Patrick Smith, author of Ask the Pilot, has an interesting piece on the changes in regional airline pilot pay. In case you weren’t aware, regional air pilots used to be paid peanuts — Smith notes that his first piloting job for a regional paid $14K in 1990 (which, adjusted for inflation, is $31K in 2022 dollars). That’s not a lot, considering that those pilots had to pay for all their training, including expensive simulator training. Their jobs were also stressful, as shown in the investigation of the 2009 Colgan Air crash near Buffalo. Pilots tolerated regional jobs as long as they could have a reasonable chance of moving up to a major carrier.
Since regional carriers now fly about half of the routes in the US, the “up and out” strategy wasn’t working for many pilots, so the pipeline of trained pilots dried up:
[…] Having been in this business for over thirty years, I can hardly believe I’m typing these words, but a first-year pilot at a regional carrier can now look forward to a a six figure income. Or close to it. I can’t overstate how staggering this is. That’s ten times what I made in 1990. Above and beyond the monetary improvements, several regionals have also put together “flow-through” agreements, whereby regional pilots are guaranteed a future slot at a major.
The pilots’ union, the Airline Pilots Association, seem to have been unable or unwilling to stage job actions that would bring pressure on the regional carriers earlier. I’m sure that’s more easily said than done. Still, for whatever reason, I’m glad that my family and other relatives, who by necessity fly regional carriers out of their smaller cities, will be taking planes piloted by fairly compensated pilots.