Passion Has a Price

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I can rightlyóbut not necessarily proudlyóclaim dual citizenship in two Villages of the Damned: journalism and aviation. Journalism, that noble guardian of the public trust and traveler of the moral high road, has been utterly disrupted by the rise of countless internet news services and a young generation that doesnít read. In aviation, an asymptotic cost curve that shows no sign of abating is driving all but the very rich out of personal flying.

So when Iím asked by the fathers and mothers of friends if their sons and daughters should consider either journalism or aviation as a career, youíll pardon me for pausing and suggesting other fields, like medicine, technology or business. I might secretly wish it werenít so, but I openly shudder when serious research or a government report confirms what I know. That happened this week when the GAO released a study on the supposed airline pilot shortage.

ďSupposedĒ is the operative word because the GAOís data revealed a mixed view of why regional airlines arenít meeting their recruitment goals and how this is already impacting the daily grind of flight schedules.

There are probably multiple reasons for this, but one is the low starting salaries measured against the time and investment necessary to just get into the right seat of a regional jet. ALPA says the average starting salary of a regional first officer is about $22,000 and the GAO report found that the FO on that Colgan crash in Buffalo in 2009 had earned but $16,000 during the previous year. (Itís not clear if that was a full or partial year of employment.) I wouldnít argue that you can directly equate competence and safety to pilot pay, but I would ask what kind of an industry would knowingly pay its people so poorly? And if it truly has no choice, than how viable is that industry in the first place?

Now it is true that first officers do rise in the ranks and earn more money, but that advancement isnít as fast as it once was. And in any case, why should a person who invested, what, at least $100,000 in training and experience have to suffer starvation wages for a week, much less a couple of years? When I started as a lowly cub reporter, I made $9,000 a year. A pittance by todayís standards, but that was nearly 40 years ago. Adjusted for inflation, itís about $38,000óa livable short-term wage for a single person on a reasonable advancement track.

My instinctual reaction to things like this is to just suggest if you donít like the wages, work somewhere else and thatís evidently what many qualified pilots may be doing. This may be less predilection than it is having no choice at all. Your passion for slipping the surly bonds may run hot and deep, but you canít eat it. In a world economy thatís hyper-competitive, not many young people can afford the self-indulgence of entering careers that donít at least pay a living wage.

So to be blunt about it, if Iím asked about the advisability of spending the hundred grand to get one of these jobs, Iím certainly not going to sugar coat it. Anyone doing that needs to have his or her eyes open going in. The industry predicts pilot demand between 2000 and 4000 a year for the next decade. Those arenít very big numbers, meaning the job market could stagnate into a situation where the jobs arenít easy to come by, but require a big training investment to so much as qualify. And thereís the governmentís sticky thumbprint on this, requiring FOs to have ATPs and then making getting one of those vastly more expensive than it once was. What rational person would do this?

The GAO report said regionals are starting to wise up to what mess theyíve made of managing human capital. Theyíre beginning to offer signing bonuses and tuition payback, but I wonder if thatís going to be enough. The imbalance between the highest pilot salaries and the lowest has always been with us, but now it appears egregious to the point of dysfunction. I suppose when enough flights are cancelled for lack of crews, the regionals will adjust salaries accordingly. My vote would be to start the bidding at about twice the current average starting salary. And yes, as Iíve said before, Iíd pay the higher ticket price.

Join the conversation.
Read others' comments and add your own.

Comments (47)


Very interesting perspective. I have mentioned the same thing on my consulting page, that we really don't have a pilot shortage...we have a cost of living shortage! I know of at least five professional pilots who no longer work in the industry, as they wanted pay, stability, and a future that wasn't the off/on that aviation brings.

My personal story is quite similar, but from a professional pilot want-to-be that paid for all my training myself. While completing college with a bachelors in Business Admin/Finance, I decided to make the career move to aviation. Once I had completed all my school and flight training, I found that I had to work a full time job, to make the part time flight instruction work survivable so that I could eat. No worries, I am gaining flight time PIC right!

I sacrificed many things to be a professional pilot, working weekends, holidays, nights, you name it, I was on call and available. After several years, I was invited to a college classmates home for a summer bbq, and noted he drove a new car, had a nice home, and made four times my income while working about 55 hours per week...I was on the 65 hours per week program! I was still driving my 184,000 mile Corolla I had driven in college!

I went to the director of operations the following week, and asked for a raise. His response? I have a basket full of resume's that have people offering to fly for free! AND, AND, get this, we had a new King Air added to the charter certificate and many of these pilots were willing to PAY for the flight training to be PIC in the King Air!

