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3 Answers

Becoming a pilot

Asked by: 3277 views General Aviation, Student Pilot

i have been hearing many discouraging and negative comments about becoming a pilot. i have red that pilots are under paid, over worked and have bad job security. Is it true?

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3 Answers

  1. Paul Tocknell on Jun 04, 2011

    Hi Dan,

    The truth is that right now many Americans, in all kinds of fields, are feeling under paid, over worked and worried about their job security; not just pilots!  That being said, I’m proud to say that as a corporate pilot, I definitely think I have a wonderful job.  I can’t imagine doing anything else for a living and looking back would not change a thing.  At times, it has been very rough and I questioned what I was thinking on career day, but overall, I have enjoyed the journey.

    Unionized airlines pilots, in particular, have been especially hard hit by the recent economic developments. I hate to draw assumptions, but I would guess that might be where some of your “discouraging and negative comments” have orginiated from.  The good news is the pay and benefits at the airlines is cylical and although we may never see the pay and benefits return to pre-2001 levels, as the pilot population thrinks and general population increases, pilots will still be a necessary and sought after field.  This may not happen in the immeadiate future, but 10-15 years down the road, a pilot shortage will occur and increased pay and benefits will follow (IMHO).

    Generally, the people who are successful in this field are PASSIONATE about aviation.  If you have a real passion for aviation and know how to network with other passionate aviators, I believe that in any economy you will be find to find a good paying job that can provide for your family.

    Good luck and let me know if you have any other questions.


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  2. Best Answer

    Pat Flannigan on Jun 04, 2011

    I’m currently working as a first officer at a regional airline, so I can shed some light on the whole overworked and underpaid thing. 
    It is absolutely true that entry level pay at the regionals is appalling. The good news: it gets better. I really struggled with money for my first two years at the airline, but the pay rates do come up with longevity. I’m still a first officer and the pay isn’t great, but it’s adequate.
    To cite an example, look at Great Lakes’ pay scales. Their first year first officers make a whopping $15,000 per year. Ouch. At one of the better paying regionals, Air Wisconsin, a first year pilot will make just over $24,000. Better, but not great.
    Upgrading to captain is where the money comes into play. At most regional airlines, the transitioning to the left seat nearly doubles your salary. For example. A fifth year captain at Pinnacle Airlines could make close to $80,000. 
    Moving on the the major airlines and cargo carriers brings the potential for even more money, with the most senior Southwest and FedEx captains making around $200,000 and $220,000 respectively. Not too shabby. 
    I can only speak about the workload at my airline, but it’s pretty representative of the regional industry. You start out on reserve, where it is your job to answer the phone and fly whatever the schedulers tell you to fly. It sounds simple, but it can be remarkably fatigueing and can feel downright abusive.
    With seniority, you’ll be able to hold a line: your very own schedule. At first, I held very difficult schedules with short rest periods, many flights per day and very few days off, and those days would never coincide with a weekend or holiday.
    Now that I have more seniority, the schedule is cushy. I fly 85 hours per month, have acceptable overnights and typically get 17 to 18 days off per month! 
    But that won’t last. When you upgrade to captain, you more or less wind up at the bottom of the captain seniority list – meaning it’s back to reserve to start the whole process over again. And when you finally get some seniority in the left seat, you’ll likely begin interviewing at a major airline to start the whole thing over yet again.
    I’m only speaking about regional airline life – there are lots of other options out there including flight instruction, corporate/charter flying, small freight, air ambulance work, etc. If you love flying, then you just have to find something that works for you and your lifestyle.

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  3. Micah on Jun 05, 2011

    Good comments from Paul and Pat above.
    The work schedule is very busy when you’re at the bottom of the ladder as an airline pilot, but this can be the same in any field. Graduate students pursuing a PhD often work 75 hrs a week (study/teaching/research) for peanuts for 5 or 6 years before graduating, only to take another low-paying (albeit frequently less intensive) job. Do you want to work for a tech company like Apple or work for a Wall-Street investment bank? Don’t expect a 40-hour work week. Want to be a doctor? Residents (recent med school graduates) in some fields sleep at the hospital during 90+ hour weeks.
    As far as money goes, you won’t be paid very much until you’ve been doing it a while (like any job). Learning good money skills and patience (or endurance, if you’re better at this than patience) will help greatly. But don’t fly airplanes for the money. Fly airplanes because you want to fly airplanes. The best quote on jobs I’ve ever heard comes from sports broadcaster Tony Kornheiser, who early in his career as a journalist for the New York Daily News complained to an editor about how little he was making when all of his friends had high-paying jobs. His editor responded, “You want to make money? Then get into the money business! Now, shut up and write!”

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