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Pilot Demographics in a Nutshell

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The pilot is able to live a gratifying life. Buoyed by substantial monetary rewards and a tinge of the glamour of piloting's early years, today's professional pilots project a conservative, family-oriented, prosperous image and lifestyle. The most financially successful, with a few exceptions (e.g., some TV pilot-journalists buck the trend by making huge salaries), are the national and major airline pilots. In their off time, which is extensive, these pilots are able to enjoy a wide range of leisure activities; they also may run their own businesses, manage their investments, or work with others in a sideline vocation.

According to ALPA, the average annual household income of a pilot flying for a major or national airline in 1988 was $92,200, with more than 22 percent of pilots earning between $80,000 and $99,999. Of retired pilots surveyed, the average household income was $64,100. With the average age of professional flight crew members being 35 to 44, airline transport pilots continued to be in the prime age group that buys homes, automobiles, second homes and all the accessories that (from a material standpoint) constitute the good life.

A unique benefit of the airline pilot position is the flexibility offered in the work schedule. Working airline pilots fly an average of 80 hours in 15 days each month, are in uniform at the airport about 160 hours, and are away from home 240-320 hours. This leaves them with a lot of time to pursue other interests. In the ALPA study, about 39 percent of all pilots had second incomes producing an additional $ 10,000 to $ 19,999, with the average second income being around $19,000. Among all airline pilots, 28 percent worked for themselves in their second jobs; 12 percent worked for others.

Pilot investments are more extensive than those of most middle-class Americans. The average portfolio value for airline pilots in 1988 was $163,200. Thirty-five percent had portfolios valued at $200,000; investments ranged from stocks and bonds to money market funds.

As might be expected, pilots as a group love to be on the go. They frequently avail themselves of their companies' often liberal travel benefits. Interline agreements are an employee benefit offered by most air carriers. Pilots and other employees can travel on airlines other than their own at a 50 to 90 percent reduced rate and in some cases even free (jump seat). They also can fly free on their own airline. Many pilots take advantage of this privilege and travel frequently using their passes.

Like most Americans, however, they use the automobile as their primary form of transportation: More than 99.9 percent of the pilot households surveyed owned more than one car. Other forms of transportation popular among professional aviators are recreational powerboats/sailboats and private aircraft (28 percent owned one or the other or both in 1988).

Being in good health is important to the airline pilot since health plays such a major role throughout an aviation career. Eighty-six percent of pilots in 1988 were performing some form of exercise daily in order to stay in good physical condition. The most popular form of exercise is jogging; the most popular sport and leisure activity, boating.

How many professional pilots are there? According to a 1986 Aircraft Owners &Pilots Association (AOPA) survey, there were 709,118 rated pilots in the United States. Of that number, 147,798 had commercial licenses (the mark of a professional); 87,186 with commercial licenses also had the airline transport pilot (ATP) license. More than 262,380 pilots were instrument rated (as opposed to type rated).

The survey reported 43,082 rated woman pilots. Of that group, 4,176 had the commercial license, and 1,334 had the ATP. You will find quite a few women flying for the regional airlines; as these pilots advance their careers, the number of women flying for major and national airlines will increase, too.

Numbers in all categories have risen considerably since the AOPA study. The reason is that career opportunities in piloting are beckoning.

In recent years, all financially sound major airlines have been hiring or recalling pilots. When the major airlines are in a hiring mode, a domino effect occurs throughout the industry. Major airline pilots come from the ranks of military, corporate or commuter pilots. As these pilots leave smaller carriers or corporate employers to go fly for the major airlines, vacancies are created; then the smaller operations have to hire pilots to replace the ones who have left.

In December 1987, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University predicted that "the projected growth of the air transportation industry, coupled with the increased retirement rate of senior airline pilots, will generate a continuing high demand for qualified pilots for the foreseeable future." According to Embry-Riddle, a conservative estimate of demand would be 6,000 pilots per year at least through 1998.

Atlanta-based Future Aviation Professionals of America (FAPA), a career counseling firm for pilots, has issued a slightly more conservative estimate: 52,000 to 62,000 pilots over the next 10 years (through 1998), with 32,000 in large jets and 20,000 to 30,000 at mainly non-jet regional airlines.

In any event, predictions of a steady, strong market for airline pilots through the year 2010 are based on sound demographic and retirement projections and on a prognosis for an essentially healthy, expanding economy over most of that time span.

In a nutshell: If you want to be a pilot, you have your sights set on a field that should continue to expand for the foreseeable future.
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