FAPA.aero | Are the Glory Days over for Pilots?

Pilot Education

Airline Pilot Careers: The Best Days Are Right Here, Right Now

Robert P. Mark

Since the economy tanked in 2008, there’s been little to get excited about if you’d been contemplating life as an airline pilot. Every piece of news that emerged from American, or United or Delta, or hundreds of other airlines around the globe seemed to be filled with talk that always seemed to be accented with words or phrases like give backs, or compromise, or promises of the best days being down the road someday when things improved. But no one really knew when, or even if those days would actually appear.

Then something happened in 2013. The airlines collectively began turning a profit. Not just a few dollars here and there, but big money profits once they figured out the breaking out nearly every element of their operation offered airlines an opportunity to charge passengers extra … for nearly everything.

Want to check your bag? $25. Want to change your reservation? $200. Want a snack? $5 and so on and so on. While critics said the airlines risked shooting themselves in the foot over passenger outrage, the emotions soon dies down and the airlines began seeing annual profits unlike anything ever experienced. In 2013, the airlines around the world recorded a collective profit of $10.6 billion, that’s billion with a “B.” In 2014, that number rose to $16.4 billion. By 2015, net profits for airlines around the globe had doubled again to approximately $35.3 billion on word that passenger numbers were still rising from the depths of the worldwide recession of 2008. Certainly, the steep decline in global oil prices significantly affected airline bottom lines everywhere. Worldwide, the Return on Investment (ROI) had jumped nearly seven points since the recession. For an industry that had historically spoken of profit margins only in simple dollars and cents terms, everyone in the airline industry seemed to now be making serious money … well, nearly everyone.

Not surprisingly, the historical conflicts between airline management and labor began increasing. After years of compromises and pay cuts for pilots, flight attendants, maintenance technicians, ramp and customer service personnel, the time had arrived to push back. No longer could the airlines of the world simply cry poverty as the answer to employees demands for improvements to their compensation.

In 2013, the pilots at American Airlines received a tentative contract offer that would immediately increase their salaries by 23 percent with additional raises in later years of the contract. By 2014, news outlets like Bloomberg were writing stories that included key phrases like “pilot shortage,” a topic that many critics found laughable. When Delta offered its pilots huge raise in 2015, the handwriting seemed to be on the wall. In 2016, Southwest pilots were talking about a tentative agreement reached after nearly four years of negotiation that would add 30 percent to their pay and would be backdated to 2013 to boot.

The real news for airline pilots in 2016 however began emerging in the summer as the regional airlines, always the poor step-children of the airline industry began announcing pay raises for their pilots in an attempt to hold on to more of the current pilot group and also, to tempt people into the profession who’d been turned off for years at the thought of flying for wages that allowed many of them to qualify for food stamps. In September 2016 American Airlines announced increases in pay and annual bonuses they believe would raise the starting salary for a first-year pilot to somewhere in the $50,000 range. Other regional airlines are close on their heels.

With attrition from thousands of retiring airline pilots just around the U.S. a man or woman signing on to this career in 2016 stands to create a lucrative career for themselves over the next 30-35 years. That means it’s time to give the airline industry a fresh look. Is this the airline industry of the late 1990s? No, it certainly is not. But that’s not bad news any longer.

Meet the FAPA team

Karen Floyd

Interview Consultant

KarenFloyd

Karen joined the FAPA team in May of 2013 to work alongside Judy Tarver and Claudette Carroll helping our Premier members turn their interviews into job offers.  She comes to FAPA after working for a number of years as a Pilot Recruiter at American Eagle Airlines.  During this time, Karen worked closely with Claudette Carroll in the hiring of several thousand pilots for American Eagle.

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Hired at Southwest Airlines

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