Countries With the Highest Number of Commercial Pilots

In this deep dive, Airways looks at the countries with the most Captains and First Officers.



April 16, 2023

DALLAS — The aviation industry is staffed with individuals who work around the clock. They are essential to the year-round operation, but more specifically the Captains and First Officers who work on the flight deck.

National aviation authorities keep most of the data regarding active aviation employees. However, they face various challenges in keeping track of active personnel and often provide rough estimates. International agencies, such as ICAO and IATA, or region-specific such as EASA, also keep track of such data.

While some aforementioned entities have not updated their annual reports during the pandemic, we've analyzed various in-house reports, previous and current official data, and reputable sources to round up a list of the countries with the highest number of commercial pilots.

American Airlines N836AA Boeing 787-9. Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

Market Outlook

We've read that there is a shortage of pilots among other aviation personnel. We've also heard that there is sufficient staff, some of whom are unemployed. So who's right and who's not? We asked the senior airline pilot and asked his thoughts on the matter.

The airline pilot, who asked for anonymity, stated, "Actually, the aviation industry is vast and so diverse that this number can vary widely across the regions."

"If we take developed countries, the growth rate and infrastructure are well suited for them, and these regions always have huge demand and equivalent or higher supply. In contrast, if we take developing regions such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, comparatively they will have higher demands and little lesser supply as they expand at higher rates," he added.

The Captain continued, "If we talk specifically about India, post-pandemic, there has been lots of growth, but to get a job in airlines, young aspirants and entry-level pilots will need CPL and type rating on particular aircraft and a certain amount of flight hours."

"The airlines and business charter operators need to recruit foreign expatriates only because of shortage of particular aircraft type pilot. However, for common types such as Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s, there is sufficient domestic supply," he added.

Well, the airline pilot we asked, in short, meant that some regions have a shortage, and some have a higher supply than demand. Subsequently, there will always be sufficient demand for experienced and skilled pilots worldwide.

According to CAE Outlook, Pilots over 50 yrs of age represent 38% of the total commercial aviation industry pilot pool. With the retirement of such pilots, the airline will need more pilots in the coming years.

As of 2019, there are 333K airplanes and 54K business jets active pilots, and in the coming decades, the number is expected to grow. CAE expects that by 2029, the commercial aviation industry will require 264K new pilots.

Airline and Business Jet Pilot Demand Outlook | Source: CAE | Photo: Airways

Continental Growth

CAE's first outlook on pilot demand in 2017 showed that there were 85,000 pilots in North and South America, 85,000 are in Asia Pacific (APAC), Europe employs more than 70,000, and the Middle East and Africa have 30,000 active pilots.

In the 2019 outlook, CAE reported the need for more than 91,000 pilots in Asia Pacific, 65,000 pilots in North America, 16,000 in South America, 42,000 in Europe, 25,000 in the Middle East, and 4,000 in Africa.

As of 2023, the APAC region has some of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world, including China and its province, India, Japan, Turkey, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The region is growing rapidly and will outgrow the other continents in the coming years. While North American countries lead the industry and have the highest number of commercial aviation pilots in the world, and Europe follows them in the list.

The figures shown were gathered from data pertaining to commercial pilots holders of CPL and ATPL licenses. We'll also mention the first mavericks of aviation for each country whenever possible.

Photo: Republic Airways associates

Countries With the Highest Number of Commercial Pilots

Few countries have more than 10,000 commercial pilots. We cannot rank them in the exact order as the data points we have sourced close estimates and not actual numbers.

As a result, we have divided the article into countries with 10,000 to 20,000 commercial pilots, and the Top five countries with the highest number of commercial pilots over 20,000.

ANA has enjoyed a resurgence in both domestic and international air travel. Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways.


Japan, well known for its artificial island airports, is considered the gateway to Asia for Western travelers. It is also home to All Nippon Airways (NH) and Japan Airlines (JL) among other carriers.

Statista states air transportation is primary for international and domestic long-haul commutes. IATA reports that the Japanese aviation sector will grow by 47% in 20 years. ICAO says the first pilot in Japan was Captain Yoshitoshi Tokugawa, who flew the Farman III airplane at Yoyogi, Tokyo, on December 19, 1910.

According to Civil Aviation Bureau - MLIT Japan, The country is the abode of close to 10,000 commercial pilots and has close to 7,000 ATPL holders. The number is rising as new carriers are commencing their operations. Subsequently, NH and JL, the largest carriers, continue recruiting more domestic and foreign pilots.

Azul PR-AIT Airbus A330-200(Todo Azul Livery). Photo: Otto Kirchof/Airways


Brazil is the largest aviation market in Latin America. It is home to airlines such as LATAM Brasil (JJ), Azul Brazilian Airlines (AD), and Gol Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes (G3).

