Average Salary: $40,000
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $1,700,000
First, let's look at the variables that drive your air tanker pilot salary (yes, you're salaried, not an hourly employee). Remember you're working for one of several independent companies, so salaries can fluctuate to some degree, although you'll probably see an industry-wide range. Also consider that your company's fire season can vary from about five to seven months, although some companies have recently kept crews on standby even during off-season months.
Specifically, your pay is derived from two sources. You'll get a predetermined standby wage, along with actual flight pay. As you might expect, flight pay can be all over the map based on the number and severity of that season's fires. Generally, the worse the fires, the more you fly and the more income you earn. In a severe fire season, for example, some air tankers might fly well over 300 hours. In a year with few fires, an air tanker might only get about 50 hours in the air. Flight hours might also vary depending on your region, as some areas might see more frequency of fires.
With all that said, here are the salary numbers. During an average contract period, in a normal fire season, you can expect to gross about $40,000. Your company should also offer some type of compensation for travel, lodging, and meals, and perhaps for your mandatory days off. Keep in mind that during your company's off season, you might gather some more beans by finding a short-term pilot contract (which also helps keep your flying skills sharp). You might explore corporate pilot work, seasonal crop dusting gigs, or perhaps short-duration aerial firefighting work with a municipal fire department burdened by numerous wildland fires.