Pilot Salary - How much do airline pilots earn?

Pilot Salary – How Much Do Airline Pilots Earn?

How much does an airline pilot earn? Is it worth it to take an expensive pilot loan in order to become an airline pilot? These are some of the most asked questions I receive. In this article I will answer these questions and tell you everything about the real pilot salary of an airline pilot.

I would like to start by mentioning that the salary you earn or will be earning is important, but not THAT important. It goes without saying that the airline pilot salary has no relation with happiness or personal wellbeing/health.

As an airline pilot you could be earning no money at all, a little bit of money or a lot of money. There is simply no standard regarding salary since it is affected by numerous factors and conditions. Think about the location, operation, supply and demand of pilots, function, seniority, age, experience etcetera. As an airline pilot you have to ask yourself what kind of person you are and which industry fits best with your dream life and expectations. It makes no sense to earn a lot of money while at the same time you are unhappy with the current state of affairs.

Pay To Fly

Could you be earning nothing at all as an airline pilot? For sure that can be the case. Imagine a fully qualified pilot graduate with a pilot loan of €150.000,-. The market is fully saturated so there are no airline jobs. Only one airline starts to hire and literally thousands of pilots apply for that specific position. In the meantime pilots have to pay back their loans and the situation slowly deteriorates. This means that at some point, pilots will do anything to obtain a position as an airline pilot which results in some airlines taking advantage of the situation. This happened not too long ago, some airlines decided to hire people who would go that far to even pay for their own line training without receiving any salary. Think between €40.000,-  and €50.000,-.

In times of the economic crisis, there were even some companies who let their pilots pay for their line training. So the pilot was actually paying to work. This is called Pay To Fly and luckily, as far as I know, it’s a thing of the past.


In general, airline pilot salaries of First Officers in Europe lie between €1800,- and €6000,- net, per month. For captains this lies between €6000,- net and €12000 net (and up). I know this sounds like a lot but you can’t compare airlines by net salaries. It is also important to look at the contract, the expenses, the secondary benefits, pension, roster etcetera. Also, don’t forget about the enormous costs to become a pilot in the first place.


In my previous company I had a self-employment contract. I had to pay taxes myself and had no basic salary. In the meantime, during my line training, I earned an extremely low salary while at the same time I was sent out of base, paying for hotels every day as well as all my transfers and food.

A quick calculation: out of base to Palma de Mallorca during the holiday season and having to book a hotel for 5 days costs at least €600,-. I guess you understand that at the end of the month my salary was spent entirely on expenses. This was the situation during my line training, after the line training you are considered more experienced and as such my salary increased.


Of course the kind of contract also has a big influence on the pilot salary. A contract with a fixed salary every month is great when you fly just a bit but not when you make 95 hours every month. A contract which has a basic fixed salary and significant net additions when you pass the monthly minimum hours can get you a way higher salary at the end of the month compared to any fixed contract. The latter means you will make less money during low season (winter) in most cases.


The current economical situation also affects the pilot salary. In times of high demand and low supply, pilots can sometimes negotiate with companies in order to obtain better contracts with better conditions. Airlines are known to increase the salaries and benefits as well during periods of high demand.

Seniority List:

All major airlines have seniority lists, which means you start at the bottom with a specific level when you enter and according that level your salary is calculated. The first couple of years pilots don’t earn that much but after a while this salary level increases way beyond any other salary in another company without a seniority list. The time you spend with the company matters.

Age and Experience:

Your age as well as your experience also affect the salary. This is the same as in any other industry, the more experience you have the more valuable you become.


The location matters as well, countries that are known to have higher living costs also come with higher salaries. Take Switzerland for example, the cost of living are (much) higher than in any of the surrounding countries. Thus, so are the salaries. You can’t really compare a pilot salary in South America with a pilot salary in Europe for example and you should take this into consideration.

The Middle East and China

The big bucks can be made when working for companies in the Middle East and China. Earning on average $10K net a month as a First Officer or $20K net a month as a commuting Captain. Many European pilots want get rid of their pilot loan as soon as possible. Hence, quite a bunch of them made the decision to spend a couple of years in the China or the Middle East. In Europe, paying back a pilot loan is not that easy as the average starting salaries are lower and the taxes are higher.

Business Aviation

Flying business jets is a whole other story. Salaries can be incredibly high when working for a company or an owner but they can also be extremely low. Business jet pilots are often away from home for extended periods of time and most of them receive per diems while on duty. These per diems are tax free. Besides, a business jet pilot can receive tips on a regular basis (depending on the kind of operation) and even though this is not calculated in the net salary, it does increase your income, sometimes substantially.

