14 Types of Pilot Jobs and Their Expected Salaries in 2024
15 November 2021 | Updated on November 21, 2023
Working as a pilot has always been among the most prestigious types of jobs and for many a childhood dream. The job is seen as glamorous, exciting and offers some great benefits.
It’s also no secret that pilots are in high demand today, even despite the economical situation the past year. Although all pilot jobs require a high level of experience, knowledge and training, there are some significant differences between different types of pilot jobs.
From cargo jets to commercial airlines, fixed-wing aircraft to helicopters, there are many types of pilot jobs you can explore as a career, each with its own distinctive qualities ánd salary.
But with so many different types of opportunities out there, choosing which type to pursue can be a daunting decision. To help you decide what your best choice is for this career path, we’ve compiled a list of 14 different types of pilot jobs and the salaries you can expect in 2023!
Important Disclaimer: The information and data provided here are for informational purposes only, and are subject to change over time. We strive to provide the most current and relevant information, but the dynamic nature of the topics discussed may result in changes that are not immediately reflected in our content. We recommend our readers to conduct their own research and consult with professionals when making significant decisions based on the data or information provided here. Your reliance on the information in this post is solely at your own risk.
1. Airline Pilots
The first and most ‘popular’ type of pilot job is that of an airline pilot. They are the most well-known types of pilots and in their jobs, they fly commercial airliners around the world. This type of pilot job is associated with high salaries, long working hours and lots of time spent away from home.
Despite that, airline pilots enjoy successful careers thanks to the flying experience they get during their work, the perks of traveling around the world and the prestige that comes with such a high-end job.
In the US, this position requires a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight time experience before you can enter the cockpit if a major airline. To get there, many pilots start their career doing other low-time pilot jobs to build their flying time and experience.
Some examples of major airlines in the US include Delta, JetBlue and United Airlines.
Airline pilots are some of the highest-paid jobs in aviation, but their salaries vary greatly depending on where in the world you fly, the airline, routes and seniority. On average, mainline pilots will make between $100k and $200k per year, with lower time pilots being on the low-end of the spectrum while highly-experienced pilots can make even more than $200,000/year.
Tip: if you want to learn more about becoming a commercial airline pilot, we highly recommend checking out the story series: Road to the Right Seat by airline pilot Bob!
2. Regional Pilots
As the name suggests, regional pilots usually fly on shorter routes, often connecting different states and smaller airports. For many commercial pilots, a regional airline is the first step to a career as an international airline pilot. To get in the right seat of a regional airline, you won’t need the 1500 hours that are required by most US major airlines.
This type of pilot job may not be as glamorous as those, but it’s still a fantastic choice for those who love to fly and experience all types of weather and terrain. The salary is also quite attractive and the work environment is possibly less demanding than other types of pilot jobs.
Some examples of US regional airlines include Southwest, Horizon Air, Envoy Air and PSA Airlines.
Although regional pilots will earn less than mainline airline pilots, they can still expect a salary in the six-figure range after some time.
3. Corporate Aviation Pilots
The next type of pilot jobs would be those working as part of a corporate or business aviation crew, also known as business pilots. They fly different types of small and medium-sized aircraft to transport executives and company board members around the world for work.
For this type of pilot job, you will need to have a high level of flexibility and be comfortable working in small planes. But the pay is excellent and it’s an exciting career path that allows you to interact with many types of people. Personal contact with your passengers is often one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.
Some types of aircraft corporate aviation pilots fly include the Cessna Citation series, Bombardier Challenger, Embraer Phenom and Learjets.
4. Business/Private Aviation Pilots
Although quite similar to the previously-mentioned corporate aviation job, pilots who fly business or private jets for an operator a referred to as business/private aviation pilots. The main difference with corporate pilots is that this type of pilot usually works for an operator (equivalent to an airline), who offers aircraft not only to corporate executives of a single company, but to any person who prefers flying private.
