This post was written for informational purposes only. Given the nature of this blogs target audience - aspiring pilots - this content is designed to provide context to the way in which pilots are paid in the United Kingdom. I accept no responsibility for any changes or inaccuracy in the content after the date in which it was published.
The simplest answer to your question is as reasonably as you might expect an airline pilot to be paid given my level of experience. Considering I've only been flying commercially for 8 months, I'm not earning the big big bucks that the media might have you believe. Nevertheless, the days of new pilots being agency workers are long gone which means it's certainly enough for me to repay my training debts, afford to rent a 2 bedroom flat with a Bristol postcode on my own, pay all of my bills and still being left with money for myself at the end of it all.
That doesn't answer your question though, right? Thought not.
To help you understand the complexities of pilot pay I thought I'd explain the basis of how most airline pilots are paid in the UK. This will be much more valuable for you instead of simply giving you an exact salary figure - which even if I wanted to give you I couldn't for contractual reasons. Even with such an explanation it's key for you to understand that there's not a blanket figure. For example, a Captain at a short-haul airline may be on less money than a Long-Haul pilot. A night-time Cargo pilot may be on even more money on top of that! The variety in numeration packages is quite vast.
If you're familiar with air travel you've no doubt seen that pilots hold a certain number of stripes upon their shoulders and jacket sleeves. These are referred to as epaulettes and the number of stripes typically dictates a pilots seniority within an airline. Traditionally it can be said that one stripe equates to a Second Officer (SO), a second stripe meaning First Officer (FO), the third identifying a Senior First Officer (SFO) and the final sought after stripe being reserved for the Captain. A captain occupies the left hand seat, is the most senior ranking member of crew aboard the aircraft, and holds the ultimate legal responsibility for the safety of a given flight.
Just to confuse things slightly, many airlines do things outside of the tradition. For example IndiGo Airlines use epaulettes similar to what looks like that of admiralty in a Navy and my airline have both Second Officers and First Officers wearing two-stripes. Ultimately the only thing that separates an SO, FO and SFO is experience and with experience comes knowledge of operating ones' aircraft. Airlines pay a premium for this experience in the form of a larger renumeration package. At my airline it can be said that an SFO is a Captain-ready pilot pending completion of all relevant interviews, command courses and associated training.
How long it takes to progress from one rank to the next and indeed the ranks used at a given airline is entirely dependant on the employer. It's usually based on a combination of flying hours and time in service. Of course, it's not always possible to promote somebody as soon as they reach given promotion criteria. Reasons for this are vast although would include internal policy, company growth and the base you work in. It has been known for pilots to re-locate to a different base to seek their captaincy due to growth in that bases market. i.e. London Gatwick would typically grow faster year on year than Newcastle might.
As already mentioned, at my airline the differentiator between Second Officer and First Officer is purely contractual. In the day to day operation pilots of both ranks wear two stripes upon their shoulders and carry out the exact same responsibilities. A cadet entrant, as I am, remains in the role of Second Officer until they have completed at least one full year of service and obtained around 1200 hours. Given the legal maximum of 900 flying hours per year, a fully utilised full-time pilot might expect to receive their First Officer contract towards the mid-point of their second year at the company.
For the purposes of this post I have taken pay figures from the Pilot Jobs Network website which are highly regarded for accurate pilot-contributed salary information. I've used easyJet's UK contract to produce the below table but accept no responsibility for the accuracy of pay data. The figures below presume the following:
|Rank||Annual Gross||Monthly NET|
|Senior First Officer||£65,604||£3,816.88|
N.B. As a cadet-entrant Second Officer graduating into easyJet from L3Harris Airline Academy or CAE, the annual gross figure is less than the above quoted due to the existence of a trainee bond, however what is effectively an increased tax-free allowance provides a larger NET pay of £300 - £400 per month. For an example of this in practice read my L3Harris training security bond post.
From the section above we already know a pilot is paid a basic salary based on rank but now let's consider two pilots of the same rank. We'll call them Pilot A and Pilot B. Pilot A worked 40 sectors (flights) in a given month whereas Pilot B won the jackpot in the roster-lottery and worked a total of 15 sectors in that same month. All of Pilot B's sectors were shorter days and Pilot A worked a larger number of four sector days. From this basic comparison we can see that Pilot A had the longer month and, arguably, worked much harder. Is that fair? I guess the answer to that is subjective, but the unions over the years didn't think so. Here's where sector pay comes in.
Sector pay exists to incentivise working longer days and it is therefore a payment on top of basic salary for each flight flown. Just like pilot ranks, sector pay varies from airline to airline too. Some pay this as a fixed amount per flight, others pay a percentage of a fixed amount depending on the length of a flight and some even pay an hourly rate. Either way, the pilot working the longer days therefore gets paid more for that given day than the pilot working a short two sector domestic.
Here's an example of two days for each of the above pilots:
Now let's look at how this works in practice...
For this example we'll return to the Pilot Jobs Network website and use easyJet's UK contract for the example figures. easyJet's UK contract pays a percentage of a fixed amount depending on sector length, dependant on rank, as below:
|Senior First Officer||£20.51|
The airline then pays a percentage of this sector pay amount depending on the length of the flight in nautical miles:
|1 to 400nm||0.80|
|401 to 1000nm||1.20|
|1001 to 1500nm||1.50|
Now let's break down both pilots' work days.
|Sector||FO & SFO Sector Pay||Captain Sector Pay|
|Bristol -> Bilbao||£24.62||£41.00|
|Bilbao -> Bristol||£24.62||£41.00|
|Bristol -> Madrid||£16.40||£27.37|
|Madrid -> Bristol||£16.40||£27.37|
|Sector||FO & SFO Sector Pay||Captain Sector Pay|
|Bristol -> Edinburgh||£16.40||£27.37|
|Edinburgh -> Bristol||£16.40||£27.37|
As you can see, the pilot working the much longer four sector day takes home considerably more for their time on that day than their peer who only does two quicker domestic flights. The total of a given months sector pay is summed and paid in addition to a months salary. This is then taxable. It is impossible for me to say how much a given months take home might be once sector pay is factored in as I don't yet receive it. What's more, there is such huge variety in contracts out there... part-time, 75%, 100%, etc etc that there's no real set fixed number of sectors per month either.
So there's basic salary and sector pay... what else could there possibly be? Well, pilots at some airlines might be paid for the following:
The list goes on, although these items are much more ad-hoc.
As you may now have learned, being an airline pilot is a very rewarding job both in terms of the view out of the window and the pay check we receive at the end of each month. However it bears a great responsibility and more often than not a significant outlay every single month to repay the typical pilot training loans.
While I might receive close to £3,000 in pay after tax, I am only left with a few hundred for myself once i've paid all my dues. Here's a breakdown of just exactly what I end up paying for each month:
With whatever is left I aim to put some away for a help to buy mortgage and pay off any remaining university student overdraft / credit card debts.
Hope this post has been insightful for you and helped you appreciate how pilot pay is worked out.
Any other questions on the career, then left me know.