If you want to become an airline pilot in California, one of the first questions on your mind is likely to be: how much do airline pilots make in California? Airline pilot salaries vary based on many factors, but California tends to be one of the higher paying states for this career.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The average airline pilot salary in California is around $130,000 per year. However, salaries range from around $80,000 for new first officers to over $250,000 for very experienced captains at major airlines.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at typical pilot salaries at major, regional and cargo airlines in California. We’ll break down pay by years of experience, rank, aircraft type, and more. We’ll also discuss factors that impact earnings like demand, regulations and benefits. Whether you’re researching the career or negotiating a pilot contract, read on for details on California airline pilot pay.

Average Airline Pilot Salary in California

Being an airline pilot is a prestigious and demanding profession that requires years of training and experience. One of the factors that aspiring pilots often consider is the salary potential. In California, the average airline pilot salary is among the highest in the United States, reflecting the state’s robust aviation industry and high cost of living.

The Factors that Influence Airline Pilot Salaries

The salary of an airline pilot is influenced by several factors, including the pilot’s level of experience, the type of aircraft they fly, the airline they work for, and their geographical location. In California, where the aviation industry is thriving, these factors contribute to higher salaries compared to other states.

Comparing Airline Pilot Salaries in California to Other States

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers in California is $200,000 as of May 2021. This is significantly higher than the national average of $174,870 for the same occupation.

When comparing the salaries of airline pilots in California to those in other states, California consistently ranks among the top in terms of compensation. This can be attributed to the high demand for pilots in the state, the presence of major airlines, and the cost of living.

State Average Annual Salary
California $200,000
Texas $180,000
Florida $170,000
New York $190,000

As seen in the table above, California stands out with the highest average annual salary for airline pilots. However, it’s important to note that salaries can vary based on factors such as experience level, airline size, and the type of aircraft flown.

Job Outlook for Airline Pilots in California

The job outlook for airline pilots in California remains positive. With the increasing demand for air travel and the retirement of experienced pilots, there are ample opportunities for aspiring pilots to enter the industry and advance in their careers.

Additionally, the growth of low-cost carriers and the expansion of existing airlines in California contribute to the overall job prospects for airline pilots. These factors, combined with the state’s strong economy and diverse aviation sector, make California an attractive place for pilots seeking employment.

Pay by Airline Type in California

Major Airlines

Major airlines in California offer some of the highest salaries for airline pilots. These airlines, such as American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines, operate on a large scale and have a significant presence in the state.

The average salary for pilots in major airlines can range from $120,000 to $300,000 per year, depending on factors such as experience, seniority, and aircraft type.

Regional Airlines

Regional airlines in California, such as SkyWest Airlines and Compass Airlines, operate smaller aircraft and provide feeder services to major airlines. While the salaries for pilots in regional airlines are generally lower compared to major airlines, they still offer competitive pay.

On average, pilots working for regional airlines in California can expect to earn between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

Cargo Airlines

Cargo airlines, such as FedEx and UPS, play a crucial role in transporting goods across the state and the country. These airlines often have different pay structures compared to passenger airlines. Pilots working for cargo airlines in California can earn salaries ranging from $80,000 to $200,000 per year.

It’s important to note that these salary ranges are approximate and can vary based on various factors. Factors such as the pilot’s experience, type of aircraft flown, and the airline’s financial performance can all impact the salary offered to airline pilots.

For more detailed and up-to-date information on airline pilot salaries in California, you can visit websites such as PayScale or Glassdoor. These websites provide valuable insights into the current salary trends and average pay scales for different airline types in California.

Salaries by Rank and Experience

First Officer Salary

As a first officer, also known as a co-pilot, your salary will depend on a variety of factors such as the airline you work for, the type of aircraft you fly, and your level of experience. On average, first officers in California earn a starting salary of around $60,000 to $80,000 per year.

However, this can increase significantly with experience and additional training.

For example, after a few years of experience, first officers can expect their salaries to increase to an average of $100,000 to $150,000 per year. This jump in salary is often accompanied by additional benefits such as higher flight hour allowances and improved working conditions.

Captain Salary

As a captain, you will be responsible for the safe operation of the aircraft and the crew. This increased responsibility is reflected in the higher salary that captains receive. On average, captains in California earn a starting salary of around $120,000 to $150,000 per year.

With additional experience and qualifications, captains can earn significantly more. Experienced captains at major airlines can earn upwards of $200,000 per year. Additionally, captains may also receive bonuses based on performance and the number of hours flown.

Pay Raises By Years of Experience

As you gain more experience as an airline pilot, your salary will generally increase. Most airlines have a structured pay scale that outlines the salary increases pilots can expect based on their years of experience. These pay raises are typically incremental and can be quite substantial over time.

For example, after 5 years of experience, pilots can expect a pay raise of around 20% to 30%. After 10 years, this can increase to 40% to 50%. It’s important to note that these figures can vary between airlines and are subject to negotiation.

Aircraft Type and Salary

When it comes to airline pilot salaries in California, the type of aircraft they fly plays a significant role in determining their earnings. Generally, pilots flying larger and more advanced aircraft tend to earn higher salaries compared to those operating smaller planes.

