People who fly on major airlines on a regular basis probably do not realize the amount of work that goes into getting a plane into the air. Flight crews have to clean, refuel, load, and provide maintenance for airplanes after every flight with an eye to tight airline schedules. Pilots are restricted by national and international guidelines as to how long they can fly, which means individual pilots need to be aware of these regulations. While the work is plentiful and often done at a frenetic pace, flyers from around the world probably do not realize that young pilots are often given basic levels of compensation for their work. A knowledge of average pay scales in the airline industry would probably be informative for professionals and users of the industry.
For first year pilots, typically holding first officer positions on major airlines, the pay scale varies from airline to airline. However, the range of salaries for first officers in their inaugural year range from $25,000 to $50,000 per year. The lower end of that scale is usually for pilots on smaller airlines or ones that employ a more liberal scheduling policy where they have a long roster of available pilots. Typically, benefits for these pilots start immediately with free flights, health, pensions, and other benefits supplementing lower annual salaries.
The news gets better for pilots as they progress throughout their career. As first officers head into captain positions on major airlines, their responsibilities and duties warrant a much higher salary. Major airlines pay their tenth year captains between $125,000 and $200,000, with captains spending more hours on the job than their first office counterparts. The benefits for captains remain largely the same as the beginning of their career, though many airlines offer matching funds for savings accounts and flight vouchers for extended family and friends.
Pilots and flight crew personnel that are interested in getting into the airline industry should strike now while the iron is hot. The current generation of captains and flight crew managers is retiring in large numbers, with airlines looking for first officers to make the transition smooth within the next decade. While the money seems small at the beginning of their careers, pilots need to recognize that they are investing in a long term financial plan with an airline job. Pilot and flight crew positions are becoming more plentiful, so financial concerns should take a back seat to getting experience in the industry.