“When I fly, I always take Delta… That’s because they pay their pilots the most money… You don’t want to fly with unhappy pilots.” Johnny Carson, Tonight Show monologue, 1981 Traversing race, culture, gender, education level and socio-economic standing is the desire to be happy. It is the most powerful force buried at the center of the human soul. An individual’s “happiness” is directly linked to how life unfolds relative to expectations. Hopes and dreams in a mate, family, friends, social standing, or a career are just a few areas that can fall short, meet, or exceed expectations. Tragic irony of high expectations is the possibility they will not be met hence a greater risk of an unhappy life. Throughout life expectations are created and destroyed. Over the course of a lifetime a common pattern emerges where expectations follow a trace akin to a bell curve. Zero at birth, peaking mid-life, and diminishing as one passes the “mid-life crisis”. With this knowledge one might conclude the key to happiness at any point along the curve is to simply lower your expectations. Unfortunately expectations are often set as a result of something external to or as a result of something the individual did or did not accomplish. Print, video, and other environmental exposure are powerful influences. Performance in academics, sports, social life, college and graduate school play an important part of setting expectations. Success indexes life’s expectation curve higher while failure drives it lower. A driven, successful, highly capable person who has climbed the ladder to Chief of Neurosurgery at Massachusetts General will have radically higher expectations than a person who flunked out of high school, smoked dope for three years before setting a lifetime career goal to become a forklift driver at the city garbage dump. Business leaders recognize it’s essential in a market-based enterprise to have happy employees. “Best man or woman for the job” does not imply the one who has the highest level of capability but rather the person whose capabilities and expectations most closely match the duties, responsibilities, and compensation the job has to offer. Management must balance the need for competence against cost. When a business cannot meet employee and customer expectations balanced against revenue, it will fail. When an entire industry finds itself in this situation, the entire industry will fail. In the airline industry an unprecedented percentage of unit revenue and unit expense is outside control of management. In 1978 pricing power was wiped out with passage of the Airline Deregulation Act. During the 1990’s the Internet matured making it almost impossible to gain a revenue advantage over a competitor. Awash in red ink it was no surprise the chainsaw was wielded at labor in an attempt to reduce costs following the Dot-com bust of 2000 and the events surrounding September 11, 2001. It was the perfect storm. Luckily the airlines had resources in place to deal with the tragedy. For the last 35 years a Washington D.C. based think tank funded by the airlines, Airline Industrial Relations Conference, has existed to achieve one objective: Control airline personnel cost. How well have they done? In a word, phenomenal. I will illustrate the fruits of their labor with their crowning achievement................. Airline pilots In terms of inflation adjusted dollars, Airline pilots today earn less than half of what they did 35 years ago. The unit of work can be measured by flight hours, duty hours, hours away from home, Revenue Passenger Miles, Available Seat Miles, or most importantly, revenue generated per pilot. Industry hyperbole: Pilots are paid way too much. Look at the hourly wage. Look at how little they work. Seems like a whole lot of money to pay someone for a part time hobby. In reality if consideration is given to opportunity cost, time value of money, true number of hours required to become and work as a commercial pilot, risk in terms of not completing a career for any number of reasons, including getting killed; The economic justification is not substantiated to become a commercial pilot even if the career goal is attained. Industry belief: There is not now nor will there ever be a shortage of people willing to work as pilots at any wage. True fact. Nor will there ever be a shortage of people willing to be Professional Ball players, or Firefighters or CEOs at any wage. The question is this: Will the industry be able to attract and retain the level of competence required at any wage? The answer is no. At the current Federal minimum wage you would not be able to consistently find competent Professional Ball players, Firefighters, CEOs or Airline pilots. Industry stance: Pilots don’t get paid minimum wage and planes are not falling out of the sky. The current national manpower pool of airline pilots came in with substantially higher career expectations, thus capability than what will be the next generation airline pilots. Airlines now operate on borrowed time during the transition. It will take years, perhaps a decade for current pilots to retire and or leave the profession in significant numbers before the damage to safety will be acknowledged. Industry opinion: Statistically we are enjoying an era of unprecedented airline safety. There will always be some level of risk to flying. A time bomb is being built as airlines focus on lower expectation pilots. As the industry continues the “race to the bottom” airline leadership will confront a pilot labor pool decimated to such an extent that safe, reliable air transportation will no longer be feasible within the cost structure they created. As the next generation pilots take command we will see much more of what is now just the tip of an alarming iceberg: Unthinkable missteps by incompetent pilots resulting in massive loss of life and substantial hull losses. Recent events such as the Helios 737 crash, the West Caribbean MD-82 crash, the American Airbus A300 crash, the Northwest Pinnacle CRJ crash and the Delta Comair CRJ crash are examples are inexcusable errors that should have never happened. Safe air travel was built by minimizing identifiable risk. The industry has become complacent with the current level of safety and is willing to accept increased risk in an effort to reduce personnel costs. Industry objective: Replace human capability with technology. Over the last 35 years the modern airliner has been loaded with safety features in an attempt to idiot-proof flying. If we can teach Homer Simpson to run a nuclear power plant we can now teach his twin brother to fly a jet plane. Flying is a dynamic environment requiring considerable judgment and intervention beyond the capability of technology. Members of the Airline Industrial Relations Conference need to dispatch with the NTSB Go Team so they could see first hand the true fruits of their labor. The severed body parts and blood splattered airplane wreckage. The stench of burned human flesh and charred remains at the crash site of Delta Comair 5191 in Lexington, Kentucky. They should be required to console the loved ones of those who were killed. Only Airline Industrial Relations Conference members would attempt to quantify why such a hull loss is acceptable. Air Conference members should be held accountable for manslaughter, or if they fully understand what they have done, murder. Safety of the flying public needs to take priority over trying to staff airline cockpits with the cheapest human resources the industry can find. The Simpson’s is just a cartoon. Interviewing people from every walk of life for three decades he understood what made people tick. If he were alive today, Johnny Carson would not be flying Delta or any other airline. He would not be able to find any well-paid happy pilots. The leaders of the airline industry have won and the flying public has lost. And it was all for what? $5.