The Pay of Airline Pilots

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Airline pilots are paid according to the position flown (captain, first officer or flight engineer), the type of aircraft flown, the speed of the aircraft, and the maximum certified gross weight of the aircraft. Pay also is determined by day or night and domestic or international flying. As an example, as a DC-9 captain, you might be paid $80 per hour for flying. In addition, you might be paid 30 per hour for each thousand pounds of gross weight. For a DC-9-30 this is about 108,000 pounds, which comes out to an additional $3.24 per hour.

Pilots usually are paid per mile flown as well. Mileage is computed by incorporating a contract-designated speed, such as 550 miles per hour, yielding an additional $ 16.50 per hour. Usually, night flying pays about $3 per hour more than day flying.

In all, the grand total would be approximately $99.74 per hour for a DC-9 captain flying daytime duty. Since the normal maximum is about 75 hours per month, this DC-9 captain could expect to make approximately $7,480.50 per month. A base pay also may be added to this figure. Pay increases will range from zero to 10 percent per year. Longevity pay will top out at 12 years. Rates will vary depending on the airline.

First officers normally are paid a flat rate during the first year (probation); in the second year, they start on a percentage pay scale. Usually in the second year, a first officer makes about 50 percent of captain's pay. During the third year, first officers are paid approximately 50 to 60 percent of captain's pay, with pay increases each year up until about nine to 12 years with the company, depending upon the airline.

Flight engineers also normally are paid approximately 42 percent of captain's pay after the first year. The rate is about 45 to 52 percent in the third year, with longevity increases thereafter. In some cases flight engineers are paid 80 to 90 percent of the first officer's pay.

Second-year pay will vary according to the equipment and position that you are flying. The figures shown in the following chart will vary plus or minus $200 per month, depending upon the airline. The figures are approximate and are calculated based on a 75-hour month for turbojet aircraft and 80 hours per month for turboprop aircraft.

Third-year pay will be approximately 18 percent higher than second-year pay with the airlines, assuming you are flying in the same aircraft and crew position. After the third year, longevity increases will be approximately two percent per year. In addition, you may expect zero to 10 percent annual pay increases for cost-of-living adjustments.

Overall, your earning power at the major airlines is substantial. The latest Delta B-scale contract pays $65,000 in the sixth year (first A-scale year) for a B-727 flight engineer.

The B Scale

The B scale or two-tier pay scale is a system under which new employees earn less for doing the same job as the more senior employees. The first B scale implemented in the industry was at American Airlines in 1984, where new-hire pilot pay was 50 percent less than the original pay. This was to be a non-merging scale, that is, the 50 percent less was to be forever. At the time the B scale was adopted, American was planning a massive expansion and transition program.

With the upcoming retirements and American's positioning to hire hundreds of pilots, the theory was that eventually everyone would be on the B-scale.

Within 18 months of its inception, under pressure from its pilots' union, American had to readjust its B scale, which has been changed twice since that time. Today, most airlines have a B scale; however, most are between 60 and 80 percent of A scale and merge with A scale within five to nine years of hire, or upon a pilot's reaching the captain's position.

Eventually, the B scale at most airlines will be brought up to merge with the A scale in the fifth year of a pilot's employment.

Pilots should not judge the outcome of the new pay system before it has a chance to settle down. Market pressures are constantly pushing salaries up. To turn away from a career when the average income is more than $80,000 a year and rising is premature. Overall, you can expect a continuing increase in total pilot compensation.
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