- On average, commercial pilots make around $65,340 per year
- Having a military flying background can get you the job
- Most airlines require a college degree for pilot jobs
What do pilots do?
"Can you fly this plane and land it?"
"Surely you can't be serious?"
"I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."
We'll call this the Leslie Nielsen memorial job description after his famous "Airplane!" movie character. There was perhaps no greater pilot since the Wright brothers.
Pilots aren't surrounded with the mystique of the 1960s and 70s, but they are still well respected and highly trained professionals. Airline pilots usually work in pairs and are responsible for all crew and passengers from boarding to landing. Flying around the world often results in jet lag and a ton of time away from home, so it's not for everyone. The airline will provide for all your out-of-town accommodations though.
The Federal Aviation Administration does limit the number of flight hours to ensure the safety of passengers and airline employees. Pilots can fly a maximum of 100 hours a month and 1,000 hours a year.
How much do pilots make?
The average salary for all pilots is about $65,000 per year. Commercial pilots' income varies based on experience, seniority, rank and the type of aircraft they fly. Pilots with extensive experience can make higher wages up to $129,000.
There are two major paths to pilot jobs: military and civilian. The military has always been a popular career avenue for many commercial airline pilots. The military produces highly trained, technically proficient and disciplined pilots with a track record of success, so it's a much lower-risk hire for airlines.
The civilian path requires a college degree and certification through the FAA. To get certified you'll need to be at least 18 years old, have a minimum of 250 hours of flight experience, pass a physical exam, 20/20 vision (glasses or contacts are okay), and pass a written and technical exam. To work for a commercial airline you'll need to be at least 23 years old and log 1,500 hours of flight time in a variety of conditions (night, day, cross country).
Career paths for pilots
Because pilots are so highly trained, their opportunities for promotion are usually only into other higher ranking flying positions. Lots of pilots start out as flight instructors and start flying charter planes as they acquire experience and log hours of flight time. Some also start flying corporate jets for company fleets. In commercial airline jobs, promotions are typically in title and rank only. Certainly not a bad thing, as they usually come with more money and better compensation packages.
The future of pilots
The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) expects average growth in pilot positions over the 2008-2018 decade. While there is some uncertainly about the fate of major airlines, the popularity of discount commercial airlines will keep demand for pilots high. Opportunities will always exist for pilots with lots of experience working for regional or discount airlines.
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