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Expectations, and how to save $5 on an airline ticket

Discussion in 'General Topics' started by seaav8tor, Oct 20, 2007.

  1. seaav8tor

    seaav8tor New Member

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    “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.
  2. seaav8tor

    seaav8tor New Member

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    MPL: the future of your career

    Financial failure of the airline industry and all its woes can be traced to one cause. Lack of self-control. Post deregulation the industry irrationally over supplied the market with seats. Concerns of the cost to provide service or that the demand for their product is finite was ignored. They turned their service into a commodity and lost the ability to set a price in the market. For well over a decade the only recourse has been cost reductions. Many line items were non-negotiable so all effort was focused on those items where possible savings could be realized. Unfortunately as they reached the bottom even safety related items were not exempt from the ax.

    Management proclaims, “labor must be paid at market rate”. Airline workers look around in bewilderment and don’t understand that the “market rate” has nothing to do with what other airlines are paying or what their jobs had paid in the past. The “market rate” has nothing to do with trying to find highly qualified human resources to join a dynamic team. “Market rate” is simply lowest cost labor an airline can find to perform a task. This is problematic in the airline business because it’s a service industry and several jobs are safety sensitive. Two glaring examples include pilots and mechanics. The bar has been significantly lowered for entry into the pilot profession. Extensive experience levels, testing, screening, astronaut physicals and simulator evaluations of yesteryear are gone. This is great news for those who want to fly as airline pilots. Barriers to entry have never been lower. Bad news for those expecting a high paying career as a pilot, also bad news for passengers expecting airlines to be selective and staff the flight deck with highly capable crews. In the maintenance area airlines have attempted to distance themselves by outsourcing. In some cases even outsourcing the work to another country.

    When and where did the coordinated attack against labor originate? A substantial level of credit (or blame, depending on your perspective) can be attributed to 35+ years of work by the Airline Industrial Relations Conference. AIRCON was established by the airlines before deregulation as a balance of power over labor unions and its formation required government approval since such collusion would have been considered illegal. After deregulation the balance shifted towards management and has become very biased in their favor over the last decade. Beyond AIRCON and deregulation precipitating factors include:

    - Internet
    - Economy swings
    - September 11, 2001
    - Price of jet fuel
    - Governmental taxes, fees and regulations
    - Legal environment favoring business over labor
    - Revenue shift, as more high margin passengers are able to abandon airlines and seek out hassle free travel afforded by private, charter, fractional and Very Light Jets (VLJs)
    - Reliance on safety equipment, warning systems, automation and new technology to take the place of capability
    - Reliance on standardized training, procedures and increased oversight to take the place of judgment and decision making

    A little more detail and insight concerning the pilot flying your airliner reveals the following: Historically the career path to a Captain’s seat took many years. After college a pilot would typically put in 6 to 10 years of military or civilian flying and then move on to the airlines. The pilot would then begin his/her airline flying in the Flight Engineer seat. Eventually the pilot would be promoted to First Officer. Often more than 20 years after s/he began flying, and literally millions of dollars worth of flight experience, the pilot would finally upgrade to Captain of a jet airliner. The FAA “minimums” were never the true “minimums” for the job because the “average” applicant far exceeded the “minimums”. A significant safety margin occurred as airlines sought out pilots with the highest level of education, training, experience and physical attributes available. Compensation packages were very attractive and the airlines could select exceptionally qualified individuals to pilot commercial airliners.

    Today things are quite different. As self-inflicted financial stress and competitive pressures grew, the “race to the bottom” forced the airlines that once had the luxury of seeking out the best pilots money could buy, to find the cheapest pilots money could buy. In the United States the FAA determines the “minimum” qualifications to perform the duties of a commercial airline pilot. We are now seeing airlines put pilots in very complex jet aircraft who barely meet the “minimums”. The public unknowingly assumes the government provides adequate safeguards when they buy a ticket, and airline management feels secure they can point the blame to the FAA if something goes wrong. Excellent industry safety records have allowed deliberate reductions in safety margins to facilitate cost reductions. This is where morality collides with free market forces. A safety record is history. The thing that matters right now is the flight you are about to take. The obligation should be to minimize identifiable risk, and operate every flight with the highest level of safety, not the lowest level of cost.

    Worldwide ICAO regulations determine the minimum qualifications for various aviation related standards, including pilot qualifications. Recent changes in ICAO regulations have significantly lowered the qualification requirements for new airline pilots. In an attempt to lower labor costs, reductions in pilot experience levels have been agreed on. Under new regulations a recently created Multi Pilot Licenses or MPL rating is so short on experience that a MPL pilot would only be allowed to fly ANY aircraft under the supervision of another pilot. In the past both airline pilots were qualified with previous “Pilot in Command” flying experience. Now under this scheme pilots will gain experience on the job with the unsuspecting passengers in the back, hopefully, oblivious to the lack of experience up front. It will be interesting to see how the insurance underwriters respond to writing very big checks for avoidable “pilot error” hull losses.

    The MPL was a big step backwards for air safety. As the safety margin shrank from what was once the very robust level of qualifications, getting ever so close to actual “required minimums” the industry- Airlines, Insurance Companies, FAA, ICAO, and pilot unions should have sought to increase “minimums” not lower them. Currently the FAA has not approved the new lower standards for use in the United States but nothing prevents a foreign airline from flying into or out of the country with a MPL pilot at the controls. If you think the safety records for some of the foreign airlines have been marginal, just wait. One reason for two pilots is to account for the possibility of incapacitation. If the (soon to be 65 year old) Captain becomes incapacitated, who will supervise the MPL trainee who is not allowed to fly unsupervised?

    Southwest Airlines is unique in that they require every pilot to hold an Airline Transport Rating or ATP with a PIC type rating before being placed on the payroll. This applies to the Captain and First Officer. This means the FAA has determined both pilots are qualified to act as “Pilot in Command” and goes beyond the FAA “minimums” and very far beyond the new ICAO “minimums”. No other domestic airline requires this level qualification. Next time you board an airline other than Southwest ask the First Officer if s/he holds a ATP and PIC type for the aircraft you are about to fly. Then ask yourself “Why am I flying with a flight crew less qualified than Southwest?”

    And no, I do not fly for Southwest.
  3. ackeight

    ackeight Well-Known Member

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    Interesting views. Basically you get what you pay for. And if the safety was to get that bad the insurance companies would come into play. The FAA really doesn't have much to say about the "minimums" for a pilot to fly an aircraft. For instance, just because you just received your multi there is no way the insurance company would let you fly a king air single pilot PIC until you jumped through their hoops.
  4. seaav8tor

    seaav8tor New Member

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  5. mtsu_av8er

    mtsu_av8er Well-Known Member

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    Sea - you have three posts, all of which are above.

    Who exactly are you?
  6. seaav8tor

    seaav8tor New Member

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    Started flying (local FBO) in 1976. Went in military and flew Heavy jets and Helos for 14 yrs. Now at the end of an airline career which is going to last 5yrs longer than I thought.

    A whole lot has changed in 31 yrs.
  7. mtsu_av8er

    mtsu_av8er Well-Known Member

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    Very cool - which branch and aircraft?
  8. seaav8tor

    seaav8tor New Member

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    Air Force

    T-37,T-38,B-52G,B-52H,UH-1,UH-60,HH-60
  9. mtsu_av8er

    mtsu_av8er Well-Known Member

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    Impressive
  10. B767Driver

    B767Driver New Member

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    Well written articles. I wish they weren't true.

    I just finished reading Alan Greenspan's new book. What an amazing read. Did I say amazing read? Get your hands on it.

    While I don't like the the stress and upheaval required of strong economies, it did give me a macro view of the structure and fundamentals of strong economies. He basically gives a dissertation of "creative destruction" and why it's necessary. For those workers looking for a stable 35 year career with the same company or industry, he doesn't give much hope. The economy is constantly in flux, looking for a competitive edge and globalization will only strengthen the fundamentals.

    In recent history we saw it happen with Silicon Valley and the airline industry. We are seeing it in the US auto industry now...and IMO in the next 15 years we will see it in the healthcare and education fields.
  11. Airdale

    Airdale Well-Known Member

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    That is probably the best, well written article I've seen on this industry yet. I'm passing it around.

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