Airplane pilots work in a variety of industries. About two thirds of them are employed in the airline industry, while others work in industries such as agriculture, ambulatory medicine, and travel and tourism. All pilots who transport cargo or passengers must have a commercial pilot's license.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 68,000 airline pilots, copilots and flight engineers were employed in the United States as of May 2011. They earned a mean annual salary of $118,070. The median salary, or halfway point, was $105,580 per year, and the median-earning 50 percent of airline pilots made between $81,910 and $140,650 per year.
The BLS groups operators of non-scheduled, fixed-wing aircraft under the occupational category of commercial pilots. This group excludes regional, national and international airline pilots. Commercial pilots earned a mean annual wage of $76,050 a year as of May 2011. The median reported salary was $70,000 per year, and the median-earning 50 percent of commercial pilots earned between $50,850 and $92,340 a year. The number of commercial pilots in the United States was estimated to be 31,630 as of May 2011.
Pay by Industry
The BLS reports that the highest-paid airline pilots worked in the scheduled air transportation industry and averaged $119,180 per year. Airline pilots working primarily in nonscheduled air transportation earned an average income of $90,480 per year. Those working directly for the federal government earned an average of $96,920 per year. The highest-paid commercial pilots worked in aerospace manufacturing, earning an average of $102,850 per year. Those who worked in spectator sports averaged $99,970 a year. Commercial pilots working in ambulatory health care averaged $68,090 per year, while those in agriculture averaged $61,010 a year.
Pay by Region
The highest-paid commercial pilots tended to be located in the Northeast. The highest paying state for commercial pilots as of May 2011 was Connecticut, where the average income was $112,990 per year. Delaware ranked second at $98,690 per year, followed by New Jersey at $92,590 and Maryland at $90,190. The highest-paying states for airline pilots were scattered throughout the country. Hawaii ranked first at $146,040 per year, followed by New York at $145,080, Kentucky at $142,870, Texas at $137,430 and Washington at $135,780.