May 14th, 2009
06:47 PM ET

Evening Buzz: Blame Pilot Pay?

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/US/05/13/buffalo.crash/art.crash.rose.gi.pool.jpg caption="Flowers are left at a makeshift memorial near the site of a plane crash in Clarence Center, New York, in February."]

Maureen Miller
AC360° Writer

Tonight we have a 360° follow on the crash of Flight 3407 near Buffalo in February. Many of you weighed in our report two nights ago and we did some more digging on the tragedy that killed 50 people.

Investigators are raising concerns about First Officer Rebecca Shaw's annual salary of $23,900. Shaw lived with her parents in Seattle and commuted across the country to report for duty in Newark, New Jersey the night before the accident. The NTSB is looking at whether than prevented her from getting enough sleep.

Don't miss Jason Carroll's report on the crash investigation tonight on AC360°.

Also tonight, a look at why pot is getting more potent. Fans of marijuana likely are cheering that news. But is there a danger? We'll have both of the debate and let you decide.

And don't miss Anderson's face-off with Ellen. He was a guest on her talk show today. Did the Jeopardy champ live up to his latest challenge? We'll show you.

Join us for these stories and more starting at 10pm ET.

See you then!

Filed under: Maureen Miller • The Buzz
soundoff (17 Responses)
  1. ronvan

    It is always the same. MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. We put our trust & lives in the hands of these people, and those of the transportation system and the bosses/owners get tunnel vision on profits. Sadly I understand their position. NO MONEY, NO BUSINESS. They will always increase prices for the everyday customers while cutting wages for their workers. Need to remember they have to take their vactions, buy new homes, new cars!

    May 15, 2009 at 9:51 am |
  2. Sean

    The problem is this.. Pilot's are so passionate about flying that they'll work for peanuts, and the airlines know this. The corporate big wigs at these airlines take home millions in bonuses while pilots slave away hoping to build time towards transitioning to a major airline and a real salary. It's despicable what's happening here, most of these pilots have loans in excess of over $100K for flight training just to get to the place where they can apply to the regional airlines. That's med school doctor money. The major difference being a doctor has the lives of a few patients in their hands, while pilots care for lives by the plane-full. Look at the bright side; this is one of the few jobs you can take after spending $100k on training, and still qualify for food stamps!

    May 15, 2009 at 9:38 am |
  3. Terry, TX

    Yes the pay is ridiculous, but the lack of experience is inexcusable.

    May 15, 2009 at 9:15 am |
  4. jamiedoomrub

    The amount of pay that a pilot recieves can have a big impact on thier ability to fly in a safe manner. This isn't about damanding it out of greed either. If you have a family to attend to or debts to pay can you afford to take off work? How many people have gone to work sleepy because they had to pay the bills? If the pilots are paid more they can afford to take a day off if they didn't get enough sleep or aren't feeling good. Either that or they can afford to rent a hotel as stated above. On the hotel issue I think the airline should cover that however. If you disagree then you are either rich or can otherwise afford to take a day off. I'm an aircraft mechanic and I'm sticking up for a pilot. WOW!! Never thought I'd do that. If you think that the pilot should remain at the same pay and still not go to work sleepy then put your money where your mouth is. When you see somebody sleepy at your own job regardless of what it is they should go home as well. And yes, you should go home even if you can't provide for your family otherwise. The point is, when safety is such a big concern pay is a factor that can significantly effect a persons ability to take time off. The higher paid can afford to do it. The lower paid can not.

    May 15, 2009 at 2:54 am |
  5. Mike

    Hi Maureen,
    I have been a United pilot for 11 years, and I was a regional pilot in the Dash 8 for four years. It is still my all time favorite airplane.
    Former NTSB chairman Jim Hall was almost on the money (pun intended) when he compared the relationship between farm clubs and MLB to that of regional and major airlines. The outsourcing contracts to be a major airline’s express carrier typically go to the lowest bidder, and thus, the lowest paid pilots. Just paint the airplanes, and throw them on the major airline’s schedule.
    Regional pilots have historically accepted extremely low pay because they were trying to get to the majors. But the pilot jobs at the majors are a far cry from when I started on this career path 20 years ago. United pilots with 9 years of seniority are getting laid off for the second time in 5 years, and our pay has been reduced by 40%. A few smaller “majors” have ceased operations, and those pilots with heavy jet experience are looking for work. So the career expectations of the regional pilots of today must be much lower. Career expectations combined with the rock bottom pay will no longer attract, retain, and motivate talented pilots.
    Sully Sullenberger testified before Congress that none of us are encouraging our children to become pilots. I have intentionally kept my 8 and 5 year olds away from aviation. I used to keep that a secret until Sully said it.
    I carry pilots of all airlines across the country on a regular basis going to and from work – commuting. If you think a coach seat is uncomfortable for sleeping, try a cockpit jump seat. And yes, they frequently sleep in the crew lounges. It is frequently too expensive to live in a nice neighborhood within driving distance of our base airports.
    I hope Congress will get involved and really push the FAA and the industry to make meaningful improvements to these problems this time.
    United 767

    May 15, 2009 at 1:01 am |
  6. Rick, Indiana

    I sure thought they made better money than that, Geeez...Fast food pays that..

