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Corp Vs. Airline!!!!

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Jan 26, 2002
Ok folks, knowing that any job is better than no job; I'm just curious about getting some unbiased opinions here. Anything and everything is appreciated. I wasnt to know what you think are the pros and cons of corporate and airline flying. Care to help me out?

I'll start by saying:

Pay: long-term, airline but a good corporate dept offers good salary sooner without the top-end pay

Equipment: corporate by and large

nights at home: most corporate or senior airliners

stability: tough one...airlines furlough and buy each other out but corporate depts are the first thing to go during recessions. Also, retirement age and type medical required can vary.

Any other thoughts?
OK, here goes.... I am going to give you the Pro's & Con's of Corporate..... I can't speak for the airlines firsthand as I have never worked for them, only what I know from people who work/worked for them.... I am 34 years old and have done the CFI thing, Charter (Part 135) and Corporate (Fortune 500)....

I'll address your questions in the order you inquired....

1. Pay: You are right, you probably aren't gonna make $300k at a Corporate Operator, but then again how many of the airline guys are either? Maybe the top 5% near retirement at the largest Majors? You will start out much higher in the first few years of pay at a good Corporation (our guys start first year at $72k-$75k)... but you will max out lower than some of the airlines... typically max pay is around $150-$160k for a line Captain (non-management position) probably comparable to an SWA Senior Capt.... if you end up as Department Manager or Chief Pilot it can be considerably more ($200k-$250k+).

2. Equipment: I have to agree with you... Corporate hands down... The CEO's & Presidents don't want to be riding around in ancient beat up planes... Typically good Corporate operators replace their fleets every 10 years or so... My companies fleet is all glass, the 900EX's have Heads-Up Displays, auto-throttles, CAT IIIa capabilty and the pax areas are plushly configured and everything is meticulously maintained.... the only reason we ever use an MEL is to get home if we don't have time to get something fixed on the road (that is MEL-able of course). We never dispatch from home base with inop items... even pax convienience items... Think of an airliner as a City Bus (you pay your money, you get to ride, no matter who you are) and that bus is there to make money, if it isn't flying it isn't generating revenue, if they can fly (legally) with something broke, they probably will (over cancelling the flight)... Now think of a Corporate airplane as a Personal Limosine (If you don't own it, you aren't riding in it! No bubble gum on the floor either!)... The Corporate airplane is there to safely transport high level company officials who have earned and are used to the convienience, security and privacy of a private plane. If something is broke, the boss wants it fixed, pronto!

3. Home at nights: Again I agree with you... from what I understand at the airlines if you are real senior you can bid the real good schedules... if your are junior, or junior on an airframe... you are going to get reserve or the crummy schedules... Corporate can vary greatly depending on the company you work for.... Typically the Fortune 500 companies use their planes for 99% business, generally these execs want to be home at night with their families too.... It is not uncommon for us to fly from the Midwest to the west coast, wait 3-4 hours and fly home in the same day... Duty day ends up being 13-14 hours and you wake up and go to sleep in your own bed... I average 3-5 nights a month in a hotel. If I do a lot of International Travel that number goes up slightly. I average 10-14 days of work per month. I am on salary so I get paid the same if I work 2 days in a month (which I have) or 14 days. As far as being on call.... At my company all trips are scheduled in advance, we generally know our trips at least a few days if not weeks in advance... Our dispatch is only open Mon-Fri 8-5 so if they aren't open they can't call you.... This factor can vary greatly from company to company...

4. Stability: A tough one.... before September 11, I would have said most of the large Major Airlines would have been more stable... but since I now have a bunch of friends who are furloughed from various major airlines... I can't say I agree... And also your statement "corporate depts are the first thing to go during recessions" that had more validity before Sept. 11.... Many corporations have realized the value in the added security, convienience and privacy of private planes... Many companies who may have considered downsizing before Sept. 11 changed their mind after all of the recent airline security issues and so forth. Airlines will never be as secure as a private plane, simply because the airlines allow the general public onboard, corporate planes do not. All the metal detectors in the world can't scan for a terrorists will to die.... and as Sept. 11 showed, that is the only weapon they really need...

5. Medical Requirements & Retirement age: This will vary from company to company... My company requires a First Class Medical, but only once per year (so 1/2 the year technically we are on 2nd class medicals) BUT on the opposing 6 months we go through a Company Executive physical which is way more thorough than any FAA Medical I have ever receieved. I guess you could look at it this way, our insurance company only requires the Class 2 medical, so if you couldn't obtain the Class 1 you could still work... Part 91 doesn't require the Class 1 like Part 121 does for Captain. Our company has a retirement age of 65 for the pilots, BUT they have been known to make it VERY lucrative for a pilot to retire when he reaches 60 (so in essence, they can't make you retire, but you would be dumb not too, financially)... As far as benefits, we get a Pension, Matching 401k, Life Insurance, Full Health Insurance (Health, vision, dental, etc..), Bonus Program, Stock Purchase Program (options), paid vacation, tuition reimbursment, credit union, etc...

Well I hope this helps.... Unfortunately, Corporate Operators can vary greatly... I can only speak for my company, whom I have been with for 5 years... And as far as my background, I have a 4 year degree and all the other requirements for the Majors... I just chose the Corporate route because it seemed like the thing for me... and I love it!

