Where To Look

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Most of the new hires are with regional airlines, fractional operators and charters, which, despite the widely publicized problems of the big airlines, are, according to Darby, doing just fine, thank you. "They're growing, they're profitable and they're hiring," he said. But it's not only the bottom half of the market that's looking for pilots. Darby said Continental and Alaska Airlines are both in the market and freight carriers like UPS and FedEx have been unscathed by recent downturns by big iron operators. While it's true that wages are being cut and pension plans restructured, Darby said they're still a pretty good deal. Despite the rollbacks, the average top salary for airline pilots is $168,000 a year and for cargo pilots it's $193,000. (Good luck at the negotiating table.) While some pension funds are in well-publicized trouble, others are fully funded and will supply a secure retirement for thousands of pilots. Others are being replaced by new types of plans based on profit-sharing and 401(k) contributions. "Some of the replacement plans are pretty good," Darby said.