    May 15, 2009 at 1:00 am |
  7. Heidi Ann Berg

    I was shocked to find out what there pay was ,but more pay does not make better pilots ,more training and well sleep

    May 15, 2009 at 12:05 am |
  8. Michael

    I'm a Private Pilot aspiring to become a Professional Pilot, and I have to say, if there is anything that will keep me from taking up aviation as a career choice, it would definitely be the pay. As a new hire, pilots normally begin at a smaller regional carrier, who compensate their pilots VERY poorly. Some carriers don't even offer their pilots a salary above the poverty line, which is absolutely despicable considering all of the time and money spent on training, during which one must accumulate thousands of hours. In my opinion, the system is flawed with respect to pilot pay, and I'm afraid that problem will deter many aspiring pilots like myself from choosing aviation as a career. Many U.S. airline pilots took a 30% or more pay cut following 9/11, and while the pay rates are slowly increasing again, it is nowhere in comparison to the rates before 9/11. Unfortunately, that is a result of poor union-management relations, but that is a whole different topic.

    May 14, 2009 at 11:43 pm |
  9. Julia A. Orlandi

    I have been a flight attendant with a major airline for over 20 years. I work with people who commute from all over the country, some coming just from Pittsburgh Pa to my DCA base 8-10 hours before check-in for the trip. Add in flight delays, etc., and a pilot or flight attendant who commutes may be up for hours and hours before actually starting to work.

    Paying pilots more is ridiculous. We fly people across the country for $99 sometimes. With the cutthroat pricing that goes on in the industry (a $5 increase is usually revoked the same day), it isn't going to change a thing.

    I just bought a ticket on my own airline for $75 (RDU-DCA), it's a guaranteed seat, not standby. Add in the cost of just operating the aircraft, the salaries of the crew, etc. Get my point? Put your money where your mouth is. And even if airlines charged fees that covered the cost of operation, the loss of revenue would be disastrous.

    The majority of pilots are in a union, as are 55,000 flight attendants in my union, the Association of Flight Attendants. We have seen cuts in pay that average 30%, cuts in vacation, sick pay, medical benefits, and most of all, our pensions. At my airline all flight crew pensions have been turned over to the PBGC. What was a decent reitirement is gone. I have friends who are STILL flying at age 65 because they aren't eligible for medicare yet. Who wants to be doing this hard labor at that age?

    Union busting, or not negotiating fairly, is commonplace at airlines. We fight hard but it's a tough slog. I pay a set amount each month as unions dues, pilots usually pay a percentage of their pay. I don't know if Colgan is part of ALPA, but ALPA negotiates for their members. If they can't win a decent contract, the worker works under the contract, good or bad.

    I am the Legislative Affairs Chair for DCA Council 41 – Association of Flight Attendants. I work with my counterparts at the International Office in DCA, I also am a full time flight attendant. We advocate on the Hill every day to further issues important to our membership. If you interested in any of our viewpoints give me a call.

    I know it looks clear cut – better pay = better pilots, But that's not the truth. Colgan Air doesn't run a good airline, and the pilots should have known that. Personal responsibilty and knowing your limitations is paramount here. The Pilot in Command (the Captain) is the final authority. The company, and the pilots, failed miserably to say the least.

    Thanks for your show Anderson (and you rocked on Ellen!)

    Julia Orlandi
    Annapolis, MD

    May 14, 2009 at 11:00 pm |
  10. Tim

    Accumulating in fllight hours as a First Officer in order to become a Captain takes dedications and time. I'm sorry she only made 23,900 and "chose" to drive cross country to make her early morning flight. Maybe she should of planned ahead and came in one day earlier, or maybe this wasn't possible. Did pre-flight weather planning take place. What could ATC have done to prevent this situation if any. My bottom line is she is responsible for lives on every flight being First Officer. I've busted my *** for 25 years and make about 38,000 and often get little sleep due to working late dealing with crisis and having to come right back early the next day. I'm sure the sacrifice getting to the status of Captain takes that salary up significantly. This was really sad for the families of the passengers and flight crew. No winners or loosers here. Its still safer then driving.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  11. Linda Lapointe

    Pilot pay is a factor in keeping our pilots well rested. How can you afford to live on 18K, let alone afford a hotel room at your base. Junior pilots are often forced to move several times in the course of a year. Since they cannot afford to move so often, they have to commute. Commuting before a long day of flying is not conducive to flight safety.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:48 pm |
  12. Didier Le Solliec

    Welcome to the real world of the airlines.

    Low ticket prices – Low pay – Low training

    By the way I am a pilot myself who had to give up this dream job in order to feed my family.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  13. George Lowry

    Unfortunately, that salary is not surprising for a commuter pilot, and it's been that way for years. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that the starting pay for Delta commuter pilots is probably around $30,000. Airline executives simply view them as glorified bus drivers.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  14. Geline

    I think pilots should get more pay and more training. Same thing should be done to ground people, like those on airports.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:40 pm |
  15. Zach

    As a fist year FO I make that much money and it is pathetic!!! However the airlines will not increase pay because there is always someone else waiting to do the same job for less money.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:14 pm |
  16. Deb

    Wow, that's pretty scary to think that the first officer made such a paltry amount of money. My 19 yr old daughter makes almost that much waiting tables while she's going to school. Boy is something wrong with this picture.

    May 14, 2009 at 10:10 pm |
  17. Annie Kate

    The first officer was making less than some hotel clerks make – that is pretty bad considering the advanced training the first officers must have to qualify for the job. Looking forward to seeing if AC measured up on Ellen's. I'm sure that will be enjoyable.

    May 14, 2009 at 8:52 pm |