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Pilots are typically thought of as having a solid career with great benefits and high pay. But when it comes down to it, where do pilots make the most money?

Airline pilots in the United States make the most money in Michigan, with an average salary of $238,270. The highest-paying US airline is Southwest Airlines, where pilots make $221,636 on average. Globally speaking, pilots working in China make the most money, with an average salary of $300,000.

While most pilots decided to become a pilot for more than just the money — i.e. a love of flying first and foremost — the money is definitely important! After all, there isn’t much you can do in this world without it. So in this article, we’ll break down where pilots make the most money here in the United States, worldwide, and even a breakdown among different airlines.

At SkyTough, our number one goal is providing our readers with the best, most helpful content that you will find on the web. The only way to do that is to do extensive research and discuss the topics with other experts in the aviation field so that we can get the full picture for you. So by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll know exactly where you should try to work if you want to make the most money that you can as a pilot.

Table of contents


Where Do Airline Pilots Make The Most Money In The US?

Since we could go on for days taking a look at how much every type of pilot makes, for the sake of brevity we’re going to focus on commercial airline pilots in this case. This way, we’re going to be leaving the relatively low-paying pilot jobs like recreational pilots and military pilots out of the equation since those numbers will heavily skew the average pay downwards.

And after all the training it takes to become a pilot, you’ll certainly want to be well-compensated! If you’re looking to become a pilot and want to know how to make the most money in the first place, then I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re thinking about becoming an airline pilot. Since that’s really where the money is going to be.

So let’s start by taking a look at which states pilots make the most money here in the US. You might be shocked at how big of a role geographic location plays in the average pilot salaries across the country. One thing to keep in mind while considering where you should move to is the different costs of living across the country as well; a higher salary might not always be worth it on its own!

Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Forbes published an article detailing the states in which pilots made the most and least amount of money, on average. According to their findings, the top ten states in which pilots make the most money are as follows:

As you can see, being an airline pilot can be a heck of a career based on just your salary alone! And that doesn’t even include any of the additional perks of being a pilot. But I have to say, I was a bit surprised that Michigan was the highest-paying state. I would’ve guessed that it would be Washington or California, but that’s why we do our research folks!

From the table above, you can see that pilots can make a really good living, even starting out from a young age. Also keep in mind that these are just the average salaries, so there are pilots making significantly more money than even these values. Compared to the national average salary of around $50,000 or so, pilots can make upwards of 4-5x more across the country. Not too bad!

For the sake of seeing just how much geographical location can play a role in what a pilot can make, let’s also take a look at the ten states in which pilots make the least money. From the same information published by Forbes, the lowest-paying states are:

While these numbers are significantly lower than the ones above, even the lowest-paying state of Tennessee still has an average salary of $88,540. That just goes to show you that no matter where you live in the US, you can make a great living as an airline pilot.

One other consideration to keep in mind when you decide where you want to live is taxes. The state you live in can have a large impact on your total take home pay based on how pilots are taxed!

Do Other Countries Pay Pilots More Than In The United States?

Even though you’re likely more concerned about where in the US you should work, you might be considering moving overseas anyway and want to see how the pay compares in other countries. After all, countries all over the world have airlines and need pilots. And if you do international flights, you could likely be coming back to the US as often as you’d like.

So let’s take a look at which countries have the highest pilot salaries in the world, just to give you the full picture. Based on this article from Naibuzz, here are the top ten highest paying countries in terms of pilot salaries:

Of note in the table above, the United States doesn’t even crack the top ten. With an average airline pilot salary of $141,000 according to, you will make significantly more money working in some other countries around the world. But there are many other things that you have to consider in other countries such as taxes, benefits, living conditions, and more. So don’t just base your home-base on nothing but salary when you’re considering where to live!

Which Airlines Pay Pilots The Most?

Since we’re looking into how much money airline pilots get paid, the logical next step to look at is which airlines actually pay their pilots the most. While the state and country you live in (and work in) can have a drastic effect on the amount of money you’ll make as a pilot, so too will the airline you choose to work for.

The numbers above are the average salaries of pilots in those states working for all the airlines that operate there. But all airlines are not created equal, and you’ll need to work for the right ones if you want to make as much money as possible during your career as a pilot. According to this article from Logic Publishers, here are the highest paying airlines in the world:

From the table above, you can see that multiple airlines in China offer the highest average salaries of any major airline in the world. But three of the United States’ bif four (Southwest, United, and Delta) also crack the top five. The bottom line is that as an airline pilot for any major airline in the world, you’ll have no trouble making six figures or more throughout most of your career.

With this information in hand, to make the most money as a pilot here in the United States, you should look for a position with Southwest Airlines based in Michigan. That’s the highest paying airline located in the state with the highest average salary. This will undoubtedly net you a career with a bunch of money involved.

But make sure you stash away enough money throughout your career so that you’re ready for retirement!