Job Universe: Pilot

A career track with a bevy of options.

+ More
  • The job: Pilots are highly trained professionals who fly either airplanes or helicopters to carry out a wide variety of tasks. Most are airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers who transport passengers and cargo. However, 1 out of 5 pilots is a commercial pilot involved in dusting crops, spreading seed for reforestation, testing aircraft, flying passengers and cargo to areas not served by regular airlines, directing firefighting efforts, tracking criminals, monitoring traffic, and rescuing and evacuating injured persons.
  • Outlook: Employment of aircraft pilots and flight engineers is projected to grow 13 percent from 2006 to 2016, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Job opportunities are expected to continue to be better with the regional airlines and low-cost carriers, which are growing faster than the major airlines. Opportunities with air-cargo carriers also should rise because of increasing security requirements for shipping freight on passenger airlines, growth in electronic commerce, and increased demand for global freight. Business, corporate, and on-demand air taxi travel also should provide some new jobs for pilots.
  • Experience: All pilots who are paid to transport passengers or cargo must have a commercial pilot's license with an instrument rating issued by the FAA. Although some small airlines hire high school graduates, most airlines require at least two years of college and prefer to hire college graduates. Pilots also need flight experience to qualify for a license.
  • The not-so-good: Most pilots spend a considerable amount of time away from home because the majority of flights involve overnight layovers. Commercial pilots face other types of job hazards. The work of test pilots, who check the flight performance of new and experimental planes, may be dangerous. Pilots who are crop-dusters may be exposed to toxic chemicals and seldom have the benefit of a regular landing strip. Helicopter pilots involved in rescue and police work may be subject to personal injury.
  • Pay: Earnings of aircraft pilots and flight engineers vary greatly depending on whether they work as airline or commercial pilots. Earnings depend on factors such as the type, size, and maximum speed of the plane and the number of hours and miles flown. For example, pilots who fly jet aircraft usually earn higher salaries than pilots who fly turboprops.

Learn more:

This information is from the Occupational Outlook Handbook, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.