ExpressJet Tells United It Needs to Reduce Express Flying Due to Pilot Shortage

ExpressJet, United

The impact of new rest rules and higher minimum hour requirements for commercial pilots in the US continues to have bigger and bigger implications. Last week, I wrote about the severe issues Great Lakes was facing, but now it’s much larger ExpressJet that’s being forced to reduce its flying… though there’s something a little fishy here.

Express Pilot Shortage

This revelation stemmed from my post on United’s decision to blame the new pilot rules for the timing of the announced dismantling of the airline’s Cleveland hub. I had reached out to ExpressJet, United’s largest partner in Cleveland and one of its largest regional feeders overall, to see if the airline was forced to cancel flying due to a pilot shortage.

I heard back from Jarek Beem at the airline with the following. (The response didn’t arrive until after the post went live, so if you read it before I could update, you may not have seen this.)

While the new pilot qualification rules implemented in August 2013, along with the compounding effect of the new FAR117 flight time and rest requirements, have created an increased need for pilots industry-wide, ExpressJet Airlines continues to attract qualified pilots.

Seems pretty straightforward, right? Well the next afternoon, the story changed abruptly when Jarek sent me a follow-up:

Brett, Your story doesn’t fully reflect the situation regarding ExpressJet’s flying on behalf of United Airlines. While ExpressJet continues to attract qualified pilots, we did in fact inform United in January that we need to reduce our planned United Express flying. ExpressJet’s situation is by no means unique in the regional industry.

Well that’s a different story. Apparently this pilot issue is worse than anyone thought if ExpressJet can’t even fly its full schedule. ExpressJet isn’t at the bottom of the pay scale by any means. Sure a first year first officer flying 80 hours a month will barely clear $22,000 a year but that jumps $10,000 in the second year and goes up from there. Captains make significantly more. Pilots won’t get rich there, but it’s a huge improvement in pay over an airline like Great Lakes.

That could mean one of two things is happening here. Either this pilot issue is a permanent one that’s becoming very big, very quickly to the point where it’s impacting mainstream regionals or it’s temporary and ExpressJet simply wasn’t prepared for the new regulations and didn’t hire enough. If it’s the former, then that’s scary for the whole industry. If it’s the latter, then that just adds to the strangeness of the situation.

If it is indeed temporary, then it shouldn’t require United to shut its hub several months out from now. It’ll just take a little time to get more pilots onboard. But then again, if that is the case, it could just be another convenient excuse for United.

That might also explain why the story changed so quickly. Maybe someone over at United gave ExpressJet a nudge. I’m very confused by this. Adding to the confusion is that United spokesperson Rahsaan Johnson sent me a note (and left a voicemail) shortly after my post went live about what I had written. Though I was traveling, we did have an email exchange. In that, Rahsaan said this.

With Cleveland’s continuing losses, yes, there was a chance of future reductions, but there were no predetermined plans. You focus on ExpressJet and Commutair and don’t consider the fact that we operate with a half-dozen more regional operators across North America. The pilot-hiring issues industrywide, not just for one or two regional carriers with significant operations in Cleveland, drive the need to reduce regional flying nationwide. The right thing to do for the business is to reduce the most challenged markets and concentrate the remaining flying in more profitable markets.

Though it doesn’t explicitly say it, this to me makes it sound like ExpressJet wasn’t the one having issues and I was looking in the wrong place.

The only thing we now know for sure is that ExpressJet has indeed told United it has to reduce flying. Whether that is just a temporary issue or not remains unclear. Anyone else have any theories on this one?

[Original begging photo via Shutterstock]

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74 comments on “ExpressJet Tells United It Needs to Reduce Express Flying Due to Pilot Shortage

  1. $22k is still a pretty low salary, even if it’s after just 1 year. If you were aged 20 and thinking about a career as a pilot, would a bank consider you capable of paying off the loans to train up, when salaries are low ? If the bank won’t lend then you’ll be looking at a different career…

      1. The only shortage out there is a pilot PAY shortage. If the regional airlines need to amend their contracts with the majors to reflect this reality, so be it. The industry pulled in $3.6 Billion last year in ancillary charges (bag fee’s etc.) Some of this revenue can easily be offered as pilot “incentive” pay. This industry is ALWAYS behind in head count planning. I’ve seen it time and time again as a pilot with 40+ years experience. Once again people, THERE IS NO PILOT SHORTAGE!

    1. Is pilot school/training eligible for federal student loans, though? If so, bank underwriting wouldn’t be an issue. You’d still have the general issue of taking on a bunch of debt for the prospect of a $22k/year salary at the end, though.

      1. Pilot training is not elgible for federal loans. I recently graduated from Embry Riddle, and was told when I started that despite me being able to take out loans, I could not use those monies toward my flying account. (However if you received a refund from school you could put the money towards flying). Therefore most pilots students have to take out private loans or have help by their family.

