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Salary, Wages, Pay: Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers




Earnings of aircraft pilots and flight engineers vary greatly depending whether they work as airline or commercial pilots. Earnings of airline pilots are among the highest in the Nation, and depend on factors such as the type, size, and maximum speed of the plane and the number of hours and miles flown. For example, pilots who fly jet aircraft usually earn higher salaries than do pilots who fly turboprops. Airline pilots and flight engineers may earn extra pay for night and international flights. In 2002, median annual earnings of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers were $109,580. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,800. More than 25 percent earned over $145,000.

Median annual earnings of commercial pilots were $47,970 in 2002. The middle 50 percent earned between $33,830 and $70,140. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $26,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $101,460.

Airline pilots usually are eligible for life and health insurance plans financed by the airlines. They also receive retirement benefits and, if they fail the FAA physical examination at some point in their careers, they get disability payments. In addition, pilots receive an expense allowance, or “per diem,” for every hour they are away from home. Some airlines also provide allowances to pilots for purchasing and cleaning their uniforms. As an additional benefit, pilots and their immediate families usually are entitled to free or reduced-fare transportation on their own and other airlines.

More than half of all aircraft pilots are members of unions. Most of the pilots who fly for the major airlines are members of the Airline Pilots Association, International, but those employed by one major airline are members of the Allied Pilots Association. Some flight engineers are members of the Flight Engineers’ International Association.