The $750,000 Question: How Much Should Pilots Earn? [Roundup]

News and notes from around the interweb:

  • American, Southwest, and United sued for being too diverse and I’m like, have they seen the pilots? (Or for that matter, the leadership teams.)

  • Speaking of pilots. Most do not earn this much, though top pay at major airlines now does hit $500,000 with enough time left over for a side business. This is why the major pilot unions are so keen on barriers to entry into the profession that make it costly and time-consuming to become a pilot, promoting pilot shortages. (You know, like the 1,500 hour where 500 can be done in a tethered hot air balloon for ‘safety’.)

  • The trolley problem, Brightline edition.

  • Malaysia Airlines brings back saver awards it was insane that they’d dropped this.

  • Unusual.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary, do you exaggerate much? You’re correct that a small number of pilots earn over 500K. It takes a lot of years to get that much seniority. And although you think 1500 hours is a huge obstacle, it can be done in a year. Tow at the most unless you are really not motivated. And I know exactly zero pilots who have done 500 hours in a balloon to get to the 1500 hour requirement. Not to mention most airlines would reject an applicant with that kind of experience.

  2. Rapid inflation has knocked our sense of fair salaries out of whack. $500k for a top pilot is completely reasonable. It’s not that the job is difficult intellectually, but that if you lose your job as a pilot for any reason, you are not prepared for any other career. Whereas if you lose your job as View From The Wing writer, you can do other jobs like Executive Assistant to Ms. Gomas.

  3. I imagine every pilot would like $1 billion dollars per year as a base salary, as would everyone else on Earth. We all think the future of humanity depends on us and we should be paid on that basis.

  4. Pilots earn way too little to start but more than enough later.

    Medicare is being cut 3% next year so pilots might be cut 3%, too. Everyone’s salary might be cut 3%. I read about Medicare cuts yesterday.

  5. @DA Pilit – yes, good point that the airlines do a better job selecting applicants for safety than the existing rules do

  6. Any wonder why industries controlled by unions go through cycles of bankruptcies requiring that wipe out so much capital and/or require government bailouts. Isn’t there a smarter, more sustainable approach rather than every group involved trying to gorge on the largest piece of the pie?

  7. I’m over 40 spend $151,000 on flying and college. Just paid it off … 20 years out of school and I finally hit $200K for the first time. That’s hard work and grit … not just flying 65 hours per month. Gone 19-21 days. There are a few top% peeps that are better at gaming the system. I also came in late. Younger guys are making more from the start.

    I can’t even start to explain my story .. decades of sacrifice and hard work. Lay offs and food stamps I took to get here. Many pilots who have been flying a while earned $30,000 or less. Low fare for you on our backs. Take it easy on pilots., especially if you don’t fully understand the job and you just have an “Instagram or Gary Leff” image of our lives.

  8. I guess I’m just missing something contextually about the Brightline item because the guy just comes across as an idiot. Maybe, just maybe, if you don’t linger on the tracks of a high speed train then you won’t get hit. They manage that just fine all the time in Europe so we know it can be done. Or maybe it’s just some bad metaphor like the plum and the thief in Bullet Train.

  9. A college degree, pretty much an entry requirement for most white collar jobs these days, takes 4-5 years for most.

    Obtaining an ATP is 12-18 months and cost less than a private college for four years.

    Yet you want to call 1,500 hours for an ATP a bar to entry.

    Yeah, sure.

  10. In 2018, the first full year DL flew the A-350, they had a few A-350 pilots that earned $1M+. This was due to weird training-related circumstances involving displacements etc, but any way you look at it that’s a ton of money and that was 5 yrs ago and under the OLD contract.

  11. the Brightline one is because so many people walk along the tracks or try to beat the train when the gates are closed. person vs train or car vs train. i sure you can guess who wins

  12. @Gary Leff:

    You complain a lot about 1,500-hours for an ATP, but I have yet to see your alternative proposal.

