Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pilots Of Regional Carriers Far From Being Experianced


Pilots and co-pilots for smaller, feeder airlines such as Colgan Air generally earn lower salaries and start with less experience than their counterparts at the bigger mainline carriers.

The captain of Colgan Air Flight 3407 had 31/2 years of experience and nearly 3,400 flight hours at the regional airline; his co-pilot had been on the job barely a year.

By contrast, the average pilot at American Airlines has been there 18 years, according to FltOps.com, a financial-planning company for pilots.

Chesley Sullenberger, who guided his crippled US Airways jet to a safe landing on the Hudson River last month, has spent 28 years and logged nearly 20,000 flight hours at his airline.

It's unclear what role, if any, the Colgan crew's experience level played in Thursday night's crash near Buffalo, N.Y., which killed all 49 people on board and one on the ground. The cause of the crash had not been determined by Friday evening, although speculation centered on ice building up on the plane's wings.

But what is clear, experts say, is that flying for regional airlines can be a grueling existence and a sacrifice that many pilots make in hopes of moving up to a major airline where the pay and hours are better.

Beginning pay for a co-captain on a regional airline can be as low as $18,000 a year, according to Louis Smith, president of FltOps.com.

"You won't make a livable income until you get in the left (captain's) seat," Smith said. "Pilots accept this as part of the game, and the companies do it because they can."

Captains on regional airlines may earn far less than the passengers they ferry around the country every day, linking major airline hubs with smaller cities.

According to IAG, an airline industry research firm, Colgan captains make about $58,000 per year and first officers or co-pilots about $27,000.

Starting pay, however, can be much lower. Colgan advertised in late 2007 for a captain's job that paid $40 per flight hour for a guaranteed 75 hours a month -- or about $36,000 a year.

The average pilot at American Airlines makes more than $138,000 a year, according to American.

At regional carriers, "The pay is not as high, the planes are smaller, and they typically have some younger pilots who have less experience when they're hired," said Kit Darby, a former United Airlines captain.

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