Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Salary and professionalism? Or lifestyle?

Asked to address the subject of pay, Phil Trenary, Pinnacle's [a commuter airline in the US] CEO, told the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Aviation: "I urge you, please do not ever equate professionalism and competence with pay ... Some [pilots] make over $100,000, some make less than that. They are all professionals." Trenary is missing the point. The issue is not low pay and professionalism, but low pay and lifestyle. If pilots cannot afford to live near their work, they have no choice but to commute - sometimes ... over very long distances. Colgan Air expected its Newark-based pilots to buy or rent accommodation in New Jersey, but did not recognise the cost of doing this in wage levels. Colgan Air's managers made no attempt to understand the wider socio-economic environment. They divorced themselves from the lived reality of the flight crew lifestyle. They lived in a bubble.

Questioned about his pilots' lifestyle, Daniel Morgan, VP for safety and Regulatory Performance at Colgan Air, told the NTSB: "You're adults, you're professionals, use the time we've given you to rest."

Morgan's statement is a prime example of Colgan Air's 'bubble' mentality - the belief that so long as minimum requirements are met, the rest will take care of itself. But as evidenced by long-distance commutes, nights spent sleeping on crew room sofas and the crash-pad (flop-house) phenomenon, things are not taking care of themselves. The US regional airline sector is an industry in crisis. Many pilots are overworked and underpaid and some managers are in denial. Something has to change.

"The Log", BALPA, Feb/Mar 2010
This article, by Dr Simon Bennett of the University of Leicester's Civil Safety and Security Unit, is discussing the salary/lifestyle implications which may have contributed to the Colgan Air accident in February 2009, and which attracted the attention of the NTSB.

A new pilot applying to join Colgan Air in November 2007 was offered a salary of less than $17,000 (£14,000ish). There are pilots operating flights in UK airlines on six month contracts with salaries which, if annualised, would amount to around £12,000. On top of this, they are often servicing training-related debts in excess of £60,000.

Their professionalism isn't in doubt. That isn't the issue.

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