Welcome! We regret to inform you that the Injury Board National News Desk has been discontinued. Feel free to browse around and enjoy our previously published articles, or visit The Injury Blog Network for the latest in personal injury news.

Amid Pilot Accolades – Do You Know How Much Your Pilot Makes?

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, February 09, 2009 12:40 PM EST
Category: On The Road, Major Medical, In The Workplace
Tags: Airline Industry, Pilots, Airline Security, 9/11

Accolades are going out to the US Airways pilot who saved the day on the Hudson River, but he and other pilots have been facing pay cuts. 



IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons/ Delta pilots, 2007/ author: Twin Jalanugraha 


ABC’s Good Morning America had a tearful reunion between Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger III and his crew and many of the passengers who survived the “Miracle on the Hudson”.

"I thought I was going to lose my wife and never get to see my children. I thank you, all of you, from the bottom of my heart," a choked-up Larry Snodgrass told the captain.

Many of the passengers said they thought they were going to die on Flight 1549 and texted their loved ones as the plane descended toward the Hudson River, January 15th

Unbelieveably, the picture perfect landing, along with careful instructions from flight attendants, allowed about 155 people to scramble aboard waiting ferries and out of the frigid waters.

With talk about capping the salaries of corporate CEOs at $500,000 among those in line for a federal bailout NPR recently asked who is undercompensated (teachers) and who is overcompensated (athletes), and whether airline pilots such as Sullenberger are compensated enough?

US Airways

Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, 58, a former Air Force pilot has flown for US Airways for 29 years.  First Officer Jeff Skiles, 49, is a 23-year veteran, reports The Charlotte Observer.   

US Airways has twice sought bankruptcy protection, first in 2002 and again in 2004, after which it merged with America West. Pilots agreed to an 18 percent cut in pay and retirement benefits.

It was reportedly the third round of cuts in two years and for some pilots, it delayed their retirement.

The move was said to have saved the airline from shutting down, but it also increased the average age of pilots at US Airways, which is now reported to be 56.

The merger resulted in US Airways pilots making less than their peers at other major airlines, despite their years of experience. 

Other Airlines

According to the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA), which represents 64,000 airline pilots, salaries went down drastically after 9/11 and among all major carriers, with the exception of Southwest and America West Airlines, rates of pay for narrowbody captains declined six to 42 percent. 

About 2,000 pilots retired in 2008, according to Air Inc, which follows pilot pay and hiring trends.  500 alone left American Airlines, most departing before they turned 60, largely due to the stock market’s collapse, according to The Chicago Tribune. 

Airline Pilot Central is a Web site, launched by pilots for pilots, which allows you to look up the hourly wage of pilots of regional and smaller airlines of your choice. 

A First Officer of that small regional jet you take can make as little as $22 an hour.

The major or “Legacy” airlines also list the Captain and First Officer salaries of major carriers such as American, Delta, Northwest, United, Continental, US Airways, Southwest, and Alaska.

According to a snapshot report from the summer of 2008 from Airline Pilot Central, pilots for FedEx and UPS make the highest hourly wage at $215 and $205.

At the high end of the commercial captain’s hourly wage for a wide body jet captain is – American Airlines at $197, Continental $186; Delta $184 and Northwest $173.

On the lower end of the pay scare are pilots for US Airways clock in at $156.

Pilots fly about 75 hours a month with variations per airline.

Small narrow body jets captain salaries range from $62 to $100 an hour on American Eagle, Comair; Mesa, Us Airways and PSA. A small regional commuter airline can start pilots at $15,000 to $22,000 a year.

One pilot for a regional airline tells airliners.net

“I personally make $18-20,000 a year. I'm responsible for a 25,000,000 dollar airplane and fly hundreds of people safely to their destination every day. Is that really overpaid?  Most major airline pilots make around 100,000. The average in the regionals is closer to 50,000. (FO's around the mid to upper 20's-, captains in the 50's-60's).   When I was a flight instructor (for 2 years), I made 12,000 a year.”  

Many fear with the airline industry’s bottom line mentality that airline pilots who are outstanding “old school” professionals such as Captain Sullenberger may be a thing of the past.  #


Anonymous User
Posted by LongTimeObserver
Monday, February 09, 2009 3:31 PM EST

"The merger resulted in US Airways pilots making less than their peers at other major airlines, despite their years of experience."

The two bankruptcies resulted in serial pay cuts.