The job requirements and contents are very similar and include a high level of flexibility, personal contact and offering true VIP services to the passengers. Especially when flying smaller jets without a flight attendant, the pilot’s duties will also include making sure the proper catering is on board, luggage is loaded and the aircraft is properly prepared for the passenger’s arrival on board.
5. Cargo Pilots
Moving on, another type of pilot job that you might want to consider would be those flying cargo planes. Cargo pilots usually fly freighters like the Boeing 747 and 757, or the Boeing C-17 Globemaster in the military to transport goods through the air.
The job of a cargo pilot comes with its own perks, including being able to visit destinations all over the world and not having to worry about unhappy passengers!
However, the downside is that cargo flying may not always be considered as glamorous as business aviation or commercial airlines. Cargo pilots often fly on long routes without other crew members (like flight attendants) and usually fly during nighttime.
Examples of well-known cargo airlines include Cargolux, UPS and FedEx.
The average salary of a cargo pilot will usually be between $50k and $150k/year, with most people making around $95-$100k.
6. Military Pilots
A military pilot is someone who flies for the country’s air force or navy. These pilots fly fast fighter jets like the Lockheed Martin F-16 and recent F-35, cargo transporters such as the C-17 Globemaster, or helicopters like the Sikorsky Blackhawk during (highly dangerous) missions such as reconnaissance, transporting cargo, and bombing enemy positions.
This is certainly one of the most dangerous jobs you can do as a pilot, as they often fly in hostile airspace and over warzones. Of course, the job comes with its perks like a good salary and free training, but being away from home on missions that can last several months is tough for any family person.
On average, military pilots can expect to earn around $85k, with additional benefits and bonuses during foreign missions.
7. Commercial Helicopter Pilots
Another type of pilot job that is available for those who want to fly as a profession is commercial helicopter pilots.
Unlike fixed-wing planes, helicopters can take off and land vertically, which makes them great tools for very specific missions that require getting in and out of tidy spaces and off-airport locations, such as heliports, oil platforms and hospitals. Although you might not be flying as high or fast as in commercial flight, your job skills will be put to the test when carrying out rescues and transporting people through narrow areas like cliffs, mountains and trees.
The perks of being a commercial helicopter pilot include (usually) not being away from home long, (hand) flying exciting missions and personal contact with passengers. Because helicopters are very complex aircraft, both standard and advanced helicopter training (multi-engine, IFR) is usually significantly more expensive than training on a fixed-wing aircraft.
The average salary of a commercial helicopter pilot is around $67k/year with some higher risk helicopter jobs paying up to $90,000.
8. Medical/Air Ambulance Pilots
If you’re looking for a pilot job where you can help others, becoming an ambulance or medical pilot can be a rewarding career option.
This type of flying involves transferring patients or organs from one medical facility to another with an airplane or helicopter.
The perks of being a medical pilot include having the opportunity to help others, flexible working hours and good pay for jobs that don’t require you to travel too far from home.
On average, medical or air ambulance pilots make around $58k/year, with top earners receiving salaries of up to $100k, combining a rewarding job with attractive perks and salary packages.
9. Seasonal Pilots
The term seasonal may not be the best description for it, but with this type of pilot job we refer to seasonal activities such as flying around tourists, banner towing, sailplane towing, dropping skydivers and other pilot jobs that may be limited to certain times of the year.
These pilot jobs usually require fewer hours, which makes them perfect for time building. However, they can also offer a great career option for people who just love to fly smaller GA airplanes and do not have the intention to move onto larger commercial aircraft as a career.
Salaries for these seasonal jobs vary greatly, so it’s practically impossible to give any specific figures here. However, in general, these pilot jobs will pay less than other commercial pilot jobs.
10. Agricultural Pilots
Some types of pilot jobs are not so glamorous, but nonetheless very essential for the world economy to keep running. One of these often-overlooked pilot jobs is agricultural flying or crop dusting.
Agricultural pilots fly crop-dusting aircraft to spray fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals on crops and fields using adapted airplanes and helicopters.