In the business aviation the biggest factor to influence the pilot salary is the size of the aircraft. A pilot flying a Bombardier Global 7500 easily makes 4 times as much as a pilot flying a Cessna Citation… Crazy.

So is it worth to take an expensive pilot loan in order to become an airline pilot? Yes, it’s the best job in the world!

I hope you now have a general idea of the Airline Pilot salary. Remember, whether you have a high or low salary, you can’t buy happiness 😉 In case you have any questions about this subject, be sure to leave a comment below! Interested to learn more about the profession? Check out how you can pay the pilot training or view some of the other articles about aviation here. Not so much into reading? I create videos as well which can be found on my YouTube channel.

41 thoughts on “Pilot Salary – How Much Do Airline Pilots Earn?

  1. Hi Michelle,

    I want to start by saying how much I appreciate your content, it has all been very beneficial to me as someone wanting to get into the field.

    I am currently aiming to get an EASA licence but a little apprehensive about the chances of getting a job in the EU due to the fact that I do not hold a citizenship from a country in the EU.
    Any insight about the chances of getting a job at an airline in Europe as a foreigner would be much appreciated.
    Thank you.

  2. Will jet airplanes be autonomous someday? Will there still be a need for human pilots? Penn State University informs me that all military fighter aircraft will be autonomous in the future.

  3. Hello!! I’m from the USA. I’m so happy that I’m talking with you. You are my best inspiration. I have a question is that “which college did you attend for flight aviation?”

  4. Hello Michelle!! I have now the asessment for Volotea cadet program at CAE. is it worth it? It cost a lot of money but i end up with a job that will give me experience, A nice way to repay a little of my loan, and training in the best aviation school. Will you consider that? Or i go to any other ATPL training? Thank you!!

  5. Hiya Michelle,

    I am a 14 yr old boy who aspires to be a commercial pilot. Not just a pilot but one of the greats in the industry. I do not know what to do though. I am in England and i do not know which schools to go for. I think the best option for me would be modular OR if i can access funding ( need help where from ) i will go for the integrated option. My initial plan is to become a BA apprentice in aircraft engineering so i can fund my PPL and after the apprenticeship finishes,become a flight instructor for 3 years to fund other modules and alongside, a weekend job. How does that sound to you? My goal is to achieve full ATPL by age 22 and immediately join BA. I intend to stay there for 2 years then join emirates and stay there for 5 years then rejoin with BA as a captain. How does my plan sound and where do i need to improve and please could you answer my questions above.

    Thank you so much

  6. Hi, I want to know one thing
    I heard that if a pilot leaves a company/airline, than he/she will have to start again from the beginning. He/She will have to drop to F.O. if he/she is a Captain and his/her salary will drop to low. Is this true?

    1. Hi there, this can be the case if the airline utilizes a seniority system. There are also loads of possibilities to join a company as a direct entry captain though. Meaning you can join a new airline as a captain if you were a captain at your previous airline. Hope this helps!

      1. Beste Michelle,

        I’m living currently in Belgium and I would like to know that if the pilot speaks Arabic language fluently helps him to work with Middle East Airplane Companies? , and if you Could suggest which part of physics and Maths are very important during studying for this job ‘pilot’ ?

        Best Regards

  7. Hey Michelle, great article.

    I just wanted to raise the China and Middle East point.

    When you get the experience to apply for these carriers, you usually have already repaid your loans, and if not it’s a matter of months. Middle East was a golden (sandy) paradise 10 years ago but conditions are deteriorating. China, on the other end, if you can stand the culture and pressure, now pays around 27k$ a month netto for a captain, and in that case, your loans are repaid in few months, after couple of years we are talking about retirement… which some lucky dude achieve at around 40-45 years old (given you started as FO around 28-30, with 6 years in China, and subject to how greedy [or how many ex wife] you get 😅)

    1. Hi Pierre, is it still true now? Could you share the airlines that pay(ed at least before Covid) that salary? Thank you!

  8. I have Very important question for me Which country and airlines pays the most for pilots China or Middle East :- like dubai Or Qatar so pilot’s can save the most amount of money

  9. Hi Michelle your articles are super helpful thankyou so much for being there for so many people lots of love

    1. Dear Fredy,

      There are a lot of good flight schools in Europe. It’s important to decide which sort of flight school suits your needs first. Do you want to go to a local school? Modular or integrated? What is your budget etc.

  10. Dear Michelle and readers,

    I post this reaction because I just stranded on your site via Capt. Joe and watched the video “I´m a pilot and incredible rich” and read this article. First off all my respect for publishing these kind of articles and video´s.

