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Occupation Profile

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Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers
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Description: what do they do?
Pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft, usually on scheduled air carrier routes, for the transport of passengers and cargo. Requires Federal Air Transport Pilot certificate and rating for specific aircraft type used. Includes regional, National, and international airline pilots and flight instructors of airline pilots.
Also known as:
Airline Pilot (Captain), Pilot, Airline Transport Pilot, Captain, Check Airman, Airline Pilot, First Officer, Airline Captain, Commuter Pilot, Co-Pilot

    What does this information tell me?

    This description is a quick overview of what workers in this career might do.

    "Also known as" shows other common names for this career.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from an O*NET database. Learn more on the Help page.

Career video
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    Transcript: Flying a plane safely through the sky… with passengers or freight on board… takes more than excellent vision… airline and commercial pilots need quick reaction times and excellent problem-solving abilities. These pilots fly and navigate airplanes, helicopters, and other aircraft. Pilots run through detailed checks before every flight, including checking fuel supplies, aircraft weight limit, cargo balance, weather conditions, and aircraft condition. Tiny cockpits contain the flight crew for the duration of flight; strong teamwork and sharing of flight duties keep the pilot and copilot alert and rested. Pilots communicate frequently with air traffic controllers on the ground, from submitting their flight plan before take-off, to checking in during a flight, and receiving instructions for landing and handling storms or emergencies. Airline pilots fly public, scheduled flights. They may fly long-distance routes, and be away from home for extended periods. Those routes, along with mandatory rest periods between flights, cause pilots to have irregular work schedules. Pilots may be deputized as federal officers and carry firearms to protect the cockpit. Commercial pilots fly charter flights, rescue operations, firefighting missions, crop dusting flights, and take aerial photographs. They often have additional duties that include scheduling flights and aircraft maintenance. Those who fly at low levels must navigate hazards such as power lines. Commercial pilots typically need high school education, while airline pilots generally need a bachelor’s degree, the Airline Transport Pilot certificate, and thousands of hours of flight experience as a commercial or military pilot. All professional pilots must have a commercial pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Flight training usually begins at a flight school or with an independent instructor.
View transcript
Outlook: will there be jobs?
Image. Employment outlook for this occupation
New job opportunities are less likely in the future.


    What does this information tell me?

    Outlook information can tell you whether a career is expected to be in demand in the future—that is, whether there are likely to be job openings if you choose this career. Careers can have one of three outlooks:

    • A Bright outlook means new job opportunities are very likely in the future
    • An Average outlook means that a small number of new job opportunities are likely in the future (less than an 8 percent increase)
    • A Below Average outlook means new job opportunities are less likely in the future

    You can also view local job listings in this field by clicking "Find job openings" above. This can help you see if local businesses are hiring—another way of looking at demand.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET’s Bright Outlook occupations. Note this information is only available at a national level, so even if you selected a state, you’ll only see this information for the whole country.

Projected employment
N/A
2016 Employment
N/A
2026 Employment
N/A
Percent change
N/A
Annual projected job openings
United States
84,000
2016 Employment
86,900
2026 Employment
3%
Percent change
8,100
Annual projected job openings
N/A: We do not have employment projections in this state for this occupation.

    What does this information tell me?

    Projected employment shows how much employment is expected to grow in this occupation over a 10-year period. This can help you decide if this career is a good choice for future job opportunities. You can look at projected employment in your state, or in other states where you might consider living.

    You can see the total number of people employed in this occupation in 2016, the number expected to be employed in 2026, and rate of growth over those years.

    The projections are based on assumptions of unemployment rates and labor productivity growth rates.  While the projected numbers may not be exact, they are helpful to compare one career to another, or one location to another.

    What is the source of this information?

    State-level data come from Projections Central and each state's Labor Market Information office.

    National-level data come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Projections, 2016-26.

Typical wages

Annual wages for Airline Pilots, Copilots, and Flight Engineers in United States
This graph displays wage data.  Find details by selecting the table view.
This chart displays wage data.  Find details by selecting the table view.
LocationUSUnited States
10%N/A$65,690
25%N/A$94,380
MedianN/A$140,340
75%N/A$208,000+
90%N/A$208,000+


    What does this information tell me?

