The Birth of Commercial Aviation - Part Three The Air Mail Service Pilots Pay Scale - April 17, 2009

The Birth of Commercial Aviation – Part Two The Air Mail Service Pilots – April 10, 2009
April 10, 2009
The Birth of Commercial Aviation-Part Four – The Air Mail Service Pilots and the Airlines – April 24, 2009
April 24, 2009
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The Birth of Commercial Aviation – Part Three The Air Mail Service Pilots Pay Scale – April 17, 2009

This week we continue the series with emphasis on the pay scale. When you consider the value of an aviator’s services then and now I think you may be surprised. There are a number of resources available that will allow you, as an aviator, to connect with your roots and the “Third Dimension Blog” is one of those resources. I invite you to join me know as we talk about the beginnings of our profession.

Quote of the Week

Sometimes, flying feels too godlike to be attained by man. Sometimes, the world from above seems too beautiful, too wonderful, too distant for human eyes to see.”— Charles A. Lindbergh “The Spirit of St. Louis” 1953

The Air Mail Service Pilots Pay Scale

We have talked about the art form of barnstorming and how it served as the beginning of commercial aviation and we talked about how the Air Mail Service Pilots came to be. However, that which I find to be an interesting dynamic of the Air Mail Service Pilots is their pay scale—let me show you why before we move forward.

The original Post Office formula for calculating equitable pay for pilots was complex, but its underlying principles were crystal clear. Air mail pilots were to be remunerated in proportion to the number of miles they flew, and would also be compensated for the extra risks they undertook. Those risks were weather, night flying and flying over hazardous terrain.

A 1925 Post Office Department report describes the pilot’s pay scale as consisting of two elements. The first element was the base salary. The second was a mileage rate. The base salary increased with the number of miles flown at night and with the length of service. The mileage pay also increased with night flying, but varied according to type of terrain over which the airplane flew. The more hazardous the terrain, the higher the mileage rate would be.

All In all, the average yearly earning of an air mail pilot in 1925 was almost $7000 per year or $583 per month. Considering a loaf of bread was five cents, and a gallon of gasoline the same, Airmail Pilots were paid as professionals in the field. The Post Office recognized the special skills and talent required for this job.

When we look around today at the pay scale of new aviators working with the regional airlines, I am appalled. The regional airlines are not the only ones we should throw rocks at but more importantly we need to look at the mindset of the aviator who is allowing himself/herself. By the way, the term aviator is not gender specific, to be treated as a second class professional. Why is this necessary? History shows that aviators are a unique group who constantly train to a standard that few professionals are expected to attain but yet we are expected to give our services away until we land the big airline job. Wake up fellow aviators—today is tomorrow.

In closing out this week’s article I would like to look back for a moment at a portion of what Captain Sullenberger said during his testimony before Congress this month and again this is only a portion of what he, Captain Sullenberger, reported to Congress:

“The events of January 15 serve as a reminder to us all of the daily devotion to duty of the many thousands of aviation professionals who keep air travel safe, and also as a reminder of what is really at stake. Like thousands of my fellow professional airline pilots, I know that flying a large commercial airliner is a tremendous responsibility. We understand that our passengers put their lives in our hands. We know that we must always be prepared. We must always anticipate. We must always be vigilant. Expecting the unexpected and having an effective plan for dealing with it must be in the very makeup of every professional airline pilot.

I am not only proud of my crew, I am proud of my profession. Flying has been my life-long passion. I count myself fortunate to have spent my life in the profession I love, with colleagues whom I respect and admire. But, honorable Representatives, while I love my profession, I do not like what has happened to it. I would not be doing my duty if I did not report to you that I am deeply worried about its future.

Americans have been experiencing huge economic difficulties in recent months – but airline employees have been experiencing those challenges, and more, for the last 8 years! We have been hit by an economic tsunami. September 11, bankruptcies, fluctuating fuel prices, mergers, loss of pensions and revolving door management teams who have used airline employees as an ATM have left the people who work for airlines in the United States with extreme economic difficulties.

It is an incredible testament to the collective character, professionalism and dedication of my colleagues in the industry that they are still able to function at such a high level. It is my personal experience that my decision to remain in the profession I love has come at a great financial cost to me and my family. My pay has been cut 40%, my pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies on the dollar.

While airline pilots are by no means alone in our financial struggles – and I want to acknowledge how difficult it is for everyone right now – it is important to underscore that the terms of our employment have changed dramatically from when I began my career, leading to an untenable financial situation for pilots and their families. When my company offered pilots who had been laid off the chance to return to work, 60% refused. Members, I attempt to speak accurately and plainly, so please do not think I exaggerate when I say that I do not know a single professional airline pilot who wants his or her children to follow in their footsteps.

I am worried that the airline piloting profession will not be able to continue to attract the best and the brightest. The current experience and skills of our country’s professional airline pilots come from investments made years ago when we were able to attract the ambitious, talented people who now frequently seek lucrative professional careers. That past investment was an indispensible element in our commercial aviation infrastructure, vital to safe air travel and our country’s economy and security. If we do not sufficiently value the airline piloting profession and future pilots are less experienced and less skilled, it logically follows that we will see negative consequences to the flying public – and to our country.”

You must understand the Mindset of an Aviator. The Mindset of an Aviator, as perceived by the management of regional airlines and other companies—when do aviators stop giving their talent away and recognize that they are the “Gatekeepers of the “Third Dimension” and must protect their profession? I think this subject should be a part of the general education requirements for aviators at college.

Next week we continue with our look at the beginning of Commercial Aviation, as the Air Mail Service Pilots transition to the newly formed airlines but until then take some time to look back, connect with your past and remember as an aviator you are a “Gatekeeper of the Third Dimension.”

Protect your profession, your future and the future of your fellow aviators.


Robert Novell

April 17, 2009