Published on September 14th, 2012 | by Dr. Richard Martorano0
Fantasy of Flight
We just returned from a wonderful week on a cruise ship to Alaska. As you can imagine, we flew to Seattle to embark. This article is going to be in two parts.
In the first, we will talk about what it takes to become an airline pilot and what you must go through to remain an airline pilot. Part 2 will look at airline pilot’s day-to-day life.
Ed Groel and his lovely wife Donna are friends of ours. Ed is a retired United Airline pilot and has some interesting “Takes” on the aviator of today. He shared them with me. That will be Part 2 of my article.
If you are like me, you have a fascination for flight. I have the fondest regard and respect for anyone with a pilot’s license. That licensing to me implies that the bearer has above average intelligence and a lot of nerve.
Learning to fly was one of my shoulda, coulda, wouldas, but I never had a chance to do it. I live in a gated community that has a couple of dozen retired military or commercial aviators. They fascinate me so I wanted to take time and learn about what they do, how they did it and why they did it.
Flying an airplane has got to be fun and getting paid to do it is even better. For some people, it is the perfect job: an office that travels a view that is constantly changing and challenges that are exhilarating.
It has been said that a pilot’s job is hours of boredom punctuated with seconds of sheer terror. A person, who takes a multimillion-dollar machine, flies it off the ground and then safely returns it, fascinates me. They sometimes are responsible for hundreds of lives or military wares worth millions.
Military or commercial pilots are the focal point and end operator in a huge team of highly trained professionals. They are the celebrities of the air transportation show, because they are the most visible people to the public, while most of the other team members remain “behind the scenes.” However, celebrities rarely die or cause others to die because of an on-the-job mistake.
There is a high cost to become qualified as a pilot.
A pilot can go through the military, which is an 8-year commitment after pilot training, or pay for that training him or herself. In addition to needing a bachelor’s degree (in any subject), a pilot needs intensive training in the field of aviation itself. This is expensive; especially if you consider that, there is a good chance that a pilot will never work for an airline.
We had one of the finest aviation universities in the country right here in Daytona Beach Embry – Riddle Aeronautical University is one of the top three in the nation. To get a four-year degree from Riddle with a commercial aviation license, you are looking at tuition in the six figures.
A pilot also needs to be in good physical condition. Captains need to pass a physical exam once every 6 months; other commercial pilots need to pass an exam every year.
A pilot could be out of a job if a health problem is discovered. In addition, pilots are subject to regular drug and alcohol tests. If you have ever had a problem with drugs or alcohol, you need to choose a different profession. Furthermore, your driving record is scrutinized, and any felony convictions are disqualifying. In addition to the physical requirements, a pilot must be mentally fit to perform the job. Unlike most other professions, many people’s lives depend on the pilot’s ability to stay calm and collected while solving problems.
Being an airline pilot can be one of the world’s best jobs. First year salaries range from $25,000 to over $50,000 per year. Pilots who have worked for a company for 10 years could have annual earnings close to $300,000. It is possible for a pilot to have even higher earnings during the course of a career.
A pilot might only work eight days in a month. They never have to take their work “home” with them; their job is finished when they leave the airplane. Pilots have retirement and benefit packages that exceed what most other professionals earn. They get free or reduced rate travel. They get reduced rate hotel and car rentals.
While some pilots do earn those high salaries, most pilots at major airlines earn around $100,000 per year. Still, not bad, however you have to consider that very few pilots actually work for major airlines.
Unlike other professions, which can be reasonably assured that they will get a job once they have finished school, etc, the majority of qualified pilots are not able to procure jobs with a major carrier. A human resource officer I spoke to said that his company recently received 7,000 applications for 50 job openings. All of these people were very qualified.
How many days a pilot works depends on a number of factors, including which company a pilot works for and how long the pilot has worked for that company. Pilots can work as few as eight days in a month, to as many as 20.
While pilots at a major airline might work 14 days in a month, you must keep in mind that they are not coming home from work on those 14 days. They are actually away from their homes and families half of every month, or more. This is a high price to pay. It would not be physically possible to work much more. Pilots are already living out of their suitcases half their lives.
While pilots do not take their work home with them, they are required to be prepared for tests. Most pilots take a check ride twice a year. This requires some home study. In the event of failure, a pilot could find him or herself out of a job. In addition, pilots are expected to maintain currency in new techniques and procedures, and keep their charts up to date.
Finally, a person seriously considering a career in the airline industry should be aware that the airline business does not offer much in terms of job security. Airlines that once seemed to be invincible have gone out of business, like Pan Am and Eastern airlines.
Several airlines have been through bankruptcy and several are currently in bankruptcy. If a pilot has to seek employment for a different airline, they start again at the bottom. All promotions within a company are based on seniority (years of service) with that company. Previ
ous experience might help someone get hired, but that is all.
In Part 2 we are going to talk to a pilot. Retired United Captain and friend Ed Groel will share some interesting antidotes.