Airline Pilots, Copilots, & Flight Engineers Careers: Employment & Salary Trends for Aspiring Airline Pilots, Copilots, & Flight Engineers

Airline Pilots, Copilots, & Flight Engineers at a Glance

Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers pilot and navigate aircraft for the transport of passengers and cargo. Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers typically work with a team of flight attendants, crewmembers, and personnel on the ground during takeoffs, during the duration of the flight, and during landings. Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers use a wide variety of electronic equipment such as gauges, control panels, and flight management computers to guide the flight.  

In addition to “flying” the aircraft, airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers also manage crewmembers, perform minor maintenance, and conduct in-flight tests and evaluations. Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers are responsible for recording information in logbooks. Passenger interaction is also part of the job, especially on smaller aircraft. Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers make announcements and they might also greet passengers and bid them farewell.

Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers typically work long hours and they spend a significant amount of time away from home. Only 10.1% work part-time, and 2.4% are self-employed. 53% of all airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers belong to a union and the majority work in air transportation and in federal, state, or local government positions.

Employment Trends

Job Outlook: Average
Annual Openings: 4,073
Percent Growth: 13%
Total Jobs Held: 79,000
Projected Employment: 90,000 by 2016
The Best 500 Jobs Overall Ranking: 126

Source: “Best Jobs for the 21st Century,” JIST Publishing 2009. Farr, Michael and Shatkin, Laurence, Ph.D.; “Salary Facts Handbook,” JIST Publishing 2008. Editors @ JIST.

Aspiring airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers can expect average job growth in this career field as a result of a growing population and an increase in air travel. The demand for air travel is expected to grow as the nations economy begins to expand once again. To meet the demand, airlines will begin to add more planes back into rotation, creating a need for new pilots and pilots that may have been laid off. Aspiring airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers can expect a number of openings in business and corporate air taxi travel, and cargo carriers. Competition for positions with major airlines is expected to be remain the same -- stiff.

Salary Trends

Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers earn an average salary of $140,380 per year. Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers in the 75th-90th percentile can expect to earn around $145,600+ per year. 25th percentile airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers earn around $81,080, while entry-level airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers earn an impressive starting salary of around $50,470 per year.

Degrees and Training Programs

Although a bachelor’s degree is not required for entry into this field, most airlines prefer a bachelor’s degree or higher. In fact, many airlines are now requiring at least a bachelor’s degree to be considered for employment. A master’s degree is even better. Currently, 12.1% of all airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers have a master’s degree, 40.5% have a bachelor’s degree, and 15% have an associate degree.

Airlines prefer a degree in majors such as aviation, engineering, aerospace science, aeronautical science or global aeronautics. In addition, aspiring airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers must have a commercial pilot’s license with an instrument rating by the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA). Airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers cannot transport passengers or cargo without a license.

Coursework Required

Aspiring airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers can expect to take courses such as principles of transportation, airport design, and aviation safety, as well as aviation law and regulations, applied aerodynamics, flight training (several courses), aircraft systems, international airlines, meteorology. Students will take a variety of basics such as algebra, introduction to computers, physics, trigonometry, research writing, composition and rhetoric, macroeconomics, and self and society.

Did you know that airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers have more perks than most other professionals in the six-figure salary club? In addition to one of the highest average salaries in the world, health insurance, retirement benefits, disability payments, and expense allowances, airline pilots, copilots, & flight engineers’ families fly for free!

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