Pilot Jobs

The pilot career is no longer the glamorous lifestyle of the jet age. But pilots are still respected and highly trained professionals.

Airline flying is the most visible job a pilot can work. But the pilot career has a lot more variety and options to suit each person’s work preferences. Most pilots will need to work a variety of jobs as they progress through the profession. Pay, lifestyle, quality of life, and job security vary widely between different jobs.

Education and Training

Airline pilots, large cargo carriers, and many corporate pilot positions require a college degree. A specific area of study is not important for this degree, just that a job applicant have a four year degree. Entry level pilot positions and mid-tier positions usually do not require degrees.

To begin working as a professional, pilots need to have a commercial pilot license with an instrument rating. Before a pilot is able to advance to airline flying they will need to earn an Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) license. The Airline Transport Pilot license requires 1,500 hours of flight experience though this amount can be reduced though specific programs.


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Work Schedules

Airline pilots fly an average of 75 hours per month and average an additional 150 hours per month of related duties. Pilots have variable work schedules. Schedule assignments are typically based on company seniority.

Airline pilots may spend several nights a week away from home. Employers typically provide hotel accommodations, transportation, and per diem when pilots are away from home while working.

Commercial pilots can also have irregular work hours though most remain closer to their homes.


Pilot Career Steps

Pilots need to work through different types of jobs as they progress through their career. Each rung in the career ladder requires different licenses and ratings and different levels of flight experience.

Earn pilot certificates and ratings.

Attend either an aviation university, FAA approved flight school, or local flight school to earn commercial pilot license with appropriate airplane ratings and instrument rating. Many will also earn a flight instructor certificate for the next phase.

Entry level pilot job

The most common path for low time pilots is to work as a flight instructor. There are a few options for low hour pilots including some new flow through employment programs as well as previous options of carrying skydivers, aerial survey jobs, pipeline patrol, or ferrying airplanes.

Mid-tier position.

Once a pilot reaches flight experience to obtain an airline transport pilot rating they can work for a regional airline. Or pilots can also pursue part 135 operations to fly feeder-type cargo or charter flying when they reach 1,200 hours of flight experience. Some Corporate pilot jobs can be pursued at this point.

Final Career Goal

The final career position for many pilots is either with a major airline, corporate pilot jobs, or large cargo carriers such as Fedex or UPS. The time it takes to get to this stage can vary widely depending on the employment market.

Pilot Pay

Pilot salaries are one of the most misunderstood parts of the occupation. People will often quote hourly rates without understanding how this applies to how pilots are actually paid.

Professional pilots often work 8 to 12+ hour days like other professional jobs. However, they are are usually only paid for the time they are ‘in flight.’ It’s not uncommon for a pilot to work long days but to be paid for less than half that time. When seeing hourly rates for pilots a good rule of thumb is to take the hourly rate and multiply it by 1,000. This will be close to the annual pay for that position.

Most pilot positions will have standard benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and paid time off. Available benefits usually improve as a pilot progresses upwards through the occupation.

Position Low Average High
Major Airline Pilot Salary 68,000 179,000 291,000
Major Cargo Pilot Salary 60,000 165,000 270,000
Corporate Pilot Salary 54,000 92,200 150,000
Cargo Feeder Pilot Salary 49,000 58,750 80,000
Regional Airline Pilot Salary 32,000 70,000 110,000
Flight Instructor Salary 24,000 38,000 61,000

Different Types of Pilot Jobs

Airline Pilots

Airline pilots fly passengers on long or short-haul flights. Airplanes range in size from 30 seat turboprops up to double decker widebody aircraft that can seat hundreds of passengers. In the United States, there’s two distinct types of airlines - regional airlines, and major airlines.

Corporate Pilots

Corporate pilots can work for a company that is hired to provide private transportation services, they may work for a large multinational corporation, or they can be directly employed by aircraft owners. The range of airplanes flown in this manner is varied, though state of the art airplanes are common.

Military Pilots

Military pilots fly various types of specialized aircraft to transport troops and equipment and to execute combat missions. The military is much more selective about who can begin training but the military route can give an advantage in the pilot not having to pay for their own training and potential hiring preferences in the civilian world.

Cargo Pilots

Cargo pilots fly large and small aircraft for a variety of companies including FedEx, UPS, DHL, feeders that work with the main companies, and in many specialized cargo missions. Equipment ranges in size from small piston engine airplanes to the same widebody jet airliners found at major airlines. Cargo flying is often done at odd hours.

Charter Pilots

Charter pilots transport pilots and cargo on an as needed basis. Charter trips are usually shorter in duration with the work often being seasonal. Equipment can vary but is often smaller piston engine airplanes. Charter pilots often spend more time at home.

Flight Instructor

Flight instructors are responsible for teaching students how to fly aircraft. This is done through classroom lessons, simulator, and flight training. Flight instructors need to have a corresponding license to the airplane they are instructing in. Working as a flight instructor is a common first job for new pilots. Flight instructors have more consistent schedules than other pilots jobs and usually don’t travel as part of their job.

Law Enforcement Pilots

Law enforcement pilot positions are available in many different government agencies with the job scope and working environment varying significantly between agencies. Each department has its own guidelines how it recruits and trains its pilots. Pilots sometimes need to serve in an agency as a non-pilot before a flight position is available to them.

Aerial Firefighter Pilots

Aerial firefighter pilots use a variety of airplanes and helicopters to combat primarily forest fires. Work is generally seasonal but pilots are often paid enough during one season for a comfortable living. There is several roles available including recon, transport, and coordinating other assets. Most pilots work for private contractors.

Aerial Crop-Duster Pilots

Crop duster pilots fly airplanes low over fields to spray crops with pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer, and sometimes drop seeds. Crop duster flying is seasonal with pilots being except from FAA daily flight limits. Crop dusters are often self employed.

Helicopter Pilots

Helicopter pilots have a wide variety of jobs, working conditions, and roles available. Flying helicopters is a divergent skill from fixed wing (airplane) flying, and there is very few pilots that possess both skill sets.


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