  2. All I have to say is it’s not as if the regulations were announced at the last minute. If regional airlines suddenly can’t fly their full schedule because they don’t have enough properly-certified pilots, it’s their own fault.

    Also, $22k a year is a pathetic starting salary given the utterly unavoidable expense involved in training. That’s the sort of pay a shift leader at a fast food joint makes. If the only way a route can be profitable is by paying that sad, sad, pay to the pilots, then perhaps it’s not such a bad thing if some destinations get pulled.

    1. I feel like a single pilot cockpit would be a very bad idea. A copilot/first officer eases the workload on the captain. During takeoff and landing, the first officer is double checking the captain, going through checklists and handling other duties so the pilot can focus on the task of taking off and landing.
      Plus its a safety fail safe. The copilot is there to ensure the safety of the aircraft in the event of a cockpit medical emergency. I believe just a couple of months ago there was a domestic flight where the captain or copilot (don’t remember which one it was) had a heart attack. What would’ve happened if that was a single pilot cockpit?

      1. Technology would allow someone in the operations control center to take over the airplane and finish the flight. That tech exists today (obviously since we have drones) but just need general acceptance of the practice.

        If the FAA allowed it, and a start-up carrier could do this and offer cheap fares to Florida, you’re telling me that it wouldn’t be full?

        1. With all due respect, that will never happen. Commercial airliner jets are certified as two pilot operation only. You can’t even fly one empty with a single pilot. I for one would never want to be a passenger or the pilot of one if it was single pilot. A Cessna 172, sure…a Boeing 737, no way!

          1. I’m sure there were people who said there would never be a two person cockpit as well. If you can’t see beyond what is on the market today, then no comment from me is going to change your perspective.

            1. Ted, have you ever operated a transport category aircraft? I think you’ll find that the workload is a bit higher than you’re estimating.

        2. Those are some HUGE “ifs.” The technology does exist, but it’s decades away from being implemented. The F.A.A. moves at a glacial pace.

          The greater problem is pay, benefits and labor relations. For decades, airline management has been whittling away the pay and quality of life of airline employees and many have left the U.S.A. for better pay as expatriots in other nations. They’d be happy to comeback for better terms here. But the airline management would agree to that – so from time to time – and increasingly so – parts of this country will suffer.

        3. Yes, there are drones. The difference is that when a drone crashes, the 180 people who aren’t aboard that drone don’t die.

          The safety record for drones is appalling, and only currently acceptable because 1) it’s the military, they have lots of money to buy new airframes and 2) nobody dies.

        4. You really need to set the crackpipe down, if you think the FAA will buy into single pilot. Not in this lifetime. The FAA is responsible for flight safety not airline profit.

          ex FAA EMPLOYEE

      2. That’s right. The fo never does anything apart for checklists and assists.

        If only you knew how it really was.

        1. That is 100% WRONG. Obviously you have no idea how it really is. The captain and first officer are both fully qualified to handle every aspect of the aircraft. The captain and first officer switch flying duties each leg so the captain is “pilot flying” for one leg, and the fo is “pilot flying” the next leg. Each one becomes “pilot monitoring” and does checklists, talks to ATC, etc every other leg. This is to endure that both pilots are proficient is all aspects of operating the aircraft in a safe and efficient manner.

  3. It sounds like another company with poor management and management practices crying government wolf. This is not unlike AOL cutting/modifying 401k because of the healthcare act. Whatever you think of the healthcare act, the fact is that AOL was cutting modifying 401k because they felt they could squeeze employees and an unpopular government regulation is an easy scapegoat for the public.

    In this case, there may be a legit squeeze on the company as all airlines have to ramp up hiring. In the end, all of the airlines need to make adjustments to their hiring and scheduling in order to maximize utilization and match supply & demand of the market conditions. However, by saying you can only solve the issue by cutting flying is to really admit that you cannot squeeze pilots anymore.

  4. In the past the regional airlines have always had the belief that they were only a stepping
    stone to the majors. So pay and benefits were a secondary factory to building flight time.airline, I knew a president of a commuter airline, who bragged that “He trained more pilots for the majors, than anyone else” As they expanded and obtained advanced equipment in the nineties, they became a more desirable place to work and faced upward pressure on wages and benefits. The new century brought a major change in the perception of the airline industry, the glamor gave way to furloughs,
    disappearing airlines, slow promotions or long furloughs and forced pay and benefit cuts. If someone asks me about becoming an airline pilot, my first question is are you doing it for love or money? Houston, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta the chickens have come to roost! Get used to it. Pilots are expected sink a great deal of wealth into training, then perform to the same standards and act as professionally as mainline pilots for $22k a year? Houston, Dallas, Denver, Atlanta the chickens have come to roost! Get used to it.

