Average Salary: $48,000
Expected Lifetime Earnings: $2,003,904
Typically, an air tanker pilot's pay is derived from two sources: a predetermined standby wage and 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, but generally speaking, the worse the fires, the more a pilot earns. In a severe fire season, some air tankers might fly well over 300 hours. In a year with few fires, those same pilots might only get about fifty hours in the air.
Yes, this is one of the few times you'll see a large group of people sitting around, crossing their fingers that a large section of the planet will burst into flames.
Pilots can usually expect to gross about $48,270 during an average contract period in a normal fire season (source). Most companies also offer some type of compensation for travel, lodging, and meals, and then a little somethin-somethin for mandatory days off.
Lots of pilots find short-term private contracts during the off-season, which helps supplement their income and keep their flying skills sharp. This might include corporate pilot work, seasonal crop dusting gigs, or perhaps short-duration aerial firefighting work with a municipal fire department.