Friday, November 05, 2010

Ryanair spinning pilot salaries

The Times yesterday (there's no point in providing a link, because it now exists behind a paywall. In any case, the quality of the report was low - a couple of quick phone calls to airlines to get their opinions ...) offered a report based on a press release by BALPA.

The gist of the report was that BALPA claim that pilots are having to stump up tens of thousands of pounds to get onto the first rung of the professional pilot career ladder, denying access to all but the wealthiest. (Hmm, that seems a familiar concept.) Frequently the "first rung" is almost at the level of an internship, with the new pilot earning barely enough money to cover the cost of the loans he or she had to take to get that far.

There is a safety issue here - Wikipedia on the Colgan Air crash points out...
Safety issues examined during the accident investigation process, included pilot training, hiring, and fatigue problems, leading the FAA to issue a "Call to Action" for improvements in the practices of regional carriers.
All companies have a responsibility to recognise that their objective isn't simply to make money, but to extend a duty of care to their employees.

However, what particularly annoyed me was a quote from the representative of Ryanair. I can't find the exact words - it's behind the paywall!! - but they said something along the lines of "pilots earn £150,000 and do 900 hours flying a year, which equates to 18 hours per week." This was published without comment from The Times, as the last word in the article.

I would suggest that this is quite naughty of Ryanair, and pretty gullible of The Times to accept the claim as it stands. I simply don't know what it is based on. The proportion of pilots earning £150,000 is negligible. The salary for a captain of a medium-sized jet aeroplane, once all benefits are taken into account, might be of the order of £100,000 - this quote from Ryanair already exaggerates this figure by 50%.

This is still misleading. Only around half of pilots are captains. The other half - first officers - earn substantially less, probably at best half that. And this is based on medium-sized jet aeroplanes and bigger. For people working for regional airlines, or flying turboprop aircraft, take another 30% off.

But what about that "18 hours per week on average"? Again, this is misleading. Yes, if you divide the legal limit of 900 flying hours per year by 52, you come up with an average of 18 hours per week. This would be barely 2 days work, one assumes! However, the more significant measure for pilots is the amount of duty hours they work. They don't arrive at work, sit in an aeroplane and fly, and then go home. Typically, the amount of time spent on duty will be 1.5-2 times the number of hours flown. So that's now 27-36 hours duty per week, on average - still pretty good, by a lot of people's standards, but nothing like the eyewateringly generous figure suggested by Ryanair. Of course, had they said "Our pilots earn an average of £55000 per year and work an average of 30 hours per week", this would hardly have made for such a dramatic soundbite. I suspect it would have been a lot closer to the truth, though.

It is still fairly well rewarded, but before you rush to judgment, there's more that ought to be said about the nature of flying as a career ....

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