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The Pilot Shortage from an Insiders Perspective

Mamma

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What happens when the military dries up on large number of pilots for the airlines and the regionals cannot attract high quality pilots? We are in for a rough ride folks.

http://oldpinegroup.tumblr.com/post/76563744350/the-pilot-shortage-from-an-insiders-perspective

THE PILOT SHORTAGE FROM AN INSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE

By MICHAEL SCHNEIDER

February 13, 2014

CHICAGO? The regional (or Fee for Departure) segment of the airline industry is comprised of over 25 airlines, operating over 50% of all departures in the USA, and flying into the world?s most complex airspace, and largest (and sometimes smallest) airports, in some of the most challenging weather conditions on the globe.

This means that, at any given time, you are more likely to be flying on a regional airline than the mainline airline through which you?ve purchased your ticket. In fact, it was not until just recently that the airlines were required to tell you the name of the regional airline on which you are actually flying. Most people think that if they buy their ticket through United.com, for example, they will be flying on a United airplane, with United pilots, and United service. Many times, however, this is simply not the case.

You may recall the fatal crash in Buffalo, NY in February of 2009. Yesterday was the 5 year anniversary of this crash. It was Continental Connection flight 3407, operated by Colgan Air. Many friends and family members of those who died in that crash had never heard of Colgan. They were wondering why their loved ones were flying on Colgan when they thought they were flying on Continental. Much attention was focused on fatigue, and flying proficiency (rightly so), but there wasn?t much talk about pilot compensation. At the time of the crash, the First Officer earned about $20k/year. For her flight from Newark to Buffalo, she would have been paid about $30-$40. Total. For the entire flight.

Little has changed up to now unfortunately. Regional airplanes are painted in mainline colors, your flight is coded as a mainline flight, ticket agents, gate agents, and ground workers might all be employees of the mainline. But once you cross the threshold and board that regional jet, or turboprop, you can often hear passengers? exclamations of how much smaller the airplane is than they?d expected. The trend now, however, is to replace these smaller regional jets with larger, more sophisticated aircraft, carrying many more passengers. Instead of receiving raises, pilots are offered only concessions. Take it or leave it. Leave it, and we?ll place the aircraft at a cheaper airline and shut you down. This is the reality of regional airlines and its dangerous downward spiraling of pilot compensation at a time of record profits, as well as a scarcity of qualified pilots. We believe this is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.

We are: highly technically skilled, highly trained, highly competent, professional airline pilots operating some of the most complex equipment in and out of the busiest airports and airspace in the world, during all types of meteorological conditions.

But compared to our mainline peers, we are grossly undercompensated.

And chances are, we will be piloting your next flight.

The starting salary at a regional airline for First Officers (Co-Pilots) at one of the largest regional airlines is $23,256/yr. Broken down hourly, that?s a mere $12/hr, based on a 40-hour workweek.

You might hear the media and airline managements proclaim that we make a great hourly wage, but that?s entirely misleading. While away from home more often than at most full-time careers, airline pilots don?t get paid anywhere near 40 hours of pay a week.

Preflighting, flight planning, weather data gathering and interpreting, boarding, deplaning, configuring the cockpit before departure, maintenance delays, weather delays, inbound aircraft arrival delays, ?sit? time between flights, and any other time that the door is not closed with the parking brake released is ALL UNPAID.

Imagine only being paid at your job for performing specific tasks, while some of the most important parts of your work go unpaid. That is how airline pilot pay structure is set up.

Let?s do some quick math. Consider this: You?re flying from Chicago to (insert any smaller city within about a 1-2 hour range) let?s say Cleveland, Ohio. You purchased your ticket on AA.com and paid $150 for your one-way flight. You arrive at the airport and head to the American Airlines terminal. You get to your gate, and see AA flight 3575 to CLE will be an hour-long full flight. You board the airplane, and find your seat on the 50-seat Embraer painted in American Eagle colors. You hit some turbulence en route as the pilots navigate around some winter storms. You are confident in your pilots? ability to get you safely to your destination. As a professional airline pilot, your first officer is more than capable of completing the flight safely. But for his troubles, for this example flight, he will earn exactly $25.84, about $0.50 - yes that is fifty cents - per ticket. From your $150 ticket, a mere half a dollar will have gone to pay your First Officer. Chances are, you tipped your shuttle van driver more than your pilot made from your ticket.

In most industries, one can take their skill-set with them to another company or employer. Skills and experience do not lose value over time. If anything, their value increases.

But not at the airlines. A mainline Captain with 30 years of experience and tens of thousands of flight hours, who leaves for another airline, will make the exact same pay as a new-hire First Officer with the minimum qualifications. If Sully Sullenberger decided to come out of retirement tomorrow and fly for American Airlines, he would earn roughly $39,000 his first year, regardless of his very famous experience.


