Why are US Regional Airline starting wages so low?

p1l0t
  • Why are US Regional Airline starting wages so low? p1l0t

    With 2,000hrs of flight time, a commercial ticket for ASEL and AMEL, CFI, CFII, MEI, and a Master's in Aeronautical Science I could easily qualify to fly right seat for a regional airline, but I just can't compete with pilots willing to work for $17k/yr. For comparison, federal minimum wage is currently just over $15K/yr.

    Why are the starting salaries at US Regional Airlines so low?
    It seems odd that pilots go through extensive training which takes a great deal of time and expense, but they have to be prepared to work for what is a very low salary compared to other jobs that require a high level of skill and education.

    Supply and demand is one explanation, but I really don't understand how there is so much competition for flying jobs but at the same time there is a supposed "pilot shortage".
    Are there really so many pilots out there that the competition for jobs drives down starting salaries so low?

    I am hoping to understand why it is that well-qualified pilots appear to have so little earning power in the marketplace.

  • Well, the short version is: The airlines pay what they have to pay in a free market. They can get away with it because pilots are willing to accept it. Like any other business they are in it to make money and keeping costs down is just as good as making extra money, so they aren't going to volunteer anything extra.

    Now, why do pilots do it? Because of the promise of better things down the road. It isn't as good as it used to be, but after being at the airlines for a few years, you can make a livable wage and as you get further into your career at a major airline, you still get paid pretty well for a "part time" job. As I've heard other pilots say before: It's better than a "real" job!

    Other pilots do it just because they love it and can't imagine doing anything else!

  • You need to look at turn-of-the-century early industrial age history for your answer. Factories were filled with skilled workers who could weave or smith or do some other specialty with great speed. These were not unskilled workers by modern standards, but their skills were common in those days. The efficient factories lowered prices for those products, making those skills less valuable. The workers were dependent on that factory for their livelihood, they could not easily find work outside the factory. If they grew up in that factory town, they likely had no other skills. There were few factories of their kind they could work in, and no unions or labor laws.

    Airline pilots are in a similar situation. While airline mechanics can quit and maintain power plants or trucks with a little training, pilots are stuck with now three major airlines and a handful of regional airlines. They have no skills that can cross over to another industry. Their unions cannot strike or even hint at a job action expressing their discontent. But the airlines can outsource their jobs to cheaper pilots, and have done so with over half their pilot jobs over the past decade.

    Those cheaper pilots are disappearing, as the major airlines start hiring, and young people realize what the career of an airline pilot has become. This has been leading up to a pilot shortage for many years, and the efforts to stave off that shortage have resulted in fewer pilots getting trained every year. The result will certainly be a wave of much higher pay, but it won't change the underlying cause. The wave of young people who rush into the career when the pay skyrockets will certainly see their pay drop again, along with layoffs and working the bottom jobs, when the airlines have enough pilots and hit another down decade.

    Oh, and $17k is a little more than Skywest, Republic, American Eagle, Great Lakes, and other entry-level carriers pay their new-hires for the first several years. Sorry.

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