Airline Executives Grilled Over Pilot pay

Posted on 07. Aug, 2009 by in Featured

A Senate aviation panel grilled airline executives over pilot pay yesterday. Continental and Colgan Air Executives had some “interesting” responses to say the least. First let’s put this into perspective:

You book a flight on a major airline, being a frequent flier you ask for an upgrade to first class. On your second leg you are told there is no first class, undeterred you make your way to the ramp where a turbo prop aircraft awaits. A brand new 30 million dollar aircraft (so far so good) but, inside is a crew that last slept twenty hours ago; in a crash pad. The First Officer is on food stamps, the Captain works two side jobs to make ends meet. You will be flying at night into an overcast sky full of ice. How safe do YOU feel?

Now let’s take a peek at some of the statements made in the testimony yesterday. This quote is from Phil Trenary, Pinnacle’s president and chief executive:

“I urge you please do not ever equate professionalism and competence with pay. . . . Some make over $100,000, some make less than that. They are all professionals.”

Remember these are the same guys that justify their bonuses by saying “if we don’t pay them, we won’t retain the quality people”.
Wouldn’t you want quality in the cockpit too?

Here is another one from Phil:

Regional pilot pay is “very much the same” as what it was 10 or 20 years ago.

Ever heard of inflation Phil, does the CPI ring a bell? He is correct my pay rates are the same they were 17-18 years ago. How about we tally the annual pay increases (including stock and options) for executives in the last 20 years and contrast them to pilot pay. Feeling any safer?

Asked by Dorgan about the practice (crash pads), the airline executives repeatedly said that where pilots live is their own “lifestyle decision.”

You don’t get many “lifestyle decisions” when you are on food stamps. Your options consist of sleeping crammed into a two bed room apartment with ten or twenty of your pals (been there done that); or sleep in a recliner in operations (been there done that as well). I was mainline, I could afford a hotel on one end, normally if I couldn’t commute in same day I’d come in the night prior and stay at a hotel. If it was too late to commute home; then it was a cot or lounge chair the night before I went home. It was pure economics; I simply couldn’t afford a hotel on both ends. Regional pilots can’t afford a hotel on either end. Remember what Phil said, pay has nothing to do with professionalism. How about safety?

Senator Dorgan seemed most concerned that large carriers were not monitoring their partners sufficiently; here is a quote from him:

“My question is, if the network carrier decides to put their colors and their brand and their logo on the fuselage, what is their responsibility?”

And the response from executives:

The executives said the responsibility to regulate regional air carrier safety should remain with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Remember the inspector who raised safety issues at Colgan Air? He was demoted and “reassigned”, guess that didn’t work so well. Regional’s now fly half of the passenger flights in the USA, 90% of the passengers are booked by the big carriers. Feeling safe yet?

Let’s put it back into perspective. Would you take your family to a hospital where the executives made millions and the surgeons were on food stamps? A surgeon has one life in their hands at a time, a pilot can have hundreds. Do you really want them on food stamps?

No Responses to “Airline Executives Grilled Over Pilot pay”

  1. Rick 7 August 2009 at 10:06 #

    I am unfamiliar with the union’s negotiating practices…but it seems to me the pilot’s union(s) has/have a role to play here. Where are they in this process? I live in a city (BNA) where we are primarily served by regional carriers. This is a subject that matters greatly to me. I can not see Congress legislating salaries. It seems to be an intractable problem unless the pilot union gets very assertive. That might mean a strike…but what other solution is there?

  2. Chip 7 August 2009 at 10:28 #

    The tactic used in negotiation since 911 has been bankruptcy and the chapter 11 process (court dictates rates). Basically it is a cram down. Also the threat of BK, “if you do not give the concessions then we will go BK”.

    For example: Alaska went to binding arbitration, company wanted 15% cuts, pilots 10%. The arbitrator gave them 30% cuts.

    It has been very effective because United/USair/Delta and North West all used the chapter 11 process to ZERO out the pilot pensions. That has been the Sword of Damacles that has hung over the pilots heads.

    However it is no longer effective. They gave concessions and still lost everything. The majority of pilots now simply do not care. They have had enough. The vast majority of pilots I know (90%) have a side job. The intent is not to augment airline pay, it is to re-place it.

    Pilots are voting with their feet. When the economy reverses (which I believe it has) the shortage will become accute IMO.

    I could retire now (age 50), but I think the unions are going to win back some of our pay cuts. The trend has already started, so I’ll wait and see. Now if I sell my book to Hollywood? Who knows!

  3. Chip 7 August 2009 at 11:50 #

    One more thing. I do agree the Unions have failed their membership, miserably. The sad truth is they (in the past) represented the senior few. IMO those days are gone, because with the airlines shrinking and the average age for First Officers in the late 40’s. The tired phrase “you guys will get yours” rings very hollow. Our kids are in college now and most of us will not make Captain, so it is now or never.

    We also will not get the big retirements.

