The National Guard and the Reserves were once a common income supplement, but most active line pilots with military backgrounds have already retired from that opportunity long ago.
Copilots are not the only ones seeking other means to supplement their incomes. Captains are in the game also. One captain friend of mine is using his military background in intelligence gathering as the basis for his business. Another friend is in the preliminary stages of producing an auto-part gadget. And still another acquaintance just plain quit. He was in his early 40s and felt he had more prospects in real estate than as a 767 captain.
Yours truly has had the privilege of writing for this magazine. My yearly contract with Flying won't pay for a yacht in the Caribbean, but it does help to absorb some of the pain my fellow pilots and I felt in the spring of 2003. It doesn't matter. I'm very fortunate. Writing has always been my other passion.
So what are some of the reasons airline pilots are considering other opportunities? I've mentioned some in previous columns. The basic reason is that airline pilots are working more for less. Other careers for the same amount of effort now appear more lucrative.
A copilot I had flown with shortly after the pay cut had taken 45 percent of his salary has now found himself on the road 20 days a month in order to pay his bills. Yes, he commutes, but at least with an equivalent 9-to-5 job he would be home with his family every night.
Other reasons for seeking opportunities outside of the profession include, but are not limited to: elimination of retirement funding; increased cost of benefits; erosion of benefits; the ineffective hassle of security procedures for flight crews; the threat of terrorism; the threat of termination for politically incorrect workplace conversation; and last, but not least, airline managements that accept little-to-no responsibility for bad decisions but accept disproportionate rewards in the form of bonuses regardless of employee sacrifices. In other words … a lot of the fun has left the building.
My airline's furloughed pilots may be a sign of the times. As of this writing, approximately 750 of the almost 3,000 that were furloughed have been given a recall opportunity. Roughly half have accepted a return to work. A few pilots are on military leave, but many have chosen to just defer their recall.
Whatever the reasons, some of us are losing focus on our airline careers. Granted, the distractions of family-and life in general-have always been present. But we may be trying to multitask when our concentration requires our attention to the business at hand. And the business at hand is flying airplanes safely.
By no means am I condemning those of us who have chosen to find financial security elsewhere. I am as guilty as the next pilot. But what personal parameter do we use to determine that our distractions are detrimental to the flying public? Fortunately, most pilots flying for long-established major airlines have been professional aviators for a good portion of their adult life. Climbing back into a cockpit, even after a long hiatus, is like getting back on a bicycle. Still, there has to be a point where every flight becomes a catch-up game in proficiency. Where does a pilot draw the line?
Those of us that still enjoy the business of flying airplanes will stay in the cockpit regardless. Until the career returns to a level with salaries equivalent to other professions that command such responsibility, many pilots will pursue alternative financial avenues. The airline pilot profession will become a part-time job for some and will cease to exist for others.
Lighter Side of the Good Ol' Days
Shifting gears for a moment, I had the opportunity to read retired TWA Captain Dave Gwinn's Airways and Airwaves: Stories I Tell to Friends. The book is an ensemble of humorous airline tales that Dave experienced, participated in or just plain heard about from colleagues.
Among many of Dave's former talents within the airline industry, he is known for his expertise on weather radar. He conducted various speaking engagements on the subject, interjecting his special brand of airline humor.
If you enjoy light reading and laughing out loud, give Airways and Airwaves a try. The book is a great representation of a more relaxed airline industry back in the days when many of us had only one job and we always looked forward to putting on the uniform.
For information on how to order the book, visit Dave Gwinn's website at dave-gwinn.com. Dave is also available for speaking engagements, Bar Mitzvahs and weddings.