Career pilot

Making a career of it

Both Private and Commercial licenses are required for all career paths listed in the table below. Additional license and/or ratings are required as indicated (x).

Career pathAirline
Aerial survey x 
Air cargo (non-airline) xx
Agricultural x 
Airline (passenger
and air cargo)
Banner towing x 
Charter  x
Corporate xx
Aircraft sales x 
Flight instructor x 
Glider towing   
Emergency medical xx
(federal, non-military)
Government (state) xx
Law enforcement x 
Parachute dropper   
Pilot examiner xx


Training cost

Anyone who seeks to become a career fixed-wing pilot can expect to spend between $60,000-$85,000. Those who seek to become a career rotary-wing pilot can expect to spend between $85,000-$120,000. The estimated expenses are based upon a person going from Private Pilot through Certified Flight Instructor Instruments.

Career pilot earnings

Like all career pathways, there are many levels of compensation based on a pilot’s experience, type of aircraft flown, and aviation industry segment. The following estimated annual earnings are provided for general information.
Career pathAnnual salary range
Agricultural pilot
$50,000 - $100,000
Airline pilot
$50,000 - $300,000
Air freight pilot$50,000 - $300,000
Certified flight instructor$40,000 -   $80,000
Charter pilot$40,000 - $150,000
Corporate pilot$40,000 - $200,000
Emergency medical pilot$60,000 - $100,000
Military pilot$60,000 - $100,000

Do you need a college degree to fly for an airline?

Years ago, airline pilot applicants were required to have a college degree. Today, the regional airlines hire pilots to become First Officers (co-pilots) without a college degree. None-the-less, it is highly recommended that pilots who seek any career which requires flying an aircraft secure some type of college degree.
The reason is simple. If at some point in time, a pilot cannot qualify for the FAA Part 67 Medical Certificate, they are no longer permitted to operate an aircraft for compensation. Having a fallback career is important if and when this would happen. The degree can be in any variety of categories. This will help the pilot continue to earn a living if they can no longer fly for a career.
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