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Home > Salary > Why are pilots being paid so exorbitantly?
Why are pilots being paid so exorbitantly?
Professional Pilots - Salary
Wednesday, 02 August 2006 06:20

Dear Captain Lim,

Why pilots are being paid exorbitant salary?

The job isn't risky anymore with the advancement of aviation technology.

Regards,

Gerard Lim

Hi Gerard,

Pilots' salary is a topic that has aroused much interest to many. I will try to elaborate a little more on what has already been perceived by the public. You used the word "exorbitant" or a salary that is excessively high. Yes, there may be some truth in your statement. It was recently reported that US airlines pilots (correction - senior major airlines captains!) are among the 10 most overpaid job in the World. Senior captains with US major airlines such as Delta, United or American earn as much as US$250,000 (S$396,000) (Exchange rate: I Singapore dollar equals 0.63 US dollar) a year - yes, for a job that isn*t risky anymore, especially with technology that has made flying so much safer!

Are pilots highly trained professionals or overpaid "skybus" drivers? Well, one of the reasons why they are rather highly paid is that the flying public and the airlines want a good and safe pilot to be flying them. Pilots require specialized training that enable them to either make a life-saving or fatal decision one day. Besides, the market forces determine a pilot*s pay. For instance, I know of some Asian airlines losing highly experienced pilots to airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and China Airlines because they are offering them better salaries. Leaving a national airline to join a foreign one is not an easy decision unless the pull factor outweighs staying closer to home.

Pay in Asian airlines is comparatively lower than those of the US or European airlines. A fully operational First Officer with the Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 fleet earns S$123,000 (US$77,400) a year and a captain starts around S$204,000 (US$128,500) (Basic plus variable allowances).

A pilot pay is based on the years at the airline and the type of aircraft flown. Starting out, a typically Second Officer with Cathay Pacific earns HK$386,556 (S$78,800) a year whereas a 12-year senior captain gets HK$1,490,316 (S$304,100) a year. (Exchange rate: I Singapore dollar equals 4.9 Hong Kong dollars)

So, generally, pilots from the major airlines have always been well paid. The remuneration is usually a measure of productivity and responsibility. An airliner captain is paid based on the size of the aircraft - an indirect reflection of the number of passengers and the distance they are moved. But don*t jump into the conclusion that it is always so. Regional airlines with smaller jets such as the Boeing 737s, Airbus 320s, CRJs, etc, pay their pilots half as much or even lesser.

A co-pilot with five years of experience with a US major airline makes US $120,000 a year at Delta now, whilst one with SIA or Cathay Pacific earns about 60 to 70 % less. I believe you are either a Singaporean or Malaysian - so that is still a lot of money if you are lucky to get into these major airlines. However, if you are self-sponsored, you can expect to face long stretches of experience gathering, either flying in smaller planes or building time as a flight instructor (that in some instances only pays about 8 US bucks an hour!). So, be cautious when one says that pilots are overpaid. Is he with a major airline or a small air charter company? The disparity is quite wide!

Okay, if you are referring to the salary of some major airline pilots as being rather high, I would agree with you. Pilots are the most costly of airline workers, and labor is one of the biggest cost for airlines. Many US major airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy and it does no good to the profession to be perceived as being overpaid. I quote an ex-United Airlines captain (friend of mine) who said to their unionized pilots "Do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" when they were fighting for more pay and benefits. 

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Comments (18)

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...
true story: air hostess Tells the captain that he does such an easy job. The pilot then asks why the hostess isn't a pilot then. She said that she's tried doing her private licence but it didn't work out for her.

Another one - (overheard my friends brother and his dad talking): the father asks his son how much he earns. The son says he gets 150,0000 AUD a year. The father says that is too much for a young boy like him. The son says that when the airlines are letting men flying billion dollar jets, you want the guy flying to be happy with his job.

Btw, I LOVE your website!!! I'm 14 right now and want too be a pilot. This site helps me out so much!!! My favourite plane is the 777, and I want to fly for SQ so badly.
Tushar Bhatia , 08 Oct, 2009
Pilots paid to much? Seriously?
The starting regional pilot makes only $15,000 and it takes them about 10 years at a major to make around $120,000 if your lucky. If anything pilots aren't being paid enough anymore. It's not an easy job and they should be paid very well for the responsibility that they endure.
anonymous , 23 Jan, 2010
... , Low-rated comment [Show]
Your kidding me right?
Koh, not all pilots have formal degree's no, but many do, and all of us have gone through training and study which is easily as difficult a bachelor's degree, including exams that are issued by governing authorities, in the case of AU, we do 7 Commercial exams before our Commercial license, as well as a theory exam for instrument flying and then a further 7 Air Transport exams for multi crew large aircraft.

