Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Make It Better

My last post and the response in the comments section made me realize something today.

I'm really getting tired of moaning and complaining about the downfall of the airline industry and the piloting profession.

True, things have become worse the last few years. Yes, old-timers would be appallled to see how far the profession has fallen. And yes, anybody considering a career in aviation needs to take a good look at the true cost of this career before jumping in.

But the reality is, it can still be a pretty good career. I very much enjoy what I do for a living. It's usually interesting, I work with great people, and I see breathtaking sights every day. Even at the "regional" level, it's paying the bills and I'm living comfortably, albeit with two incomes and without kids. I've had some neat adventures here and abroad thanks to this job.

Furthermore, I should be about the last guy to talk about the uncertainty and suffering that an aviation career can bring, because I haven't experienced any of it. The worst I've dealt with is some unexpected time freight-dogging, a little time in a hiring pool that didn't pan out, and the prospect of a longer-than-average upgrade. Boo-freaking-hoo. To learn about the worst that aviation can do, there are plenty of furloughees and merger survivors and newly pensionless retirees you can talk to. I really have no right to do so.

But the main reason I'm tired of complaining is that it really doesn't change anything. My blog posts, crew room gripe-fests, flightinfo.com bitterness - has it all done anything to reverse the slide? I'm not sure it has. What are we expecting to achieve, anyhow? Are we hoping that by making aviation look so horrible, we'll shrink the incoming labor pool and thereby improve our lot? If so, it's dishonest and unfair. Having achieved our goals, it's hypocritical to deny others theirs. When nice guys like LoadmasterC141 want to get into flying, I should be encouraging him, not dissuading him.

None of this is to say we should ignore the problems bedeviling aviation. It might still be a decent field but if the present slide continues, it will not always be. The generation that came before us did a pretty lousy job; we need to do better.This starts with educating the pilots coming up through the ranks. Those of us currently at the airlines need to do a better job of reaching out to those just starting their own careers, helping them in their advancement as well as educating them in the history and responsibilities of their chosen profession. Without hitting them over the head with gloom and doom, we need to make it clear to them that the future of this career is in their hands, and depends on them rolling up their sleeves and getting involved.

So those of you who are new to aviation, who are considering a career as a pilot, who are working their way up the ladder: I apologize for occasionally discouraging your dreams with gloomy pronouncements of what a shambles aviation is in. I should be encouraging and helping you. At the same time, I do want to urge you to get informed on what's going on in your profession, and do your part to make it better. "What can I do?" you ask. In general terms, consider yourself a caretaker of the profession and resolve to leave it better than you found it. Consider the effects each of your choices has not only on your career but also on those who come after you. Specifically, once you work at a unionized carrier, get involved in your union. They're only as good as their volunteers. They can use your skills. No part is too trivial - even seemingly boring jobs free up resources for other important tasks. This is a small price to pay for a rewarding career and a job that you love.


Big Country said...


I always enjoy your posts, but I'm going to have to disagree with you on this one. This post comes not as a professional pilot, but as a student of business, labor markets, and unions. I'm a firm believer in the free market of labor and goods (and I grew up in a right to work state). Strong unions don't make strong pilots, they only make strong unions. The airline unions, under the RLA, have been able to force the airlines to pay wages above what the free market will support in terms of ticket costs. There has been mismanagement at the airlines, but the unions haven't helped the problem. The legacies were unable to reduce their costs to match their ticket prices (in part, and only in part, due to the labor contracts), then they go into bankruptcy, causing the loss of jobs and the loss of pensions. The unions haven't been part of the solution, they have been part of the problem.

The only way that the airline industry can remain stable is if the unions and management work together to achieve realistic labor costs that the market will support in terms of ticket prices instead of "choking him until he gives all the eggs to us."

Keep flying safe.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy all of your posts, positive and negative. Anyone considering a career in aviation should make sure to be educated on ALL aspects, not just the prospect of right seating in a shiny jet or tuboprop.

Thanks for your insight and keep posting.


LoadMasterC141 said...

No need for apologies at all. I completely agree with RJwannabe; it is important to see every aspect you can to gain a good perspective of what you are getting into.

I argue the other side of the coin sometimes, but am still very happy to gain any insight into the field. Like you said, the grass is probably not as green as the picture I have painted in my mind(SJS has a way of doing thaty I bet). Seeing positive and negative helps shape that picture into something that is probably more reflective of the career(and dang if I STILL don't want to do it!).

Your blog, Jetcareers patrons, and a few others have been instrumental in helping me understand what I am getting into and for that I cannot thank you enough.

Keep em coming!

Ryan said...

