In the May Issue of AOPA Pilot, my column was about the “reverse structure” of career aviation and how the most inexperienced pilots often had the most demanding jobs. Flight instructors are either revered or vilified depending on one’s station in life.
To briefly recap, in order to get a flying job in aviation, the traditional route has been to become a CFI, suffer poor wages and few, if any, benefits, and hope to acquire enough hours to get a “real flying job” with a regional airline or perhaps something else that may be less than remunerative such as Part 135, freight, cargo etc. I have great respect for people at that tier because they often fly multiple short legs in high density and sometimes at very low pay in hopes of getting to a major air carrier or corporate jet job. In some cases the equipment can be charitably called “well used.” While there are rules in place to address fatigue, and they are getting better, it can be a very tough environment.
My premise was what would happen if we reversed the hierarchy putting CFIs at the top, regional and 135s in the middle, and international long hauls at the bottom (i.e., recognize that teaching flight to the next generation of pilots—regardless of what they might fly—was as important as the business of air commerce in a widebody)?
There were some predictably interesting responses:
A couple of senior CFIs agreed that they should be far better compensated and should be the most experienced pilots of all since they were teaching the next generation. One felt that “newbies” shouldn’t be CFIs because they couldn’t impart much wisdom – my response is that under proper guidance and mentorship, that is how most professions bring new people up. Doctors, lawyers, public safety officers, etc., all have a farm team system to develop talent. In aviation this is often lacking.
One regional airline pilot missed the point completely and thought I was “ragging” on the regionals. He mentioned that they often flew advanced jet equipment and had taken over much of the trunk carrier business. I agree and also think that as a group they work harder for the money in a more difficult flying environment.
A senior airline captain acknowledged that it was easier on the long hauls despite the physiologically and psychologically numbing aspects (my terms) of being aloft for 8- 14 hours and then having to rouse yourself for a non-destructive landing. Typically one might get to do five or so landings a month. He also noted that the jobs lower in hierarchy, especially instructing in trainers, were “physically brutal.” The older bodies just couldn’t take it: the heat, the cold, the unusual attitudes, and the constantly incompetent maneuverings where a slow response could ruin an afternoon and a career in an instant.
What do you think?