Dangle that carrot baby!

At the time, I was sending 5 to 10 resume's out per week, subscribed to Air Jobs Digest, etc. and at the time, the hiring was not going on! All of the pilots were living the poverty experience, but the good news is that four of them now fly for the major airlines. Personally, I decided to pursue business as a sideline as I didn't want all my eggs in the same basket.

I don't want to sound bitter, but I do fly with other younger pilots as a crew, and most of them have that same experience that I had lived through. Underpaid, with two of them that I know of, simply walked away from the airline career, due to the FO pay they had can only get so much money from mom & dad before that gets old.

The fix has to be the regionals starting to pay a worthwhile salary, because there are many who would enjoy an aviation career, but just don't have the sugar daddy/mommy available. This is keeping the talented people out, and is a shame that management can't make this work. I understand that the majors work a contract with the RJ provider, but has anyone noticed that Mesaba, Pinnacle, and others are only whorehousing the service out, only to be cut out once they go bankrupt?

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | March 2, 2014 11:29 AM    Report this comment

Requiring an ATP for the FO and -- come this August, when you won't even be able to take the ATP written exam without the requisite flight experience -- is insane. It's the old 'which comes first thing' revisited. How do you get relevant flight time if you can't sit in the right seat and you can't sit there unless you have an ATP. This is our Government and it's unintended consequences legislation hard at work.

These days, it's rare to see the trailer of an 18-wheeler without an advertisement looking for drivers on it with competitive per mile rates offered. Maybe the airlines oughta do that, too? Paint help wanted signs on the tails of their airliners instead of Company colors. Instead of high rates of pay, they could say something like, "Pilots wanted ... poverty wages ... slow advancement ... long hours ... no stability ... retirement unlikely ... Inquire Within." Yeah ... that'll work.

I have a retired airline pilot friend with over 30K hours of flight time who hung up his 'hat' early ( 20+ years ago) because he said it was no longer ... "fun." I can imagine that'd be the same case squared, today. With an overzealous FAA looking for every excuse to bust people, Company policies with zero tolerance for any sort of deviation coupled with starvation wages, it's no wonder people like Mike shun what ought to be a wonderful career doing what they love. What a pity.

My friend -- above -- specialized in seaplane instruction after his airline career. He has 10K hours doing commercial work and instruction and -- these days -- offers one of the very last multi-engine seaplanes for instruction in the WORLD! The new ATP rules are effectively requiring that an airline pilot WITH an ATP (and maybe thousands of hours) to have 50 hours of time in class before they can take the ME-ATP check ride. At ~$400/hour, who can afford that? His airplane is getting cleaned up and is going on the block. Once those few multi-engine sea airplanes are gone ... it'll be nigh on impossible to get a multi-engine seaplane ATP unless your the Sultan of ... wherever.

The families of the Colgan tragedy who demanded 'something' from the FAA likely didn't intend for all of this to happen but ... nevertheless, it did. It's unlikely that the people who brought you this and the threat of sleep apnea testing will come to their senses. SO ... one razor blade at a time ... aviation, aviators and those who depend upon same for their living will pay the price. How sad.

My friend and I hoist a few each week at a popular airport restaurant in Florida and watch the 'wannabee's' come prancing in. We both shudder at the prospect at where all of this is headed. Once the 'oldies' hang up their ATP hats, it's lights out unless changes are made now. It's likely already too late. We didn't get to here overnight.

For me, when I retired from the USAF 25 years ago and contemplating an airline career, a much more lucrative offer to work as an engineer came along and I took it. Every time I climb onto an airliner, I look left in the doorway and think of what might have been ... until I think of this blog. No thanks ... I made the right choice. And I had -- and have -- the 'fever,' too. Oh well ... maybe in my next life?

Posted by: Larry Stencel | March 2, 2014 12:39 PM    Report this comment

I feel that after hearing/reading pilots, professors, and other's opinions we will begin to see regional airlines return to only flying real regional routes.

Regional airlines today carry about half of the domestic passengers in the US and "regional" pilots regularly fly routes like Miami to Houston to Denver in a day. In other words, what was once done by a 737 is done by RJ's. Now that 50 seat jets are cost prohibitive and regional airlines have staffing issues (due to lack of pilots, pay, or whatever) their longer routes will be taken back by their mothership (which will have little trouble finding qualified people), or routes will disappear completely, perhaps even go seasonal. That would then free up pilots to fly the puddle jumper routes like Atlanta to Birmingham, Al. Finally, this shortage thing will come to an end.

I also could see that once the burden shifts to the mainline carriers ticket prices will go up. If that happens then demand might decline some anyways, who knows.

