If you’re thinking about working in the exciting world of aviation, there’s never been a better time to become an airline pilot. Because the industry has seen such a massive shift due to the on-going pandemic that fed an increasingly growing pilot shortage, airlines are in need of rookie aviators now more than ever.
If you’re willing to go the distance, you can make a pretty decent salary working for a regional or major airline in the upcoming year. With that said, let’s take a look at how much you can expect to make as a rookie pilot flying for the major or regional airlines in 2023.
Regional Airline Pilot Salaries Are Increasing
In 2023, it may be the best time to send your resumé around to regional airlines. Because major airlines are starting to turn to regional airlines for experienced pilots to fill their vacancies, regional airlines are thus trying to fill those positions. As such, they’re offering huge incentives to attract new pilots.
Some regional airlines have stood out in the news recently, particularly those affiliated with American Airlines. Their regional subsidiaries, Envoy and Piedmont, have boosted pay by 50 percent through the end of the summer 2024. Envoy co-pilots and captains will receive an additional six percent and ten percent respectively through July 2029.
SkyWest Airlines has also doubled pay for all pilots, since they have been struggling to retain and acquire new pilots. First officers will start their careers at SkyWest, making $90 per flight hour. Captains will make $140 per flight hour. This means that new first officers will have the potential to earn $90,000 per year with this new pay rate.
Sun Country, based out of Minneapolis, also increased first-year salaries by as much as 45 percent, passing other budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier. One of their competitors, GoJet Airlines raised signing bonuses to $20,000 for first officers.
Other lesser-known startups are even joining in on the talent bidding war. Connect Airlines, a regional company, is hiring rookie captains with the right number of flying hours at a rate of over $250,000. Avelo Airlines increased first-year first officer pay by 30 percent and added a $20,000 sign-on bonus, while Breeze Airways also saw wages grow by 30 percent.
Another hidden benefit of the pilot shortage has been that regional airlines are expediting the process of moving up the ladder. At Piedmont, for example, co-pilots can move into the captain seat in about a year and half while pilots can also make the jump to major airlines in about three years, where they can make several hundred thousand a year starting out. Mesa Airlines also announced that pilots participating in United’s Aviate career development program are now able to earn service credit, and count prior service, towards their United transition for flying across all of Mesa’s operations, including American Eagle.
Off-The-Charts Hiring At Major Airlines
Some big news out of the major airline industry includes the increase in hiring across almost every company. In fact, the eight largest U.S. airlines plan to hire nearly 8,000 pilots this year, up from the prior annual peak of 5,000. Additionally, the median salary for scheduled airline transportation pilots in 2023 is $ 203,010, but that number can vary wildly depending on your position and employer. First officers in the industry usually make anywhere from $75,000 a year up to $120,000 a year.
Regardless, as a rookie co-pilot at a major airline, you’ll be making a comfortable salary, particularly if you work with one of the higher paying employers. Delta, for example, offers a starting salary of $66,000 to 737-800 pilots and $189,000 on promotion to captain. Similarly, United recently agreed to increase aviators’ pay more than 14 percent while also offering new benefits like paid maternity leave.
Frontier Airlines aims to tackle the staff shortage issue with a new training program for aspiring pilots with absolutely no experience needed. Through their Flight Cadet Program, they’ll help push new students into a piloting career, while offering financial aid, stipends and full-time jobs after graduation. A first-year first officer’s salary is around $100,000.
Almost all other major airlines have also updated their pay scales to the benefit of employees. Budget airline Spirit has decided to increase year-one first officer pay from $59,000 to $92,000, as they complete their merger with JetBlue. Alaska Airlines increased their payment rates by eight percent for those with zero to one year of service. Southwest Airlines is also expecting to see a sharp rise in labor costs before it adds its new 90-plane lineup of Boeings in 2023.
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