8 High-Paying Pilot Jobs (With Job Responsibilities)

Pilots operate aircraft for a variety of different purposes, ranging from recreational to commercial. There are several high-paying job opportunities available for pilots, including private, agricultural and legal piloting. A high-paying pilot job can provide …

8 High-Paying Pilot Jobs (With Job Responsibilities)

Pilots operate aircraft for a variety of different purposes, ranging from recreational to commercial. There are several high-paying job opportunities available for pilots, including private, agricultural and legal piloting. A high-paying pilot job can provide you with experience, stable income and a rewarding career with opportunities to travel the world.

In this article, we discuss what a pilot does, describe the skills and licenses necessary to become one and list eight high-paying pilot jobs to consider pursuing upon licensure.

What is a pilot?

A pilot is a person trained to operate aircraft for recreational, private, public, business, legal and military purposes. Some of their responsibilities include evaluating equipment, curating a route to the destination, responding to unexpected weather conditions and completing any other procedures necessary to prepare for flight. Pilots receive a thorough education on aircraft operation, safety and practices while enrolled in flight school or while trained in the military.

They also hold specific licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that ensure they receive the proper training to operate certain aircraft. Pilots are the foremost authority on most aircraft and make important decisions while in the air. They are responsible for both the safe operation of the aircraft and the safe arrival of crew and passengers.

Which skills does a pilot need?

Here are some of the most common skills a pilot can have:

  • Communication: Pilots benefit from being effective communicators when giving instruction to junior pilots, flight attendants and passengers. They also communicate effectively with air traffic control to ensure they’re aware of all conditions and procedures necessary for a safe flight.

  • Critical thinking: The ability to think critically is an important skill for pilots, especially under unexpected circumstances, such as dangerous weather conditions. It’s also important for pilots to be confident in their knowledge and experience so they can make quick decisions that directly affect the lives of everyone on board.

  • Aviation literacy: All pilots typically have to complete at least some form of training program prior to operating an aircraft on their own, meaning there’s an expectation for pilots to have a high level of aviation literacy. Pilots use aviation terminology, techniques and technologies on a daily basis and are experts in all aspects of the trade.

  • Efficiency: Efficiency is another important skill for a pilot to have, especially when tasked with following a specific schedule. Most pilots follow the instructions of air traffic control for take-off and landing so that flights can depart and arrive in a timely manner, and they do so in a way that’s both safe and considerate of the overall schedule.

  • Leadership: Pilots are the highest-ranking members of an aircraft’s crew, making leadership an important skill for them to have. Pilots provide guidance and instruction to other crew members, and the entire crew works collaboratively to ensure the safe transport of the aircraft and its passengers.

What licensing does a pilot need?

All pilots, regardless of specialty, have certain licensing from the FAA or the military in order to operate an aircraft. Here are the most common licenses pilots need to pursue a career in the field:

Student pilot license

Pilots typically earn their student pilot license before flying solo to obtain the flight training hours necessary for initial pilot certificates. A student pilot license requires that candidates be at least 16 years old, proficient in English and meet the qualifications of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). A student pilot license is often the first step when starting a career as a professional pilot.

Sport pilot license

A sport pilot certification enables you to fly a sport aircraft, which is typically a smaller and lighter plane, typically for recreational purposes. A sport pilot license requires that candidates be at least 17 years old, hold a valid driver’s license or Class 3 medical license and earn a minimum of 20 hours of logged flight time. Even with a sport pilot license, you can only fly sport aircraft with no more than a single passenger during daylight and cannot fly higher than 10,000 feet above sea level.

Private pilot license

A private pilot license is a standard for most individuals interested in flying recreationally, as it allows you to fly larger aircraft and bring along more passengers than a sport license. The requirements for this certification state that you must be at least 17 years old, hold a Class 3 medical license and have at least 75 hours of logged flying. These pilots cannot operate any aircraft for commercial or paid purposes.