I also agree with the statement of there are plenty a pilots, they simply choose to do something else that makes them more money, or to be home everyday, etc.

Posted by: Joshua Waters | March 2, 2014 1:13 PM    Report this comment

I got my private my senior year in high school and got accepted into a 4 year aviation university. I was set on being an airline pilot, it's practically all I thought about. My aviation college had a relationship with Horizon Air that guaranteed an interview after graduation. My mind was set on flying in the Pacific Northwest as an airline pilot for Horizon. I ignored all the old timers on countless aviation forums who told me to think twice about pursuing flying as a career.

I breezed through my first year with a 3.5 GPA and got my instrument rating flying shiny new Warriors around with Garmin 430's and shooting RNAV approaches to minimums. I thought how cool it was to do this for a job one day. I was given the keys to a 152 for the summer and spent all summer time building and flying everywhere I could. My parents spent nearly $35,000 that year on my tuition and flight costs. I was having a great time until I got a call from my mom that went something along the lines of, "We can't afford this anymore, come home and get your degree here."

I was discouraged, but continued working on my commercial while finishing my degree in psychology at the local university. Finally one day it all clicked, "I've spent over $40,000 dollars on flight training and I don't even have a commercial rating to show for it yet." The starting pay for a regional FO was in the $20,000 dollar range and I still have to get my commercial, multi engine, CFI rating, and then build time as a CFI along with multi time just so I can get a job making $20,000 a year?

I graduated with my psychology and found my love was working for non-profits. After my first year, I made $35,000 a year which would have taken me many years to obtain that salary working for most regionals. I still keep a close eye on the industry, but now more than ever I realized I've made the right choice in my career.

Posted by: Chris Boyd | March 2, 2014 4:14 PM    Report this comment

"The imbalance between the highest pilot salaries and the lowest has always been with us, but now it appears egregious to the point of dysfunction."

It is about time this problem comes out loud and clear. Pay pilots at the same scale as Air Traffic Controllers. Simple.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 2, 2014 5:53 PM    Report this comment

No pilots, no private aviation, no commercial aviation, no aerospace. My underlying argument is that the American aviation industry is in decline and it begins and ends with the pilot population. Create new airplane pilots and all else follows. To sustain the commercial pilot population growth there must be an equitable pay to that of the investment. This is an insentive disregarded by the employers thus, in part, contributing to the continuing decline. Make more skillful and better educated pilots - yes - But emphasize and implement early the need for industry employers to pay proportionally equal to the cost of becoming a more skillful and better educated pilot.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 2, 2014 5:56 PM    Report this comment

"Passion has a price"; - or how about; passion or profit'? I think Paul here touched on a fundamental problem not just in the airline "piloting" career of late and present, but an economic principal - that of supply and demand, in ALMOST all areas of aviation.

Lets take a look; to many unjustified GA airports, 4-5 FBO's on an airport when MAYBE 2 will serve the market;. a flight school in Poduck (your choice of states) with a county population of barely 15k, an high unemployment rate of 13%+, and average household income $7k BELOW the states average of $29K. But, because NO flight school is THERE, a "need" MUST exist - HELLO?

I have summarized, given the "audience" and readers here of this very fine publication, that perhaps 99% are from "pilot and technical" backgrounds, and I would venture that possibly 1% or less, are from business backgrounds/education in or outside of aviation
That said, my '"comments" in previous blogs have been, without bias, favoritism and "passion" towards aviation; strictly an unemotional, un-bias, "objective" SERIOUS business perspective.

Although my career goals weren't in the professional piloting ONLY of airliners or corporate jets, I did obtain the usual basic rating to earn a comfortable living as a CFI and flight school principal in the mid 60's and early 70's.

Having had a few business courses under my "wing" and very a entrepreneurial personality from about 11 years of age on, my objective was to be in the BUSINESS of aviation, and incidentally, fly airplanes, in that order!

But after nearly 12 years of being about as compatible as a "boa constructor in a cage of white mice" in a pet shop, I departed in the spring of 1978 going on age 35. I soon came to terms THAT unless you weren't interested in a PILOTING career, not my gig, I WAS the "geek" in the room!

All the unbridled passion in the world, however, doesn't guarantee financial results in ANY field of endeavor. Frankly, I think so much of GA and those pilot and technical guys/gals, look down upon the "business person" with indifference ;YET, this very lack of talent, in my opinion, IS the very thing that's needed , but not wanted or welcomed, by the entire GA industry - its own worst enemy?

I too, like Chris Boyd, and I'm sure many others, left for "$greener$ pastures". years ago - with little or no regrets. Everything in life has "trade offs" - just a mater of priorities - right?

