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Cost Of Flight Training vs. Salary Earnings: Is It Worth It?

Becoming a pilot is a rewarding career, but it also requires a significant investment in flight training. Aspiring pilots may wonder what kind of return on investment they can expect from their training expenses and whether the costs are worth it in the long run. 

To help you make an informed decision about your career path, let’s examine the salary expectations for various types of pilot jobs, and explore the costs and benefits of flight training to compare the two. This should give you a better understanding of the financial aspects of flight training and be better equipped to decide whether a career as a pilot is right for you.

What Is The Average Pilot’s Salary Earnings?

The range of salaries available in the aviation industry depends on the career path that the pilot chooses to pursue. All job opportunities require some form of specific certification before the pilot becomes eligible. 

For instance, a commercial pilot license (CPL) may enable you to work in various fields such as agriculture, criminal justice or healthcare. However, it does not qualify the pilot for a job at a major airline, which requires an airline transport pilot (ATP) license. Similarly, you need to obtain a certified flight instructor (CFI) rating before you can teach others to fly for a fee. And a simple private pilot license (PPL) doesn’t allow you to make money flying, in the majority of cases. 

Knowing which certification you want to obtain will help you narrow down a choice as to which job and the related salary you think will fit your lifestyle. Learn more about the different types of pilot licenses and ratings in the U.S. 

Aspiring pilots can consider the following salaries for some common aviation jobs. Once you have a good idea of the job they want, we’ll compare costs to flight school so you can start narrowing down your budget.

Cargo Pilot

As a cargo pilot, you’ll be responsible for hauling loads of stuff from point A to B. You may be working for a courier like the U.S. Postal Service or FedEx, a private import-export company or retail manufacturers. You will be expected to operate a wide range of aircraft, from small, single-engine planes to large, multi-engine jets. Your job plays a crucial role in the transportation industry by ensuring that goods reach their destination safely and on time.

A cargo pilot’s duties may include performing pre-flight checks and inspections, communicating with air traffic control, loading and unloading cargo, and flying the aircraft. You must also follow strict safety procedures and regulations to ensure that the flight is conducted safely. Key skills include navigating through various weather conditions and handling unexpected situations that may arise during the flight.

In terms of salary and benefits, cargo pilots can earn a competitive income, especially as they gain more experience and fly larger aircraft. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for airline and commercial pilots, including cargo pilots, was $130,440 as of May 2020. Benefits can vary depending on the airline, but cargo pilots may receive health insurance, retirement benefits, and other perks like travel benefits for themselves and their families.

Airline Pilot (Major & Regional)

A job with the airlines is often the pinnacle of many who enter the industry hoping to become a professional pilot from the start. In this role, you’ll be responsible for operating commercial aircraft and ensuring the safety of passengers and crew members during flights. This is one of the most prestigious positions and requires a high amount of training and rigorous certification processes to obtain the necessary skills and knowledge to fly commercial aircraft safely.

Airline pilots must be able to handle long hours and varying schedules, including overnight and weekend shifts. They must also be able to work well under pressure and handle unexpected situations that may arise during the flight. You may find yourself flying wide-body jumbo jets carrying hundreds of passengers on international routes, or in charge of narrow-body jets flying regional routes with a few dozen passengers at a time. Duties may include performing inspections, communicating with air traffic control, operating through inclement weather and handling emergency situations.

In terms of salary and benefits, airline pilots can earn a competitive income, especially as they gain more experience and fly larger aircraft. And it’s only going to get higher as the industry fights a shortage of qualified employees. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was over $202,000 in 2021. Benefits can vary depending on the airline, but you’ll likely receive top-of-the-line health insurance, generous retirement packages, as well as other perks like free travel for yourself, family and friends. 

Corporate Pilot

Corporate pilots are responsible for flying private aircraft for companies, professionals and VIPs. As a corporate pilot, you may be responsible for flying executives, employees or clients to various locations across the country or around the world. This job offers a unique combination of adventure, travel and stability, as well as a high level of responsibility.

As a corporate pilot, you’ll be expected to be a skilled, safe aviator who possesses excellent communication and decision-making abilities. You’ll be tasked with managing complex flight plans, navigating changing weather conditions, and ensuring the safe travel of passengers and crew. In addition to piloting the aircraft, corporate pilots may also be responsible for planning flight routes, filing flight plans and managing the upkeep of aircraft.

The average salary for a Corporate Pilot is $142,640 per year, based on data from Glassdoor. In addition to a base salary, corporate pilots may also receive benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and travel perks. Some companies also offer bonuses or profit-sharing plans to incentivize their pilots. Overall, the salary and benefits package for corporate pilots can be quite competitive, making this an attractive career option for those interested in aviation.

Certified Flight Instructor

Certified flight instructors (CFIs) are some of the most important employees in the entire industry, tasked with educating a new generation of civilian and commercial pilots. This job offers a unique combination of technical expertise, teaching skills and a passion for flying.