Had the former US Airways pilots agreed in 2007 to abide with the outcome of binding arbitration over seniority integration, the result of the acquisition by America West of US Airways, they would not be making less than former America West pilots, and both pilot groups would likely have received serial increases.

Sadly, this inequity is self-inflicted by former US Airways pilots.

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, February 09, 2009 5:16 PM EST

Are you in management?

Anonymous User
Posted by Just Jack
Monday, February 09, 2009 8:46 PM EST

LongTimeObserver- get the facts correct.America West pilots went to management and made it clear that there would be more trouble if the USAirways pilots pay was brought to parity with the America West pilots.(which is better pay but nothing to brag about)The West pilots erroneously thought that this pay discrepancy would force the East pilots to capitulate and throw away everything that they had worked for. As the incident on the Hudson proved,more experienced are thankfully wise enough to see the bigger picture. Management, meanwhile absolutely could have agreed to pay all of these pilots more, even while seniority issues were ongoing, but chose not to do so even though they have publicly said that it is “the right thing to do.”

Posted by Jane Akre
Monday, February 09, 2009 8:50 PM EST

If it's up to me - I'd rather have a highly paid pilot than a highly paid CEO!

Anonymous User
Posted by BusDriver
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 12:02 AM EST

Just Jack, You really have been drinking the Koolaid, haven't you? If you think Doug Parker feared the America West pilots would make trouble, don't you think they would have already made trouble for the company over USAPA attempting to bypass the Nicolau Award in negotiations?

And although Sully and crew did a great job, you give the paying public a disservice when you try to make the claim that former US Airways crews are more experienced than former America West crews. The crews out west are not rookies and are trained to the same standards. Given the same set of circumstances the results would most likely have been the same.

Anonymous User
Posted by Just Jack
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:26 AM EST

BusDriver-I would like nothing more than to see ALL pilots treated with the respect that they deserve. I was not comparing the ability of any particular pilot group with any other pilot group’s abilities. I was merely stating that experience among any group is a good thing. While apparently, ALPA does not value experience, perhaps the flying public can make up their own minds as to what they think it is worth. Who is drinking Kool-Aid? Would you like to confirm or deny the fact that the West pilots went to management and demanded that they not pay the East pilots the same wages as they were making? Agreed, Parker has used every excuse he can to continue to pay the USAirways pilots bankruptcy wages, the lowest in the industry, but can you name me ONE- just ONE, other case where a union brother demanded that a company not pay a coworker equal pay for equal work.

Anonymous User
Posted by Pilot
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 3:27 AM EST

Many on the outside (including me before I became a commercial pilot) Thought pilots only work 75 or so hours per month. For the last 7 years I have been "on duty" over 300 hours per month and gone from home more than that if you count time in the hotel. Divide the quoted hourly pay rates by 3 to get a more realistic idea of pilot pay. Oh by the way, no overtime pay for duty in excess of 40 hours of duty per week. No over time pay for hours over 8 per day, many days 14+ hours of duty but maybe 5 hours or less of pay. You want the job? You can have it. Good luck. Don't ever say no one warned you.

Anonymous User
Posted by Raymond Ketring
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 11:42 AM EST

And most are trained with taxpaper money

Anonymous User
Posted by Just Jack
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 12:46 PM EST

Raymond Ketring- not sure what you mean by taxpayer or "taxpaper money", for that matter -SURELY you are not referring to the military where pilots are paid while SERVING our country.

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 1:37 PM EST

Just Wondering-

Were Capt. Sully's actions what we would see from any pilot who is experienced- that being has 20 or so years doing his/her job? With all of the accolades given to him, deservedly so, are his abilities unique or the norm??? As a member of the flying public - I want to know?!

Anonymous User
Posted by Just Jack
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 6:52 PM EST

Jane Akre -re your question-There is no way to know for sure. I do think that Capt. Sully had prepared for this event his entire life and there is definitely something unique about him. I do not want to trivialize what he did in any way.However, the good news is that military pilots practice this sort of thing on a regular basis and I do know that the longer one flies, the more situations one encounters- odds are just better. My husband is a pilot- was in the Navy before flying commuter a.l., then the majors- I would not hesitate to put my life in his hands and this is because I am someone who KNOWS the man, not because I am someone who loves the man. I promise, you are as safe as humanly possible with these pilots.

