Sullenberger: Pay Cuts Driving Pilots From Job

All the applause and hero worship aside, I think what we really owe Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger for his amazing “splash landing” in the Hudson is the courtesy of listening to him. Here’s what he told the Subcommittee on Aviation of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee this morning:

… 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’m deeply troubled about its future. Americans have been experiencing huge economic difficulties in recent months, but airline employees have been experiencing those challenges and more for eight years. We’ve been hit by an economic tsunami. September 11th, bankrupcties, fluctuating fuel prices, mergers, loss of pensions and revolving-door management teams who have used airlines employees as an ATM have left the people who work for the 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 to my family. My pay has been cut 40 percent. My pension, like most airline pensions, has been terminated and replaced by a PBGC guarantee worth only pennies to the dollar. While airline pilots are by no means alone in our financial struggles — 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 percent 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 professional careers elsewhere. That past investment was an indispensable 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.

We face remarkable challenges in our industry. In order to ensure economic security and an uncompromising approach to passenger safety, management must work with labor to bargain in good faith, we must find collective solutions that address the huge economic issues we face in recruiting and retaining the experienced and highly skilled professionals that the industry requires and that passenger safety demands. But, further, we must develop and sustain an environment in every airline and aviation organanization, a culture that balances the competing needs of accountability and learning. We must create and maintain the trust that is the absolutely essential element of a successful and sustainable safety reporting system ;to detect and correct deficiencies before they lead to an accident. We must not let the economic and financial pressures detract from a focus on constantly improving our safety measures and engaging in ongoing and comprehensive training. In aviation, the bottom line is that the single most important piece of safety equipment is an experienced, well-trained pilot …

The testimony of Sullenberger and the rest of his crew is available on video from the subcommittee’s Web site. It starts about 35 minutes in.


6 thoughts on “Sullenberger: Pay Cuts Driving Pilots From Job

  1. Mike

    Passengers have no way of determining what type of pilot (experience wise) they will get when buying a ticket. Given that the “Pilot pay” is a tiny fraction of the ticket price literally paying more for a more experienced pilot would amount to no more than $5 due to the way the numbers crunch out. I would gladly pay more for an experienced crew vs a newbie but unlike many other services there is no way to do this for pilot labor. Best course of action is to take a look up front and look for a little grey or thinning crown. If you don’t see it get off. Short of this it looks like the only other course of action is to make sure when you buy a ticket you are getting the real airline and crew and not some outsourced commuter flying prop planes or half sized Barbie jets.

  2. David

    Hey! Here’s an idea if you think the pilot flying your plane deserves to be well paid and if you think that ATC that is forced to work 16 hours straight should have more rights. Let’s claw back the 4 billion dollars of taxpayer money that was used for wall street bonuses and give it to them. I would say Captain Sullenberger had pretty good performance along with a touch of the hand of God, and he deserves a bonus. Let’s see…if the wall street boys think they did such a great job running their companies into the ground, destroying the American economy, and the global economy to boot, and think they deserve oh..121 million dollars for their work….let’s take that taxpayer money and give 121 million to old Captain Sully. Or maybe the airline execs will give their next multi-million dollar bonus to these gentlemen. Let’s call our congressfolks and see if we can spend our money THAT way! Ha!

  3. Diane

    All we need do is take back the massive bonuses paid to the airline management teams after their companies came out of the bankruptcy this same management took them in to.
    Those bonuses would go to restoring the stolen pensions and would fully fund them. That would let the PBGC off the hook and give the money back to the people it actually was stolen from and that they’d been contractually guaranteed.

  4. Newbie

    I fly one of those awful “prop planes” and my company also flies those “half-sized Barbie jets.” Last week I flew with a middle-aged, gray-haired, and balding man who is literally brand new to the profession. I also recently flew with a thiry-something fellow with nearly 20,000 hours experience. Looking up front to determine the level of experience, or assuming that your crew is experienced or inexperienced based upon the size of equipment they fly is a poor indicator of your pilots’ experience. Many of the men and women I fly with have flown thousands of hours over the course of many years, and many have also served our country flying oversees protecting our freedom to have this conversation. Sadly Captain Sullenberger is correct, there aren’t that many young people getting into flying. But fear not, that cheap ticket that the American public so desparetly seeks…it is a self-correcting problem. When there are no pilots to fly the airplanes, tickets will get very expensive, and you can rest assured that your pilots will be very experienced and well paid.

  5. Bill

    As an airline pilot for a major airline myself, I concur with Captain Sullenberger. My company was once a thriving organization providing safe, clean and courteous transportation worldwide. While we somehow manage to keep the operation safe, the clean and courteous part has gone by the wayside replaced with employees that have been ravaged by CEO’s and senior management whose incompetence is only surpassed by their incredible greed. The pilots at my company have seen their pay reduced by 50+ percent, retirement abolished and onerous work schedules imposed that leave you exhausted at the end of the day. In addition, buying a ticket on my airline will likely result in a ride on a barbie jet with a pimple faced captain with 1900 hours total flight time who is not even an employee of the airline that you bought your ticket on. It boils down to false advertising. Airlines such as mine have outsourced much of the flying to low paid non-union companies employing low time inexperienced pilots. Fact is most copilots flying for these companies make so little money they qualify for food stamps. It is also true that while all of this is going on, our CEO recently made 39 million in pay and perks for the year. My company is less than half the size it used to be but it is losing more than twice the amount of money it has ever lost in what used to be a proud 80 year history. GOOD fJOB! You really do deserve that bonus! What ever happened to pay being tied to performance? The industry is flying on the safety measures enacted when times were good. Given the current trend, safety will surely be compromised in the future if the piloting profession is unable to attract the best and brightest. Would you rather have a Sully at the controls or a captain who is not real sure about flying in icing conditions simply because he hasn’t done much of it?

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