So when ANY person of ANY age tells me he/she is "passionate" about GA or aviation in general - they already loss money - one way or another - but that's THIER choice!

Almost forget; a blog that may be of interest, related to this theme, titled; "Passion or Profit" March 2012, on our site at: - COMMENTS please?

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 2, 2014 6:07 PM    Report this comment

"Now Rafael, you've been to the principals office 4 times in the last 2 weeks over this
pilot protest thing. So, I want you to go to the black (they still have them?) and write:
Now, if you can do that, I'll see you get a "star" on your next report card!

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 2, 2014 9:38 PM    Report this comment

Finally, a credible non-aviation non-political government agency report acknowledging that there is no pilot shortage. Took long enough. The only thing that will solve any future lack of pilot staff is money. Pilot candidates are finally catching on that it does not make sense to pay out $100k+ for a job that might pay $20k a year. Until operators realize this nothing will change except for the possible shut down of airline companies due to lack of staff willing to fly for nothing.

Posted by: matthew wagner | March 2, 2014 10:29 PM    Report this comment

The GAO Report is inconclusive, the information they gathered is from sources supporting one side of the argument or the other. The following GAO report quotations are indicators of areas of concern. A decreasing number of new pilot starts and aging will affect the human resource demand and supply balance as much as the ROI. Pay more as an incentive to pursue a career in aviation as a pilot. The airlines won't pay more for the same if they can prevent it. Therefore the disincentive and the decline continues.

"Data Are Mixed Regarding the Extent of an Airline Pilot Shortage, but Regional Airlines Are Difficulties Hiring Entry-Level Pilots"

"Another study concludes that future supply will be insufficient, absent any actions taken, largely resulting from accelerating costs of pilot education and training. Such costs deter individuals from pursuing a pilot career."

"Pilot schools that GAO interviewed reported fewer students entering their programs resulting from concerns over the high costs of education and low entry-level pay at regional airlines."

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 12:03 AM    Report this comment

I've said many a time, I would love to fly as my career. Probably not transport, I don't think I'd love having scheduled routes and only flying to and from major airports. But charter, corporate, maybe cargo, probably flight instruction, I think I would be happy as a clam. Meeting new people every day, flying to new airports, doing my own flight & mission planning, real IFR. Sounds like heaven.

But the fact remains, I can fly plenty by working a six-figure day job (and that's less than 10 years out of college) and flying on the weekends. I fly fewer hours than by trying to afford to eat by working as a flight instructor, sure. But I can afford to eat, well, with enough money left over to rent on the weekends still.

So, I work my day job, which if I'm not passionate about, I still enjoy greatly, and rent Pipers on the weekend. Maybe my irrational side will win me over one day and I'll buy a Mooney.

Regardless, unless as a semi-retirement job, I'll certainly never fly as a way of getting paid. I'd love to, and I'd gladly take a pay cut to do it, since it really would be a "passion." But I can't justify starving.

Posted by: Joshua Levinson | March 3, 2014 1:11 AM    Report this comment

My dad is a pilot for a major airline, and when I mentioned many years ago that I wanted to be one too, he shot me a dirty look and said "Don't be an idiot. Get a good job and fly for yourself." It hurt, but as I got older and heard the stories about dealing with the FAA, management directives, and the general public, I began to understand why he said that.
So, rather than pursue all the ratings and chase a job paying food-stamp wages while trying to pay off enough debt for a house, I stopped with a Private and went to engineering school. I'm now living comfortably, working four days a week, sleeping in my own bed every night, and building an RV-7. My desk doesn't have a window and it doesn't leave the ground, but that's a small price to pay.

Posted by: Bob Martin | March 3, 2014 8:17 AM    Report this comment

unfortunately when we pay too little we virtually guarantee that the best and the brightest will do something else where the pay is reasonable. I want a good pilot at the controls not one who is in the job because this is the only job he can do.

Posted by: BILL LAWSON | March 3, 2014 8:53 AM    Report this comment

ALL of the aviation industry, both GA and commercial (airlines) are a very high "fixed cost" business.
That said, here's what's keeping the low wages for "airline" want-a be's at 30 cents on the dollar:

1. An over supply of "passionate" driven career aviators who are WILLING to whorehouse out their skills to, an ideal end, ($$$$?) "somewhere down the runway'? THE HUMAN RESOURCES DEPT OF THE AIRLINES KNOW THIS - "take a number- we'll call you"!
2. On increasing the salaries to a "normal" pay level, if financially feasible, would result in higher "break-even" points, which would translate to HIGHER airfares passed on to the consumer; Since this IS (airline travel) a price sensitive business to began with, how could these price INCREASES affect demand - BIG TIME PRICE WAR and a slowing of demand by "Joe and Jane " air traveler?

