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Queens Chronicle

Who’s flying it?

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Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 10:30 am

Dear Editor:

Forget about airplane noise pollution.

Well, not really, but now that I have your attention, we should focus on another important matter concerning the air traffic that flies over our heads: airline safety.

Reports regarding the shortage of commercial airline pilots point to several factors, including the increasing number of pilots who will soon reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 (story online in Business Week: buswk.co/1rhalnO).

Another reason for the shortage is financial. Airline companies are not attracting new pilots, partly because of low pay scales. The starting salary for first officers in the regional airline industry is only $22,400, according to the Air Line Pilots Association International (story online in the Los Angeles Times: lat.ms/1hmxtK7).

After several years, they don’t make much more than that. Pilots responsible for up to 250 lives earn less than the air-terminal window cleaners.

Asking a commercial pilot friend about the situation, I was told it is all about who can operate more cheaply; one pilot group is pitted against another (in what is termed “whipsawing”) to get concessions and pay cuts. He says someone with eight years of experience barely earns $40,000 annually.

The latest concessionary contract proposal attempts to limit first officers and captains to a four-year and 12-year pay cap, respectively. If that eight-year pilot upgrades to captain, he will already be two-thirds of the way toward hitting the salary cap for captain. Companies are unable to find enough pilots who meet the hiring flight time minimums of 1,500 hours and an Air Transport Pilot rating. The situation is exacerbated by the rising cost of training for a job that pays so little.

Airline companies should know enough to pay their pilots well, especially considering the degree of responsibility pilots undertake. What will become of the standard of pilot capability if airline companies continue to deny higher salaries? The airlines have to find a way to accommodate higher salaries for these specialized professionals. So many lives depend on their care.

With the industry attracting fewer pilots, there will either be fewer flights, or, more likely, pilots will have to fly more hours. Those demands could result in overworked pilots lacking alertness.

The next time you look up and curse the noise of that jet making its final approach into LaGuardia, think about who is flying that plane and ask if it is being flown as safely as possible.

Steve Fisher
Middle Village

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