28.2.09

THE SANCTION OF THE VICTIM. The Socialist Equality Party weighs in on aviation's strangulation of the supply of future pilots.

Since the onset of deregulation of the airlines in the late 1970s and early 1980s, airline employees have faced a relentless assault on their jobs, wages and working conditions. At the same time, airline CEOs have amassed huge fortunes.

This assault on airline workers has been promoted by Democratic and Republican politicians alike. Deregulation was initiated under the Democratic Carter administration, beginning in 1977. In 1981, the Reagan administration fired more than 11,000 striking PATCO air traffic controllers, dismissing virtually the entire fleet of professionals trained to monitor air traffic.

Bankruptcy courts have ripped up contracts. The major or "legacy" carriers have pushed to slash costs in the face of competition from smaller, low-wage, budget airlines. Thousands of pilots have lost their jobs, and those remaining have seen their wages shrink dramatically.

According to airlinepilotcentral.com, an experienced pilot on one of the "legacy" airlines earns anywhere from $156 to $197 an hour, flying an average of about 75 hours a month.

Regional pilots earn far less. One such pilot told airliners.net: "I personally make $18,000-$20,000 a year. I'm responsible for a 25,000,000-dollar airplane and fly hundreds of people safely to their destination every day... Most major airline pilots make around $100,000. The average in the regionals is closer to $50,000."

Again, I leave generalization to the reader as an exercise.

To simply fulminate about the owners' mansions is to do nothing about commercial aviation's future.

Specifically, markets are environments that check the avarice of airline owners and corporate CEOs. Deregulation did change the aviation environment from a protected monopoly in which pilots received larger monopoly rents than did autoworkers. That change had effects on the portfolios of stockholders (I speak as a onetime Pan American shareholder) and on the employment prospects of senior management.

Like any other business, aviation can learn the hard way that downsizing for its own sake loses the company its institutional memory. Unlike many other businesses, the long lead time for training pilots brings with it the possibility of major labor shortages in the near future, particularly in light of Our President's plans to spend less on fighter aircraft. (The presence of a military that offers people stick time as on the job training lowers the return on investment to a proprietary commercial piloting college, although such institutions exist.)

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