Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers
Sign In
OverviewSalaryAboutEducationWhere are the jobsEmploymentGenderRace/Origin
Pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing aircraft, usually on scheduled air carrier routes, for the transport of passengers and cargo. Requires Federal Air Transport certificate and rating for specific aircraft type used. Includes regional, national, and international airline pilots and flight instructors of airline pilots.
Undergraduate program resulting in the highest median salary ($110K): Mathematics
Largest undergraduate program (27.1% of workers): Transportation Sciences and Technologies
Explore Pathways
Titles for this career often contain these words
Fewer details
Responsibilities and activities

Pilots typically do the following:

  • Check the overall condition of the aircraft before and after every flight
  • Ensure that the aircraft is balanced and below its weight limit
  • Verify that the fuel supply is adequate and that weather conditions are acceptable
  • Prepare and submit flight plans to air traffic control
  • Communicate with air traffic control over the aircraft’s radio system
  • Operate and control aircraft along planned routes and during takeoffs and landings
  • Monitor engines, fuel consumption, and other aircraft systems during flight
  • Respond to changing conditions, such as weather events and emergencies (for example, a mechanical malfunction)
  • Navigate the aircraft by using cockpit instruments and visual references

Pilots plan their flights by checking that the aircraft is operable and safe, that the cargo has been loaded correctly, and that weather conditions are acceptable. They file flight plans with air traffic control and may modify the plans in flight because of changing weather conditions or other factors.

Takeoff and landing can be the most demanding parts of a flight. They require close coordination among the pilot; copilot; flight engineer, if present; air traffic controllers; and ground personnel. Once in the air, the captain may have the first officer, if present, fly the aircraft, but the captain remains responsible for the aircraft. After landing, pilots fill out records that document their flight and the status of the aircraft.

Some pilots are also instructors using simulators and dual-controlled aircraft to teach students how to fly.

The following are examples of types of pilots:

Airline pilots work primarily for airlines that transport passengers and cargo on a fixed schedule. The captain or pilot in command, usually the most experienced pilot, supervises all other crew members and has primary responsibility for the flight. The copilot, often called the first officer or second in command, shares flight duties with the captain. Some older planes require a third pilot known as a flight engineer, who monitors instruments and operates controls. Technology has automated many of these tasks, and new aircraft do not require flight engineers.

Commercial pilots are involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, and aerial tours. Commercial pilots may have additional nonflight duties. Some commercial pilots schedule flights, arrange for maintenance of the aircraft, and load luggage themselves. Pilots who transport company executives, also known as corporate pilots, greet their passengers before embarking on the flight.

Agricultural pilots typically handle agricultural chemicals, such as pesticides, and may be involved in other agricultural practices in addition to flying. Pilots, such as helicopter pilots, who fly at low levels must constantly look for trees, bridges, power lines, transmission towers, and other obstacles.

With proper training, airline pilots also may be deputized as federal law enforcement officers and be issued firearms to protect the cockpit.

Median salary: $160,970 annually
Half of those employed in this career earn between $106,530 and #.
Note: The salaries for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers have been top-coded by the BLS; in 2019, all annual salaries larger than # are recorded as #.
Context: Median Salary
How do salaries for this career compare to other jobs' salaries?
Fewer details
Salary growth for aircraft pilots and flight engineers
Is this job likely to reward you for sticking with it through pay raises and promotions? The higher a job’s “experience quotient,” the more you are likely to get as you stay there.
Experience quotient percentile
Take a minute to look at how much you might expect your salary to increase with each five years' experience, as well as how the numbers working at each age change. Does this seem to be a job for the young or the old, or could it be a career offering steady salary growth for many years?
Salary distribution
Number employed
About Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers
How do benefits for this career compare to other jobs? The availability of health care, especially employer provided health care, and pension plans can add significantly to the value of compensation you receive in a career. These charts compare how this career compares to other careers with regard to health care and pension plans.
Employee has health insurance
Employer is providing health insurance
Employer-provided pension plan is available
Worker concerns
Some jobs are more stressful than others, and some are just plain dangerous. The following list gives the percentages of airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers who report hazardous or difficult situations typically occurring at least once a week.
  • Responsible for Others' Health (100%)
  • Time Pressure (90%)
  • Hazardous Equipment (87%)
  • Radiation Exposure (75%)
  • Consequence of Error (72%)
  • Exposed to Contaminants (63%)
  • High Places (58%)
  • Hazardous Conditions (57%)
  • High Conflict Frequency (48%)
Fewer details
Personality and skills
Can you see yourself in the ranks of Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers? Here are the skills and traits that could lead to success.
Communication skills
Pilots must speak clearly when conveying information to air traffic controllers and other crew members. They must also listen carefully for instructions.
Observational skills
Pilots regularly watch over screens, gauges, and dials to make sure that all systems are in working order. They also need to maintain situational awareness by looking for other aircraft or obstacles. Pilots must be able to see clearly, be able to judge the distance between objects, and possess good color vision.
Problem-solving skills
Pilots must be able to identify complex problems and figure out appropriate solutions. When a plane encounters turbulence, for example, pilots assess the weather conditions and request a change in route or altitude from air traffic control.
Quick reaction time
Pilots must respond quickly, and with good judgment, to any impending danger.
Injury and Illness
About 44 airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers become injured or ill for every 10,000 workers, making this job more dangerous than 66% of other careers. The most common specific concerns detailed following.
Sprains, strains, tears
Education pathways to this career
Education attained by airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers typically hold a bachelor's degree.
Sometimes the typical education identified by the BLS differs a bit from the reality of the how much education current workers actually have. The donut shows the education level held by people currently working as aircraft pilots and flight engineers as reported in responses to the American Community Survey.
Details: Education and training recommended for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree in any subject, along with a commercial pilot’s license and an ATP certificate from the FAA. Airline pilots typically start their careers flying as commercial pilots. Commercial pilots usually accrue thousands of hours of flight experience in order to get a job with regional or major airlines.