I see this a "double edge sword" - comments?

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 3, 2014 9:38 AM    Report this comment

What is not discussed is the decline of new starts and how it affects recreational or private aviation or non-commercial GA. This is source for all commercial operations. General Aviation is affected by the decline, there are less flight school, less independent active CFIs. So the decline continues - everyone is affected. So I say; Less student pilots, less flight schools, less instrument rated pilots, less commercial pilots, not enough ATPs, less OEMs in aviation. It all starts and ends with the pilot population.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 9:55 AM    Report this comment

Respectfully Rafael: I don't think ANYONE here would disagree with "we need more pilots"!
The points previously made are simply this:
1. WHAT motive, other than "passion", would a practical rational thinking person have for entering aviation as a profession - excluding the "weekend" or recreational pilot ?
2. And WHAT benefit other than the "utility value" have for the potential weekend or recreational flyer have when so MANY less time and costly recreational alternatives are available NOW - 2014?

OK, You'll take what's "behind door # 2?"

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 3, 2014 10:37 AM    Report this comment

Pilot salaries at the regional level will never go up.

The pilot unions negotiate with management on the pay. But it is the pilot group that eat their own young by setting a pay scale that benefits the senior pilots while choking the juniors into welfare. In order for the juniors to get a meaningful pay increase, you would need to reduce the senior pilot pay rate and move that excess over to the junior side. That, is simply not going to happen. I can't see 3,000 captains take a $5/hour pay cut to move it over to the starving junior FOs. There's also the sentiment from the captains that they "paid their dues" and so should the juniors; except back in their days, $20,000 was liveable. The senior pilots will eat their younglings. Those boats, sports cars, and big houses don't pay for themselves.

Management is using bonuses as a tool to attract new pilots because that's not contractually obligatory. The sad part of a bonus is, it's typically paid over 2 years with a 40% government take on bonuses immediately. So that $10,000 bonus is really $6,000, paid over 24 months, which comes to $250/month. It's hardly anything to write home about. It's not even a student loan payment.

What I find interesting is that the GAO suggested as a possible course of action for the airlines is to "contract the work out". There is already efforts to get offshore pilots to fly on American airliners. The vultures are smelling the blood, and they are circling overhead. It was also interesting to see the GAO state in its conclusion that they have no recommendations because the airlines have options they can take. This basically suggests that there's no pilot shortage.

I say that again. There is no pilot shortage. New pilots are unwilling to work for poverty wages. Existing pilots can't get hired due to age and gender discrimination. Legacy airlines are passing over experienced, middle aged pilots at the regional level. They are passing over white males in favor of females. The airline management knows what they are doing. They will do everything in their power to not pay an additional cent to pilots if they can help it. Hence, they cry out about a "pilot shortage" in hopes that the government will recind the 1,500 hour and fatigue rules. They are even seriously exploring the MPL option. It's a game that airline management is play...and they are playing it very well.

I think part of the pilot decline in GA is because otherwise career oriented pilots are no longer interested in getting involved with it. They represent a good chunk of new pilots, and their lack of participation in dragging down the pilot numbers. But I don't think GA is necessarily in trouble as there will always be the well to do folks who will have the time and money to get involved with aviation.

This pilot problem is not new. It's just that the media recently woke up to it as a result of Colgan 3407. And the underlying issues stems FAR deeper than what the media and the GAO report has brought to light. The general public only sees the weeds around the rabbit hole. It really has no idea how deep it actually is.

Posted by: Amy Zucco | March 3, 2014 10:52 AM    Report this comment

Yes, a better career path would be to go into debt and get a BA degree in say, history or diversity studies and then get a job at....Starbucks for $22,000/year.

There is nothing wrong with working your way up from the bottom. If the airlines can't get enough qualified people then they will have to do something different. It doesn't require a stupid congressional investigation. If Congress and their constituents don't like paying the resulting ticket price, they might reconsider their recent forays into telling the FAA what pilot qualifications they must institute.

Posted by: Stephen Phoenix | March 3, 2014 11:08 AM    Report this comment

The pilot shortage is all about supply and demand in a free market. The reason there aren't enough pilots is that demand SHOULD bring real wages up.

As the regional airlines park airplanes due to a crew shortage, and the majors start seeing a problem with this, the cost of doing business will be such that higher wages will be needed. Lost business or higher wages will be the end equation to fix the problem.

