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How much can I REASONABLY expect to earn

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Joseph II

Well-known member
Mar 11, 2002
Ok, I'm currently a CFI with no job. No problem I'm willing to wait it out and accept the times for what they are.

Since I'm just at the very beginning of my flying career path, should I plan on earning 15k/year for the next 20 years, then finally get a job paying 100k, or is it more like 15k/first few years (instructing/regional/freight), 40k-3rd year, 70k-7th year? Is making 100k absurd? What about 200k, 250k?

In other words, I understand that it's hard to earn a living while being at the bottom of the pilot food chain, but once you get a few thousand hours, does your pay go up or not?

I'm trying to be as realistic as possible and it's one subject I really haven't considered because I've always prepared myself for the painful beginning, I just am not sure how long it will last.

BTW, I'm interested in both the airline and corporate route.

Thanks for your input!
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Depends on how fast you move up. To start with you could look for another CFI job. There are companies that pay twice what you’re estimating. Freelancing also pays pretty decently. If you become a regional airline pilot first year pay will be low. However, at better regional your second year won’t be so bad. A second year RJ FO can often make $30k+ at better regional airline. Freight companies vary, some like Airnet pay pretty well, while others pay barley anything.

100k isn’t absurd. Even at the smaller majors you can make that easily. Senior RJ captains can make that much also.

You can make relatively decent pay at a larger flight school. I was paid $15/hour at Mesa nine years ago. I thought that was very fair pay back then. I have no idea how much MAPD now pays, but it has to be more. Of course, it was feast or famine. Feast at the beginning because I was working far more than I wanted to at the beginning of the term. Famine at the end because I had several days with no work, yet I understood that I had to stay around home in case someone called.

Your first job at the commuters will probably pay horribly. Something like $12K-$15K. But, that's for the first year. I always understood that second-year FO pay worked out to something like 80 per cent of captain's pay. Sometimes, you can get some extra money by pocketing the per diem. Also, duty rigs, time away from base and differentials pay some extra money. Junior manning pays more money, but you may not want to do it.

Pay as a commuter captain isn't bad after a couple of years. I remember that even eleven years ago BAe 146 captains at WestAir/United Express were making $45K a year. That's decent pay, even by today's standards. I'd bet the same job today pays $60K+, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Hope that helps. As we all know, aviation is a severe test of your ability to endure. Bottom line, though, I'm sure, is 99.9 per cent of the people who become professional pilots do it not because of pay (or lack thereof), but because they love airplanes and love to fly.

The first four years paid in the low range suggested in the first post. I wandered about in my career in those days, unfocused, so it was partly my fault. The first four years I did free lance instructing in several different places, spotted swordfish off the coast of California, did Grand Canyon tours, and left flying to become an air traffic controller. Between jobs I lived at home....thanks dad.

The fifth year I got a 135 freight job in a light twin...this was my big break....pay was $1500 a month in 1987.

The sixth year I got a 121 turboprop freight job. The pay was equal to or better than the commuters of the day. I forget, but I bet I made 24K the first year and 40K the second, after the upgrade.

Got on at UPS during the 8th year of my professional flying career....the rest is history. I make more in one month now than I did in my first year post college.

Making 40K in your third year,70 K in your seventh, and eventually 100K sounds like pay at the better regionals. To achieve this would have been easy in the good times....harder now, of course. I think things will swing back the other way in a couple of year, though.

200K?, reserved for some airline captain's at some of the largest majors.....takes a while. I could be making that if I was willing to work more as a 12th year captain at my company. I'll guess that a 12th year captain at Delta, United, American, Northwest, Alaska (a few), Fedex, and UPS can make that. US Air used to be on the list but now a 12th year guy is lucky to have a job there. Southwest, if they do well on their next contract, might make 200K working their butts off.
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Here is how it worked for me:

3 years of instructing in college for a flight school and freelance -1200/mo

1st year at reg as j32 FO- 27500
2nd 1/2 CA 1/2 FO- 40000
3rd 2/3 J32 CA and 1/3 J41 CA - 48000
4th DO328J CA/ check airman- 91000
5th DO328J only for 3 months 8000/mo

Some will say this sounds high for regionals but some folks who worked the system made well over six figures in 4th year because of a contract full of soft money.

1st few months at SWA around 3500/month.

12 yr Captains at SWA make $200,000 now working their butts off with premium pay etc. That will change for the better soon.

Get your time flight instructiing or how ever you can and you will be able to support yourself as long as you don't live too far beyond your means. I know, it's hard not to as a cfi.

Good Luck!
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Without actually going and pulling out my old W2 forms:

Part time CFI during senior year college: $10k

Full time CFI/Charter after graduation: $15k if I had done it an entire year (Thankfully, didn't have to)

1st yr EMB120 FO: $17k

2nd yr EMB120 FO: $25k

3rd yr EMB120 Capt: $45k

4th yr CRJ Capt: $55k

5th yr CRJ Capt: $63k

6th yr CRJ Capt: $80k (Based on Training Dept. pay, I'd guess mid to high 60s to maybe right at 70k for line flying at my seniority)

There are a number of senior insturctors at ASA pulling down over 100k, but they work their a**es off for it.

Some of our very senior line Capts can approach 100k on the CRJ700 if they really try.
So in onther words, it's not as bad as I expected...

Like one of the previous posters said, you do it because you love it, not the money. That's the boat I'm in but it would be nice to feed my wife too.

Does anyone have any information about flying corporate jets?

Does the pay differ greatly if you are flying Citations compared to Leers, compared to Gulfstreams?

Thanks everyone!
Unless you do like me:

CFI 12k
Emb 120 fo 1st year - 16k
Emb 120 fo 2nd year - 24k
Emb 120 Cpt 3rd year - 45k
737-200 furlough - $0000
As far as corporate salary, check the NBAA Salary Survey. It lists the averages, high and low salary for each aircraft and position. The pay does differ depending on aircraft.

It has been referenced on other threads. Maybe someone else could chime in as to how to get a hold of it. I have a copy but a friend gave it to me.
CF34-3B1 said:

1st yr EMB120 FO: $17k

2nd yr EMB120 FO: $25k

3rd yr EMB120 Capt: $45k

4th yr CRJ Capt: $55k

5th yr CRJ Capt: $63k

6th yr CRJ Capt: $80k (Based on Training Dept. pay, I'd guess mid to high 60s to maybe right at 70k for line flying at my seniority)

CF -

You saying this is your sequence since hired? Meaning you made Capt your 3rd year and after 6 yrs you were a 3 yr capt making $80k (in the training dept)? Not that after 4 yrs as a CRJ Capt you made $55. Sorry, just wanting to be sure I understand.


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