    This chart shows you a range of how much most workers in this occupation earn per hour, in the location that you selected.

    You can select from three views of this data:

    • The Graph shows you wages at the 10th, 25th, 50th, 75th and 90th percentiles. Note that the lowest (10th %ile) wage shown is not necessarily a "starting wage." Instead it means that 10 percent of all workers in this career earn less that this amount, and 90 percent earn more. However, you can assume that you might earn close to the 10th or 25th %ile wages when you start out in most careers.
    • Select "Chart" to see a visual comparison between national wages and wages in the location you selected.
    • Select "Table" to see more wage data the national and local level.

    Please note that wage data are not available at the city or ZIP code level. If you selected a city or ZIP code, you will see wage data for the regional area.

    Also note that in this update, 21 detailed occupations found within the 2010 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) were replaced with 10 new aggregations of those occupations; read more about these OES changes.

    You can learn more about wages for this and other occupations by clicking “See more wages” above.

    What is the source of this information?

    The wage information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics Program, 2018 data. For more detailed state wage data, please find the link to your state's wage data program in the Other Resources box.

Education and experience: to get started
People starting in this career usually have:
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Less than 5 years work experience
  • 1 to 12 months on-the-job training

Programs that can prepare you:

    What does this information tell me?

    This shows you the typical level of education, work experience, and on-the-job training that most people have when they start in this career. Note that these are not requirements for entering this field, but the information can help you understand how qualified you might be.

    Interested in starting in this career? You can search for education programs in your local area by clicking “Find local training” above.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections Education and Training Data.

Typical education
How much education do most people in this career have?
Chart. Percent of workers in this field by education level attained

    What does this information tell me?

    This chart shows you the range of education levels that people who currently work in this field have. You can use this to see if you fit in this range. Note that this includes ALL people who work in this field and not just those getting started.

    Interested in getting qualified for this career? You can search for programs that lead to the education needed, in your local area, by clicking “Find local training” above.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Office of Occupational Statistics and Employment Projections Education and Training Data.

Certifications: show your skills
Let employers know you have the skills to do well at this job.
Earning a certification can help you:
  • Get a job
  • Get a promotion

    What does this information tell me?

    When you click "Find certifications" you'll see a list of national certifications that are related to this career. From there, you can learn how to achieve one of these certifications to help you enter or get ahead in this field.

    What is the source of this information?

    This collection of occupational certifications is collected and regularly updated by CareerOneStop. Learn more at Certification Finder Help.

Licenses: do you need one?
Some states require an occupational license to work in this career.

    What does this information tell me?

    When you click "Find license details in your state" you'll see the license name and contact information for the agency in your state that oversees licensing for this field. If you have not selected a location, you'll see a list of all state licenses for this occupation.

    What is the source of this information?

    Information on licensed occupations is gathered in each state by Labor Market Information units under a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Learn more at License Finder Help.

Apprenticeships: learn on the job
Apprenticeships combine paid on-the-job-training with classroom lessons.

    What does this information tell me?

    When you click "Find apprenticeship sponsors" you'll find information that can help you locate apprenticeship opportunities in your state:

    • If there are businesses that have sponsored apprenticeships in this field in the past, you'll find their name and contact information.
    • If there are related occupations that might have apprenticeship opportunities, you'll find links to that information.
    • You'll also see contact information for state and federal agencies that oversee apprenticeship programs.

    What is the source of this information?

    Apprenticeship information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Apprenticeships, and from CareerOneStop. Learn more at Apprenticeship Finder Help.

Activities: what you might do in a day
  • Pilot aircraft.
  • Communicate with others to coordinate vehicle movement.
  • Monitor equipment gauges or displays to ensure proper operation.
  • Notify others of emergencies, problems, or hazards.
  • Respond to transportation emergencies.
  • Report vehicle or equipment malfunctions.
  • Monitor work environment to ensure safety or adherence to specifications.
  • Monitor engine operation or functioning.
  • Inspect aircraft or aircraft components.
  • Arrange maintenance activities.
  • Maintain locomotives or other rail equipment in good working condition.
  • Test performance of aircraft equipment.
  • Choose optimal transportation routes or speeds.
  • Coordinate flight control or management activities.
  • Meet with coworkers to communicate work orders or plans.
  • Resolve issues affecting transportation operations.
  • Record operational details of travel.
  • Train transportation or material moving personnel.
  • Plan flight operations.
  • Load shipments, belongings, or materials.
  • Direct material handling or moving activities.
  • Evaluate performance of applicants, trainees, or employees.
  • Provide transportation information to passengers or customers.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of typical work activities that people in this career might do on the job. You can use this list to get an idea of whether this career might be a good fit for you.