    I sure hope it’s not going to be 250-hours . . .

  13. @1kBrad – I’ve written about far more focused training rather than pure hours. As it is airlines have to train bad habits out of new pilots that are built up in their quest for hours. It’s also bizarre that tethered hot air balloon hours count but real sim hours do not. ALPA doesn’t push for competency-based training, just hours, and that’s just sad. We need better pilot unions that care about safety, rather than just saying they care about safety.

  14. @ Gary. After I turned 60 and FAA mandated my retirement (firing) I became an expatriate pilot. Please trust me on this . . . 1500 hours and extensive training before sitting in the right seat of a commercial airliner is a good thing. But “stick and rudder” skills are still very much essential.

  15. @One Trippe – there’s a difference between ‘1500 hours’ and ‘extensive training’. Banner towing doesn’t prepare pilots for commercial flying. Neither does time in the air in a tethered hot air balloon.

  16. @Gary Leff:

    I am left with the impression that you despise pilots and point to nonsensical points to display your disgust.

    I have posted this before and this will be the last time I waste my breath.

    You favor “focused training.” Fine. That is available. Military pilots can obtain an ATP with 750-hours. Those who attend certified aviation colleges can obtain an ATP with 1,000-hours. Do you want to lower the standards below that?

    Keep in mind the flight deck is not supposed to be a position of learning how to fly. It is supposed to be two equals who check and balance each other. A 250-hour pilot is far, far from an equal who is in a position to question a captain with an ATP and thousands of hours of experience.

    So your problem is with 1,500 unstructured hours? But it isn’t unstructured and you know it. What does it take to gain an “unstructured” ATP:

    Be 23 years of age (or for a U.S. military pilot may apply for an airline transport pilot certificate 20 years old)
    Read, speak, write and understand the English language
    Must hold either;
    A commercial pilot certificate with an instrument rating,
    Or, meet the military experience requirements to qualify for a commercial pilot certificate, and an instrument rating,
    Or, a foreign airline transport pilot license with instrument privileges
    Medical Requirements:
    Hold a 1st class medical certificate to act as pilot-in-command
    Hold a 2 nd class medical certificate to act as second-in-command
    Have logged 1500 hours of flight time
    Satisfactorily complete an airline transport pilot certification training program (ATP-CTP)
    Pass the ATP knowledge test

    What are the actual flight time requirements?

    Total Flight Time 1500 Hours
    Night Flight Time 100 Hours
    Pilot-In-Command (PIC) 250 Hours
    Cross-Country 500 Hours
    Instrument Training 75 Hours
    In Class of Rating Sought (i.e. Multi-Engine) 50 Hours

    Hard to get all that in a tethered balloon . . .

    So what is your different idea on “structured training”?

  17. @ Gary. PLEASE! Yes there is a difference between 1500 hours and extensive training . . . both need to be minimums to sit in the right seat of an airliner. As for your two humorous (?) comments, FYI banner towing IS good stick and rudder skills just as SEL flying/instructing and tethered balloon . . . well having an LTA-Airship and Free Balloon rating, I doubt any Part 121/135 Carrier would consider tethered LTA time to be a category equivalent level of experience.
    Drone flying, perhaps some transferable skills but still apples and oranges compared to real life. Let me know when you’d like to learn some real world experience, I’m in Lakeway.

  18. @ Gary. One more comment concerning your dislike of well trained pilots and I’ll leave it at that. Kindergarten doesn’t prepare a student to enter college but it is still an essential building block of learning.

  19. If the best qualified airline pilots are white men, I don’t have a problem with that. Just like a don’t have a problem with the best qualified NBA stars being mostly black.

    Obviously, in today’s America, there are extraordinary opportunities for under-represented groups to advance. You might say such groups are coddled with kindness and help. If at the time they apply for jobs as commercial pilots, they don’t deserve preferential treatment over white men. Everyone should be judged by the exact same criteria. Your life might depend on this.

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