In the past, there were many who would sacrifice to make it, but as the next generation just doesn't think the same way. They want/demand more than at any other time, not just as pilots but as other companies have experienced, they just won't give their entire life to work. They want pay, time off, recreation, stability, and all the benefits. They typically get it if they have talent...which most do.

Posted by: Michael Dempsey | March 3, 2014 11:14 AM    Report this comment

I agree with Stephen Phoenix.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 11:43 AM    Report this comment

"It was also interesting to see the GAO state in its conclusion that they have no recommendations because the airlines have options they can take. This basically suggests that there's no pilot shortage."

Amy, it basically says that the airlines are in control.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 11:48 AM    Report this comment

Well, I guess nothing really has changed. From many on this thread describing stories of woe that they just had to leave the profession because it didn't meet their expectations, note that they seem to align perfectly with the younger generation today and their wants and needs concerning their view on entering aviation.

Passion has a price, indeed. Every farmer, construction worker, real estate agent, actor, artist, writer, salesperson - dozens of careers that do not guarantee a steady, high-paying wage are all paying that price for their respective choices of careers. Thankfully, we rarely hear a collective whine about how tough they have it or how much they sacrifice for their passion. I never hear it from returning Vets. Most could care less about anything but their passion to serve. The price for these groups of not following their life's work is evidently far greater than for following it.

I would pay more for a ticket, too. And I would love to see more equity and less greed demonstrated by the airlines and business leaders, heck, in every department of life, but I'm not going to sit around and wait for it. As if it's something new under the sun and we're just emerging from a state of bliss? Get busy living or get busy dying, either way, quit yer bitchin.

Posted by: David Miller | March 3, 2014 12:43 PM    Report this comment

If it gets difficult to recruit pilots from a small pool of self-financed pilots, the airlines could start ab-initio training. Lufthansa did this for years in AZ.

If it does happen, the entry level pay scale probably wouldn't change much. New pilots would be under contracts that would cover that.

And for the small number of pilots needed, this activity would not have a significant impact on GA as we know it.

Not much impact on manufacturers either. Lufthansa used Debonairs and Barons. Put 10s of thousands of hours on the aircraft. Certainly not going to double unit sales.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 3, 2014 2:06 PM    Report this comment

I agree Edd.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 2:47 PM    Report this comment

An anecdote about job satisfaction as an airline pilot advances through the ranks.

Delta flys a non-stop flight from Atlanta to South Africa. Sufficient crew is needed to stay within FAA flight hour regs. #1 crew are responsible for TO and landing. #2 crew put their hours in during the cruise phase of the flight. Must be great fun just sitting there monitoring the electrics.

So, it turns out that #2 crew members don't get TOs or landings. I think one landing is required every 90 days. As this does not happen, the airlines have had to qualify simulators for the crew to log their required landings. More great fun.

Hopefully these people get to fly something on their time off. They're certainly not doing any flying on the job.

Posted by: Edd Weninger | March 3, 2014 2:54 PM    Report this comment

One thing I havent seen mentioned here is that the US taxpayer used to subsidize the airlines by providing a significant applicant pool of military veteran pilots from WWII to the end of the Cold War.

Posted by: Jim Lo Bue | March 3, 2014 3:56 PM    Report this comment

Viet Nam era military pilots and the GI Bill boosted the Commercial pilot ranks helping the aviation industry. A 1970s subsidy that in turn lessened the pain induced by the price of the passion. I am one of those benefited then. Thanks for letting me share.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 4:55 PM    Report this comment

Rod Beck, It is difficult sometimes to voice one's opinion when you know the other person disagrees with you. But when the argument is sincere then I pursue the matter to understand and help solve the dilemma. I do not dig in. The problem is the diminishing pilot population, low entry-level pay, no ROI, and the inaction from the industry's stakeholders. It is growing worse and we do NOTHING TO SOLVE IT.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 8:28 PM    Report this comment

Mr.Sierra; I think the obvious here (so called pilot shortage) is factual - WE agree!
Now, I don't deal in opinions - generally well documented facts - merely the messenger..
As you elude to; the end came here is SOLVING the problem - right?
BUT, WHAT is the problem; and is it solvable, and if so, at WHAT "cost"?

Frankly, there's NO single "bandaide solution" which I think your searching for.
I have a penchant for solving BUSINESS problems, an analyst of sorts. May I ask when you "refer" to a pilot shortage, professional or weekend or both?

