Pilots and Pay


My images are normally fatter and shorter.  But you really need to see this ramp in taller format to get the point about pilot pay that I’ll try to make on the coat tails of someone with much more clout on the matter.

Todd Insler’s sentiment is spot on in this article about the pilot shortage.  He carefully articulates that there are no shortage of users for this nice ramp.  Ramp users, he emphasizes, tend not to knowingly put themselves under water.

What was brilliant about the premise, was the grabby headline that implied a perceived shortage. What?  But reading on… he explains how remuneration is the reason.  There is no other explanation.  And most of us, by now are feeling it.  There is desperation at places like Horizon, Skywest, Pinnacle, etc. and many other code sharing type 121 carriers.

Out of curiosity, I’ve even been lured into an interview with a few of them.  Let’s face it… we all want dental some day… we’re not getting  younger.  And I miss having a semblance of health care – lone wolf coverage is tough.  My experience of exploring the reality of a flying job typically goes like this:

The Interview

Airline: “Thank you for taking the time… you’re perfect, we really want you.”

Me: “Thank you, I really want dental, health and a plan for the rest of my life, but I’ve got a nagging question.”

Airline: “Yes, what is it?”

Me: “Is it really $30,000 per year?”

Airline: “Yes, but you get a $15,000 training bonus and a $15,000 bonus after you complete a year with us.”

<I pause and think – will I really make it a year? As a part time writer, consultant, dilettante and known butterfly chaser – this 2nd $15K they speak of will be very hard to reach.  Especially as I realize the path to it requires some acceptance of defacto poverty.  All while actually working for someone else.  Blech.>

Airline persists: “This could be $60,000 in your first year!”

Patiently I explain to them that while I crave the stability they could / might offer, I have to do a quick bit of math.  I live in the Bay Area (my fault, I admit) and I’ve decided to try my hand at professional flying again (also my own fault.)  I like flying, I tell them.  I like flying all of it – the Dash 8, the King Air, the Phenom and most of all the treasured Super Cub on straight floats.  But they all must be measured by the same yardstick – will they allow me to live a semblance of a life?  That of a plumber, electrician or god willing, one as comfortable as a low ranking banker?  Anyone who has put the time and money we have put into our professional development, at some point, has a WTF moment.  Why am I doing this?  Why am I persisting this industry I love, that refuses to love me back?

But the $30,000 (ok maybe $45K after taxes are taken out of the theoretical $60K) is likely not sustainable for most pilots in most demographic zones unless they plan to live in their parent’s basement, not have kids, not save, and closely adhere to the:  “Pilot’s Guide on Gerbil Living”

Great Peers

Thankfully the world has Neil Singer and Amy Vidovich in it.  These are two people that I’ve met in my travels who are real pros, get paid well and also repeated the same words,

“Pilots are their own worst enemy.”

We’ll take a job for less, undercut our own pay to get a type or an opportunity and do it while moaning about the agreements and contracts we knowingly signed.

Until we learn to have boundaries, to say “no” and not accept something unsustainable (as a contract pilot in corporate or airline pilot in the Part 121 world) we are doomed to be a weird form of skilled worker.  One that gets paid less than someone operating a crane, backhoe, or running electrical circuits in new construction.

Adam writes occasionally here about flying people, things that fly, and aircraft design.  He hopes to celebrate what is great about airplanes and their culture while also calling out what is silly, backward, harmful and non-sensical for our collective benefit.

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Aviation, technology, trends, society and the economic drivers that make it all happen is what makes me tick.

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