Commercial pilots must have a commercial pilot’s license and usually need a high school diploma or equivalent. The most common path to becoming a commercial pilot is to complete flight training with independent FAA-certified flight instructors or at schools that offer flight training. Some flight schools are part of 2- and 4-year colleges and universities.

The FAA certifies hundreds of civilian flight schools, which range from small fixed base operators (FBO) to state universities. Some colleges and universities offer pilot training as part of a 2- or 4-year aviation degree.

Details: Licensing and certification recommended for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers

Those who are seeking a career as a professional pilot typically get their licenses and ratings in the following order:

  • Student pilot certificate
  • Private pilot license
  • Instrument rating
  • Commercial pilot license
  • Multi-engine rating
  • Airline transport pilot certificate

Each certificate and rating requires that pilots pass a written exam on the ground and a practical flying exam, usually called a check ride, in an appropriate aircraft. In addition to earning these licenses, many pilots get a certified flight instructor (CFI) rating after they get their commercial certificate. The CFI rating helps them build flight time and experience quickly and at less personal expense. Current licensing regulations can be found in FARs.

Commercial pilot license. To qualify for a commercial pilot license, applicants must be at least 18 years old and meet certain flight-hour requirements. Student pilots use a logbook and keep detailed records of their flight time. The logbook must be endorsed by the flight instructor in order for the student to be able to take the FAA knowledge and practical exams. For specific requirements, including details on the types and quantities of flight experience and knowledge requirements, see the FARs. Part 61 of Title 14 of the code of federal regulations (14 CFR part 61) covers the basic rules for the certification of pilots. Flight schools can train pilots in accordance with the rules from part 61 or the rules found in 14 CFR part 141.

Applicants must pass the appropriate medical exam, meet all of the detailed flight experience and knowledge requirements, and pass a written exam and a practical flight exam in order to become commercially licensed. The physical exam confirms that the pilot’s vision is correctable to 20/20 and that no physical handicaps exist that could impair the pilot’s performance.

Commercial pilots must hold an instrument rating if they want to carry passengers for pay more than 50 miles from the point of origin of their flight, or at night.

Instrument rating. Pilots who earn an instrument rating can fly during periods of low visibility, also known as instrument meteorological conditions, or IMC. They may qualify for this rating by having at least 40 hours of instrument flight experience and 50 hours of cross-country flight time as pilot in command, and by meeting other requirements detailed in the FARs.

Airline transport pilot (ATP) certification. All pilot crews of a scheduled commercial airliner must have ATP certificates. To earn the ATP certificate, applicants must be at least 23 years old, have a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time, and pass written and practical flight exams. Airline pilots usually maintain one or more aircraft-type ratings, which allow them to fly aircraft that require specific training, depending on the requirements of their particular airline. Some exceptions and alternative requirements are detailed in the FARs.

Pilots must pass periodic physical and practical flight examinations to be able to perform the duties granted by their certificate.

