Real Answers from Real Pilots

Is Starting Pay Negotiable?


Is regional starting pay negotiable for individuals with the minimum required flight time, in addition to a master’s degree and non-pilot military aircraft maintenance officer experience? I’m specifically asking about wages, not seniority.

Right now I am earning $80-100k with potential for $120k by the time I would finish the remainder of my flight training and get hired onto the regionals (I’m already out of the military). I’m less concerned about seniority and more curious what my financial situation would look like transitioning. I would expect to take a significant pay cut, but I understand the first year at a regional has a total pay of ~$60k (sign-on bonuses) and the second year is less. That’s a big pill to swallow considering my current salary. I’m debating foregoing the airlines and continuing down a path of just retiring earlier, buying a cheap SE piston, and enjoying general aviation. I would prefer to stick around $60-70k each year, not just the first year before working my way back up.

Question 1: With the current pilot shortage, is salary semi-negotiable for the right candidate regardless of hours logged? Up to $60-65k each year while starting at bottom seniority?

I understand that if I want to fly, I shouldn’t be too worried about money, but please keep in mind that I’m not straight out of college and living with roomates. The first five years making $50k vs $65k makes a difference of a spouse having to work, childcare, etc. I just don’t know enough about the airlines/union and whether or not it’s a realistic opportunity to transition down to that salary versus forging ahead to retiring early and buying my own plane.

Question 2: Is there a reserve type of program in the airlines/charter that would be another option for me to keep my current career? Similar to military reserves, but for civilian?

Thanks in advance for any help!


No, pay is absolutely not negotiable. There are several issues at play here. To begin with, most airline pilots are represented by unions. Airlines and their unions are governed by the Railway Labor Act, so they are closed shops, meaning that you have to be a member of the union. Unions do not negotiate individual pay rates for various employees.

Secondly, and with all due respect, your master’s degree and non-aviation managerial experience really do not relate in any way to flying an airplane. You could maybe utilize those skills to try and move into the management side of the house, but as a line pilot those skills will not get you anything additional, nor should they.

As to the charter world, their schedules are even more demanding than our’s and provide even less notice. I can’t possibly see how one would work two jobs while flying corporate.



The answer is a resounding NO. ALL pilots and airlines are bound by union contracts (even if it’s non-union like SkyWest there’s still a Collective Bargaining agreement). With all due respect I (and the airline) don’t care if your have multiple doctorates, flew the Space Shuttle and were a United 747 Capt and CheckAirman yesterday, you will start at whatever first year pay is like everybody else. The only way to make more money is to fly more and that of course has FAA limitations.

As for question 2 if you mean Reserve in the same sense as the military, with 2 weeks a year and one weekend a month (or similar) then that’s another resounding no. Many pilot’s do have other jobs or careers but that usually happens after they gain some seniority and therefore have some control over their schedules. Now there’s nothing preventing it right off the bat BUT your other gig has to be something that’s extremely flexible because the airlines are not. Reserve at the airlines means you’re on call but until you gain some seniority you’d have little control over what days you have off.


Thanks for the quick replies guys! Very much appreciated!

Adam - regarding your comment about the Space Shuttle/United 747 Capt, transitioning military pilots don’t start back at the bottom though, so there’s an exception to that somewhere right? Is the military really having a retention problem of their pilots separating to go earn the same that a newly minted 1,000 hr restricted ATP holder is earning?

Please forgive my ignorance. I really appreciate the time you guys are sharing to help me understand this.

No Bob there isn’t. Ok change my SS/747 CA to F22 Rapture Major because there was one in one of my newhire classes last week sitting next to a young man who had been flying Cessna Caravans. SENIORITY is SENIORITY and the pay is the pay. The AirForce is losing pilots for a number of reasons and yes if they have the time they can go straight to a Major airline, but many can’t. Regardless everyone of them is taking a pay cut. It’s about lifestyle not money.



The military guys typically go straight to the majors and skip the regionals, but they enter the majors at the bottom of the seniority list. Keep in mind that Captains at the majors can easily make $300,000 or more per year, it is worth a few years of reduced pay.