A recently released report verifies what many have suspected when it comes to the supply of airline pilots: There are plenty of them. They just need to be paid a fair wage to get them into the cockpit.
Unfortunately, that fair wage isn’t on the near horizon where regional airlines are concerned, and they’re the ones complaining the loudest about a so-called pilot shortage. The solution may mean tickets cost more, but some items are worth paying for. Safety is one of them, and the knowledge that your pilot is fully trained, fully rested and fully capable of handling the aircraft in good and bad conditions should be worth something.
The subject of pilot pay came up again following a Government Accountability Office report on the pilot workforce. The upshot is that there is an ample supply of pilots. They just don’t want to work for peanuts, and who could blame them?
A draft copy of the report showed 109,465 pilots nationwide who have the qualifications to serve as a pilot or co-pilot on a commercial airline, but only 66,000 jobs for those pilots in 2012. There are another 105,000 who might be qualified once they log the 1,500 hours of flight time they need to become commercial airline pilots.
The flight time requirement is the result of a new rule Congress mandated after the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 in Clarence five years ago.
As News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski’s article showed, there has been a significant drop in pilot salaries nationwide. Average starting salaries for pilots in a survey of 14 regional airlines are $24 an hour. Rebecca L. Shaw, co-pilot of Flight 3407, made about $16,000 in her first year at Colgan Air, the Continental contractor that operated the aircraft.
And she couldn’t afford to live near her job. As earlier News reports indicated, Shaw commuted from Seattle to her airline job in Newark. That meant a redeye flight to New Jersey before starting her day co-piloting a plane full of passengers.
It is plain to see why the victims’ families fought so hard for rules changes and so disgraceful to listen to regional airlines complain about a lack of qualified pilots. The pilots are out there. They’re willing to fly, just not for the poor wages that keep airlines profitable while risking the lives of people in the air and on the ground.
According to the GAO, “No single measure can provide definitive evidence as to whether a labor shortage exists. Rather, these data can indicate the extent to which employers may have difficulty attracting people at the current wage rate.”
Airlines have figured how to charge for everything from bags to legroom to early boarding. Seems as if they can figure out a way to ensure that properly trained, reasonably paid and well-rested pilots are in the cockpit. Few would complain.