Flying Costs

Pilots' Union Shines a Light on Low Wages


A Great Lakes Airlines passenger plane in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Photograph by Jeff Roberson/AP Photo

A Great Lakes Airlines passenger plane in Cape Girardeau, Mo.

The issue of airline pilot supply and demand is back in the news as the largest U.S. pilots’ union released a new chart to call attention to paltry salaries (PDF) they say are causing a shortage of aviators for regional airlines.

“The rock-bottom starting pay offered by regional airlines has become a serious deterrent for anyone considering becoming an airline pilot or—if they are already qualified—for choosing to work in the profession in the United States,” says Lee Moak, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. The industry has also been beset by a drop in the number of people who choose flying as a career, given the large training expenses and modest salaries during the first few years of a pilot’s career.
 
Here’s the ALPA list of estimated first-year salaries for a first officer at 10 U.S. regional carriers:

This week, Boeing (BA) said the industry will need 533,000 new commercial pilots by 2033—a 7 percent increase from the company’s 2013 forecast—along with 584,000 airline maintenance workers. Most growth is expected to come in the Asia-Pacific region. European carriers will require 94,000 new pilots; North American ones will need 88,000.

In 2010, Congress mandated that airlines’ first officers would need to hold an Airline Transport Pilot certificate–which requires at least 1,500 flight hours (PDF)—instead of the 250 hours and commercial pilot certificate previously required. The new rules came in response to the 2009 crash of a Continental Express regional flight, which investigators linked to shortcomings in the pilots’ training.

Great Lakes’ (GLUX) chief executive officer, Chuck Howell, did not return a call seeking comment on Thursday. The Wyoming-based airline has been among the hardest-hit carriers as a result of the new rule. In February, Great Lakes stopped flying to six cities because its pilots did not have the newly required flight hours.

The regional industry says the law chose an arbitrary number of flight hours and did not focus on the quality of a pilot’s training and experience in setting higher minimums that do not make flights any safer. It also says the law has harmed air service to many cities across the country. Pilot supply has not been a problem, so far, for big airlines such as Delta (DAL) and Southwest (LUV), which pay far more than their regional partners do and often hire pilots from the regionals’ rosters.

Bachman is an associate editor for Businessweek.com.

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Companies Mentioned

  • BA
    (Boeing Co/The)
    • $127.76 USD
    • 0.44
    • 0.34%
  • GLUX
    (Great Lakes Aviation Ltd)
    • $0.43 USD
    • -0.03
    • -6.98%
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