Low Pay for Airline Pilots "Threatens" the Country

A couple months ago, I almost blogged something that claimed regional airline pilots earn an average of $14,000 a year. Believing that to be a typo--pilots are rolling in it, right?--I moved on to something more important, like Octomom boxing an East Coast skank.

However, the nonprofit investigative journalism project California Watch has let fly a report that shows all pilots average less per-hour in salary than most people probably assume, and that captains on regional carriers earn even less to work longer hours.

Pilot pay has been in decline for years, notes "Pilots Can Earn Less Than Airport's Window Washers" by Kyle Finck and Ben Breuner, who found that the rise of regional airlines since industry deregulation has not only created more open seats in cockpits, it's driven down salaries earned to sit in them.

Based on recent salary records, California Watch discovered a rookie first officer on a regional airline flying out of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) may be paid less than the worker who washes the airport's windows.Starting salaries on regional airlines range from about $20.50 to $29 per hour, while an airport window washer in Baghdad by the Bay earns $26.75 an hour. Meanwhile, a Golden Gate Bridge ferry master earns $37.87 an hour.

Drilling down farther to specific regionals, the report found that a California Department of Corrections nurse earns $22.37 an hour versus $22 and $20.50 respectively for first officers on Skywest Airlines and Mesa Airlines (US Airways Express) flights out of SFO.

Fierce industry competition, financial pressures to cut costs and FAA restrictions on how many hours a pilot can work are also factors when it comes to salaries, according to the report. And while regionals do give regular raises to pilots, what they average after five years in the air versus other jobs may both shock you and prompt you to apply for a garbageman position in Berkeley:

California Watch: Fifth-year pay for first officers on regional airlines vs. other jobs*

JOB AND 5-YEAR PAY (AIRLINES IN BOLD)                                                

California Highway Patrol - with OT: $105,185
California Highway Patrol - no OT: $90,185
SamTrans bus operator: $58,656
Berkeley city solid waste worker: $57,672
U.S. mail carrier: $47,732
Horizon Air (Alaska Airlines): $44,500
SkyWest Airlines (Delta Connection/United Express): $37,666
Mesaba Airlines (Frontier Airlines): $37,250
Republic Airlines (Frontier Airlines): $37,000
Mesa Airlines (US Airways Express): $30,500

* Computed from hourly pay rate
Sources: Airlinepilotcentral.com; U.S. Postal Service; City of Berkeley; San Mateo County Transit District; California Highway Patrol

Declining pay for pilots is turning many young would-be aviators off to the profession, according to the evidence gathered by California Watch.

This prompted none other than Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely on the Hudson River in New York, to testify before Congress: "If we do not sufficiently value the airline piloting profession and future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, it logically follows that we will see negative consequences to the flying public--and to our country."


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