Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Let’s Get The Kids Involved

Opportunities are ripe for the next generation of pilots

Still, it's a little hard to believe that what used to be the dream job of so many young people is no longer regarded as such a plum. I have a friend who flew international for US Airways in Airbus 340s back in the 1990s and was paid over $150,000 a year…as a first officer. In those halcyon days, senior captains flying long-haul international routes for the majors in 747s, DC-10s and L-1011s used to demand salaries approaching $250,000. Today, an airline captain for a major line makes more like $150,000, and an experienced copilot's salary is usually about $100,000. While that's not exactly peanuts, it's nowhere near the royal remuneration some young pilots hope for.

Yes, but what about the seductive glamour and prestige of merely being an airline pilot, of getting paid to fly to exotic places several times a month? Even that has paled to relative insignificance as some lines cautiously schedule their pilots to fly more hours per month. One major line used to target their flight crews for 71 hours a month, or 850 hours a year, in order to avoid exceeding the FAA's maximum of 1,000 duty hours/year. (Scheduling more hours a month can be risky. Some lines schedule up to 80 hours/month, and that comes perilously close to the limit, sometimes leaving some pilots unavailable through the airlines' busiest time, the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. Ironically, that's also when weather delays are the worst of the year and can add to crew duty hours.)

There was a time when the younger generation might have considered the military a good flying job. Not so much anymore. In the last six years, Air Force and Navy flight hours have been cut back from 250 hours to less than 120 hours a year. That's only an hour every three days, not nearly enough to maintain proficiency on the increasingly more complex aircraft and weapons systems associated with modern aircraft. In early 2013, the USAF Air Combat Command had to temporarily stand down 17 squadrons in order to comply with a budget-induced reduction of some 44,000 flight hours. It's now estimated that American military pilots fly less than Chinese, Indian and some European military aviators. Add to that the college degree requirement for virtually all piloting jobs in the military, and the demands far exceed the rewards.

Corporate aviation may be one of the few areas where opportunities are expanding. The bad news is that corporate flight jobs often place their flight crews at the mercy of a beeper. Though the jobs often allow pilots to fly modern turbine equipment with excellent avionics and other modern flight systems, crews may be on call practically 24/7, and it's rare to see salaries much above $100,000.

Fortunately, flying still offers a sense of romance that few other occupations can match. Now, all we have to do is find people, no matter what their age, willing to fill those positions.


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