    Click on “More activities” to see more detailed examples of activities for this career.

    You can also use this list to help you prepare for a job interview. Or, if you’ve already held a job like this, you can copy these activities to use on your resume.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from O*NET OnLine's Occupation Information. They are O*NET’s Detailed Work Activities.

Knowledge
People in this career often know a lot about:
  • Transportation - Knowledge of principles and methods for moving people or goods by air, rail, sea, or road, including the relative costs and benefits.
  • Geography - Knowledge of principles and methods for describing the features of land, sea, and air masses, including their physical characteristics, locations, interrelationships, and distribution of plant, animal, and human life.
  • Mathematics - Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
  • English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.
  • Computers and Electronics - Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.
  • Psychology - Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.
  • Mechanical - Knowledge of machines and tools, including their designs, uses, repair, and maintenance.
  • Public Safety and Security - Knowledge of relevant equipment, policies, procedures, and strategies to promote effective local, state, or national security operations for the protection of people, data, property, and institutions.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of general knowledge areas that are most commonly required for jobs in the career. Knowledge is typically gained through education and related experience.

    This list can help you learn if you are prepared for a job in this career. It can also help you decide on education or training programs that could help you prepare for the career.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Knowledge descriptors.

Skills
People in this career often have these skills:
  • Operation and Control - Using equipment or systems.
  • Operation Monitoring - Watching gauges, dials, or display screens to make sure a machine is working.
  • Monitoring - Keeping track of how well people and/or groups are doing in order to make improvements.
  • Critical Thinking - Thinking about the pros and cons of different ways to solve a problem.
  • Active Listening - Listening to others, not interrupting, and asking good questions.
  • Complex Problem Solving - Noticing a problem and figuring out the best way to solve it.
  • Speaking - Talking to others.
  • Judgment and Decision Making - Thinking about the pros and cons of different options and picking the best one.
  • Reading Comprehension - Reading work-related information.
  • Time Management - Managing your time and the time of other people.
  • Active Learning - Figuring out how to use new ideas or things.
  • Coordination - Changing what is done based on other people's actions.
  • Social Perceptiveness - Understanding people's reactions.
  • Systems Analysis - Figuring out how a system should work and how changes in the future will affect it.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of a list the work-related skills most commonly required for jobs in the career.

    This list can help you understand how well your current skills fit this career. It can also help you plan your education or professional development.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Skills descriptors.

Abilities
People in this career often have talent in:
  • Control Precision - Quickly changing the controls of a machine, car, truck or boat.
  • Response Orientation - Quickly deciding if you should move your hand, foot, or other body part.
  • Problem Sensitivity - Noticing when problems happen.
  • Spatial Orientation - Knowing where things are around you.
  • Far Vision - Seeing details that are far away.
  • Rate Control - Changing when and how fast you move based on how something else is moving.
  • Flexibility of Closure - Seeing hidden patterns.
  • Depth Perception - Deciding which thing is closer or farther away from you, or deciding how far away it is from you.
  • Inductive Reasoning - Making general rules or coming up with answers from lots of detailed information.
  • Reaction Time - Quickly moving your hand, finger, or foot based on a sound, light, picture or other command.
  • Near Vision - Seeing details up close.
  • Multilimb Coordination - Using your arms and/or legs together while sitting, standing, or lying down.
  • Written Comprehension - Reading and understanding what is written.
  • Information Ordering - Ordering or arranging things.
  • Deductive Reasoning - Using rules to solve problems.
  • Oral Expression - Communicating by speaking.
  • Perceptual Speed - Quickly comparing groups of letters, numbers, pictures, or other things.
  • Selective Attention - Paying attention to something without being distracted.
  • Arm-Hand Steadiness - Keeping your arm or hand steady.
  • Oral Comprehension - Listening and understanding what people say.
  • Time Sharing - Doing two or more things at the same time.
  • Speech Recognition - Recognizing spoken words.
  • Hearing Sensitivity - Telling the difference between sounds.
  • Speech Clarity - Speaking clearly.
  • Visual Color Discrimination - Noticing the difference between colors, including shades and brightness.
  • Manual Dexterity - Holding or moving items with your hands.
  • Peripheral Vision - Seeing something to your side when your are looking ahead.
  • Night Vision - Seeing at night or under low light.
  • Auditory Attention - Paying attention to one sound while there are other distracting sounds.
  • Glare Sensitivity - Seeing something even if there is a glare or very bright light.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of a list of personal qualities that might influence work and are most commonly required for success in this career.

