Two regional carriers owned by American Airlines will increase pilot pay by 50 percent, a clue airlines are prepared to pay up to address a shortage that has left some passengers with fewer flight options.
The rises, which are in place until the end of August 2024, would make pilots at American Airlines regional airlines the highest-paid in the industry, putting pressure on other carriers to follow suit.
The interim boosts, which include separate, permanent pay increases, will bring hourly salaries for first officers in their first year of flying at Piedmont Airlines to $90 an hour, up from $51 an hour, according to the airline.
For first-year captains, pay will be $146 an hour, up from $78 an hour. The airline could extend the temporary hikes if needed, Piedmont’s CEO said Monday.
Since last year, as travel demand began to recover from the Covid lows, airlines have been on a pilot recruiting spree.
However, a persistent pilot shortage is slowing progress at a time when demand is high, forcing carriers to park planes that service smaller towns.
Part of the issue is that airlines pushed pilots to retire early after demand plummeted in 2020, leaving them with an insufficient number when traffic resumed.
As a result, the pilot recruitment process has become more competitive.
Piedmont CEO Eric Morgan said: “Attrition of the regional pilots, particularly the captains, has really spiked to the point where we’re not able to put our fleet in the air.”
The airline, situated in Salisbury, Maryland, has been losing roughly 25 pilots per month to American Airlines’ mainline business, falling short of its target of hiring around 40 pilots each month.
It flies 50-seat Embraer ERJ-145s for American, usually between smaller cities, but hasn’t been able to operate 10 of its roughly 60 planes, Morgan said.
Capt. Ryan Miller, head of the Piedmont chapter of the Air Line Pilots Association, Piedmont contacted the union with the salary increases that were outside of typical contract talks.
Envoy Air, located in Irving, Texas, confirmed on Saturday, June 11 that it has achieved a similar deal with its pilots’ union to pay a 50 percent premium to pilots’ hourly wages through the end of August 2024.
Envoy, which has about 2,000 pilots, had been losing roughly 80 pilots a year to other airlines and hiring about 60, including American.
Capt. Ric Wilson, the carrier’s vice president of flight operations,said airlines need to ask, “What is a living wage and what will it take to attract pilots to the career?”
The wage raises come as some of the major pilot unions – those representing more than 35,000 aviators at Southwest, Delta, JetBlue, and American – negotiate new contracts with their respective carriers.
American’s management recently gave it’s about 14,000 pilots a 4 percent rise at the time of signing, followed by a 3 percent raise the following year. Dennis Tajer, a spokesperson for the Allied Pilots Association, termed that “insulting.”
Tajer said: “Good on the pilots receiving these raises but when you have an airline that’s pushing across a more than 50 percent pay increase, it’s recognizing with dollars that they have a problem,”.
APA pilots picketed earlier this month at the New York Stock Exchange in support of a better contract and better schedules.