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"Pilots pay smeared in U.S. air woes outcry"



Tuesday, February 27, 2001

Pilots pay smeared in U.S. air woes outcry
By Simon Hirschfeld


NEW YORK (Reuters) - Are pilots highly trained professionals with immense
responsibility, or overpaid aerial cabbies with the airlines in their
unionized grip?

As labor battles further complicate the delay-plagued U.S. air traffic
system, some politicians have pointed to the high pay levels pilots earn as
they scrutinize the use of tactics such as refusing overtime to pressure
management.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott this month urged the Department of
Transportation to examine pilot wages and worker-related delays. "What do
they make? Look at those salaries," Lott told the DOT Inspector General.

Airline pilots take home pay is comparable to doctors, lawyers or corporate
executives -- most earn more than $100,000 -- with very senior pilots making
a quarter million or so. They require specialized training, and a pilot one
day may make a life-saving -- or fatal -- decision.

"One of the reasons why they are rather highly paid is that the flying
public and the airlines don't want a pretty good pilot flying a commercial
airliner -- they want a great pilot," said human resources specialist Carl
Weinberg, a principal at the Unifi Network division of
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

Another prominent Republican senator, John McCain, blasted pilots at United
Airlines for engaging in a no-overtime campaign to "satisfy their personal
greed" that was blamed for increased delays and cancellations during
contract talks last summer.

Pilots are the most costly of airline workers, and labor is the biggest cost
for airlines. Contract negotiations between their unions and management are
often bitter.

"The fact that they've bargained for these pay levels suggests that they're
getting paid what they ought to be paid based on supply and demand,"
Weinberg said.

Last year, the contract between UAL Corp.'s United, the world's largest
airline, and its pilots ignited a new round of cost increases throughout the
industry. Several major airlines are now in negotiations with various labor
groups.

Delta Air Lines Inc., the world's No. 3 carrier, is in talks with its
pilots, some of whom have, like United pilots last summer, refused overtime
as a pressure tactic.

How much the delays and cancellations resulted from the job actions is
difficult to sort out, because of a myriad of problems ranging from limits
on airport capacity to outdated air-traffic control technology to weather.

SENIORITY LADDER

In September, McCain compared the 1998 per capital U.S. income of $20,120
with the $342,000 a year that the most senior United pilots will make by
2004. But pilots must climb a fairly rigid ladder of seniority and training
to reach those levels. Once they do so, they cannot switch over to another
airline without losing that seniority.

Pilot pay is based on the years at the airline and the type of aircraft
flown. Starting out, pilots can make less than $20,000. But by the time they
reach captain at a major airline, usually in their mid-30s, they make well
over $100,000.

A pilot usually starts at a major carrier with eight to 12 years of prior
experience, said Kit Darby, president of Air Inc., an Atlanta-based career
resource firm for pilots and other airline workers.

They typically work only 15 days a month, amounting to about 80 flight
hours, the only hours pilots are paid for. They usually spend another 80
unpaid hours on duty at airports. Add time in hotels at destination cities,
and you get 240 to 320 hours pilots spend away from home a month, Darby
said.

Pilots have always been well paid, Darby said. Pay is usually a measure of
productivity and responsibility. An airliner captain is paid based on the
size of the aircraft, an indirect reflection of the number of passengers and
cargo tonnage and the distance they are moved.

"He's got a lot going in one direction and he's responsible for that. It's a
measure of his productivity, like a ship's captain," Darby said.

A co-pilot flying a Boeing 757 or 767 aircraft with five years of experience
at the airline makes $115,392 a year at Delta now, while at United, the same
worker makes $128,712.

A 10-year captain of Boeing 737-200s makes $157,152 at Delta, and $178,152
at United. The most senior captain, with 30 years of experience, flying a
Boeing 777 wide-body, makes $248,040 at Delta, and $254,748 at United.

Delta pilots are expected to top United pilots, who now stand with the
highest pay among passenger carriers.

Delta's recent wage offer included pay increases from 7 to 17.5 percent on
May 1, depending in aircraft type, with average raises for mainline pilots
rising to 30 percent by the end of the proposed four-year contract.

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