    I myself, just as you, started my flight training in 2011 and went trough a similar path as you did. The difference is I got hired by my flight school as a Flight Instructor after I finished my training. Although I was very lucky I landed a flying job straight away the money (about minimum legal wage) and my dream (fly a commercial air plane) would not come trough for another 3 years. During my time as a Flight Instructor I´ve come across a lot of (young) individuals who were poorly informed about the reality and financial obligations where they got themselves into. I´ve seen people abandon the training, finish but never landed an airline job, go bankrupt or more than once a combination. It hurts to have witnessed these personal tragedies because a lack of information, information most flight schools will not give you because they operate a commercial business.

    Ok, a given, the job market today is better than a few years ago, the hiring of ab initio´s is up at this moment, but this can change in a heartbeat. Think about recent bankruptcies, a.o. Monarch, Air Berlin and yesterday Thomas Cook, its a very volatile market and even after you maybe landed an airline job there are no guarantees…

    That said, to be honest, I would do it all again because I absolutely love my job (and the lifestyle). But it is not for everybody, set apart if you have the right skill set or not. That´s why I support and want to stimulate you to keep continuing publishing information on what it´s really like to be a pilot. And maybe more the hurdles (reality!) you have to take getting there, as you got the platform to do this.

    Respect and regards,

    (I posted this reaction under an alias because I don´t want to bash or promote any company)

    1. Hi, from what I can see in Europe the aviation industry is quite a lot more challenging career-wise than other parts of the world. The salary certainly doesnt have as many zeroes on the end when compared to, say US or China and, because there are a lot of airlines here, its the airlines who dictate what you will earn. Supply is higher than demand, so they can pick and choose. However, dont let that put you off, there is no better office than one at 30,000ft+, people call you sir! (or Ma’am, sorry Michelle) and you get to see some far-flung parts of the world whilst being paid to get there 🙂 Im 50 yrs old now and regret nearly every day I didnt join the RAF on pilot training when I left high school, I went into an engineering background instead – the money was more readily available (though I work in Instrumentation so the Math and Physics still apply for me on a daily basis). Thanks for this article Michelle, its great that you bring this reality check to people thinking being a pilot is an easy road to riches, the reality is its far from that and its a long road, but still a great job with a lot ( i mean a LOT) of responsibilities. Clear skies Ma’am

  11. Success leaves clues,
    To become pilot is something you’ll love to do
    & you have to maintain that positive altitude with love & passion to maintain your dream
    Love which day as its the first day,you remamber when you say that airplane first time thats how you become professional pilot
    Many happy landings with success & fullfilment & prosperity

  12. Hi Michelle, First i wanted to appriciate for all the hardwork you are doing to provide us knowledge for our dream job.Second i have a great problem i am already in a contract where i have to work for five years and i entered this job to earn my fees money that time i had no idea about applying for sponsorships so i am kinda stuck. so my question is can you provide me any source which will help me to gain knowledge about pilot studies and also teach me the type of maths and physics which is needed to become a pilot.I just wanted to make sure that when i apply for aeronautical college i am just ready for it not only ready but extra sharp for the position i will be applying for and even making sure that i spend my time in preparing for my future job while staying at this job.

    Much Respect,

  13. Hey, Michelle! Actually, I’m in HS currently and wondering if I should go to an Aviation college or a Flight School. Do you have any suggestions if so, It would be greatly appreciated if you share that with me or make a video on that on your YouTube channel if possible:-0

    1. Hi Moshina, does the aviation college enable you to become a pilot as well? Or do they only teach you about other aviation related subjects? And what about the price difference?

  14. Hello from St. Louis Michelle!!! Thank you for making this article because I am in the beginning stage of becoming a pilot. I’ve found you through Captain Joe and started watching your videos and are very informative and inspiring!!!

    1. Hey, Stephan! Actually, I’m in HS currently and wondering if I should go to an Aviation college or a Flight School. Do you have any suggestions if so, It would be greatly appreciated if you share that with me :-0

  15. As always, you have a healthy take on the big picture. The money is there and will only get better. Your a jet setter and that’s a great position to be in at such a young age. Dig them raw landings and the many cool locations you rest that pretty head of yours. Amsterdam, Italy, and all the exotic locations in between.

  16. Hallo Michelle! Wat een stuk weer! Chapeau! Ik zou het erg waarderen als je airlines_spotting kunt volgen op instagram. We werken met een hele team over heel de wereld om de beste aviation foto’s te maken. Alvast bedankt

    1. Hello,michelle
      I wanted to know what is the total cost to become a airline pilot and which school is best for me. Any suggestions for me. I lived in India now a days and I confused were I should go for pilot training. I read all comments and you replied. And how can I become in Netherlands. And what is the fully process. School to became a airline pilot or captain. Can you please suggest me.

Leave a comment, I appreciate it and will reply as soon as possible:)