Worth noting is that the first Brazilian pilot was Alberto Santos-Dumont, which flew various heavier-than-air aircraft at the beginning of the 20th century. He is deemed the father of Brazil's aviation industry, according to Smithsonian Education.

IATA predicts in its report that the Brazilian aviation market is expected to grow by 105% in the coming 20 years. According to the ANAC yearbook 2019, the country has approximately 10,000 commercial pilots including 6253 ATPL holders.

Brazilian airlines also recruit other regulatory-based pilots registered in their home countries, and they need to convert their licenses if they intend to fly for Brazilian carriers.

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Turkish Airlines TC-JOL Airbus A330-300
Turkish Airlines TC-JOL Airbus A330-300 | Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways


The Turkish aviation industry is regulated by Sivil Havacılık Genel Müdürlüğü, which means the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. The geographical location of Turkey makes it one of the transit points for South Asian and African countries to travel to Europe.

IATA reports that Turkey gets 86% of European passengers. The Turkish aviation industry will grow by 109 percent in the coming two decades by 2037.

While the country has close to 30,000 pilots, DGCA stated in 2022 that it has around 10,525 commercial pilots, many of which are airline pilots working for national carrier Turkish Airlines (TK).

Mehmet Fesa Evrensev, born in 1878 in Istanbul, was the first Turkish Ottoman plane pilot. He was also the first president of TK. Be sure to check out our aviation pioneer series for more information.

According to the airline's General Manager, Bilal Ekşi, TK is set to recruit 1200 more pilots in 2023. The airline made tremendous progress over two decades, there were 691 pilots in 2003, and today in 2023, it has 5,793 pilots.

Featured image: Aeromexico Boeing 787. Photo: Kochan Kleps/Airways


Agencia Federal de Aviación Civil (AFAC) regulates the Mexican civil aviation industry. The largest Mexican carrier is the 88-year-old Aeroméxico (AM), which employs the highest number of commercial pilots in the country.

The first pilot in Mexico is considered to be Emilio Carranza Rodríguez, who was born in Veracruz, Mexico, in 1905. Carranza became the first Mexican to receive a commercial pilot's license in the United States in 1926. The rough authority data estimates that the country has between 10-15K commercial pilots.

In a 2017 report, IATA predicted the country would grow 104% in the next 20 years.

Emirates Boeing 777-31HER (A6-EPZ). Photo: Marty Basaria/Airways.

United Arab Emirates (UAE)

According to an International airport review, the UAE is one of the fastest-emerging markets in aviation. The UAE will grow at a staggering pace of 5.7 percent each year in the coming two decades.

The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) regulates the country's civil aviation. The country has between 12-15K commercial pilots. Many of them are recruited by Emirates (EK) and Etihad Airways (EY). As of 2019, there were approx. 8,500 ATPL holders registered with GCAA.

An EK spokesperson once told Times of India the airline has close to 4000 pilots; out of that, 133 are Indian-origin personnel, and 57 fly the world's largest passenger airliner, Airbus A380. At the same time, the EY has close to 2500 pilots of different nationalities as of 2019.

The EK spokesperson added that the airline had pilots from 52 different countries on the Pilot career center blog website. Subsequently, the largest airline in UAE predominantly has British, Australian, and Canadian pilots to command its widebody fleet.

G-EIRH Aer Lingus Airbus A321-253NX A21N JFK KJFK. Photo: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways


The country's aviation industry is regulated by Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), headquartered in Dublin. IAA December 2021 data shows that Ireland has around 14,419 commercial pilots flying 1,200 aircraft t as of December 2021.

Harry Ferguson, a young boy in 1903 who took inspiration from the Wright brother's first heavier-than-air human-crewed flight, became the first pilot of Ireland.

In its 2017 report, IATA predicted that Ireland would witness 55% growth in 20 years.

VT-ANG Air India Boeing 787-8. Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways


India is the fastest-growing aviation industry in the world after China. It is regulated by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) under the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) India. Furthermore, the Indian aviation sector is currently the third-largest aviation market based on domestic air passenger traffic.

The DGCA registered more than 25,000 commercial pilots in the country as of 2022. Of these, there were close to 16,000 active commercial pilots working for IndiGo (6E), Air India (AI), and subsidiaries.

Airline wise pilot distribution in India

According to DGCA data from 2021, the country has around 8,573 ATPL holders. Of these, 6E has 3,734 pilots, while AI and its three other subsidiaries combined have 2629 pilots. Spicejet (SG) had 1,132 captains and first officers.

Additionally, India is the only country with approx. 15% of female pilots, i.e., nearly 3,750 licensed female flight crew out of 25K commercial pilots registered to date.

