Quick Facts: Airline and Commercial Pilots
2012 Median Pay $98,410 per year
Entry-Level Education See How to Become One
Work Experience in a Related Occupation See How to Become One
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2012 104,100
Job Outlook, 2012-22 -1% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2012-22 -800

What Airline and Commercial Pilots Do

Airline and commercial pilots fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft. Airline pilots fly for airlines that transport people and cargo on a fixed schedule. Commercial pilots fly aircraft for other reasons, such as charter flights, rescue operations, firefighting, aerial photography, and aerial application, also known as crop dusting.

Work Environment

Pilots work primarily in aircraft. They may spend a considerable amount of time away from home because of overnight layovers. Many pilots have variable schedules.

How to Become an Airline or Commercial Pilot

Most airline pilots begin their careers as commercial pilots. Commercial pilots typically need a high school diploma or equivalent. Airline pilots typically need a bachelor’s degree. All pilots who are paid to fly must have at least a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Additionally, airline pilots must have the Airline Transport Pilot (ATP) certificate. Pilots may need instrument and other ratings.


In May 2012, the median annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers was $114,200. The median annual wage for commercial pilots was $73,280 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of airline and commercial pilots is projected to show little or no change from 2012 to 2022. Low-cost regional airlines and nonscheduled aviation services will provide the most job opportunities. Pilots seeking jobs at the major airlines will face strong competition.


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