Good Luck!
Ditto on everything Falcon said. Corporate can offer many advantages that you will not get with the airlines. Corporate can offer the ability to stay put in a good job, or, it can give you the experience you need to go to the Majors. It depends what your long term goals are. I was a Flight Attendant for five yrs until I landed my current Corp job. I can say that I am home so much more than with the airline, and my quality of life has improved. Which is important with a two year old, another on the way, and my wife being sick for the last 7 1/2 months.

When it comes to pay you forgot pension and "B" funds. Would after 20 years at a corporate job would you have a pension of over 100,000 per year until your death. And the "B" fund could be worth over one million dollars (doing my best Dr. Evil).

But then furloughs happen and you wish you were still in corporate. You will discover which lifestyle makes you happy, then odds are, the money won't matter.

Have a wonderful and fulfilling career

Actually, don't discount the amount that a Corporate Pilot can make at retirement.....

As of right now with just annual raises (not including increases for promotions or anything like that)...

My Pension (A Fund) when I retire at 60 will be $161,850 per year (until death) and... IF I decide to work till 65 (which I can because we are Part 91) my Pension will be $242,640 per year!

my 401k (B Fund) (lump Sum) will be well over $4,500,000 based on a very conservative 7% annual rate of return. (at 9% return it is over $6,000,000) (At age 60)

That ain't too shabby if you ask me... I can live quite nicely on that kind of money....

And I am certainly not one of the highest paid Corporate Pilots out there..... not even close!

BUT like HumblePilot said, you've got to figure out which type of flying makes you happy and go for it... the money will be pretty good either way.....
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UAL lowdown.

First, a disclaimer. Everone gets their day in the sun. Right now it's not the airlines. This will be a small blip on the grand scheme of things, and in the future things will be good for the airlines too. I'm not taking away from the corporate guys, you certainly have their advantages and plot in the sun too, especially these days. And in the future it will still be a very nice warm spot, flying nicely maintained corporate jets around the country.

When layoffs are not going on, and hiring is happening (the state of the airlines at least half of the time) here's what to expect from the majors.

On the most JUNIOR equipment, 737 (ie least pay). Pay is current, like if you were hired today, except we all know where you's be today if you were hired today -on the street. But keep in mind what I said about how things change.

First year, 50K. Second, 86K. Third, 125K. By year 5 on a guppy you are probably the most senior in your base (everyone else is widebody or capt narrowbody) and you have 135K a year coming in, plus A fund, B fund (you put nothing toward's those) and then 401K (you can fund that yourself). As a newhire guy, you'll have reserve for about a year, and fly half of the time you are on reserve, have 12 guarunteed days off on top of the unused reserve days. It's ENTIRELY different than being at a regional. Being on reserve at a major is better than holding a good captain line at most regionals plus you have opportunity for major advancement in the future. As a senior guppy FO (5 years for example) you can bid day trips, be home at night, know your schedule to a tee 1.5 months ahead of time, trip trade to make it better, and have 17 days off a month. Better than banker's hours.

If you want money, you can bid widebody. If you're lucky and get 767 in newhire class you get the same as a 737 guy first year, but 2nd year is 97K, third is 147K, and 5th is 160K. Top out 12 yr FO on 767 is 180K, 747 FO 5th year is 223K. When I was new there were 6 month 747 FO's. This will probably not happen again for a while - a long while.

Keep in mind if you get greedy and go for the dough, you will not have a life, like you would if you keep your ego in check, fly the smaller stuff and take your days off. I'm not bragging about the majors - we all know where things are now. I just wanted to defend them a little as they certainly aren't a dungeon of despair like I see ots of guys saying who only flew at the regionals. Also, in bad times, you may get bumped off of your airplane and get put onto a more junior one, or get the street if you are in the lower 10 percent. Lots of downsides too.

Bottom line, enjoy what you have. Life is the goal, not some cold airplane. I'd rather work with great people than have a big payscale. If you can have both, good for you!
Thanks a lot for all of the sound advice. It is a tough choice to make, but we all have to do it sooner or later don't we? I think that I'm going to focus on the corporate aspect. It seems much more my speed. I prefer a hands on approach to flying and customer interaction.

Thanks again and good luck to everyone. It's a difficult time for all.

na265, I just re-read your post. I hope your wife gets better soon, and congrats on the new kid on the way! You have a great setup, being home and getting to fly. Tht's worth a lot more than some may think!!!!
Corp vs Airlines


The question of corp vs airlines is a subjective one at best due to all the variables involved, especially with corporates. If you do decide on the corporate life, (and it looks like you have), I'd recommend the following to improve your chances of adhereing to the criteria below;

Quality of life, security, longevity, and then compensation are my criteria while looking for a good corp job... in that order.

Look only at fortune companies with multiple aircraft. (Work your way up to one if you have to). There are good single aircraft operations out there but, in my opinion, the percentages will be in your favor with a bigger company and multiple aircraft. You may also be rated in more than one type of aircraft in a larger operation which makes you more marketable if things go bad.

If they don't want to relocate you, don't even consider a job with them.

Look at the crew per airframe ratio carefully and consider things like vacation times, holidays, sick days, and training schedules. All of these factors will directly impact quality of life issues. In some cases, you may be down to a skeleton crew 50% of the time or more.

Check the average age of the pilot force and determine an attrition rate. The quicker you move up in the ranks, the more security you will have. (It depends on the seniority system in place if any). Poor research and bad timing could put you on the bottom of the list for a long time. Last hired, first fired...

Hope it all works out for you. If I think of any other bits of advice learned the hard way, I'll let you know.

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