Why You Should Still Become An Airline Pilot Amid COVID-19

Photo by Rafael Cosquiere on Pexels.com

The coronavirus(SARS-COV-2) pandemic has caused quite a bit of disruption in every corner of the world. At the time of this writing, the world is standing with almost 18 million confirmed cases with over 684 thousands deaths. The US is seeing over 4.6 million confirmed cases with over 154 thousands deaths. Millions of people are out of a job all over the world. So why is it still a good time to learn to fly?

If the world was to end, it would’ve ended. But it hasn’t. After all you are reading this blog amidst the pandemic. Humanity has been around for a very long time. Humanity has gone through a lot from previous pandemics, world wars, regional wars, genocides and much much more. Whether the environment that we are seeing and living today is a direct result of our doing, that’s a different discussion on its own. But what we have to acknowledge is that the world will continue. People are resilient. We have very intelligent people working on vaccines and therapies to help cure this virus. So this means that there will be sunshine and green grass on the other side. What we can do now is to keep our hopes up and be patient. It’s easier said than done.

Aviation will return. If you do a little Google search, the internet will tell you that the current estimates for the return of international flying is around 2024. That is ONLY 4 years from now. So what can you do to prepare yourself for that return? Well if you caught the bug with flying, you can become a pilot starting today!

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So here are the list of reasons why you should still become an airline pilot today!

  1. Downtime is good. Stay Focus.
  2. Aviation is the way of the future
  3. Flying is a career
  4. Airlines Compensation
  5. Travel Benefits
  6. Exciting challenges
  7. Retirements
  • Downtime in an economy is a good thing for learning to fly. If you want to become an airline pilot, now is the time to do it. The saying, “Buy low, sell high” is the logic in this. Amidst the coronavirus and recession, the supply and demand logic is still in play. Flight schools and Flight Base Operators may have to lower their price due to lack of the demans in flying. (You can google for your local flight schools and FBOs to find a place to start flying.) Now since most companies aren’t hiring pilots at this time, it makes it a great time to fly. Would you rather learn to fly when everyone is hiring? Or would you want to be ahead of that trend by learning to fly now so that when companies start to hire again, you will be ready to get paid to fly?
  • Aviation is the way of the future. Can you imagine a world 20 years from now with regards to traveling and transportation? Do you think people will stay inside and only travel locally? Of course not. Maybe before there was public transportation, most people travel 5 miles beyond their home. That was probably very adventurous. Then comes horse carriage, trains, automobiles, and airplanes. The world will continue to rotate and people will continue to expand their horizons. This means people will continue to fly. And that means pilots will be needed to help transport people from point A to point B.
  • Flying is a professional career. When you become a pilot, you are going to have a well paid professional career. It may not seem like it at the moment. But you will realize your potential. If you get furlough, there will be other companies that will continue to hire pilots. The pandemic may be a unique situation, but again, this will only be temporary.
  • As a pilot, you will be rewarded quite well. The chart below shows Pilot Annual Pay over a thirty year career at a major airline. More on the breakdown of how much a pilot make at the major airlines, here.
Pilot Annual Pay over a Thirty Year Career
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  • One of the benefits as an airline pilot is you get to fly all over the world for free. Yup, that is a very real benefit of being an airline pilot. Most of the airlines from all over the world basically link up to provide benefits to their employees. This means an ability to travel for free if not at a much cheaper cost than a regular fare. Not only do you get to travel to different cities, new states, diferent regions of the country, but also many corners of the world. Now there will be some logistics that you’d have to work out. But many flight crews have taken advantage of this perks on a daily basis, pre-covid time of course.
  • Now being a pilot does come with its fair and arduous challenges. If it was so easy, then everyone would do it already. The fact is, it takes a lot of hard work, commitment to your goal, commitment to your health, passion for flights, and the perseverance to succeed. Certainly, you cannot go to training for only several months and then expected to be able to perform at the level of an airline pilot. It takes solid time to perfect your foundations as a pilot at different stages of your training. Once you’ve accomplished your goals, the rewards can be very fulfilling. So if you are one who believes that difficulties and challenges make you better in the future, then becoming a pilot is an option to consider.
  • Pilot retirements will be a huge drive in pilot shortage. Why is this important? Because in the airlines, seniority is key. Seniority means you have been with company than another person below you. This can afford you the difference between being a reserve pilot versus a “lineholder” pilot who has a set schedule every month. Better seniority will allow you to have possibly more days off each month, more weekends off, higher pay rates and of course, time to spend your holidays with the family and friends. You can read more on pilot retirements at the major airlines, here.
Airline Pilot Retirements By Age 65
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So despite of what’s going on around you, about the virus, the downturn of the economy, the potential pilot furloughs, one thing that can help you through the day is to stay hopeful but also have a plan. We can be hopeful that there will be effective and imminent therapies and vaccines that will minimize or prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We can be hopeful that the world will turn around from 2020 and accelerate into the future with better focus, with higher strength and clearer path to the years to come, one day at a time. When the economy is down and airlines furlough, that’s ok. It’s a good time to stay focus in school and flight training. Later on, your accomplishment will be very fulfilling because you took the time to learn and grow during a very challenging time. The airlines and the wonder of flights will reward you with its great benefits, gratitude and great compensation. The attrition due to retirements will only sweeten the deal for you. The opportunity to become a pilot is for you to take.