CFIs are expected to know everything about aviation regulations, principles of flight, and aircraft systems. You’ll teach a wide range of topics, from aerodynamics to navigation to instrument and emergency procedures. In addition to teaching, you may also be responsible for maintaining training records, scheduling flights and managing student relationships.

Salaries for CFIs can vary depending on the type of organization they work for and their level of experience. According to Indeed, the average salary for CFIs in the U.S. is almost $64,000 a year, although in some areas, it’s been reported to be over $100,000 a year. In addition to regular benefits, some organizations also offer bonuses or incentives for CFIs who teach a high number of students or maintain a certain level of student success. Overall, the salary and benefits package for CFIs can be quite competitive, making this an attractive career option for those interested in aviation and teaching.

See more aviation career salaries that you can consider when signing up for flight school.

Cost Of Flight Training

In order to get paid to fly, you’ll need to obtain something called a commercial pilot certificate, sometimes also called a license. The CPL allows you to fly cargo or passengers for money. However, the commercial pilot certification process is just that – a process. You’ll first need to complete the necessary training for your private pilot license (PPL) and your instrument rating (IR). These two will also provide you with a base from which to obtain the required 250-hour minimum of flight time that goes along with the ground school and other practical lesson plans of a CPL. So, let’s break down some of the costs and activities that go into a completed commercial certificate.

Cost Of PPL, IR & Time Building

The national average cost of a PPL is between $12,000 and $18,000. A PPL allows you to fly under visual flight conditions (non-inclement, high-visibility weather) and gets you used to the basic operation of single-engine aircraft, emergency procedures, navigation and the principles of flight. To complete the required training, it can take anywhere from a few weeks under an accelerated program up to several months under more regulated courses via Part 141. Regardless, you’ll be required to complete the FAA minimum of 40 training hours.

After you’ve completed the checkride for your PPL, you can start on your instrument rating. The IR will cost you somewhere in the range of $8,000 to $12,000, depending on location. This set of courses will teach you how to fly by way of the cockpit avionics only. Once you’ve obtained this rating, you’ll be capable of flying in low-visibility conditions. It usually takes less time to obtain the IR than it does the PPL, coming in at about six to 12 weeks of training time.

Following this, you’ll need to start building up your flying time if you haven’t already. This may be another cost, but it’s one of the most exciting times to be a commercial pilot in training. Here, you’ll complete the remaining time requirements to reach the approximately 250 hours it takes to be eligible for a single-engine commercial pilot certificate. The cost of this will depend on plane rental rates, gas prices, the style of plane and the type of flying – but expect this to level out at $10,000 to $15,000. 

Some flight schools will charge less, others more, but you can expect to pay somewhere near $30,000 on the low side and $45,000 before starting the training for a commercial pilot certificate.

How Much Is A Commercial Pilot License? 

You’ve already obtained the essential certifications and ratings and completed the time requirements. Now, you can sign up for a commercial pilot license training program. The average cost of a CPL in the U.S. averages a total of $40,000 to $50,000, total. However, if you’ve completed the above prerequisites, you’re looking at a total cost of $10,000 to $20,000 for the training portion, depending on the school, aircraft and a host of other factors.

How Much Is A CFI License?

With your commercial license in hand, you’re now ready to move up to a certified flight instructor program. This will give you the chance to learn how to teach others the art of flying, the same as you learned from another CFI. There are several different options within this and many other commercial categories, including instrument and multi-engine options. But, in general, you can expect costs to become a CFI to range from $5,000 to $10,000. And at this point, you’ve likely been training for anywhere from six months to a couple years.

How Much Is An ATP License?

The most advanced license in the industry is the airline transport pilot certificate. With an ATP, you’re qualified to fly for regional and major airlines, safely chartering passengers around the globe. But, before you can apply for an ATP license, you’ll first need to complete the above steps (and possibly others, like a bachelor’s degree or multi-engine rating, for example), and then build up at least 1,500 hours of various types of flying. This can cost tens of thousands of dollars if you’re paying out of pocket. Many people tend to utilize their CPL or CFI rating to find jobs that allow them to make money while also building up time.

Under a traditional program, this process usually takes a couple years to make it to a co-pilot. Becoming a captain will take even longer, so it’s best to start early if this is something you want to do. In general, the price to obtain your ATP certification can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000, which strictly pays for the training, knowledge exam and practical test.

Complete The Licensing Process For Less At Inflight Pilot Training

Over the years, Inflight Pilot Training has become the Twin Cities premier flight school, offering high-quality pilot training that’s more efficient and more affordable. In as little as 32 weeks, you can become a commercial pilot and flight instructor for under $50,000. Following this, you can move on to bigger and better things, including multi-engine ratings, instrument-instructor ratings and even ATP certification. 

Ultimately, we’ll help you land the job of your dreams that will allow you to make a hefty salary, with great benefits in a prestigious role – you can finance the entire training process as fast as you’d like, while doing something that you truly enjoy.


If you’re interested in learning more about Inflight training programs, contact us today or call (952) 698-3000.