Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pay your dues...

It's coming out in the media, through the coverage of the Colgan 3407 crash, just how little regional airline pilots make. This isn't a surprise to any of us who fly the line, we've been through the same thing.

The First Officer aboard the Colgan Dash 8 made just over $16,000 last year. She was commuting from the Seattle area because she lived with her parents. Many of us have additional housing at our base, but this can get very expensive. They're called crashpads. It's usually set up in a house, with several bunk beds in each room. They're intended to be used only a few nights a month, if you have a trip that starts early in the morning or ends late at night. While I only paid about $250/month for my crashpad in Ft. Lauderdale, I paid $400/month for the one in San Juan. This was on top of the $800/month in rent I was paying for my house back home in Port Orange.

Most of the alumni from Embry-Riddle (including myself) graduated with tens of thousands of dollars worth of student loans that we used to finance our flight training. And we go to our first job and make, what, $20-30/hr? And yet, we are all professionals. We don't give less than 100% at our jobs because we don't make as much as we know we should. Our number one priority is the safety of our passengers, who trust us to be our absolute best.

Here you can look up the pay scales of all the regional airlines.

When you hear "oh this pilot is making $25/hr, that's a lot of money!" what you have to remember is that we don't get paid for 40 hrs/week like a normal full-time employee. We're paid from block out to block in, i.e. from when the airplane pushes back from the gate to when you pull into the gate at the end of the flight. All the time we're at the airport in between flights, even if it's 4 or 5 hours, we're not getting paid*. The average airline pilot pulls between 75-85 hours a month. So basically that $25/hr comes back down to more like $12.50/hr. That doesn't sound fair for someone's who's responsible for the safety of 50 (sometimes more) passengers, does it?

So maybe some good will come out of this. At least the optimist in me thinks so. However, the more realistic expectation is that this issue will, once again, go nowhere.

GirlsWithWings said it best: "So, regional airline pay front page news again. At least until some star decides to buy/adopt/birth another child."

Here's a great bit on "Wal-mart in the cockpit" by av8rdan a fellow blogger

*Cape Air does actually pay you for all your "duty time," when you show up in the morning until when you leave. But they also pay less/hour, so it's a trade off.

1 comment:

Sean O. said...

Aviation in the US has lots of problems, not the least of which is pilot pay. I've read that every recession takes away all of the past earnings of the airlines and that, ultimately, they run on cash flow only and are really just vanity investments (a great place for rich people to throw away money).

Its interesting to note that the cost of a coach ticket to fly half way across the country is comparatively less than it was 30 years ago when you factor in inflation. At some point the airlines are going to figure out that competing with Amtrak and Greyhound is no way to run a business.