    This list can help you understand if your natural strengths and abilities are a good fit for this career.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Abilities descriptors.

Interests
  • Conventional - Occupations related to Conventional interests frequently involve following set procedures and routines. They include working with data and details more than with ideas. Usually there is a clear line of authority to follow.
  • Investigative - Occupations with Investigative interests frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. They often involve research and figuring out problems mentally.
  • Realistic - Occupations with Realistic interests frequently involve practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery. Many require working outside, and do not involve a lot of paperwork or working closely with others.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of work environment-preferences that are most commonly associated with the career. It can help you understand if your natural interests are a good fit for this career.

    Click "Take an interest assessment" for a quick 30-question assessment that can help you understand your interests and see careers that might be good matches for them.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from the O*NET Resource Center. Learn more about O*NET's Interest descriptors.

Typical tasks
  • Work as part of a flight team with other crew members, especially during takeoffs and landings.
  • Use instrumentation to guide flights when visibility is poor.
  • Start engines, operate controls, and pilot airplanes to transport passengers, mail, or freight, adhering to flight plans, regulations, and procedures.
  • Contact control towers for takeoff clearances, arrival instructions, and other information, using radio equipment.
  • Monitor gauges, warning devices, and control panels to verify aircraft performance and to regulate engine speed.
  • Respond to and report in-flight emergencies and malfunctions.
  • Steer aircraft along planned routes, using autopilot and flight management computers.
  • Check passenger and cargo distributions and fuel amounts to ensure that weight and balance specifications are met.
  • Monitor engine operation, fuel consumption, and functioning of aircraft systems during flights.
  • Inspect aircraft for defects and malfunctions, according to pre-flight checklists.
  • Perform minor maintenance work, or arrange for major maintenance.
  • Test and evaluate the performance of new aircraft.
  • Choose routes, altitudes, and speeds that will provide the fastest, safest, and smoothest flights.
  • Confer with flight dispatchers and weather forecasters to keep abreast of flight conditions.
  • Direct activities of aircraft crews during flights.
  • Coordinate flight activities with ground crews and air traffic control and inform crew members of flight and test procedures.
  • Brief crews about flight details, such as destinations, duties, and responsibilities.
  • Order changes in fuel supplies, loads, routes, or schedules to ensure safety of flights.
  • File instrument flight plans with air traffic control to ensure that flights are coordinated with other air traffic.
  • Conduct in-flight tests and evaluations at specified altitudes and in all types of weather to determine the receptivity and other characteristics of equipment and systems.
  • Record in log books information such as flight times, distances flown, and fuel consumption.
  • Instruct other pilots and student pilots in aircraft operations and the principles of flight.
  • Plan and formulate flight activities and test schedules and prepare flight evaluation reports.
  • Load smaller aircraft, handling passenger luggage and supervising refueling.
  • Evaluate other pilots or pilot-license applicants for proficiency.
  • Make announcements regarding flights, using public address systems.

    What does this information tell me?

    This is a list of typical tasks that people in this career might do on the job.  You can use this list to get an idea of whether this career might be a good fit for you.

    Click on “More tasks” to see more detailed examples for this career.

    You can also use this list to help you prepare for a job interview. Or, if you’ve already held a job like this, you can copy these tasks to use on your resume.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information comes from O*NET OnLine's Occupation Information. They are O*NET‘s Tasks.

Other resources

    What does this information tell me?

    These are additional online resources related to this career. You may find different or more detailed information at these sources.

    What is the source of this information?

    This information is collected and maintained by CareerOneStop.