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.
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.
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.