Will Pilots Receive a Major Pay Raise in 2016?

Published: 01-20-2016
Several pilot unions are in negotiations for a new contract. Will 2016 be the year pilots receive a major bump in pay?

Just as industry experts predicted, 2015 became the most profitable year for U.S. airlines in several decades, and pilots are justifiably asking the airlines for their share of the wealth.

Last year’s sharp decline in fuel costs—which hit $1.57 in November—along with increases in fees and total passengers have allowed U.S. airlines to strike gold. In just the first three quarters, domestic airlines reported nearly $18 billion in profits, which is the most since the federal government started regulating airfare in 1978. If fuel prices weren’t low enough, Delta Air Lines estimates that their 2016 fuel bill will be lower by $3 billion, and anticipates paying $1.20 to $1.25 per gallon.

According to Kit Darby, a United pilot turned aviation consultant, wages have increased and pilots are back to what they were earning before the major oil crisis in 2000s. With inflation taken into account, however, pilots have taken major steps back.

As reported by Bloomberg Business, “a senior Delta captain earning about $248,000 annually in 2000 would have seen his income increase to $342,000 in 2015, had it kept pace with inflation.” Most senior pilots in the U.S. earn $209,000 per year while new first officers make $55,000 per year, on average.

During the crisis, pilots saw their wage cut by over 30 percent, with many being stripped of their medical benefits and pension plans. “The pilots made a disproportionate contribution,” Darby said of the bad old days. “They would like to get some of that back, to get even.”

While pilots at United, Delta, and Southwest are negotiating for a new deal, it remains unclear what exact changes will be taking place this upcoming year. This month, pilots at United will be voting on a two-year contract extension reached in November of last year, which would provide a 13 percent increase in 2016, a 3 percent raise in 2017, and 2 percent raise in 2018.

Pilots from Southwest recently rejected a tentative pact in November and turned to Captain Jon Weaks as its new union leader, signifying the lack of progress made during these talks. Delta resumed contract talks with its pilot union in late December of 2015, and although progress is being made, their union’s chairman says it hasn’t been enough.

If profits at U.S. airlines continue to soar astronomically, airlines will have no other option that to provide a significant pay bump. “Everybody knows there is going to have to be significant increases in pay,” Weaks said.

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