Posted by Jane Akre
Tuesday, February 10, 2009 11:10 PM EST

Interestingly CBS News covered the same topic as above (not just salaries but experience) in an exclusive interview with Capt. Sully.

Captain Sully too is worried about the future of the airline industry and its ability to keep experienced pilots. Fewer today have military backgrounds as Sully does, See CBS Evening News Tuesday:


“But now: "The airline employees have been hit by an economic tsunami. Pay cuts, loss of pensions, increased hours every day, days per week, days per month," Sullenberger said. "It's a heavy burden."

Last year alone, more than 6,000 commercial pilots were either furloughed or permanently laid off.

Couric said: "What effect do you think that is having on the industry itself and on the people's it's attracting?"

"I know some of our pilots, who have been laid off, have chosen not to return," Sullenberger said. "I can speak personally, for me and my family, that my decision to remain in this profession that I love has come at a cost to me and my family."

"Sully says five years ago he and the rest of his fellow pilots at US Airways gave back almost $6.8 billion in pension, wages and other concessions, to keep the airline flying.

"And while annual salaries can average anywhere from $37,000 for a first officer and well into the six figures for a captain, the shrinking workforce means pilots are often spread very thin.”

Anonymous User
Posted by Just Jack
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 12:12 AM EST

I really feel that I must add to my post that there are many, many excellent qualified pilots without military experience. There are other ways to become a skilled pilot- the most important thing is that a pilot does possess plenty of that experience either by civilian or military means.

Anonymous User
Posted by ALPA Eats Its Elders
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 2:58 PM EST

How about the 3000 highly experienced "gap" pilots who were forced to retire as ALPA obfuscated and obstructed age change to 65 while almost every other country in the world moved to age 65? Lost pensions, lowered pay, all they wanted to do is try to make some of it up. The "I, Me, My, Mine" youngster generation stomped their feet and kicked the elders to the curb. Taking someone's seat has a name: SC*B. "Outlier" the book, reveals "experience matters". Salute to US Airways crew, all of them. No wonder they broke away from ALPA

Anonymous User
Posted by Just Jack
Wednesday, February 11, 2009 11:32 PM EST

Well said, ALPA Eats!Is it too much to ask to be allowed to save oneself, to not ask for anything more than to be allowed to work? The pilot who can still pass a flight physical and a check ride at 64 does so not only from good genes, but also from a healthy lifestyle, a trained mind and a desire to never give up.

Anonymous User
Posted by Jack Flyer
Thursday, February 12, 2009 2:35 PM EST

Great comments. Military fighter pilot training is not automatically a guarantee to produce a great commercial pilot, but it usually does. Military KC tanker pilots may be more geared towards commercial flying. Still no guarantees. Have been a check-airman for over a decade. Must say that it's all a mixed bag. Some former military fighter pilots had to get used to flying straight and level and struggled, bu tmost all came through with flying colors. Non-military trained pilots can be really sharp in the cockpit as well. So, there is no way to categorize pilots. Generally, a mature pilot, well rounded personality, interested in learning and improving all the time, love of job, calm but sharp personality, etc. will do very well in all emergency situations. Experience is one of the most important factors, of course. Sully is the perfect example of all positive factors coming together in one person. He's the captain one can wish for as a passenger. I like to think that there are many other Sully's out there. Training standards are still high in U.S. aviation. Simulator time is well spent. Now, with new data we may be able to train for water landings in the Sim. I believe the public is in good hands in the U.S. aviation system. Now we do need your (public)support when it comes to executives trying to push us back into a blue collar profession (low pay) while they enjoy millions each year. No joke. Thought about retiring early myself to not have to put up with greedy management. After past furloughs for years, giving up pensions, loss of pay and loss of quality of life, many of us have created options for ourselves (businesses). That will mean that the experience level of pilots will decline, Mr. and Mrs. Public! Hourly pay may seem high to the typical wage earner. Keep in mind, that this does not include all the duty time one has to spend at work, or time away when laying over in other cities. How about five block hours of pay, but 15 hours of duty time that day? The five hours of pay is all we get for the duty period. Most passengers don't understand that. Now they should. Or so we hope...

Anonymous User
Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, February 12, 2009 3:29 PM EST

Jack Flyer-

Tell us, the flying public, what we can do to help retain the experienced pilots who will pull us out of a jam with the expertise of a Capt. Sully. There is not a person who flies who wouldn't do something positive- if they knew what to do... thanks for any suggestions. A writing, email campaign is one option, any others??

