Sarah Staudt is happy as a CFI at the Fargo Jet Center and member of the Civil Air Patrol. She foresees a long teaching career. “I think I’m in a good place,” she says.
“Some companies have ‘commuter clauses’ in their contracts — which allow for missed flights; however, if one would use it too much, they were subject to discipline or termination. When I worked at Mesaba, I was based in Memphis. So, my commute to work was a 20-minute drive (to arrive at least an hour before my flight) plus a two-hour jaunt to Memphis, Tennessee. Back then, the commuting was easier, but I had days where I’d almost have to battle it out with other commuter pilots to get on the flight.”
“And as far as crash pads are concerned — I did the aviation no-no and stayed in the airport if I got stuck. I was fortunate to have a schedule that included a full line of flying — not reserve — so I knew exactly when I needed to be at work or not. Not being on reserve makes your quality of life better. A reserve schedule is usually five days on-call, followed by two or three days off. During that time, you never know if you will get used or not, plus you have to be able to make a two-hour call-out. So they would have you on a tight leash. I would commute in before my first flight and commute back to Minnesota after my last flight. Of course, the catch — no flights back to Minneapolis after I arrived, or full flights, or whatever.”
Jim says, “First-year regional airline pay is absolutely terrible. No questions. While the specifics of how one is paid differ with each airline, the two I have worked for paid a base rate of 75 hours per month. These hours are based on door closed, brake released, ready to push back from the gate to brake set, door open at the destination. For the most part, we are not paid for delays or swapping airplanes, or anything else as long as that door is open. Roughly speaking, I was paid between $23 and $24 per hour. You do the math. For pilots on reserve, unless some unusual things happened that month, they never see hours above 75. Line pilots would make more depending on how much they wanted to work. For me, I saw this as a time-building opportunity so I worked my butt off. The most credit hours I racked up in a month was 110 (which included some holiday pay). Believe it or not, I was excited to see that paycheck — which was still small.”
“I can only sympathize with those with massive debts, families, mortgages, school loans, etc., who are still trying to pursue the dream,” he says. “It’s easy to say, but passion needs to outweigh financial expectations — especially for those new to the industry. Looking ahead, though, the pay is still pretty good depending on the company. The six-figure income is not entirely out of reach.”
Sarah Staudt is happy as a CFI. Still, the financial side of being one does not often lead to mansions and swimming pools. Sarah has student loans, car payments, insurance bills and the rest. “When I was a student,” she says, “I worked 12 to 18 hours a week at a second job. I saved up and bought a bicycle so I could save on gas.” After graduation Sarah got married, and the benefit of dual incomes helped ease some pressure. “Still,” she continues, “I lose 65 percent of my take-home pay to student loans and car payments. I know a lot of people who just deferred a bunch of loans and are paying them back one at a time so they have a little spending money for things like hobbies and entertainment. I also know several people who used public assistance programs such as subsidized housing, food stamps and the local women’s clinic for health-care needs. Instructing is really only working for me as a sole source of income because I have my husband’s income to supplement.”
Aviation is not immune to the small-mindedness that affects other professions, and Sarah has seen the sometimes unusual challenges.
“A lot of it depends on where you are,” she says. “Here and at UND, I don’t feel like there was any difference. We’re all just part of the team. But I’ve been other places where I’ve been told that being a woman in aviation is not ideal. For example, I had a scholarship for a Learjet 31 type rating, along with another girl. It was all going great. At the end of the program, we met the examiner and were told there were no worries at all. On the day of the check ride, however, we were told we would not be taking our check rides. Being a woman in aviation is a tough row to hoe. That’s exactly what he said. He gave us the signed 8710 forms (as if we could take the check ride elsewhere), then he walked out.”
Every Level Is Entry Level
Aviation is one of the few careers where every step up is also a fresh start. You can be a new pilot, and then a new CFI, and then a new commercial, a new multi, a new charter, a new co-pilot, a new captain. Each change brings a new level of excitement and opportunity. The advice from those in the field is pretty clear.
“Keep options open,” Mark Malmberg says. “Network. Remember that the aviation world is small and your reputation will precede you. Do a good job no matter who you’re working for or what you’re flying. It doesn’t take long to get the time you need to move up.”
Jim Corbo says, “Go for it! We’ve all heard about the pilot shortage coming up. If you love to fly, you’d be insane not to get your ratings and build your time right now. It’s awesome. There aren’t too many jobs out there where you can go up and see the sun every day.”