After more than a decade of poverty-level wages for regional airline pilots, rising demand for air travel coupled with a shortage of military trained pilots is slowly making for a sellers’ market. FAPA, a consultancy that specializes in preparing pilots for airline interviews, says entry-level wages for new regional airline pilots had hovered around $22,000 per year during the recession, if you could get a job. Wendy Beckman, who runs the aerospace department at Middle Tennessee State University, told Marketplace, “You heard stories of people on food stamps and living at home and sleeping in crew lounges.”
These days, regional airlines are hiring as fast as they can to replace pilots going to the major airlines. FAPA estimates starting pay at the regional airlines has risen to almost $50,000 on average, though much of the first-year pay regional pay increases have been in the form of bonuses, which draw in new pilots without significantly increasing wages over a career. Fifty thousand dollars is hardly riches for a job usually requiring a college degree and often expensive flight experience, but it’s a job flying airplanes. No one knows when single-pilot airliners or another recession will send pilots back to the unemployment lines. For now, young people drawn to a career in the skies are starting to believe it’s possible again.