There will be another blog on the way as a step by step guide to get you start on flying. However, if you have already commited to aviation and/or you have already done your introductory flight, click below for your aviation supplies. It’s important that you keep your overall cost low. David Clark is a solid beginner headset. Your headset, even for the least expensive ones, should last you through your flight trainings and beyond.

Aviation Headsets Aviation Maps

How Much An Airline Pilot Makes At A Major Airline

Have you ever wonder how much an airline pilot makes at a major airline in the United States? Below is a breakdown of how much a pilot makes at a major airline such as Southwest Airlines, Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, Alaska Airlines, FedEx Express, United Parcel Service and United Airlines.

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Something to keep in mind when looking over the graphs and chart below is that there are a lot of variables pertaining to the data below. For example, a pilot could work at minimum guaranteed hours to obtain better quality of life such as spending time with the family, taking leisure travels all over the world, work on side gigs or career etc. Vice versa, a pilot can work a lot(maybe on average of 120 hours per month) to save up and reap the benefits of working all the time. So if a pilot makes $160 per hour and work 120 hours per month for one year, the difference could be over $84,000 per year when compared to another pilot who makes the same hourly rate at minimum guaranteed hours of 76. The guaranteed hours will depend on individual airlines as well.

Figure 1. Junior First Officer Annual Pay At Minimum Guaranteed Hours

The graph above shows the pay comparison for different major airlines at First Officer pay from year 1 to year 10 on one aircraft pay rate. Typically, individual airline has multiple different types of aircrafts that they operate. The pay rates could be different on multiple narrowbody aircrafts and widebody aircrafts. The seat that you occupied, First Officer or Captain, will also have different rates. As a junior or new pilot to the company, you would start at lower end of the pay. You typically fly single-aisle aircrafts such as a Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 variants. As a junior first officer, your guranteed hours typically kept at a minimum. Sometimes that is by choice and other times it is due to being junior in senority. In the airlines, the higher your senority is, another word, the longer you have been with the company, the better your pay will be. Schedule becomes more flexible as well. You can free up your schedule by reducing your flight hours to focus on other things in life, or you can pick up more and better trips at premium rate.

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Figure 2. Senior First Officer Annual Pay At Minimum Guaranteed Hours

Once you have accumulated enough years in the company, your seniority allows you to step up to another aircraft with better pay. A widebody aircraft pilot, typically, will have better pay within an individual airlines. Figure 2 shows pay comparison for First Officer starting at year 5 to year 10. Normally, your senority would not be able to hold widebody aircrafts until roughly year 5 and up. Once you can hold another aircraft type, you would have the opportunity to qualify on that aircraft. This graph is based on pilot pay at minimum guranteed hours on a widebody aircraft such as a Boeing 777, Boeing 787, Airbus 330 etc. These aircrafts are sought after aircrafts due to much higher pay, more experienced crew, newer and better destinations, better schedule, less cancelations and many other factors. Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines are not on this list because they only operate narrowbody aircrafts such as a Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 variants.

Figure 3. Junior Captain Annual Pay At Minimum Guaranteed Hours

Generally, you would spend sometime on the right seat of airliner until your seniority can hold a left seat, which will then allow you to the opportunity to qualify for a Captain upgrade. It takes several years to be able to hold seniority on the left seat in a major airline. Although that time has been closer to 20 years in the past. Most recently, Captain upgrade has been taken only a few years to hold. Figure 3 shows your pay progression and comparison starting at Captain upgrade at year 5 pay at minimum guaranteed hours. The time frame to upgrade to the left seat will vary by individual airlines and of course individual pilot.

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Figure 4. Senior Captain Annual Pay At Minimum Guaranteed Hours

With longevity comes higher seniority within the company. This will allow you more career progression such as upgrading from a left seat of a narrow body aircraft to a left seat on a widebody aircraft. Figure 4 shows the Pay Progression of an Airline Captain of a widebody aircraft calculated at minimum hours. As an Airline Captain on a widebody aircraft of a major airline, you are one of the highest pay pilots in the company. However, UPS, has combined aircraft pay for their pilot. United Parcel Service is a major cargo carrier. Their aircrafts(Boeing 747, Boeing 757, Airbus 300 etc) are larger than your narrowbody aircrafts. Figure 5 shows annual pay for Captains on a widebody aircraft at minimum guaranteed hours. With the exception of FedEx and UPS, the airline pay increase maxed at year 12. The two major cargo companies has max pay at year 15. Something to keep in mind is that just because year 12 or 15 is the max pay year, because the graph is calculated based on minimum guaranteed hours, a pilot can make much more by flying more trips. A pilot who works at the minimum guaranteed hours, as a “schedule-holder” aka “lineholder”, can pick up a lot of trips each month. Individual pilot group negotiated contract can dictates whether or not a pilot can pick up trips. The federal regulation Part 117 can also be a limiting factor.