BUT WHY DO THEY PAY SO LITTLE?

The regional airline industry has experienced tremendous growth, as mainline airlines have essentially outsourced shorter flights to smaller cities to these traditionally entry-level regionals. While this may have worked early on, 9/11 changed everything. Whereas before pilots expected to spend only a few years at the regional level, able to move on quickly to mainline airlines, the post-9/11 industry experienced a period of extreme pilot career stagnation, resulting in an extended era of low wages, and inability to move on to the mainlines.

In short, the regional model is broken. The regionals are unsustainable, and everyone in the industry knows it. But instead of effectively managing their industry by offering competitive wages to attract new-hire pilots to staff the regionals, airline managements have decided to lower labor costs to the point of near-poverty level wages. This has only exacerbated the glooming pilot shortage.

To answer the question though, they pay so little because they can. As was previously mentioned, pilots cannot simply switch airlines if a competitor offers a better future. On the regional level, there are over 25 regional airlines providing passenger feed for the mainlines.

Mainline executives demand regional pilots agree to concessions, or the feed they provide will be awarded to the next lowest bidder, and your airline will be shut down.

This, in combination with the Railway Labor Act?s extreme restrictions on the ability for pilots to strike, has culminated into what we are seeing today: the erosion of the pilot profession, as airline executives realize record profits. We feel that near-poverty level wages has an adverse effect on safety, and that corporate greed will unfortunately be to blame for the next great air disaster.

We want our pilots focused on operating their aircraft, not wondering how they?re going to pay their bills.
 

Mamma

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But wait! There is more.....

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-02-12/pilot-shortage-is-an-airline-fairy-tale.html

Pilot Shortage Is an Airline Fairy Tale

By Matthew C. Klein Feb 12, 2014 11:38 AM PT

Airlines sell a commodity and buy from monopolies, i.e., the airports that provide landing rights. So it isn’t surprising they have such a tough time making money. Now they have another problem: There aren’t enough pilots and co-pilots willing to work for the low pay offered by regional carriers.

Airlines call this a “shortage” and blame a recent rule from the Federal Aviation Administration that mandates co-pilots have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience, up from 250. At the margin, the rule does reduce the number of people qualified to serve as a first officer on a plane, but that doesn’t mean there is a shortage.

According to the Airline Pilots Association, there are thousands of U.S. pilots who are either furloughed or unemployed, while thousands more have switched to foreign carriers that offer higher pay. According to the FAA, both the number of active certificates for airline pilots and the number of U.S. airline passengers have been little changed during the past five years -- not exactly what you would expect if there were a real shortage of workers. The situation is similar to the “shortage” of farm workers that vanished as soon as pay went up.

Like auto manufacturers, U.S. airlines operate in a two-tier labor market where some people get paid quite well and many others are paid much less. The relatively lucrative long-haul flights are run by the major airlines. Local flights are outsourced to regional operators, which try to keep costs low by paying workers as little as possible. According to the Wall Street Journal, a co-pilot at a regional carrier with five years of experience gets paid about $35,100 in base salary, while a co-pilot at a major carrier with the same experience gets $101,900 in base salary.

Although many commercial airline pilots get their experience and training in the military, those who don’t have to pay as much as $100,000 to get the required education and flying time -- an investment that can't be justified when the wages for new workers are so low. This helps explain why the average age of active airline transport pilots has increased to 49.9 in 2012 from 47 in 2003. Ticket prices have increased, but mostly in response to the rising cost of fuel. If airlines want to replace their aging corps of experienced pilots and continue serving second- and third-tier cities, they are going to need to boost pay and raise ticket prices. Alternatively, they should ditch unprofitable routes. At least that strategy doesn't require making up stories about pilot shortages.

(Matthew C. Klein is a writer for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @M_C_Klein.)

To contact the writer of this article: Matthew C. Klein at mklein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.
 

SpauldingSmails

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This helps explain why the average age of active airline transport pilots has increased to 49.9 in 2012 from 47 in 2003.
(Matthew C. Klein is a writer for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @M_C_Klein.)

To contact the writer of this article: Matthew C. Klein at mklein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net.

Not really. Flight school enrollments didn't fall off the cliff until about 2008.

Oh yeah, they raised the retirement age - didn't they?
 

pilotyip

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Not really. Flight school enrollments didn't fall off the cliff until about 2008.

Oh yeah, they raised the retirement age - didn't they?
but nothing to do with a near depression?
 

SpauldingSmails

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Median ages increased due to a relatively stagnant period at the airlines combined with an increased retirement age. Flight school enrollment (or lack thereof) is probably not what primarily caused in an increase in the average age of an active ATP from 2003-2012.

Agreed Dornier, most places were kept afloat by foreign enrollments.
 
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