The first pilot of India was J.R.D Tata; he got his commercial license in 1929 and founded Tata Airlines in 1932, which later became Air India (AI) after it was sold to the government in 1951. Tata has again purchased the AI and placed orders for 470 airliners, increasing the need for more pilots in the country.

IATA 2017 report predicts a growth rate of 262% and will have the opportunity for thousands of commercial pilots in the coming two decades. The country gets the maximum passenger air traffic from the Asia Pacific (APAC) region, which accounts for 85% of total traffic.

There is significant growth in the country for aspiring pilots. DGCA issued 1,165 CPL licenses and 717 ATPL licenses in 2022. In that same year, nearly 50,000 students took the DGCA regulatory flight crew exam to become commercial pilots.

Lufthansa A380. Photo: Brad Tisdel/Airways


Luftfahrt-Bundesamt or lba is the German's national civil aviation authority. The country has approximately 15,000 commercial pilots, including 7,000 ATPL holders, as reported by lba.

As of 2018, the country's largest flag carrier Lufthansa (LH), employs nearly 4,000 pilots. Out of these, six percent are female pilots. Furthermore, the LH Group carrier combined has around 10,000 cockpit crews.

The country will have a steady growth of 49% in the coming two decades, as predicted by IATA in its 2017 report. Germany gets 81.6% of passenger air traffic from Europe.

Garuda Indonesia Boeing 777-300ER. Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways.


The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) regulates the Indonesian aviation industry. The country has 15,000 commercial pilots, as reported by DGCA Indonesia. Of these, 7150 are ATPL holders, and also, there are 654 foreign ex-pats.

IATA predicts that by 2036, Indonesia will become the world's fourth-largest air travel market. Its 2017 report also stated that the country would grow by a staggering 209% in the next 20 years.

The country is known for carriers such as Lion Air (JT), Garuda Indonesia (GA,) and other carriers operating mainly in Asia.

Qantas 787-9 VH-ZNJ
Qantas 787-9 VH-ZNJ | Photo: MichalMendyk/Airways


The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) regulates the Australian civil aviation industry. The CASA has registered 19,960 commercial pilots. Of these, 12,545 are CPL holders, and 7415 are ATPL holders.

IATA 2017 report predicts the country will have a 63% growth in the coming 20 years.

Air France operates the A350-900 on numerous long-haul routes from CDG. Photo: Francesco Cecchetti/Airways.


DGCA France regulates the French Civil Aviation Authority, established in 1946. The country is one of the early pioneers of aviation, it is home to many French aviators who invented and made various world-record flights.

According to the European Commission Dec 2015 report, there are between 16 to 20K commercial pilots. It can be noted that commercial pilots can also own a private license. Therefore, the actual number of pilots cannot be accurately calculated, as reported by the commission.

The Air France (AF) and KLM (KL) combined have 8565 pilots as of December 2021, as reported by Statista. The AF is the flag carrier and has partnered with KL, the oldest airline in the world.

IATA predicts the country will have decent aviation growth of 47% in 20 years.

American Airlines N836AA Boeing 787-9. Photo: Luca Flores/Airways

Top Five Countries

So, what countries surpass the 20k pilot mark? The countries below have made it into the list based on estimated data provided by regulatory bodies and verified international sources. Let's dive in.

Aeroflot VQ-BWF Boeing 737-8LJ Tags: Boeing 737-800 NG
Aeroflot VQ-BWF Boeing 737-8LJTags: Boeing 737-800 NG | Photo: Alberto Cucini/Airways


The Federal Agency for Air Transport (Rosaviatsiya) regulates the civil aviation industry in Russia, which has more than 20,000 commercial pilots.

However, on November 3, 2022, Insider Russia reported that Russia had 9,000 airline pilots and that around 1,000 had lost their job in the previous six months. Furthermore, Aeroflot (SU) had close to 2,300 pilots and only 57 international pilots as of 2019.

Following the Russia-Ukraine War, various countries, especially NATO member countries, imposed sanctions that included an air travel ban. This has decreased passenger demands and a lack of jobs for flight crew and other aviation professionals.

In 2017, IATA predicted that the air transport sector in Russia would grow by 76% in 20 years. Today paints a different picture for Russian commercial aviation.

Air Canada Boeing 787-9. Daniel Gorun/Airways


Transport Canada Civil Aviation (TCAA) regulates the civil aviation industry in the North American country. The authority was established in 1936 and is headquartered in Ottawa. Canadian contributions to the industry have provided solid foundations for modern aviation.

The first pilot in Canada is widely regarded to be John McCurdy, who piloted the Silver Dart on February 23, 1909, at Baddeck Bay in Nova Scotia. The flight covered a distance of about 800 meters and lasted only about half a minute, but it marked the first controlled-powered flight in Canada.

