Major Airlines Creating Their Own Pilot Shortages

This is one of the most comprehensive views on the current state of the airlines in the United States. Read the article in its entirety. I'm living it along with some of my best friends and it's getting rather ugly.

The nation's big airlines want you to know that there's a dreadful pilot shortage and they apologize profusely if their commuter-carrier partners cancel flights to your hometown airport due to the debilitating shortfall.

The nation's big airlines don't want you to know that their commuter carriers, which operate half of all the nation's commercial flights, often pay pilots so little that it's often financially wiser to drive a truck or flip fast-food burgers than fly a plane.

A first-year co-pilot at a commuter airline may earn as little as $19 per flying hour. After five years with a commuter airline, the average salary is just $40 an hour. For the lowest-paid pilots at a carrier such as Mesa Air Group, which operates flights for both United and US Airways, a 60-hour work week means an effective pay rate of just $8.50 an hour. That's barely above the national minimum wage of $7.25 an hour and below the more than 10 bucks President Barack Obama is making federal contractors pay their workers.

american eagle e170

At American Airlines, senior management that came from US Airways to run AA netted $79 million in stock sales during the last month. At the same time, however, American pressed for another concessionary contract at American Eagle, its wholly owned commuter airline.

Cheap Tickets, Airline Tickets

Yes you read the title right. airline tickets are cheaper than ever before.  We might feel like we are paying more these days and complain about the cheap, no-frills experience but what do you want and how much are you willing to pay for it?  Bottom line is this: tickets are on the rise, pilot pay is at an all time low with some companies asking for more concessions and the airplanes have never been this full.  Can the ticket prices get any higher?

LAX to JFK

Unfortunately, maybe.  Even my buddy passes have either disappeared or are impossible to use because of the high load factors.

In 1974, it was illegal for an airline to charge less than $1,442 in inflation-adjusted dollars for a flight between New York City and Los Angeles. On Kayak, just now, I found one for $278.

via The Atlantic: How Airline Ticket Prices Fell 50% in 30 Years (and Why Nobody Noticed)

4 on, two off, 4 on – part 2 / my printed schedule after the fact

When I say after the fact, the schedules below depict the times that the aircraft recorded once meeting certain parameters e.g. brakes released or set & passenger door open or close.  These were not the original scheduled departure and arrival times but in fact, the true record of my legs or "flight time."  I guess you can say that the times in bold represent the time that I actually "fly."  The difference between the "Block" and "Credit" is that we get paid for credit while "Block" is the time I'm recorded to be in the aircraft.  It doesn't represent the time I spend in the cockpit in between flights or before flights (which is actually represented in the another bold header "Turn"), or the time I'm at the airport on a layover.  I'll further explain these "pairings" below in this blog post but for now, here is a picture of a 4-day typical schedule.  It's not like there is much to figure out.  It's pretty much cut and dry.  Following along the on the first line: The first line on my pairing "OSA A7470C" is Flight number 5548/ Originating from ATL (Atlanta-Hartsfield) / Destined to DAY (Dayton, Ohio) / Departed at 14:58 local airport time / Arrived at 16:16 local airport time / Tail N761ND <-- which is the registration number of the specific aircraft / A/C type being a CR7 (Canadair Regional Jet 700 Series) / Block 1:18 (1 hour & 18 minutes flight time) / Credited 1:33 (in other words paid for 1 hour & 33 minutes) / Pax(passengers) on board 70 / Miles from ATL-DAY 432 / BurnAv 4423 (average fuel burned enroute measured in pounds / Turn 0:44 (time on ground to have the passengers get off, clean the aircraft, cross seatbelts, stock the galley, clean the bathrooms, refuel, input preflight measures, walk around the aircraft for a visual inspection, remove bags, add bags and passengers and close the door) 42 minutes.  That's line 1 in my pairing.  Pretty much going down through the day, I end up at Little Rock, Arkansas for a layover of 14:26 (14 hours & 26 minutes) where it includes the van ride from the airport to the hotel, the ride back to the airport in the morning, and any sleep that I get in between.

If you take a look on Friday the 18th, I was lucky to actually have a 28 hour overnight in Portland, Maine where I enjoyed some of the world's best known Clam Chowder from Gilbert's Chowder House. (yelp review here)

Everyday, I have a Report time which, and depending on how long the ride is to the airport from the hotel, we leave usually around 15 minutes prior to duty in to ensure ample time to get to the aircraft.  Of course, the means I also usually wake up about 1 hour prior to the Report time giving me enough minutes to accomplish the morning routine, throw the uniform together, pack up, eat breakfast and board the airport shuttle or taxi.

There isn't much more to explain really except for the Totals: line telling me that my initial Report time that I have to duty in at the company computers in Atlanta is at 14:00 on the 17th / and I'm Released at 16:46 on the 20th.  For those three days, I will be able to log 18 hours & 47 minutes of flight time, get paid for 20 hours and 48 minutes plus my per diem which is calculated by the TAFB(Time Away From Base) 74:46 74 hours & 46 minutes multiplied by our current rate of $1.65 / hr.

At my current rate of 3rd year pay $39.55 /hr * 20.8 --> I pull in around $822.64 + my per diem ($123.36) giving me a total of $946 for this entire pairing.  Granted I was away from my family the entire time, it didn't include the time I fly back and forth from San Diego to Atlanta and whatever else you want to add in.  I'm not whining really, but this is a sample of just a week in the life of a pilot.  Now, the missing link in this bigger picture is the amount of duty time that I put in between flights that I didn't get paid for.  In other words, I was actually working or at work whatever, for about 32 hours and 2 minutes total during these three days; in my uniform, and not resting.  Keyword being resting.  That's clearly a deficiency of 12 hours just hanging around the various airports.  <-- Not fun.  (Add up the Duty on the bottom ride side of each day to get the total figure)  Now, why is that pilots are only paid for block / credit time, it started long long ago during the birth of the industry and hasn't changed since.  It's a mixture of corporate greed (if that's what you want to call it) and FAA regulations governing flight time in a given period for pilots.

I usually have 4 of these trips a month, sometimes only 3.  Hope you enjoyed the explanation.  Any questions?  Please leave a comment below.

(if you are interested any further, many if not all US airlines' payscales are available to the public listed under each airline profile at http://www.airlinepilotcentral.com/airlines/)

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