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Hero of the Hudson Says, Times are Tough for Pilots, Too

February 25, 2009 | Posted in: Pilots,US Airways

I think we can safely say that Capt. Chesley Sullenberger is no whiner (in case you’ve been on Mars, he’s the US Airways pilot who safely landed his crippled aircraft in the Hudson last month).

So when he airs a complaint, it’s worth listening to. The complaint? Pilot pay. According to Sullenberger, pay cuts are driving experienced pilots from the cockpit.

The man testified before a House aviation committee Tuesday and at one point (as noted in the Seattle Times) said “his pay has been cut 40 percent in recent years and his pension has been terminated and replaced with a promise ‘worth pennies on the dollar’.” The cuts began after all the bankruptcies following 9/11.

Two quotes caught my eye – Sullenger saying that he doesn’t know of a single professional pilot that wants his or her kids to follow in their footsteps, and, this one (remember, Sullenberger runs a safety consulting business in addition to being a pilot):

“For the last six years, I have worked seven days a week between my two jobs just to maintain a middle-class standard of living.” - Capt. Chesley Sullenberger

Something to think about. And maybe Capt. Sullenberger should think about Richard Branson’s offer, to “make him the best paid pilot at Virgin”.

10 Responses to “Hero of the Hudson Says, Times are Tough for Pilots, Too”

  1. Neil says:

    I’m not sure about the 7 day a week comment from the Capt. According to the linked article, he makes an est $138k from USAir plus whatever else he draws in. Either the consulting gig is draining his funds or he is choosing to live in an area that he can’t afford to live in. My wife and I draw in a combined less than that and would call lifestyle middle class. Living in the DC area isn’t cheap or easy, but the middle class makes it work.

  2. Steve Filson says:

    Neil, sorry but you’re not an airline pilot carrying those kinds of responsibilities and multi-million dollar liabilities. A senior Southwest Captain makes 175K and that’s in a smaller lower revenue airplane. That is what the pay should be for the education, experience and talent required to protect the public. Wouldn’t you want to pay your Captain at least the same as you pay your dentist?
    But what he is is really talking about are the entry level pay scales at the commuter carriers. In the Buffalo accident the Captain and co-pilot made 38K and 24K respectively. This is why Sully and every active pilot moonlights on their days off. Those are the 7 days working that he’s talking about. Some commuter carriers start people out at 18K! In a four member family situation you would qualify for food stamps.
    It is also why they tell young people with college degrees and talent to run as far away as possible from an airline career. My question is, what kind of an indvidual is attracted to those kinds of pay scales?
    Sully too has to salt most of his salary away for retirement which for him is right around the corner. If he’s lucky, he’ll get once a month about 1700 dollars net from the Pension Guarantee Board. Try living on that.

  3. anne says:

    And don’t forget, he has a couple of kids that will be going to college soon…

  4. matt ward says:

    I have to side with Neil on this one. While the airline industry is a public industry, free markets will determine their salaries. Of course everyone will say “Yes! Give them a pay rise!” and then start complaining as soon as the ticket prices go up. If you (anyone) are not earning enough to manage your lifestyle then get a different job, move to a different part of the country (as I did) or change your lifestyle. – Matt.

  5. becca says:

    with pilots I think its more important to look at overall lifetime avergae annual pay rather than a given year. a senior captain for a major airline is doing well. but presuming he isn’t from the military – that captain spent years in flight training ($60,000 for a two year flight school + 2 more years to complete a four year degree required by most employers), years building hours (working for minimum wage or even flying for free to build hours OR even paying plane rentals to build hours), then the commuters where pay can be as low as $15,000, though does get better with years of experience. THEN, at an average age in your late 30′s, you will be eligible to apply for the lottery of getting a job at the majors. In the meantime, you have probably racked up debt from those years of low pay, plus have no retirement savings, plus possibly spent several years in furloughs which are more and more the norm. THEN for the first few years in the majors, you have pay in th elow $40′s. The profession is very end loaded in terms of high pay for the last decade or two, but you have to use that pay to play catchup for years of debt and lack of retirement savings…

    its not a bad living, but its not great either especially considering the training and responsibility that is part of the job.

  6. Well….. it finally caught up to the general public. I’ve been addressing this problem since just after 911.
    At this point, you couldn’t get me back into a cockpit for twice my former salary. Too many rookies have gotten into the cockpit, and if you think I’m wrong…. look at the most recent accidents. Just because you are an experienced pilot, you still have to fly in the same airspace as the rookies sitting in the left seat. 8 type ratings and 20,000 hours of flight experience.

  7. Ray says:

    Adding to what Becca wrote, when you’re climbing the seniority ladder, you had better be in good physical shape. Develop a heart problem, or some other situation, and your flying days may be over…unlike a desk job. Plus, you can count on putting away your four stripes when you blow out the 65 candles on your birthday cake. Good luck in retirement.

  8. martypar says:

    We have all had to make sacrafiaces…..it is called “living within your means”……..it is very difficult to believe ANYTHING read in the media today……no matter which side you are on or what you believe….obviously anyone will say what they want the world to see or believe…..agreed NO ONE wants to board a plane & have a rookie in the cockpit…….but no one wants to be on the road & have an idiot driving drunk or simply not aware of their surroundings, or responsiblities. I agree with Matt & Neil……..what has happen to our morles & values……it seems to me it isn’t about human life……it is all about the almighty dollar…..some of us think we are “10 foot tall & bulletproof” when we aren’t. God bless us!!!!

  9. Julie says:

    My boyfriend 52 and is a FO with AA, with almost 16,000 hours of flying experience and an Aerospace Engineering degree. I’m a dispatcher for the power company with just a high school education and I made almost 20k more than him last year. He is always telling me that I’m underpaid.

  10. alan says:

    makes me afraid to get on a commuter with someone making 15K, probably moon-lighting, and possibly not well rested and and the most alert. What is the answer… I dont know, de-regulation seems to have spelled disaster in the finance world, are there too many airlines allowed to start up and operate? Driving down price, profits, hence forcing airlines to offer less pay and benefits to flight deck crew? I dont know, seems as if we might have created more problems by ensuring free enterprise? Seems like deregulation has worked for the telephone industry, but monopoly for the mail service seems to be still working well. I honestly dont know…..any thoughts regarding this from anyone? Libertarians included?

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