The TCCA, in its 2018 statistics, reported that there are 22,132 PPL holders, 13,595 CPL holders, and 7470 ATPL holders. The stats presented include airplane and helicopters CPL and ATPL holders. If we combine them, there are around 21,000 commercial pilots in Canada.

The Air Canada (AC) Pilots Association recently reported that there are around 4,500 pilots in the flag carrier. IATA 2017 report predicts that the country will have decent 51% growth in the coming two decades.

British Airways Airbus A320-251N G-TTNI. Photo: Dominik Csordás/Airways

United Kingdom

The UK's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regulates the civil aviation industry in the United Kingdom (UK). In its Dec 2020 data, CAA reported 151,809 pilots in the country.

The first pilot in the UK is widely recognized to be John William Dunne, who made his first powered flight in 1908. However, many other pioneers flew other aircraft types in the early 20th century.

CAA also reported close to 55,000 commercial pilots in the country. After taking an exit from Europe, the UK converted some 7,500 EASA licenses into CAA, as reported in the 2021 annual report.

Of all commercial pilots, there are 86,603 PPL holders, 32,290 CPL holders, and 21,908 ATPL holders. Remember that a single person can hold multiple category pilot licenses, and due to this, these are rough estimates. While according to, there are around 3,600 pilots in the country's flag carrier, British Airways (BA).

In a 2017 report, IATA predicted that the UK would have 33% growth in the next 20 years.

Air China B-1466 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Photo: Ryan Scottini/Airways


At number two, we have China, where the civil aviation industry is regulated by the Civil Aviation Administration Of China (CAAC).

According to CAAC's Statistical Bulletin of Civil Aviation Industry Development in 2021 report, there are 76,236 civilian pilots in the country. The most populated country registered 4,000 aircraft at the end of 2021.

Category wise pilot distribution, China as of 2021

While there are close to 70,000 commercial pilots, including 42,000+ CPL holders and 27,000+ ATPL holders. According to AIN 2017 report, Chinese carriers will need about 5,000 pilots each year for the next 20 years.

China is the largest market in aviation due to an increase in domestic air passenger traffic, which has surpassed the North American region. According to Boeing, the Chinese aviation market is expected to grow rapidly at a rate of 4.4% by 2040.

In a 2017 report, IATA estimates that the country will grow by 173% in the coming two decades.

Photo: Luke Ayers/Airways

United States

The US takes the top spot as the country with the highest number of commercial pilots. The civil aviation industry in the US is regulated by Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and is part of the US Department of Transportation (DoT). It is the second-largest aviation market in the world.

According to FAA 2022 data, the country has more than 270,000 commercial pilots, including 166K+ ATPL and 104K+ CPL holders. In 2022, FAA issued 13,715 CPL licenses, and around 9,588 ATPL licenses to various aspiring pilots.

If we talk about women pilots individually, the country has around 5% of them. The further breakdown will show us that the number is still higher than in other countries. There are around 9,000 CPL holders and more than 8,200 ATPL female pilots.

The US has some of the largest airlines in the world in terms of revenue and fleet size, [not to mention flight crews. For this reason, we have shared data for the big four US airlines for a general overview of the country's figures.

American Airlines (AA) has 17,915 pilots, as reported by AA in 2020; Delta Air Lines (DL) has around 15,000 pilots, as cited by; While United Airlines (UA) has 12,223 pilots, as reported by UA in 2021, and Southwest Airlines (WN) have around 10,000 pilots as cited by SW pilot association.

Big four US airlines pilots' data, as of 2023

The United States is the birthplace of the commercial aviation industry. From the first human flight to the world's largest aircraft factory or the largest airliner, the US has led the industry from its inception.

In 2017, IATA predicted that the country would grow 62% in the next two decades.

Photo: Delta Air Lines

Bottom Line

According to IATA Economics, the North American aviation industry recovered from the pandemic last year. Europe is said to recover this year. The APAC and Latin American regions are said to recover in 2024-25.

As a result, the US will remain the largest pilot-friendly market for some years to come. Subsequently, China will see tremendous pilot growth in the coming two decades. Finally, the emergence of India as an aviation market will create more opportunities for aspiring pilots.

Furthermore, developed nations such as the UK, Canada, France, Ireland, Japan, and Australia will have steady growth and demand for commercial pilots. Brazil, Indonesia, and the UAE won't fall that far behind, showing higher demand for pilots in the coming years.

The global aviation industry is getting back on track and will need more pilots and aviation professionals to support its growth. Boeing, in its 2022 Pilot and Technician Outlook (PTO), reported that there would be a need for 602,000 new commercial pilots in the coming 20 years.


Feature Image: American Airlines pilots at MIA. Photo: Brandon Wade/American Airlines. Graphs: Author