Narrow-body Aircraft Pay

Pilots who fly narrow-body aircraft, such as the Boeing 737 or Airbus A320, can expect competitive salaries. These aircraft are commonly used for domestic flights and have a seating capacity of around 100 to 200 passengers.

The average salary for pilots operating narrow-body aircraft in California is around $150,000 per year. However, it’s important to note that this figure can vary based on factors such as years of experience, airline seniority, and additional bonuses or incentives.

Wide-body Aircraft Pay

For pilots who fly wide-body aircraft, such as the Boeing 747 or Airbus A380, the earning potential is even greater. These aircraft are typically used for long-haul international flights and can accommodate hundreds of passengers.

The average salary for pilots operating wide-body aircraft in California is approximately $200,000 per year. This higher salary is reflective of the increased responsibility and complexity involved in operating larger aircraft.

International vs Domestic Routes

The type of route also has an impact on airline pilot salaries. Pilots flying international routes often receive higher compensation compared to those flying domestic routes. This is because international flights typically involve longer flight times, more challenging weather conditions, and potential time zone changes.

Pilots on international routes also often have to navigate different air traffic control systems and adhere to various international aviation regulations. As a result, pilots flying international routes can earn salaries that are significantly higher than their counterparts on domestic routes.

It is important to note that the salaries mentioned above are average figures and can vary depending on factors such as the airline, pilot experience, and the current demand for pilots in the industry.

To get the most accurate and up-to-date information on airline pilot salaries in California, it is recommended to refer to reputable sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics or industry-specific websites like Payscale.com.

Benefits and Perks

Being an airline pilot in California comes with a range of benefits and perks that make it an attractive profession. In addition to the thrill of flying and the opportunity to travel to different destinations, pilots enjoy several financial and lifestyle advantages.


One of the most appealing aspects of being an airline pilot is the retirement benefits. Pilots typically have access to generous retirement plans that provide financial security in their later years. These plans often include a combination of pension and 401(k) contributions, ensuring pilots have a comfortable retirement.

With the rising cost of living and uncertainty surrounding social security, having a solid retirement plan is crucial for long-term financial stability.


Pilots in California usually receive comprehensive healthcare benefits that cover medical, dental, and vision expenses. These healthcare plans are designed to ensure pilots and their families have access to quality medical care.

The coverage often extends to dependents, providing peace of mind and financial protection in case of any unexpected medical emergencies. It’s important for pilots to prioritize their health and well-being, and the robust healthcare benefits offered by airlines in California make this possible.

Travel Privileges

One of the most exciting perks of being an airline pilot is the travel privileges. Pilots and their immediate family members often enjoy significant discounts or even free flights on their airline’s routes.

This allows them to explore new destinations, experience different cultures, and create lasting memories with their loved ones. Additionally, pilots can take advantage of standby travel, which allows them to fly on a space-available basis even if they are not scheduled to work.

This flexibility opens up a world of possibilities for pilots to indulge in their passion for travel and exploration.

It’s important to note that benefits and perks can vary depending on the airline and the pilot’s level of experience. It’s always a good idea for aspiring pilots to research and compare the benefits offered by different airlines before making a career decision.

Factors That Impact Earnings

Pilot Shortage

The ongoing pilot shortage in the aviation industry has had a significant impact on airline pilot salaries in California. As airlines compete to attract and retain qualified pilots, they are offering more competitive salary packages.

This has resulted in increased earning potential for pilots in the state. According to a recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for airline pilots in California is $174,870, making it one of the highest-paying states for this profession.

Union Contracts

Union contracts also play a crucial role in determining airline pilot salaries. Unions negotiate on behalf of pilots to secure fair compensation, benefits, and working conditions. These contracts often include provisions for regular salary increases, bonuses, and retirement benefits.

California has a strong union presence in the aviation industry, with organizations such as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) and the Allied Pilots Association (APA) representing pilots in the state.

These unions work tirelessly to ensure that pilots receive competitive salaries that reflect their skills and responsibilities.

Federal Regulations

Federal regulations, such as those set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), also impact airline pilot earnings. These regulations govern various aspects of the aviation industry, including pilot training requirements, flight time and duty limitations, and safety standards.

Compliance with these regulations is crucial for pilots and airlines alike, and failure to adhere to them can result in severe consequences. While these regulations do not directly dictate pilot salaries, they indirectly influence the demand for pilots and the overall health of the industry.

A thriving industry with a high demand for pilots often translates into better job prospects and higher salaries for pilots.

It is important to note that airline pilot salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, type of aircraft flown, and the airline’s size and financial health. Additionally, regional differences in the cost of living can also impact earnings.

For more detailed and up-to-date information on airline pilot salaries in California, it is recommended to consult reputable sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), industry reports, and union websites.


In summary, airline pilots in California earn a very attractive salary ranging from around $80,000 to over $250,000, depending on experience, rank and airline. While the career involves major training and investment upfront, the eventual payoff can be quite rewarding.

Major airlines pay the highest, but even regional airline salaries allow a comfortable living in California. The pilot shortage has strengthened unions and pay rates, so now is a good time to enter the profession.

Hopefully this outline provides useful context on airline pilot salaries so you can make an informed career or hiring decision. Let us know if you have any other questions!

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