Commercial pilot license

A commercial pilot license is a certification for individuals interested in becoming pilots as a career, as opposed to flying recreationally. Commercial pilots operate aircraft for corporations, agriculture, tours and any other paid flying jobs but are not qualified to fly for airlines. To become a certified commercial pilot, you must be at least 18 years old, hold a second class medical license and a private pilot license and have a minimum of 440 logged flight hours.

Airline transport pilot license

The highest level of certification a pilot can earn from the FAA is the airline transport pilot license, which is a requirement for all airline pilots. To qualify for the license, candidates must hold a first-class medical license, have at least 1500 hours of logged flight times, hold a commercial pilot license and complete an airline transport pilot certification training program. A pilot certified in airline transport enables them to fly with little to no limitations regarding aircraft size, the number of passengers or cruising altitude.

8 high-paying pilot jobs

Here’s a list of eight high-paying jobs you can pursue as a licensed pilot. For the most up-to-date salary information, please click on the links below.

1. Cargo pilot

National average salary:$63,988 per year

Primary duties: Cargo pilots are commercial pilots who work for large and small-scale cargo companies, including the federally operated U.S. Postal Service. They operate aircraft for the purpose of transporting goods to different locations for manufacturers that use cargo services. A cargo pilot career is an option for someone who has a commercial pilot license but isn’t interested in becoming an airline pilot.

2. Flight instructor

National average salary:$66,373 per year

Primary duties: A certified flight instructor (CFI) is a professional pilot who primarily flies for the purpose of instructing and training aspiring pilots in a flight school or aviation college. They’re responsible for guiding inexperienced pilots as they maneuver and operate aircraft and teaching them skills and tips of the trade. Flight instructors are an important part of the aviation industry because they help others become professional pilots.

3. Airline transport pilot

National average salary:$84,372 per year

Primary duties: An airline transport pilot is a professional, FAA-certified pilot who specializes in airline travel. They create flight plans with consideration of altitude and weather conditions. They check the engine, navigation equipment and the aircraft’s systems to ensure everything is running properly. This ensures that all passengers aboard the plane arrive at the intended destination safely.

4. Agricultural pilot

National average salary:$84,372 per year

Primary duties: An agricultural pilot is a trained professional who assists farmers with their crops. Their primary responsibility is flying over crops and releasing chemicals, which are usually intended to control pests and weeds from multiplying and destroying the crops. Agricultural pilots can work for large-scale agricultural companies or as private pilots for individual farmers.

5. Ambulatory pilot

National average salary:$134,630 per year

Primary duties: An ambulatory pilot works as an emergency responder, flying to pick up and transport individuals in need of medical assistance. An ambulatory pilot may rescue individuals from dangerous environmental conditions and transport injured people to hospitals capable of treating them. They might also deliver organs for transplants or fly medical professionals to and from different hospitals if necessary.

6. Helicopter pilot

National average salary:$134,630 per year

Primary duties: A helicopter pilot is a trained aviation professional who specializes in the operation of helicopters. Helicopter pilots can find work in a variety of industries for private or commercial opportunities, including agriculture, law enforcement, emergency medical response, tourism, firefighting and search and rescue operations. A helicopter pilot follows the same standards as any other pilot, as they have to pass the same medical evaluations and complete the same training qualifications as a commercial pilot.

7. Government service pilot

National average salary:$202,180 per year

Primary duties: A government service pilot is a professional pilot that works under the federal government. Government service pilot duties include transporting individuals, equipment and goods for federal departments and agencies. A government service pilot is a federal employee with the same qualifications as a commercial pilot and must hold that license at the minimum.

8. Military pilot

National average salary:$202,180 per year

Primary duties: Military pilots are professional pilots either trained or employed by the United States Armed Forces. They may fly aircraft during war combat, transport civilians and military personnel, deliver packages and equipment or assess enemy territory. Military pilots train to learn close aerial combat and maneuvers designed for warfare.