  4. Rick 9 August 2009 at 17:57 #

    I don’t like to bring up an unrelated subject on this very good string…but the midair over the Hudson is very disturbing to me. As a private pilot, I’ve experienced too many near mid-airs because of bone headed moves by other pilots in VFR conditions. This link shows some real questionable pilotage on the part of the fixed wing pilot.
    He is clearly giving his passengers a spectacular view of Manhattan, flight path shows very deliberate move to the Hudson River, descending to 400 ft after clearing the GW Bridge, then climbing in apparently a right turn to 1100 ft. I suspect the helicopter might also have been in a climb. No wonder they hit, really. I’ve flown around Manhattan, above the GWB and crossing to Long Island Sound, it is no laughing matter for any VFR pilot FAMILIAR with the dangers of that airspace below the class B shelf.

  5. Rick 9 August 2009 at 18:49 #

    One more comment about this event. Most common cause of accidents in GA….low altitude manuevering. The FAA had a push on this in the last 12 months.

  6. Chip 10 August 2009 at 06:33 #

    It appears to be a classic low wing/high wing mid-air. The fixed wing aircraft was a low wing the helicopter obviously has is best visability down. So the low winged Piper had the helicopter in a blind spot behind the wing. The helicopter, couldn’t see behind/above him.

    It is why we do clearing turns in a VFR climbout ESPECIALLY in a high density area.

  7. Chip 10 August 2009 at 06:39 #

    I also agree about the importance/danger of low altitude manuvering. Most General Aviation pilots do not understand angle of attack dictaits stall NOT airspeed. I can stall an F-4 wing at 380 knots all day and fly it at 80; it is all about AOA.

    Very important! I will devote a post to it when I get back from Mexico.

  8. Rick 10 August 2009 at 08:09 #

    Yes, I agree this was a failure to do a clearing turn on one of their parts. My brother is a pilot in northern NJ and I have flown with him very often. He is terrified of this area…rightly so. I note in the New York VFR Terminal Area Chart an inset on this airspace that says very clearly “HIGH DENSITY OF UNCONTROLLED HELICOPTER AND FIXED WING TRAFFIC OPERATING ON THE HUDSON AND EAST RIVER CLASS B EXCLUSSIONS. ALL AIRCRAFT SELF ANNOUNCE ON 123.075 FOR THE EAST RIVER AND 123.04 FOR THE HUDSON RIVER”.
    I suspect at least one of those pilots failed to do that.

  9. Rick 10 August 2009 at 08:11 #

    Sorry I meant 123.05 for the Hudson River

  10. Rick 10 August 2009 at 08:39 #

    There were also reports that another helicopter pilot radioed to this helicopter pilot that a fixed wing aircraft was closing on him. That indicates at least the helicopter pilot was probably on the right frequency….and I’m convinced he was.

  11. Rick 10 August 2009 at 11:17 #

    I spoke to my brother who’s in northern NJ and a pilot. He said RWY 1 at TEB was in use that day. Everybody he knows would have done a left turnout and cleared the class B and gone south after they were about 15 miles west of TEB. He says this piper driver probably wasn’t monitoring 123.05 (we’ll know that after they bring the plane up), and just importantly, he thinks the FAA will now greatly restrict that airspace the same way the restricted the East River after the Cory Lidle accident. Now you must have clearance from NY approach to get up the East River, and it’ll probably end up the same for the Hudson River corridor. Too bad…pilots familiar with the area understand all the issues..apparently this fellow did not. Also, if he really was at 400 ft after clearing the GW Bridge, he wasn’t legal right there. According to my brother, this guy “screwed the pooch”.

  12. Rick 10 August 2009 at 18:39 #

    One more comment…sorry I hope I’m not wearing out my welcome…course heading from Teterboro to Ocean City is 195 degrees. The pilot of the Piper could have justified the flight down the Hudson as “direct”. And that might be a defense in a potential lawsuit. Unfortunately the fact that it appears he descended to 400 ft below the GW Bridge, and was manuevering at the same time, shows this was much more than “direct” IMHO. There was more on his agenda than just getting to Ocean City.

  13. Chip 10 August 2009 at 21:09 #

    Never worry about wearing out your welcome here the more comment s the merrier. That is one of the reasons I started this site.

    I unfortunately agree, the regulators always want to respond to the least commen denominator; ie the guy who screwed up. So, the rest of the community suffers. But it is the historical trend, Grand Canyon, East River etc. Thousands and thousands flew them safely, but a couple screwed the pooch so we all pay. Never made sense to me. Just say “Hey that guy screwed up”, and move on.

    I think he was site seeing, no harm in that, EXCEPT! You still have to aviate, navigate and communicate. Dosn’t look like any of the above was happening unfortunately.

  14. Rick 11 August 2009 at 07:05 #

    Interesting story here..

    I had heard part of this yesterday and didn’t understand it. He apparently was talking to TEB departure and was handed off to EWR approach…who he never contacted. EWR tried to raise him on their frequency and didn’t make contact. This is a faulty procedure IMHO. If he was still below the shelf, he should have wanted to be on 123.05, and they should have wanted him to be also. It leads you to wonder why he diverted from procedure and radio contact so suddenly. So I think you are right…he was sight-seeing and then apparently tried to get to an assigned altitude into Class B. That’s why he was climbing through 1100, I’m guessing.

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