Schedule, Pay, Seniority and Training of Pilots

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The Schedule

Pilots for commuters can expect to do a lot of flying under current regulations. The number of days per month you can expect to fly, as well as the number of hours per month, varies greatly among companies. Some of the factors that affect this are the type of flying (scheduled passenger runs or charters), union contracts, and work rule agreements. Hours per month may range from around 60 to 75 up to 110 to 120. As of mid-1989, FAR Part 135.265 restricted a commuter or regional airline pilot flying under Part 135 to a maximum of 120 hours of flight per month or 1,200 hours a year (34 hours within any seven-day period), while under Part 121,* a pilot was restricted to a maximum of 100 hours a month or 1,000 hours a year of flight time. A new-hire also may expect to be on reserve as long as he or she is in the bottom 20 to 25 percent of the seniority list, much as with the large carriers.

The Pay

Improvements in pay and benefits are occurring as the smaller companies seek to slow the exodus of pilots to the major airlines. As a company matures and grows, its pay and benefits improve.

Pay varies with the type of agreement the pilots have with the company. Some have a base pay plus a set amount per hour. Some have a guaranteed base or the total of the pay per hour, whichever is greater. Others are paid on a weekly or monthly rate. Generally, as with all jobs, the larger the company and equipment, the higher the pay. The chart below shows the average salary according to position and aircraft.


Seniority systems vary among commuters. These systems generally fall into two categories. The first is almost identical to the one described for the major carriers. The second depends more on your qualifications and the company's hiring practices.

At a company that establishes seniority on the basis of qualifications, if you are hired into a captain's position, you may immediately be senior to all the first officers without working your way up, or you may fly as a junior captain until your overall seniority allows you to move up the captain's step system. If hired as a first officer, you may move up to captain ahead of first officers hired earlier if you meet the experience or qualification requirements for captain before they do.

In other words, this second category of seniority system applies to all captains as a separate group and all first officers as a separate group, but not to all pilots as a whole.


Initial training consists of three to four weeks of ground school with written tests, oral exams, and actual aircraft flying with a check airman (instructor pilot). The length of training varies among companies. Most regional/commuter carriers have not made simulator training part of their programs, but some do, and as the number of available simulators grows (at such training centers as those of Flight Safety International), so do the number of airlines offering simulator training. All companies must conduct recurrent training: every 12 months for both captains and first officers, with proficiency checks coming every six months for captains and once a year for first officers.

When you are upgrading to the captain's position on the same aircraft you have been flying, training will consist of three to four days of ground school and an aircraft oral exam and check ride with an FAA or company check airman.

For upgrading to captain or transitioning to new aircraft, training will be the same length as initial training: two to three weeks of ground school and tests, actual aircraft experience, and an oral exam and check ride with an FAA or company check airman.

Loss-of-License Insurance

This insurance, which pays you a lump sum or annuity monthly payment if you lose your FAA medical certificate, may not be available to you through your company if you are a commuter pilot. Some regional/commuter airlines are starting to provide this coverage for their pilots, but more often the insurance must be purchased by the pilot, not the company.
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