I believe 100% in big country's post above. As a professional pilot and a business owner, I truly believe that unions combat the power of a team and ultimately hinder relationships between labor and management. We're no longer in the industrial age here - we're in the information age where people become instant millionaires in a matter of months, and loyal employees who have dedicated 30-plus years to their careers end up with nothing and very little net worth. I have seen both sides of the coin and guess which side I prefer to be on now? Amazon.com, a company without any profits or any real estate, grows faster and becomes more valuable in the stock market than Sears and J.C. Penney. I am a true believer that businesses survive today because of great leadership and management. Unfortunately, look at the legacy carrier management who has taken so much from the valued employees and have left with millions of company dollars. I rank some of those CEO's up there with Jeff Skilling, now in prison (albeit a rather nice one) for his raping of Enron. Furthermore, look at the big names that have plagued the airline industry in the past, such as Lorenzo and Icahn. To the aspiring airline pilot, I suggest this: start young, obtain a degree in business and read Hard Landing by Thomas Petzinger; Flying High, the story of JetBlue by James Wynbrandt; Nuts! a Story about Southwest; Winning by Jack Welch; the World is Flat by Tom Friedman, and The Serveant, A Simple Story about Leadership by James C. Hunter.

My business is successful because I work together with my employees to create an effective team. I try to emulate “airline” structures such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Allegiant Air, just to name a few. No unions here - and they're profitable with happy employees. I can even name a handful of CEO's who have not even taken a salary since their company's inception.

Trust me, I know your frustration. Pilots take great pride in knowing they have ultimate responsibility of a multi-million dollar plane and hundreds of passenger’s lives in their hands. Pilots want ultimate control and are always looking for new challenges. However they are seemingly left powerless today at large unionized legacy carriers as they are forced to take large pay cuts and risk losing their pensions. I can understand how frustrating that can be. I was just hired back to the airlines after being away from them for 4 years. I have since found a great corporate job and am still deciding what to do. I can tell you though that this airline is non-union and I am grateful for that.

Anonymous said...

Bosses generally don't like unions. Why? When workers form unions, workers have power.

Sam said...

BC and Ryan... I'm not ignoring your comments, I'm responding in a separate post that's taking some time to write. I should have it up tomorrow, I think.

Big Country said...


No problem. Your blog, your time. Don't forget, my opinion is worth exactly what you paid for it.


Denver said...

As to whether or nor your posts have become dispiriting, no worries, the contrasting pros and cons you write about help me understand what flying for the regionals is all about. Your vantage point offers a perspective nobody else has.

I’ve been looking at climbto350.com to see what kind of jobs are out there at the moment. Certainly nothing lucrative. The regionals aren’t the only outfits offering lowball salaries to pilots. Seems everyone’s doing it. (However, it could be that climbto350.com is the wrong place to gauge industry pay scales. Beats me.)

From the looks of it, there are plenty of jobs out there, all sorts of right seat openings for small to mid-size jets. Most require a type rating plus a couple thousand hours of PIC turbine. Which is all fine and dandy, I’d require all the experience in the world if I were to trust someone to fly me around the country. But, I’d at least attempt to pay them what they’re worth. Starting pay at these places is in the ballpark of $20-25K, which, to me, is ridiculous. If you’re a pilot with those qualifications, you certainly deserve more, especially considering your own personal financial investment into a flying career. I’d venture to guess that most of those businesses pay their receptionists the same amount, if not more.

The temptation to escape my desk job is especially persistent when I hear the low moan of those shimmering Q400s flying overhead! I took the ATP checkride a month ago with intentions of eventually getting back into flying. But switching from my current income to a salary in the low-$20s, I’m just not sure it’s worth it. Ah…but it sure would be fun to fly a real plane someday. ☺

Thanks for all your great posts. Keep them coming. Let me know if you’re ever in Spokane. Happy flying!

By the way, Ryan's book suggestions for aspiring pilots are all excellent recommendations. Hard Landing paints a fascinating history of the airlines. Awesome read! As long as we're throwing in airline-related book recommendations, I'd suggest Virgin King: Inside Richard Branson's Business Empire. And speaking of Lorenzo, I'd also recommend From Worst To First: Behind the Scenes of Continental's Remarkable Comeback. Read these awhile ago, but as I recall, both were interesting.

Sam said...

Yeah, I've read Hard Landing several times, as well as several of the other suggestions. The rest will be on my list next time I go to the library...particularly Virgin King, as Branson is next heading to this part of the country...

Hard Landing, along with Flying the Line by George Hopkins, should be required reading for any prospective pilot.

Sam said...

I try to emulate “airline” structures such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Allegiant Air, just to name a few. No unions here - and they're profitable with happy employees.

Although I touch on this in my next post, I didn't quote you...so just to be clear, Southwest is heavily unionized. They're also the highest paid 737 pilots in the US, and the company continues to be profitable.

Anonymous said...

If this post is going to end on book suggestions, don't forget to add "Flying the Line" Volume I and II by George E. Hopkins. This compilation of the history of commercial aviation (albeit from a union ALPA view ) is indispensible to attain a full, well rounded view of the subject of pilot unionization.

Sam said...

Anon - Agreed. Flying the Line is an invaluable look into the world of the men that built this profession. Many of them paid dearly for their contributions.