


    • Due to the union-based, organized structure of the airline industry, the pilots' pay scales differ considerably from professionals in other lines of work. Unlike many other industries, airline pilots do not have the ability to negotiate higher starting salaries. This is because pilot unions bargain with the airlines' management teams to set consistent, airline-wide pay scales. However, the seniority-based airline pay structure guarantees pilots yearly raises, allowing them to reach salaries that more than double their beginning wages.

    Maximum Salaries

    • Although airline pilots start out at meager salaries, their earning potentials increase throughout their careers. Regional airline captains can expect to top out with yearly salaries of around $60,000, according to avscholars.com as of 2007, while captains for major air carriers earn an average maximum annual salary of $165,278, according to fltops.com as of 2009. As of 2009, pilots for FedEx and UPS earn the highest maximum yearly wages in the airline industry, taking home $210,825 and $231,231, respectively, according to fltops.com.

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