Lets try this; as you mentioned; ROI (Return On Investment) as the "end goal" possibly?
OK, then; I could teach a basic economic course here, but not the time or ideal forum for it. That said, I would refer to the term; :"opportunity cost". Check out the meaning if your not familiar with it. This is the ANSWER - not the solution. The "solution(s)", however, is rooted in this principal. And no hard feeling - OK?

Lastly; you may know of the aircraft price guide; the "Aircraft Price Digest"? Many years ago, on the back cover, was their slogan' "Your judgment is no better than your information" - has a lot of meaning to this day - wouldn't you agree?

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 3, 2014 9:38 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 3, 2014 9:59 PM    Report this comment

Neither would I. But a clever slogan to sell the mag, no doubt.

Posted by: David Miller | March 4, 2014 12:31 AM    Report this comment

I left the 121 and 135 world in 2005 and have no regrets. I would say I was even one of the "lucky" ones to have accumulated 4 type ratings and over 2000 hours PIC turbine in 121 and 135 ops. There were simply no jobs at the major level and it was time to get married and start thinking about raising a family. Considering I have friends at AMR that only recently have been faced with the decision of returning after spending more than 10 years on furlough I would say my decision to leave although very gut-wrenching at the time was a good one. In the same time period I have acquired skills and experience in the business world and stand to finish my transformation with an MBA in Finance in the next 12 months.

I'm really wondering why this issue of a manufactured pilot shortage is requiring a GAO analysis. The lack of those entering the piloting profession stems directly from the abysmal pay at all the regional carriers and high risk of never progressing beyond that level to a major carrier. Until the pay scales start in the $50K to $60K level this perceived shortage will continue to exist. Why is it that degrees in business, accounting and finance offer graduates entry level starting pay at these levels, while those choosing a professional piloting career, can expect to receive less than 1/3 after substantial more investment? The answer is that pilots in the past, were more apt to overlook the shortcomings of the industry, while those today appear to be giving much more thought to entering a profession with diminishing returns. The times have changed, airlines will either change their business model to include higher pay to maintain current service levels or service will be consolidated into one 737 flying once vs. an RJ flying the same route 3 times. It has taken 20+ years for the market to realize that business model depending on the $20K per year pilot is no longer a viable business.

Posted by: Ted Van Der Kolk | March 4, 2014 4:33 AM    Report this comment

So the cost/risk/value proposition = juice not worth the squeeze.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 4, 2014 9:39 AM    Report this comment

Rafael; YOU GOT IT - and a great analogy too!

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 4, 2014 11:50 AM    Report this comment

It seems paradoxical that in the decade of the 70s, when there was a glut of qualified pilots, high pay was the norm, but now that the glut is gone, it isn't.

Posted by: Kenneth Lawrance | March 4, 2014 3:22 PM    Report this comment

"It seems paradoxical that in the decade of the 70s, when there was a glut of qualified pilots, high pay was the norm, but now that the glut is gone, it isn't."

Welcome to MBAnomics.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | March 4, 2014 3:55 PM    Report this comment

The same can be said about the US population increase from 220 to 330 million (1980 to 2010) and the pilot population decrease from 827 to 600 thousand during the same period. The pilot demand should have increased. ???

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 4, 2014 4:13 PM    Report this comment

Cont.: The commercial pilot demand including ATPs should have increased but it has remained steady.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 4, 2014 4:15 PM    Report this comment

Yeah, about $10 an hour. Ask yourself, your associates, if you feel good about getting on a plane flown by a pilot who is working for little more than minimum wage?

Why would any airline company want their equipment operated, carrying their paying customers, by someone who was only worth a fraction over minimum wage?

Walmart associates make nearly that, or more in many cases and they don't have anyone's lives in their hands.

That just makes no sense at all.

Posted by: Steve Waechter | March 4, 2014 4:17 PM    Report this comment

"Why would any airline company want their equipment operated, carrying their paying customers, by someone who was only worth a fraction over minimum wage?"

I can't speak for the airlines, but maybe because the pilots are responsible for their own lives as well, and the safety record is still very good for commercial ops that I can see. Is compensation really that primary in consideration to accepting responsibility?

I trust a minimum wage earner for a lot of things I use and consume, think a bit about all of the areas they work in. I'm not saying wages shouldn't be commensurate with ability, just that since when is income equality reflective of performance in all things? Geez, let me count the ways.

Posted by: David Miller | March 4, 2014 5:30 PM    Report this comment

1964: "You know Dad, now that I got an AS from Rust City Community College and my commercial and instrument rating at "Smil'n Jack's Flying School, I think I'll apply to TWA, Eastern or United fly-n those new 707's and DC-'8's, get a date or two with those pretty stewardess, and buy me a Corvette like the one Buzz drives on Route 66"!

