TL;DR: I'm hypothesising the cockpit experience and pay in small aircraft vs larger aircraft is disproportionate to the risk and responsibility.

I read the argument that pilot pay should be equal across all types, irrespective of it is an A320, A330 or A340 for instance.

  • The smaller aircraft have greater number of rotations every day, leading to greater workload and hence the pilot responsibility could be argued to be equal to that of a larger aircraft which spends (a lot) more time just cruising.
  • The bigger aircraft often operate to better, more equipped airports than their smaller counterparts. This again may put more load and responsibility on the pilots.
  • The bigger aircraft, while in some cases more complicated, may have more automated systems and assistance rather than greater pilot workload, although this of course depends on the aircraft.

I'm wondering if anybody (airline, union etc.) has done this or is trying to do implement it. It would be mighty unpopular among some pilots but I think there is a little bit of sense to the argument.

Why is this a problem?

It also causes the least (or less) experienced pilots to command the small aircraft, rather than perhaps a more sensible mix of age and experience.

Paying additionally by the years of experience makes sense to me, but not this push to constantly advance to get a higher salary.

As it stands, the only way to make more (aside from years of experience) is to upgrade to a larger aircraft type. Aside from requiring retraining (expensive type rating), it puts the pilot into a new aircraft (and possibly airports) he is unfamiliar with.

  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, you probably want your most senior, experienced pilots flying your \$300 million, 800,000-1,000,000 lb. aircraft with 300+ people on board vs. your \$50-\$80 million 100,000 lb. aircraft with 100-150 people on board. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Jul 29, 2015 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @reirab Indeed, but something like 50% of accidents occur during takeoff and landing. How many rotations do you average in a B737 compared to a B777 during a work day (perhaps 4:1?) and it may have some logic. $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2015 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ I don't understand your question: why would you want the same pay to all pilots? Which is the aim? $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2015 at 13:45
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ A) You may want to include your hypothesis in the question to help clarify it. B) I see where you're coming from - it makes sense. C) In the US, at least, this would likely be very unpopular with the unions. D) Unless someone has intimate knowledge of a union/airline negotiation session (and is willing to share), this has a very unanswerable feel to it. $\endgroup$
    – FreeMan
    Jul 29, 2015 at 14:02
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    $\begingroup$ We do have an economics Stack Exchange, and honestly, this may be better asked there. What this basically boils down to is "why have the higher ups decided to pay more for a job that requires the same (or possibly less) skill." It may have to do with prestige pay, or cultural perceptions.... Anyway, I think you'll get a better answer here: economics.stackexchange.com $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Jul 29, 2015 at 16:19

1 Answer 1

  • Jumbos and widebodies are harder to fly than amateur pilots often think. The larger and more complex the aircraft, the further ahead in time the pilot has to be thinking in order to get the plane where he wants it in the configuration he wants it. This increases pilot workload even when "just cruising".

  • There is a natural progression from smaller to larger planes and fewer to more passengers through all levels of pilot training and certification. You don't put a student pilot in an A380 with 500 passengers aboard for their first solo flight. You give them an LSA costing $25-50k and don't allow them to carry any passenger besides their instructor. As the pilot gains skill and experience, they transition to larger and more powerful aircraft and gain more privileges and responsibilities. Parallels abound; knowing how to drive a 19-foot speedboat on a lake is no qualification to be at the helm of the Carnival Magic, or the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan. Knowing how to drive a go-cart in a parking lot is no qualification to be behind the wheel of a road train.

    Case in point, someone who just got their ATPL/AMEL likely has had zero stick time in an actual airliner; they're simply too big and expensive to run for flight schools to be using them for flight training. What they've probably logged actual flight time in for an AMEL category rating is closer to a Gulfstream or Learjet; a high-performance narrow-body T-tail. That's not really going to cut it for a 737, but that experience transfers pretty seamlessly to a regional narrow-body airliner like a Bombardier or Embraer; slightly bigger and heavier but not totally out of the ballpark in configuration and performance envelope. Establish a good track record in those and you work your way to the 100-seaters like the E195, and from there you can continue to work your way up as your experience and mentality allow you to handle the longer lead times and increased complexities of bigger jets.

  • Smaller flights tend to bring in less revenue and lower margins, primarily due to increased competition on those routes. Yes, the seats turn over more quickly as the smaller jets make shorter hops, but do the math; DFW-PHX costs about \$320 a seat, you have about 130 seats on a 737 or A320 running that route, and you can run it about 3 flights between those two airports gate-to-gate in 10 hours. Total revenue, somewhere in the ballpark of \$125,000 a day. A ticket from DFW to LHR costs about \$2200, it's run with a 777-300ER which carries about 320 people per flight, and you run that once in the same 10 hours. Total revenue for a full flight, about \$700,000. Even given that the DFW-LHR flight will probably require two crews and the fuel costs per passenger mile will be higher, you're still making more money off the larger plane, provided you can fill it.

    Now, this very same cost breakdown doesn't seem to hold at first for a smaller regional jet. Waco to DFW is an hour gate-to-gate and costs ~\$325 a ticket. In the same ten-hour flight time of the DFW-LHR flight, a 50-seat ERJ145 could theoretically bank up to \$162,500, more than the DFW-PHX flight. But, nobody's paying \$325 to fly from Waco to DFW unless they're "stupid rich"; you can drive between those cities in an hour and a half for the cost of about 5 gallons of gas, and people know that. They also know that if they're going to DFW to catch another flight for a week or ten-day trip, the parking fees will eat them alive. A more realistic scenario is ACT-PHX via DFW. That ticket costs \$360. Recall that DFW-PHX by itself was \$320, so your passengers are paying more like \$40/seat for the regional connector, and at that rate 10 trips with a 50-place jet would bring in a scant \$20,000/day, which might barely break even on fuel and fees to operate that route.

  • Older pilots want more pay. As in many industries, workers expect their experience to count for something on their pay stubs. From simple cost-of-living raises to the money needed to raise a family and eventually retire, airline senior captains often end their careers in the low to mid six figures. They also start lower on the pay scale and so get less of a head start building a home and retirement; regional jet operators start around $22,000 which is just above poverty line (which is part of the complaint; a pilot's starting salary is not a living wage especially considering what it takes just to be able to apply for the job). Given the costs of flight training, and the starting salaries of other skilled trades, learning to fly for a living is not the obvious choice. So the ones that stick with it and work their way to senior captain expect to make up the difference at the end of their careers.

Given all of these points, it makes sense to put junior pilots making less money in smaller airliners, and increase the airframe size and the pay as a pilot advances through their career.

  • $\begingroup$ Care to comment, downvoter? $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Jul 30, 2015 at 0:41

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