This type of flying requires extreme precision, as agricultural pilots fly very low and in close proximity with hazards such as powerlines, trees and other objects. The perks of being an agricultural pilot include the flexibility of working close to home, being able to hand fly the aircraft near its limits, and the variety of tasks and types of aircraft.
Agricultural pilots in the US can expect to earn a base pay of about $40k – $50k/year plus about $50-$75 extra for each flying hour. With more experience, this can pay can increase, with seasoned agricultural pilots making up to $100k/year.
During the growing season, you can expect to fly between 500 and 1,000 hours a year.
11. Government Service Pilots
Besides flying for commercial operators, the government offers some interesting career opportunities for pilots as well.
Government services that employ pilots include the FBI, DEA, FAA, National Guard and State Police, mostly operating helicopters but also some fixed-wing aircraft.
Job contents vary greatly depending on the specific organization you fly for. When flying for the FBI or State Police, job contents can include surveillance and interdiction activities, while with the FAA you will most likely be doing air traffic control duties and for the Coast Guard you will often be performing search and rescue missions over open water.
Salaries for this type of pilot job can vary, but not as much as in the private sector. Government service pilots can expect salaries in the $90-$100k range, depending on experience and the specific organization they fly for. Being a government employee also entails some extra benefits, such as extensive paid vacation and sick leave, insurance and retirement plans.
12. Fire Fighter Pilots
The forest fires seem to be increasing every year, which is why fire fighting aviation has become a rapidly growing field in recent years.
Firefighting pilots not only fight wildfires by dropping water or flame retardants on the burning vegetation, but they are also responsible for transporting personnel and equipment as close to the fire as possible (with helicopters).
To become a firefighting pilot you will need to be very experienced, making entering this field difficult for lower-time pilots. Both fixed-wing and rotorcraft are used for these missions.
The job requires an impressive skill set that includes not only great coordination and understanding of aircraft limitations, but also the ability to work under intense pressure.
Firefighting pilots can expect a salary between $75k and $110k, depending on their experience and the types of aircraft they fly.
13. Flight Instructors
Many people see flight instruction as a way to build time and experience before heading to the regionals or airlines. However, being a flight instructor can be an interesting, exciting and rewarding career option.
Flight instructors are the front line for new pilots entering the industry, and it’s a great way to get involved and gain experience in aviation.
Being a flight instructor is not just about knowing how to fly an airplane, but also how to pass on that knowledge in a simple and effective way. As the saying goes, the best way to learn is to teach, so by teaching others how to fly, you will inevitably become a better pilot.
Becoming a flight instructor is relatively easy compared to many other pilot career options. Depending on where exactly you fly, you will usually only need a few hundred hours of flight time and some extra training to become a certified flight instructor. Adding additional ratings to your license will allow you to provide more advanced training and increase your salary significantly.
Being a flight instructor will not provide you with the highest salaries in the industry. The average full-time flight instructor can expect to earn between $60 and $85k/year, depending on the size of the flight school, the number of students and the number of flying hours, of course.
14. Test Pilots
Finally, types of pilot jobs that are not as common as the others but have great perks for those who do it well, can be found in testing and research.
Many aircraft manufacturers employ test pilots to fly their aircraft before offering them to companies, governments and other customers. There is a significant risk involved with being a test pilot, as you will often try out new types of aircraft that have never been used before. Research pilots similarly help make flying significantly more safe, by testing the limits of new types of planes and monitoring atmospheric conditions to ensure flight safety during research missions.
On average, a test pilot will usually make around $100k/year.
After reading this article, you should have learned that types of pilot jobs exist in all types of areas, in the military, in helicopters and even in aviation research. There are numerous types of pilot jobs available so hopefully, there is one suited to your skills and preferences!
However, if you’re not sure yet about becoming a pilot, there are many other interesting jobs in aviation and at the airport worth considering!
Disclaimer: All salary figures are based on data from Payscale.com, Ziprecruiter.com and Glassdoor.com. These are just estimations and we take no responsibility for any inaccuracies. The exact salary will always depend on many factors outside the scope of this article.