The salary is not high, A regular captain gets about $150-$170k AUD per year, you cannot sit there and tell me that there are not managers in general desk roles earning this in a much easier role, with alot less stress.

I could go on for a while to justify that we deserve alot more than we get, but you just need to remember the next time your a passenger, the pilots are responsible for your life and everyone else's on that aircraft. You dont know when a system is going to fail, or when that computer screen goes blank and it does happen, have you been to a fast food restaurant before? pay peanuts get monkey's need I say more.
Jas , 19 May, 2010
i agreee
koh,pilots deserve each n every bit of the rewards they get,if u say their job is not dangerous anymore then try flying on a dark stormy night n u'l get ur answer.you might think that pilots dont need to study,but the fact is an average airline pilot needs to study more than a person doing a masters degree ,they are checked regularly for their proficiency in knowledge and skills.next time try to use some grey matter before making such a stupid comment
anonymous , 20 May, 2010
...
It really is quite silly to look at what "Bill Gates" earns and then make the assumption that all Microsoft workers earn the same wage.

This statement applies to Pilots.

The average wage of a pilot is embarrassing. This is why it is no longer a preferred career choice for many young people.
anonymous , 22 May, 2010
Pilots are humiliated by public perception
How on Earth can anyone take the example of a few highly paid management pilots and apply that to the general pilot body?

FYI Mr uneducated, pilots have to go through: licence competency checks every 6 months (if you fail your licence is at stake) - annual line checks to ensure you comply with the airline's standards (if you fail your job is at stake) - annual or even 6-monthly medical checks depending on age (f you fail -- yep you got it --your licence is at stake). This rigorous checking is required because flying is by nature DANGEROUS when things go wrong - and they do on a regular basis. Look at recent incidents - Hudson ditching where Capt Sullenberger and the F/O did us all proud and saved many lives with his skills, Cathay Pacific jet recently landing with crippled engines but the crew landed safely assuring that over 300 lives were spared and then look at other crashes that have resulted in deaths!! It does not take much to see that flying is not a profession that can be taken for granted just because technology has allowed us to progress through the use of increased automation (button pushing to you non-flying pilot-hating hypocrites).
How many other professions have such stringent quality and standard checks done on it's group.
How many other professions out there risk the lives of hundreds of people each and every time one goes to work if a wrong decision or action is made at a critical point in time. On any given flight, your life expectancy depends on split-second correct actions at take-off and landing by the very people whose jobs are being demeaned by outsiders and management ranting that they get paid too much.

Are you a banker? Because that's where we should be looking when it comes to overpaid professions. Give the pilots some slack - most of them need a pay rise NOT a pay cut.
Aviation is doomed , 28 May, 2010
make it clear ,please
Okay, if you are referring to the salary of some major airline pilots as being rather high, I would agree with you. Pilots are the most costly of airline workers, and labor is one of the biggest cost for airlines. Many US major airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy and it does no good to the profession to be perceived as being overpaid. I quote an ex-United Airlines captain (friend of mine) who said to their unionized pilots "Do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" when they were fighting for more pay and benefits.

Good evening Dear mr LIM
please answer my question following:
what does mean of "GOOSE" in the topic?, AIRCOMPANY OR PASSENGER
Izzat , 01 Jun, 2010
you think we're getting a lot of money?
i'm thinking of quitting this profession, after 15 years of airline experience. reasons: the pay is peanuts. very difficult to get your annual leave. conversion and recurrent training too stressful (reading books until you retire). promotion like a snail. public perception of secondary school leaver (aka bus driver) eventhough you are more educated than them (MBA, PHD, double degrees etc). stressful working conditions. no public holidays. travelling benifits suck big time, and they think you just pushing buttons and reading news paper ha ha!!!!! my neighbor who is not a pilot and 10 years my junior is better off than me . so, pilot wannabes think again before you decide. (This come from a guy who is the best student in his batch, never fails his conversions, line checks, base checks and any other checks)
matthew , 25 Sep, 2010
le capitan
I have been at it for 20years and fly the huge ones for a well known asian airline. Let me tell you that had i a choice to do it over again i would have never chosen this path. Dont bother really. It has become a dead beat job. The airline treats us very badly and has not paid us a decent service increment in the last 10years. This is despite a record rise in the cost of living. Its too late for most of us and the newbies that join realise this in the first few years of flying. They would like running for the door if not for the bond they have to pay back. In flying allowances, we earn less than a hairdressor per hour. And that is for the resposibility of carrying hundreds of passengers- hundreds of lives. It used to be a good job but not anymore. The airline is hell bent on mega profits and pays their management obscenely for ensuring we dont get paid much. So please think carefully because after the enthusiasm wears out, you realise you are stuck and your pay hardly moves. My best and sincere advise.
rocketman , 19 Jun, 2011
...
Hi,
There is no other profession that is so legally controlled like pilots. No one assures a pilot of a stable career from start to retirement - be it threat of medical, threat of results that accrue from error of judgements that need to be taken not in the luxury of time but in seconds or even nano seconds. So I say to everyone who say that piltos are overpaid, why dont you give it a try, if it were really so simple and easy.
Just Another pilot , 19 Jun, 2011
ROCKETMAN Can you please contact me?
Hi Rocketman,

