Airline Pilot: Salary and Career Facts

Explore the career requirements for airline pilots. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary, and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Aviation Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Airline Pilot?

Airline pilots operate aircraft, and they may transport cargo or passengers. Their duties include ensuring that the aircraft is working properly before the flight, checking the instruments and engine and also making sure that the aircraft has enough fuel to complete the flight plan. They complete flight logs and may also need to file the flight plan with the airport prior to takeoff. While in flight they operate the aircraft using the instruments and controls, and they communicate any concerns or issues with air traffic control. They may need to approve adjusting their cruising altitude or flight path in the event of weather. Those that transport passengers may also update the passengers or flight crew on any delays or course alterations and the reason for them.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Training Required Employer-based ground school and training on specific aircraft is required
Key Responsibilities Operate aircraft along scheduled routes; monitor aircraft status before, during and after flights; respond to changes in weather, airports and aircraft; maintain communication with air traffic control and follow flight instructions
Licensure and/or Certification Commercial pilot's license from the FAA is required; Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate is required
Job Growth (2018-2028) 6% increase for all airline and commercial pilots*
Median Salary (2018) $140,340 for all airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Are Airline Pilots Trained?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), airlines typically require airline pilots to have college degrees ( You could earn an Associate in Science in Aviation Operations-Professional Pilot or an Associate of Applied Science in Aviation Technology through a community college or flight training school. These two-year programs combine a liberal arts education with pilot training; you'll explore topics like aviation history, navigation logs, flight computers, flight theory and more.

In the pilot training phase of the program, you'll learn to fly with a flight instructor. You could learn about navigation, weather and warning systems, aerodynamics and pilot maneuvers. Another important element of the program is instrument training, which is necessary in situations where there is low visibility and a pilot must depend on aircraft instruments to fly a plane.

Bachelor's degree programs for airline pilots include a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Aeronautical Science or Professional Flight. These programs combine academic coursework in the science of aviation with practical pilot training. You would study math, physics and aeronautics and gain the flight experience needed to become a licensed pilot. Training is conducted in state-of-the-art laboratories and flight simulators. Some bachelor's programs culminate in an internship experience with a professional pilot.

How Do I Get Licensed?

In order to obtain an airline pilot's license through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), you'll need 1,500 hours of flight training, including 40 hours on aircraft instruments. Other requirements include successful completion of a written exam, a physical exam and a test flight with an FAA examiner.

How Much Do Professionals Earn? noted that the airline pilots earned between $45,000 and $244,000 as of November 2018. According to the BLS, airline pilots, co-pilots and flight engineers made a median annual salary of $140,340 in 2018. Your salary may depend on your level of experience and which airline you work for; larger airlines might offer higher salaries than smaller airlines.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The work that water transportation workers and bus drivers perform has some aspects that are similar to the work of an airline pilot. All of these professionals may be involved in transporting passengers. They all need to perform maintenance checks on their vessels or vehicles, and they all need to follow assigned routes. The safety of their passengers is one of their key responsibilities, and they all must follow an assigned schedule and make every effort to pick up and deliver passengers according to that schedule. Water transportation workers need a Transportation Worker Identification Credential and a Merchant Marine Credential. Bus drivers must have a commercial driver's license, a clean driving record and complete on-the-job training. They must also meet physical, hearing and vision requirements to work as a bus driver.

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