2014:"Well Brad, now that you have a BS in Business and an MBA in Finance soon, have any plans"?

"You see Mel (Dad?) Mark, Phil and I have "convinced" this venture capital guy that Phil's dad knows and he said he would back us with $2M to open up a chair of "Sea & Swing" upscale jazz eateries IF we can show him a well prepared long term business plan".

Mel (Dad): "But Brad, think you'll ever use that private pilots license you got a couple of summers ago"?

Brad; "For sure -I figure if is this thing really "takes off", we'll be able to justify a Cirrus SR-22 for business" - and of course a few dates with some hotties!


Posted by: Rod Beck | March 4, 2014 5:43 PM    Report this comment

"Keep going - soon you'll have your thigh in your mouth too"!

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 4, 2014 5:46 PM    Report this comment

Here's an idea: you tip the cab driver on the way to and from the airport, right? Why not tip the pilots (and cabin crew) as well?

Just kidding ... I'm trying to bring some levity to an obviously dour conversation.

Posted by: Phil Derosier | March 5, 2014 2:43 AM    Report this comment

The Colgan crash was a mgt problem that led to a pilot problem. The law referenced herein was written and passed by humans, it can be amended and passed by humans.

It's called work.

You wanna be an airline pilot?

You gotta want it more than ANYTHING else in your life. period.

You have to love the work, the craft, the task. Period. the renumeration you should consider a gift.

you gotta wake up every day and shudder at the fact you might not make it or you might lose it once you get there.

You invest 100,000 bucks to get a market based wage of less than 20,000? Guess what, its gonna take a long time to pay off.

We all paid the price in blood, sweat, and time to get to the seat.

We worked, we voted, we paid union dues and we paid in "apprenticeship dues."

Used to be the government provided airline pilots thru the mil and subsidies to the airlines.

Now it is Market based. The Public does not care. they'll only want rock bottom prices. Even after the Market kills some of them. Has the Market changed the Mgt? no way.

Are Main Line Training instructors on the property at their Regionals? no way Are there any more flow throughs managed by the Majors? no way Are the Mgts eating Ramen noodles? no way

The Market is the driving force.
Know Your Goal, Know the Market. Do All Work to get there. Do All the Work to stay there. Do all the work to make it a better place for those behind you.

Or get outa the way for someone else.

Posted by: Thomas Swartzlander | March 5, 2014 2:11 PM    Report this comment

you could always enter the hold and pass the hat! Welcome to Aeroflot west!

Posted by: Thomas Swartzlander | March 5, 2014 2:13 PM    Report this comment

Alex Trabeck: AVIATION - for $400? "What was the cost of a private pilot license in 1947"?

Posted by: Rod Beck | March 5, 2014 8:15 PM    Report this comment

I am a retired airline pilot from the UK/EU flying community although I have both EASA and FAA ATP licences. I stayed with the regionals all my career, not because I couldn't get into the big airlines but because I enjoyed the flying. However, the regionals both in the UK and in USA take advantage of new pilots because after all that training and expense they want a job, they need a job to keep the impetus of the flying career going, and also they love to fly. The excuse the regionals give is that they cannot afford to pay the pilots more for a few reasons. The ticket prices are lower and so the regionals don't get as much money from the fares therefore they can't pay more. ALso the regional pilots use the regionals as a stepping stone to get to the majors so why should they pay more, and then the recruiting costs per pilot and the training costs are high therefore they can't afford to pay more. Well if they paid more the pilots would stay longer and the recruiting and training costs would reduce.

In Europe all co-pilots/ FO's have to have a type rating on the aircraft so yes the training costs are high but the airline then puts a bond in place and you sign to say you will remain with the airline for a certain number of years to "pay off" the bond and if you want to leave early you buy yourself out of the bond.

I love flying and loved the flying I did with my regional airline. That is something else the regionals take advantage of. If you love flying so much then you won't mind low pay...! However, these days with the cost of getting the licences so high you can understand why people are either walking away from their "dream Career" before or indeed after they have paid out so much just to be offered a derisory salary. People just cannot afford to fly on such low wages and be expected to pay back the loans and also pay rent and living costs. There is always a lot of month left at the end of the money.

Regionals really have to take stock of what they want/ need and start paying a living wage if they want the people to work for them. I still miss flying my Saab340 around and will always step outside our hanger to look at one when I hear them coming in. I am lucky enough to be able to fly our own aircraft around so I still feed the love but a lot of people are not in my fortunate circumstance and have to walk away because of economic sanity.

Posted by: Kate Burrows | March 18, 2014 11:05 AM    Report this comment

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