Dear Captain Lim,
Why pilots are being paid exorbitant salary?
The job isn't risky anymore with the advancement of aviation technology.
Pilots' salary is a topic that has aroused much interest to many. I will try to elaborate a little more on what has already been perceived by the public. You used the word "exorbitant" or a salary that is excessively high. Yes, there may be some truth in your statement. It was recently reported that US airlines pilots (correction - senior major airlines captains!) are among the 10 most overpaid job in the World. Senior captains with US major airlines such as Delta, United or American earn as much as US$250,000 (S$396,000) (Exchange rate: I Singapore dollar equals 0.63 US dollar) a year - yes, for a job that isn*t risky anymore, especially with technology that has made flying so much safer!
Are pilots highly trained professionals or overpaid "skybus" drivers? Well, one of the reasons why they are rather highly paid is that the flying public and the airlines want a good and safe pilot to be flying them. Pilots require specialized training that enable them to either make a life-saving or fatal decision one day. Besides, the market forces determine a pilot*s pay. For instance, I know of some Asian airlines losing highly experienced pilots to airlines such as Emirates, Etihad and China Airlines because they are offering them better salaries. Leaving a national airline to join a foreign one is not an easy decision unless the pull factor outweighs staying closer to home.
Pay in Asian airlines is comparatively lower than those of the US or European airlines. A fully operational First Officer with the Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 fleet earns S$123,000 (US$77,400) a year and a captain starts around S$204,000 (US$128,500) (Basic plus variable allowances).
A pilot pay is based on the years at the airline and the type of aircraft flown. Starting out, a typically Second Officer with Cathay Pacific earns HK$386,556 (S$78,800) a year whereas a 12-year senior captain gets HK$1,490,316 (S$304,100) a year. (Exchange rate: I Singapore dollar equals 4.9 Hong Kong dollars)
So, generally, pilots from the major airlines have always been well paid. The remuneration is usually a measure of productivity and responsibility. An airliner captain is paid based on the size of the aircraft - an indirect reflection of the number of passengers and the distance they are moved. But don*t jump into the conclusion that it is always so. Regional airlines with smaller jets such as the Boeing 737s, Airbus 320s, CRJs, etc, pay their pilots half as much or even lesser.
A co-pilot with five years of experience with a US major airline makes US $120,000 a year at Delta now, whilst one with SIA or Cathay Pacific earns about 60 to 70 % less. I believe you are either a Singaporean or Malaysian - so that is still a lot of money if you are lucky to get into these major airlines. However, if you are self-sponsored, you can expect to face long stretches of experience gathering, either flying in smaller planes or building time as a flight instructor (that in some instances only pays about 8 US bucks an hour!). So, be cautious when one says that pilots are overpaid. Is he with a major airline or a small air charter company? The disparity is quite wide!
Okay, if you are referring to the salary of some major airline pilots as being rather high, I would agree with you. Pilots are the most costly of airline workers, and labor is one of the biggest cost for airlines. Many US major airlines are on the verge of bankruptcy and it does no good to the profession to be perceived as being overpaid. I quote an ex-United Airlines captain (friend of mine) who said to their unionized pilots "Do not kill the goose that lays the golden eggs" when they were fighting for more pay and benefits.