Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Pilot Careers 2010: A Brave New World

With the industry showing signs of life, preparation and training soon will meet opportunity for prospective pilots

Manufacturing giant Boeing projects a dramatic increase in demand for air travel. In its just-released 2010 Current Market Outlook, Boeing (whose market-outlook predictions released since 1964 have been uncannily accurate) is forecasting delivery of 30,900 new commercial airplanes over the next 20 years. What it terms "single-aisle" aircraft (regional carriers) account for 69% of its projected deliveries. The growth of emerging economies like China and other countries is fueling this growth, as is the spread of the “low-cost carrier” model throughout the United States and the world. Even the FAA has announced that it will hire 15,000 new air traffic controllers in the coming decade.

The fact is that candidates who are now enrolled in aviation programs, or young students who might be considering aviation as a career, are in a unique position to take advantage of the unprecedented growth that will happen in aviation, which has just shown faint signs of life. The “mini”-shortage the airlines experienced in 2006 will be nothing compared to what’s projected.

The Airlines Have It
Flying for the airlines is the "brass ring" for most people. It comes from decades of being perceived as one of the most prestigious careers that a person could attain. Ruled by six-figure salaries, easy schedules and cushy retirement packages, airline pilots were the most elite of aviators. But recent years have tarnished the luster of airline cockpits, with first-year copilots earning only $20,000 per year and working breakneck schedules for it. Pensions are changing, and the media’s scrutiny of the profession has left a damaged reputation. But while some of the negative aspects are unfortunately accurate, many of them are not.

According to FltOps’ Smith, seasoned captains at the major carriers are still earning well into six-figure salaries with great benefits. “It’s an excellent career choice for the long term,” says Smith.

Aviation has always been about dues-paying, and it has never been easy for new hires, even in the "golden age" of airline flying. While first officers today may earn a low salary for the first few years, the salary numbers jump dramatically after five years, with five-year captains at major carriers earning in the high-$80,000 range. Ten-year captains at majors are easily earning six-figure salaries. That’s not a bad trade-off for some lean years.

The high cost of flight training and the students’ inability to pay back big loans have been a focus of many critics of airline flying. But much of it is misguided. ATP (Airline Transport Professionals) remains one of the largest airline-pilot-training academies in the U.S.

Dana Bussiere, marketing director for ATP, is frustrated by the public’s view of airline pilot training. "One issue we fight is the nationwide perception that flight schools are money pits," she says, "with training dragging on long past what the student was promised." Bussiere tells us that ATP is battling this perception with fixed-price training. “Our fast-track airline program is an oasis in a sea of dread,” she adds.

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