Education level of Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
About 76% of aircraft pilots and flight engineers have at least a bachelor's degree.
Education attained by aircraft pilots and flight engineers
High School
Some College
Associate's Degree
Bachelor's Degree
Master's Degree
Professional Degree
Top college degrees
Here are the top college degrees held by the 74% of people in this job who have at least a bachelor's degree. Some of degrees may link to multiple programs due to the way Census classifies college majors. Click on a program to learn more about career opportunities for people who major in that field.
  1. Transportation Sciences and Technologies
  2. Business Management and Administration
  3. Aerospace and Astronautical/Space Engineering
  4. Business/Commerce
  5. Political Science and Government
Fewer details
College majors held by aircraft pilots and flight engineers
This table shows the college majors held by people working as aircraft pilots and flight engineers. If you see "**" before the name of a degree/program, that means this field is one that the Department of Education believes is preparatory for this career. However, you can see from this list that those recommendations are far from your only path to this job!
Salary comparison for bachelor's only
Career salary (tail) versus Career/Major salary (dot)
Does the bachelor's-only salary rise or fall with this major?
Salary for bachelor's-only
For people with this career and major
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Salary for all workers
For people with this career and major
Middle 50%
Middle 80%
Education for Career and Major
Workers with this career/major
Percentage in this career with this major
Not so much?
The link between degrees and this career
With the following sankey diagram, you can follow the top ten bachelor's degrees held by people working as aircraft pilots and flight engineers, and then, in turn, you can see the 10 occupations that hire the most of each degree's graduates. We hope this provides ideas for similar jobs and similar fields of study.
Expand degrees
Transportation Scien...Business Management ...Aerospace Engineerin...General BusinessPolitical Science an...Mechanical Engineeri...General EngineeringHistoryCriminal Justice and...Multidisciplinary or...All other degreesThis jobTop 10 majors
Where are the jobs
State-by-state employment numbers
Some careers tend to be centered in specific parts of the country. For example, most jobs in fashion are in New York or California. Let's see if your dream job is easy to find in your dream location! We have a few choices for viewing the data that can help you get a full employment picture.
Select a state to see local area details
Number of Aircraft pilots and flight engineers per 1,000 workers (ACS)
Fewer details
Job density versus job count
Which states hire the most airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers? We wonder if that's a fair question since states come in all sizes, so instead let's start with the question of which states have the highest density of people working as airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers. You can choose to view the number of jobs per state if you prefer.
Salaries by state
Let's get a feel for where airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers earn the highest salaries. There are several choices for which data we consider and how we view that data, and each can lead to different conclusions, so please read on...
Median salary versus state ratio
We use two methods to compare salaries across states:
  • In-state comparisons: the ratio of median (middle) salaries for aircraft pilots and flight engineers compared to the median salary for all people working in each state, or
  • Median salary: the unaltered median salaries for aircraft pilots and flight engineers.
We hope the ratio allows perspective about how salaries may compare to the regional cost-of-living.
The darkest shading corresponds to states in which aircraft pilots and flight engineers earn the highest salary when compared to other jobs in the state. We think this figure might be a better indicator than the actual salary for your buying power as a state resident.
Select a state to see local area details
Location-adjusted median salary for Aircraft pilots and flight engineers (ACS for all specialties)
17% of Aircraft pilots and flight engineers are working part time.
We’ve found that some jobs have a huge number of part-time workers, and typically that is because they are unable to find full-time work or the job itself can’t provide full-time hours. With 17% part-time workers, this occupation has a higher percentage of part-time workers than 61% of careers.
Employer types
This donut shares the break-down of workers by employer type, giving us a picture of what employers most typically hire for this career.
Employers of undefined (ACS)
Private for-profit
Private not-for-profit
Local government
State government
Federal government
Self-employed incorporated
Self-employed not incorporated
Working without pay
Fewer details
Distribution: Salaries of aircraft pilots and flight engineers by type of employer
Here are the salary distributions based on employer type.
$89K$97K$72K$80K$86K$76K$0$50,000$100,000$150,000$200,000Self-employed incorporatedFederal governmentState governmentLocal governmentPrivate for-profitAll
Aircraft pilots and flight engineers and gender
With 6% women, this occupation has a lower percentage of women than 86% of careers.
Gender of Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
Men (94%)
Women (6%)
Distribution: salaries by gender
Does gender greatly influence your salary in this career? The closer the bars are, the less discrepancy there is.
We only include salary data when the survey error is less than 20%, so you may see only partial information for some categories.
Fewer details
Context: Women in the workforce
How does this career compare to other careers with regard to the percentage of women in the career.
Context: Salary inequity
The median (middle) salary for all full-time male workers in the US exceeds the full-time median salary for women by 19%, and the difference for aircraft pilots and flight engineers tops that, with the median salary for men 27% higher than the median salary for women.
Race and origin of Aircraft pilots and flight engineers
This donut shows the distribution of race and origin among those employed as Aircraft pilots and flight engineers.
Race/origin of aircraft pilots and flight engineers
White (93% )
Multiracial (2% )
Black (2% )
Asian (2% )
Other (1% )
Hispanic (0% )
American Indian (0% )
Pacific Islander (0% )
Distribution: salaries by race/origin
Some careers might have a pay disparity based on race or origin, the closer the below bars are the less of a discrepancy is present.
We only include salary data when the survey error is less than 20%, so you may see only partial information for some categories.