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Figure 5. Pilot Annual Pay Over 30 Year Career At Minimum Guarantee Hours

Figure 5 shows pilot annual pay at minimum guaranteed hours based on a pilot’s career progression over the course of 30 years. Now you may wonder what a pilot career progression look like. At a major airline, you typically would see a big pay jump from year 1 to year 2. Then the pay increase follows a steady rise up to the max pay year(year 12 or 15). However, a pilot may choose to switch from a narrowbody aircraft to a widebody aircraft. This typically happens around year 5 with the company. After 10 years with a major airline, a pilot may choose to upgrade to Captain which rewards a pilot with a pretty decent pay bump. Airlines such as Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, American Airlines and FedEx have different pay scales for narrow body aircrafts versus widebody aircrafts. Again, widebody aircrafts are better sought after. Therefore, to hold a widebody aircraft position, either on the left seat or the right seat, more seniority is required. Please keep in mind that a pilot must qualify on any type of aircraft prior to being able to operate on one. Figure 6 shows a big pay bump at year 20. This was adjusted for pilots who have been narrow body Captains from year 11 to year 19, and then decided and able to take the upgrade to a Captain on a widebody aircraft. Again, UPS has single aircraft pay scale, so once you have upgraded to Captain and after year 15, you will have reached your max pay. This is assumed that you continue to fly at minimum guaranteed hours.

Figure 6. Pilot Pay Over 30 Years Career Calculated At Natural Progression

Figure 6 shows a more realistic career progression at a major airline. A pilot typically spends 5 years as a First Officer on a narrow body aircraft prior to stepping up to as a First Officer on a widebody aircraft. The first coupel of years at a major airlines(while there is a lot of variables), the pay is calculated at minimum hours. After the first couple of years, the hours are calculated at 90 hours per month. This is a very realistic number for most pilots at all airlines at that seniority. Once a First Officer upgrades to a widebody position, the first couple of years in that position is calculated at minimum hours. This is based on the first slot available for that pilot at his seniority to switch seat. Then the pay is calculated at 90 hours. After roughly 10 years in the airline, that pilot can upgrade to the left seat on a narrow body aircraft. Again, the first couple of years in the new position, the pay is calculated at minimum hours. Year 3 of each position is calculated at 90 hours. Then the pilot spends another 10 years in that seat, prior to upgrading to the left seat on a widebody aircraft. The first couple of years as a Captain on a widebody aircraft, the pay is calculated at minimum hours. After that, the pay is calculated at 90 hours again. At 90 hours per month on the left seat of a widebody aircraft at a major airline, you are one of the top pay pilots. Most recently, pilots can get to a major airline in their early 30’s(although this time line has been reduced dramatically prior to the coronavirus pandemic). Based on the federal mandatory retirement age of 65, that pilot would have over 30 years of flying at a major airline.

Figure 7. Average Pilot Annual Pay Over 30 Year Career

Figure 7 is derived from a more realistic pilot career progression of figure 6. It shows the average annual pay for a pilot over a 30 year career for each major airline. Interestingly, UPS has the highest average annual pay for their pilots. Alaska has the lowest average annual pay for pilots over the course of 30 years.

This data is calculated based on just hourly compensation. It does not adjust for the company 401k contribution(typically over 15%), profit sharing and any other benefits. Each individual pilot group for each airline has negotiated contracts with their airlines that can allow the pilot more flexibility with their schedule. The overal pay for pilot can vary by a lot of factors, whether it’d be reducing their flying minimum below guaranteed hours(which of course will lower a pilot’s pay), or picking up open trips at a premium rate or other beneficial languages in their contracts. Individual pilot will also have a lot of variables that could effect their schedule and their pay. The pay alone does not mean that any one airline is more sought after than the others. There are a lot of variables. Generally, at the major airline, compensation is a priority. But more so, is quality of life. The ability to live in base, the flexibility to adjust your schedule, the career progression within an individual airilnes, company balance sheet, reputation etc can all be contributing factors to choosing an airline that you want to work for. Another article on why it is a good time to be an airline pilot will be releasing soon.

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Airline Pilot Breaks Down Airplane Scenes From Movies

The breakdown of the scenes is by an Airline Pilot, Viktor Fors. The movies in this breakdown include Argo, Flight and Catch Me If You Can.

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