Is it possible that you can help me some queries that I have?
My email add is yan.ng2@uqconnect.edu.au

Thanks alot!
Need advise , 21 Jun, 2011
...
When I get on a plane it comforts me to know that the pilots at the controls are the best they can be, cut their pay and we don't have that comfort anymore. Pilots do far more than "push buttons", you only have to see some of the disasters that have been safely avoided due to the pilots high level of skill.

In my opinion you cannot pay them enough for what they do, much respect to them and the responsibility they have to shoulder.
nervous passenger , 09 Nov, 2011
...
It is largely based on supply and demand. There is always an oversupply of pilots (despite what the marketers and flying schools will tell you), hence no need to fight for staff. Also there is no real way to differentiate yourself or develop niche skills for extra salary, compared to other fields (example - an I.T. professional with specific skills in an undersupplied niche area). That is why pilot salaries have been downward trending for the past 15-20+ years and will likely continue to do so. Google Chesley Sullenberger's testimony to congress, it says a lot about the state of the industry.
Mark , 22 Dec, 2011
Nothing but glorified bus drivers.... , Low-rated comment [Show]
Way over paid , Low-rated comment [Show]
Pilot Salary
Hmm.. well the truth is that most pilots have higher education. Its an expensive field. Why do some of the people say that planes can fly themselves...im pretty sure an aircraft cannot save itself if an engine fails or if an electrical failure occurs. Pilots are intensely trained to monitor the aircraft and get passengers safely from one place to another. Regarding pilot salaries, some say they are overpaid and some underpaid........to me it sounds like the usual job you get anywhere with a degree. Most people want to do piloting because they have found inspiration in flying and for the love of it. Sure some get bored of it a while later and give up if the pay isn't good or have families to take care of..but life is full of obstacles and those who overcome these problems will reap greater rewards. Im 17, a student pilot and I love flying, I have been and still training intensely in perfecting my flying, losing my fears and gaining my confidence. I have done a lot of research into aviation and can say that each individual have their own personal problems which may affect their flying career causing them to think negatively, but can they be blamed?? Most jobs start with maybe $1000 a month and will increase in comparison with the perfomance and promotion of the individual. Same can be said to pilots regarding their rank, size of the aircraft flown, safety record... and it depends on the airline, major or regional. I maybe going off topic here, but what I say is true. If you are not sure of this field then dont try it. those who succeed are the ones to work hard with a persistant and detemined attitude. So good luck to all future trainees and professionals. This is coming from one person, i strongly believe in what i say, I may be wrong too so feel free to comment. Cheers!!
Cloud , 23 Feb, 2013
...
Well if you have a PhD and want to become a pilot, that's on you. I'm not saying that pilots on average are uneducated, but you certainly don't need a PhD (a.k.a having spend years and years working as a scientist) to fly a plane. Just as you don't need to be a scientist to become a bus driver. Or a medical doctor. Heck, I know people with a PhD in physics doing 20euro/h tutoring for the Uni, and mind you in that case the PhD is an actual qualification for the job.

Honestly I have not a very good idea of the wage of pilots but if what's written above is true I would say, yes, major airline pilots are very well paid. That being said it's not the only profession that is very well paid and it's not a job I would want to do (not because I'm not amazed by aviation, but working for a major airline seems rather stressful and is a huge commitment and -please don't mind me saying that, I know there are tons of pilots who love their profession to death- for me personally it would appear to lack the change/diversity to create long term motivation)...
On top of that the education is long and costly, and you certainly have to amount for that, but again not unique to a piloting career.
Summa summarum I think pilots are far from the worst offenders in the "being-overpaid" department and I can't really get myself to be upset. I'd just wish different wages were in a narrower range in general, within reason.
Max , 13 Oct, 2016

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