Most businesses listen to the public when there are enough voices! Thank you in advance.

Jane Akre

Anonymous User
Posted by NorthShore Flyer
Thursday, February 12, 2009 9:29 PM EST

I'll put in my two cents concerning keeping commercial aviation a career that will attract quality people.
It used to be that flying commercial airliners was a well paying career. Now managements across the industry have done everything in their power to pay pilots less and increase the productivity they get out of them (read fly them as much as possible, even if it means they are dead tired flying a red eye trip after working 5 straight days in numerous time zones).
Look at United Airlines. The employees took huge pay cuts, some as much as 48%, and lost their pensions (now the taxpayer, via the PBGC will pick up that tab) Management than awarded them selves $800 million in bonuses and stock dividends. The USAir pilots were also abused in the same way. As long as this continues, fewer and fewer people will see flying for an airline as worth the huge commitment it takes to get there.
Airline management pay has skyrocketed since De-Regulation, pilot pay has gone not kept up with the cost of living index.

Anonymous User
Posted by Daniel
Friday, February 13, 2009 8:52 PM EST

Captain Sullenburger, while no doubt a skilled airman, is hardly unique in the roles of professional aviation. All the accolades heaped on him in recent days imply that another person couldn't have done it. I don't believe that to be the case. More to the point, the discussion is moot because we will never know.

Over my years in commercial aviation, I have met many, many fine, qualified aviators. And they weren't all flying the big jets. Some of the most professional, skilled airman I ever met were flying those "little" airplanes. Working for one of the major airlines is as much about luck as anything else ("luck" being defined as the confluence of preparation and opportunity). You can be the best pilot in the world, but it the airlines aren't hiring, they aren't hiring.

In regards to this notion of "low" pilot pay. Only in the airline world is a 150-200 thousand dollar salary considered "low." I realize that not all airline pilots make that, but even the guys flying those "little" airplanes are making in the high 5 digits, and many are earning in excess of 100 thousand dollars a year. These salaries reflect the demand of the consumer; i.e what they are willing and able to pay. I realize they aren't what they used to be, but neither is the airline industry. Today's airline industry is a lot safer, a lot more efficient, and a lot BIGGER. 30 years ago, most of the major airlines' fleets were a fraction of what they are today. A "large" fleet was 150-200 aircraft. Today they have fleets of 400 to 500 and even higher. Pilots may have made a lot more back in the "good old days", but there were also a lot fewer pilot jobs than there are today. These "low" salaries of today are part of what made it possible for the airlines to expand to the size that they have, and thus employ the number of pilots that they do. A return to the good old days would likely bring with it a lot smaller airline industry, and it wouldn't be long before many pilots were wishing for those "low" salaries that they were recently complaining about.

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, February 18, 2009 12:44 PM EST

Just as we were talking about pilot experience last week, unfortunately we now have a theory about the Continental commuter plane crash that the crew may have overreacted.

Those of you who pilot- could you inform us non-pilots if this theory seems to make sense, or why not? Would experience have made a difference here? Thank you!

Here is the story:


Anonymous User
Posted by ASAPilot
Tuesday, February 24, 2009 3:05 PM EST

Daniel - to your comments about "low" pay... my first two years as a First Officer I made less than $18,000. Not only having to pay for the costs of living on that salary, I had student loans from college and loans from flight school to pay back. While I am thankful my parents paid for most of college and I escaped with a little debt, I still owe ~$60,000 for the flight training to be considered by the regionals. In order to fly for the legacy carriers you need a college degree AND the associated ratings, (and for someone like me who the military isn't an option) don't come cheap. The public needs to take their heads out of the sand and bring pay up for ALL pilots and stand up for the robbery of the upper management.

Comments for this article are closed.

About the National News Desk

Our mission is to seek the complete truth and provide a full and fair account of the events and issues that surround personal safety, accident prevention, and injury recovery.  We are committed to serving the public with honesty and integrity in these efforts.

Hurt in an accident? Contact an Injury Board member

Subscribe to Blog Updates

Enter your email address if you would like to receive email notifications when comments are made on this post.

Email address


RSS Feed

Add the National News Desk to your favorite RSS reader

Add to Google Reader Add to myYahoo Add to myMSN Add to Bloglines Add to Newsgator Add to Netvibes Add to Pageflakes