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Commercial pilot salary & career outlook

Who hasn't fantasized about flying a plane before? If you have aspirations of being a commercial pilot, here's what you need to know about working to make them a reality.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, commercial pilots are "involved in unscheduled flight activities, such as aerial application, charter flights, aerial photography, and aerial tours." This involves flying and navigating airplanes, helicopters and other aircraft, as well as communicating with air traffic control, checking fuel supply and much more.

Becoming a commercial pilot typically requires a commercial pilot's license and a high school diploma or the equivalent. The following qualities are also important: communication skills, observational skills, problem-solving skills and quick reaction time.

Attending pilot school can help prepare you for taking your first steps toward this dream of a career.

Commercial pilot salary

In many cases, employees have the potential to make a sustainable living as a commercial pilot. According to the BLS, as of May 2012 commercial pilots in America earned a mean annual wage of $80,140 nationally, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $38,520 or less and the highest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $134,990 or more.

This pay can differ based on industry. According to the BLS, the top paying industries in America for commercial pilots as of May 2012 were:

  • Residential building construction ($134,660 annual mean wage)
  • Wired telecommunications carriers ($108,190 annual mean wage)
  • Aerospace product and parts manufacturing ($102,430 annual mean wage)

Location can also affect pay. BLS data shows that the top paying states in America for commercial pilots as of May 2012 were:

  • Georgia ($105,030 annual mean wage)
  • Minnesota ($101,210 annual mean wage)
  • Massachusetts ($100,920 annual mean wage)

The top-paying metropolitan areas in America for commercial pilots as of May 2012, per the BLS, were:

  • Salinas, Calif. ($165,070 annual mean wage)
  • New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division ($118,760 annual mean wage)
  • Gary, Ind., Metropolitan Division ($116,770 annual mean wage)

Job outlook for commercial pilots

Despite a decline in the number of airline pilots, the commercial pilot industry is growing, according to data from the BLS. Employment of commercial pilots is projected to grow by 9 percent between 2012 and 2022, which surpasses other pilot jobs and comes out to roughly 3,600 new jobs in total.

Many pilots are expected to retire between now and 2022, which largely explains the projected growth of commercial pilots in that time. According to the BLS, employment prospects for pilots will be strong with "nonscheduled aviation services" because entry-level requirements are lower for regional and commercial jobs than they are for jobs as airline pilots. As far as where geographically the most growth of commercial pilot jobs is expected, the BLS doesn't state, though individual states collect their own employment numbers. (See below.) The states with the highest numbers of commercial pilots employed as of May 2012 were:

  • Texas
  • Florida
  • California

The metropolitan areas in America with the highest employment level for commercial pilots as of May 2012, according to the BLS, were:

  • Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, Texas
  • Dallas-Plano-Irving, Texas, Metropolitan Division
  • Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz.

Data aggregated by individual states suggests that, through 2020, the strongest job growth for commercial pilots will be in the following states:

  • Delaware: 35.5%
  • Hawaii: 30.1%
  • Iowa: 28%

Wherever you choose to go, you're could be joining a fun, sustainable and growing career field as a commercial pilot. Before you start looking for a job, though, you have to head to pilot school and learn how to do the thing many of us dreamed of doing since we were kids: fly.

Sources:

Occupational Employment and Wages for Commercial Pilots, "Occupational Employment Statistics," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2012,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes532012.htm

Airline and Commercial Pilots, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/transportation-and-material-moving/airline-and-commercial-pilots.htm#tab-1

Long Term Projections for Commercial Pilots, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm