Americans Often Forget Pilots’ Role in Their Safety

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
A Difficult Reminder, Again
Americans Often Forget Pilots’ Role in Their Safety

Commentary
By John S. Blonsick
March 24, 2003

Commentator George Will recently wrote, “Most Americans never serve in the military. Many Americans have few — if any — military acquaintances. But most civilians know military values are distinctive — and admirable.”

Mr. Will’s deserved praise for American military personnel is obviously timely and justified in this wartime period. But his commentary brings to mind another greatest generation of American servicemen and women who fought just over a decade ago in the first Gulf War. Then, as now, Mr. Will’s description of the select and dedicated pilots rings true, “We expect from the military a special — and especially demanding — stance toward life. For a reason. Few civilians have jobs where mistakes are as calamitous as mistakes can be in war. Or in the dangerous daily training for war. … If you ever see night operations on an aircraft carrier, your first thought may be: Whatever these people are paid, it's not enough. … But your second thought will be: No one — not the pilots, not the deck crews, whose average age is about 19 — is here for the money.”

Not yet but eventually, in the finest tradition of countless citizen-warriors and other Gulf veterans before them, many will leave military service for civilian lives. Not every officer screens for command, not every airman wants to sacrifice year after year away from family and home. Eventually, those pilots will want to earn money to support those families, educate those children and live the lives of honored veterans now civilians. Just as former military members will pursue more lucrative jobs in the private sector many of the underpaid military pilots Mr. Will describes will pursue careers in commercial cockpits.

Commercial aviation is one of the few civilian jobs where mistakes can be as calamitous as mistakes can be in war. An error in judgment or a lack of skill may lead to the deaths of hundreds – or perhaps thousands. Former U.S. military pilots continue their service to our nation in their role as highly capable and dedicated commercial pilots bringing those same distinctive and admirable military traits into airline cockpits to safeguard their passengers and fellow citizens. Sometime, hopefully soon, those fighting over the same war-torn skies of Iraq will return home and lay down their highly technological airborne swords for peaceful employment over the skies of our nation as professional airline pilots as those who fought there before did.

Yesterday’s Heroes

And yet, their welcome home may not be that of victorious heroes from everyone. Sure, they may get a ticker tape parade, some heartfelt “thank you for your service” comments from complete strangers, but if they choose to continue a career in aviation, they will face forces that will challenge them as professionally as any surface-to-air missile or thunderstorm-laced instrument approach. This new threat, however, does not come from some foreign foe but rather from their own government.

“What do they make? Look at those salaries.” - Senator Trent Lott, Feb. 13, 2001

“And you know what saddens me most? A large number of these pilots are former military, whose code is supposed to be ‘duty, honor, country.’” – Senator John McCain, Sept. 13, 2000

Federal District court judge, Joe Kendall, once suggested that former military aviators who become airline pilots are overpaid parasites that advanced themselves by sponging off the government dole. They "were taught to fly jets at taxpayer expense in the U.S. military, which of course enables them to earn their six figure incomes." As if the military combat pilots Mr. Will describes are some category of welfare cheats defrauding the taxpayer while in wartime service for their country over deadly, hostile skies.

Derogatory statements made by U.S. officials against former military combat veterans. The reason why? Because they dared to engage in contract talks via the collective bargaining process for better pay while their companies were making billions of dollars in profits on contract concessions granted by pilots in the early 1990s. While CEO compensation skyrocketed 500% over the 1990s, pilot pay remained stagnant until the very last few years of the decade and rose just in time for the collapse of the airline industry following the September 11th attacks. While corporate negotiators stonewalled contract negotiations, some pilots responded by refusing to fly additional voluntary overtime that resulted from management errors that led to flagrant understaffing of cockpits. Other pilots responded with more exacting observation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s cockpit procedures or prohibitions against flying while under the effects of undue stress or illness. Airline pilots’ pay has become the easy primary target by politicians, executives and pundits rather than addressing other more difficult and fundamental, underlying problems in the airline industry.

Pilot pay reflects the many years of dedication, sacrifice and effort made over decades of service either in our nation’s military or civilian cockpits. While Senator Lott may decry some captains earning better than $100,00 a year, starting salaries run between $25,000 and $28,000 a year – a significant thirty percent pay cut for former military pilots – the required training and licenses for similarly qualified and credentialed pilots would cost an airline over $30,000 per pilot if they had to pay for them. A sum that does not begin to cover the cost of years of actual in-flight experience acquired by the individual pilot before his application would even be considered by a major airline. According to Air Inc., which assists military pilots transitioning to the civilian aviation sector, the average military applicant to an airline brings an average of ten to twelve years of aviation experience and in-pocket federal credentials as well as a college degree as a known asset to a major airline’s revenue stream. From their first line flight, they preserve the safety, security and good name of their airline. As Mr. Will himself pointed out in previous commentary, “the military assiduously schools and screens pilot candidates to eliminate unstable or undisciplined candidates. Airlines, too, administer severe selection procedures for pilots, who are constantly scrutinized.” Just as their distinctive and admirable traits protected American interests over hostiles skies, they equally serve to protect the interests of their passengers and company over the jet routes and skies of world. Now instead of taking lives, they use their skills to preserve them.

Still, even as they fly hundreds of millions of passengers safely to their families and destination, airline pilots often continue to serve their fellow countrymen as part-time civilian-warriors. And as one pilot puts it in defense of his commercial airline pay, “students of relative worth seem to have no problem in letting me continue – as a military reserve pilot – flying risky missions on their behalf, for peanuts.”

Waste, Fraud and Abuse

Meanwhile, Congress, voting itself compensation in the range of hundreds of thousands of dollars with the promise of pursuing lucrative lobbying careers employing skills learned on the “government dole” at taxpayers expense, raised taxes on the airlines over 76% between 1992 through 2002. Approximately 26% of an airline ticket can be federal taxes – higher than so-called “sin taxes” on alcohol or tobacco products. Airlines wasted billions of dollars in unproductive stock buy back programs designed to increase their relative value and pursued risky acquisition strategies that squandered even more billions. They spent millions more defeating proposed “Passenger Bill of Rights” legislation after tens of thousands of passengers’ travel plans were disrupted and inconvenienced by “arrogant and callous” attitudes on the part of airline officials as key lawmakers then described it. Then, after the attacks using hijacked commercial airliners insurance costs tripled and Congressionally mandated security costs subtracted over four billion dollars from the airline industry’s bottom line.

Back in 1993 Congress tasked the National Commission to Ensure a Strong Competitive Airline Industry to make recommendations to address fundamental, underlying systemic problems in the U.S. airline industry. Few of the 61 recommended policies were ever enacted by Congress or the airlines. Even now, the government has exhorted the airlines to engage in “self-help” in the form of attacks on employee wages and negotiated contracts rather than address these fundamental flaws in the airline industry outlined by the commission. As the airlines lose billions of dollars, airline executives are awarding themselves tens of millions of dollars in pay, bonuses and stock grants. In both government and business, the solution to sustaining a keystone sector of our national economy is to fire over a hundred thousand airline employees and strip the remaining ones of pay, retirement and benefits. The money lost was not through the actions of airline pilots but rather from governmental and business mismanagement – yet airline employees are blamed for the airline industry’s financial woes.

Tommy

"The Republican plan allows U.S. troops to go into a war today and then slashes their veterans benefits by billions when they return tomorrow because their budget needs those billions from veterans to fund a $90,000 tax cut per millionaire," – Rep. Steve Israel.

WWI ‘War Bonus’ veterans met with violent police and military force when they peacefully protested to collect on politicians’ broken promises in 1932. But it is a truism that yesterday’s heroes are today’s scapegoats and none more so in the corporate-political environment in which airline pilots’ work. Rudyard Kipling’s Tommy best presents the plight of those who serve:

For it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Chuck him out, the brute!"
But it's "Saviour of 'is country" when the guns begin to shoot.

And now, as U.S. military pilots risk their lives over the skies of Iraq as ‘Saviours’ of our country’s national interests, the question remains for them as it did for their predecessors in the first Gulf War. What sort of reception will they receive from the government in whose name they served and the people on behalf they risked their lives as they transition from warrior to citizen? Will the pomp and celebration of their parade mark the sum of our nation’s acknowledgement of their dedication, sacrifice and courage? Or will they be publicly derided and attacked for pursuing an honorable profession in the skies over our own nation? Let’s hope that after the ticker tape is swept away that today’s heroes will meet a more appreciative response for their distinctive and admirable service to their nation than their predecessors did when they took to the supposedly friendlier skies of America’s airlines.
 

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
John's a Delta pilot, former Navy pilot and was a journalism major. I used to talk to the guy in the MCO pilot lounge when I was based there and if anyone is the George Patton of airline pilots, it's gotta be John!
 

pilot602

If specified, this will replace the title that
[ QUOTE ]
journalism major

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Ahhhh, music to my ears. We're not all the "talking heads" ya see on TV...
 

Virusss

New Member
too long to read...............

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MissedApproach

Well-Known Member
Re: Americans Often Forget Pilots’ Role in Their Safety

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too long to read...............

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[/ QUOTE ]

Yet you had plenty of time to make that!



The article is really worth reading.
 

E_Dawg

Moderator
Very good article. Thanks.

And yaro try to show just a little class buddy. If someone goes to the trouble to write all that then it obviously means something. Don't want to 'waste' your time reading it? Don't.

BTW You could have read the whole thing in the time it took you to make that thing.
 

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
If that's too long to read, just wait until you get your first set of "Ops Specs" and have to answer a question about legality to conduct an approach!
 

iwork4911

Well-Known Member
Good Article!

That was a well written article. So good, in fact, that I forwarded it to one of my senators with a few concerns of my own. The bottom line is, people need to speak up and continue to speak out. As the article pointed out, executive compensation continues to increase in this industry. Pilots are asked to continually compromise their compensation, accepting less pay and more work. This industry needs a true fix, not a bloody bandaid.
 

Derg

Cap, Roci
Staff member
[ QUOTE ]
What the crap is that thing supposed to be anyways?

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This is your first taste of what really goes on during your career as an airline pilot. The glossy flight school ads and magazines never address the true issues that are working to destroy the profession.

I highly suggest everyone get real familiar with what Captain Blonsick is trying to say because you guys are going to be the new recruits.

I think it goes without saying that even though I enjoy my professionm (as you can see by the website), if I won the Arizona State Lottery, I probably wouldn't even give two weeks notice.
 
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