Advancement Opportunities for Pilots

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By virtue of the rapid growth and 50 percent attrition rate, upgrades to captain and larger (or, at least, different) aircraft are possible within the first year at many commuter airlines.

Among the major/regional airline networks, a new "farm club" concept has been established. Pan Am and Pan Am Express (owned by Pan Am) and Northwest and Express Airlines I (a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Phoenix Airline Services, Inc.) were the first carriers to institute the farm club concept. Continental was not far behind in establishing the same system with Britt Airways and Rocky Mountain Airways (both owned by Continental's parent company, Texas Air). With these companies, a pilot flying for the commuter network has the opportunity to move up to fly for the major carrier.

The concept of the farm club is new and its future uncertain. As the consolidation period of deregulation comes to an end, more and more companies can be expected to implement this concept. Its purpose is to encourage younger pilots to consider the regional airlines as a step along a complete career path leading to a job with a major airline. The effect of this concept could be slower, more controlled attrition and less opportunity for quick upgrades.



Furloughs

Like major airline pilots, commuter pilots may be furloughed or laid off depending on the needs of the company. These needs are affected by the economy, the financial condition of the company, the addition or subtraction of aircraft, and the viability of the major airline with which a commuter or regional carrier has a code-sharing feeder agreement. (A regional airline that had to furlough pilots because of problems encountered by its major airline partner was Eastern Metro Express in 1989. All of Eastern Airlines' unions struck the carrier, forcing it into Chapter 11 reorganization. The sudden suspension of the vast bulk of Eastern's operations dealt a serious blow to Eastern Metro Express, which saw most of its business evaporate overnight.)

If your pilot group is represented by a union, you will be furloughed, as opposed to being laid off. This means you will retain your seniority number for a specified time period, and when the company needs pilots again, you will be recalled in order of your seniority. Some non-union commuters offer these rights to their pilots, too.

With most non-union companies, you will be laid off, as opposed to being furloughed. This means that the job does not have to be offered to you when it again becomes available. If it is offered, you will be rehired with a new, higher seniority number (the higher the number, the lower the pilot on the seniority pecking order).

Probation

Commuter probation varies from three months to a year, depending on the company. Normally during this period the pay will be lower, and you may not receive full company benefits or union protection.

Domicile

Companies establish official domiciles or bases for all pilots. Your domicile is the city where your trips begin and end. The company will expect you to report at a specified time before departure (usually one hour), do a professional job, and represent the company well.

Commuting

Major airline pilots often are able to commute to work while living in a city other than the one in which they are based.

Commuter pilots usually are unable to do this because of the smaller size of their company's route system (in comparison to larger carriers) or because of company regulations that require pilots to live within a specified distance of the domicile (sometimes a pilot must live within so many minutes or hours of the airport). Sometimes, commuter pilots are able to fly to domicile using their privileges with the major airline partner of the company for which they work.

Unions

Not all commuters have unions. Some commuters have an in-house union or pilot association, but these are not nationally affiliated organizations. ALPA is a national organization and at mid-1989 represented approximately 20 commuter airlines. ALPA representation has been expanding rapidly as ALPA efforts to organize the regional airline industry continue. Some commuters have no organization to represent the pilots as a group.

Employee Benefits
  1. Medical & Dental. Medical and dental benefits will vary. Some companies will offer packages almost identical to those of the major carriers. Much of this is dependent on the size of the company and whether or not it has a union contract.

  2. Retirement. About half of all commuter airlines offer a retirement program, the most common being a 401 (k). A 401(k) program is a retirement plan in which the employee and, usually, the employer contribute to a fund.

  3. Stock Option/Profit Sharing. A majority of commuter airlines offer stock option or profit-sharing programs, or both.

  4. Travel. Most commuter airlines have pass privileges for employees and their families on the company aircraft. Company-issued passes generally are free. Some companies do charge, but the charge is minimal: either 25 percent of the full fare or a flat rate, e.g., $45 per ticket. The majority of the commuter companies have jump seat privileges for their pilots. Many also have reduced-fare agreements with other companies, including major carriers, especially the major airlines with which they are affiliated. Most interline agreements will enable you to buy tickets for 90 percent, 75 percent or 50 percent less than the normal full ticket fare by showing your company ID at the ticket counter.

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