  5. This is just the tip of the iceberg.Regional carriers are all looking for even more concessions from their pilot groups and it has to stop somewhere.

    PSA took the bait Parker was offering, Eaglevoy is looking for a similar ten year concessionary deal months after Eagle gave concessions in bankruptcy court.

    Who do you think is going to pursue a career as an airline pilot when the starting pay is $22K a year?

    The never ending race to the bottom.Is has to stop somewhere.

  6. We’ll we now see pay and benefits rise as one regional carrier tries to hire away pilots from other regionals? Will it soon become a pilots market and they will be able to play one carrier over the other on who can woo them? Saw that here during the days and workers changed jobs at the drop of a hat from one tech company to another by which dangled the biggest carrot in front of them.

  7. I think they are reducing flying because Express Jet is losing money for its parent Skywest…it is easier to just eliminate the expense when you have another company to pick it up…

  8. I am with Donald in saying the regional business model is broken and duct tape isn’t going to work. FAR 117 may be the final nail in the coffin for the feeder industry as we know it. For almost 30 years the regionals have relied on cheap fuel, new airplanes with low mx costs, a large labor pool willing to ‘pay their dues’ and move on in 5-7 years, rapid growth and mainline pilot contracts that were expensive and unproductive compared to their regional peers.

    Well… 2014 fuel isnt cheap, those new planes are getting long in the tooth and require some MRO TLC, the labor pool is dried into a puddle, those folks that were planning on moving on are in their 15th-20th year (thanks to stagnation), there isnt anywhere left to grow(and make $$) and mainline pilot contracts are in line with new business reality.

    Now that we are down to 3 mega carriers that use feed I think we will see a dogfight over the remains of the regional industry. RAH, Xjet and SkyWest provide regional lift for everybody. Silver is in bed with both DL and UA. The Megas threaten to ‘ComAir’ the companies that dont play ball and lower costs, but that is an empty threat. Why? Because no one can absorb the slack from a hypothetical shutdown of Eagle/Envoy or Xjet.


  9. I apologize in advance, because this will be a long response…

    As someone who witnessed this from the inside (former ExpressJet employee) and was effected by it (training to be a pilot), I can attest that it is a combination of new regs, industry trend, and poor management.

    Requiring an ATP will hit the industry from the bottom as hard as the retirees will from the top. It was hard enough to get your commercial license and go through the motions to build your time to 600HRs (the real-world minimums for most regionals), but to now require 1500, with 22K starting pay AFTER the time it takes to build your flight time is all the harder for anyone with a life outside of flying. I admire and respect anyone who makes it through all the way.

    Expressjet may no longer be in a place to do anything about it. Mainline sets the terms and goes for the lowest bidder. Meanwhile the employees ask for more money. and when they say no, it leaves them with an inexperienced and constantly rotating workforce. The integration of ExpressJet and ASA is still a factor too. None of the major labor groups have come to an agreement yet as far as I know because everyone is being asked for pay cuts from 10 yr old contracts that already have consessions.

  10. Dear UA,

    Who asked you to hire Express, SkyWest, or any other regional? I didn’t. So, don’t burden me with your problems usings regionals.

    This issue of majors using regionals to perform what the principals used to do is of the airlines own making. I use UA for its mainline service and avoid contracted out service to the extent I can.

    If you, UA and all the others, can’t provide the service without going out to some contractor, or going “code-share,” (ugh, just the idea of code-share makes me sick!), get out the business. This is a mess that is only going to get worse and it seems only regulations will stop the madness.

    In fairness, companies like Express, SkyWest, and Cape Air, aren’t all that bad, but let them operate under their own names and let UA go wander in the wildernes until it comes to its senses.

    1. Dear JayB

      We’d love to do loads of regional flying to every city in the USA. Problem is that there aren’t enough people willing to pay enough money for these flights. We’re a commercial company that operates services for profit – if a route can’t pay its way, we will drop it. The routes were outsourced to regional operators because the pesky pilots and cabin crew on mainline wanted higher wages, but the people at regionals used to be willing to work for peanuts. Not it seems the ever-lasting supply of regional pilots willing to work for nothing has gone, so we’ll probably drop some routes.

      Kind regards


      1. Whether I agree or disagree, thanks for your comments.

        I’ll be experiencing both a UA mainline (out of IAD) and a regional (Skywest, dba…) craft Wednesday.

        If that’s the way things will have to be, I would much prefer a simple interline service between two independent, but coordinating airlines, UA and Skywest.

        Just me, maybe, but when I fly UA, I want it to be UA, not a bunch of “dba’s.” Like when I buy a Hershey bar, I want the wrapper to say “Made by Hershey,” not with Hershey merely in the “distributing” business. (Of course, the bar ought to be made in the US, preferably, Hershey, PA, and not in Mexico.., but there I go, off with another rant! Sorry. Cranky deserves better of me.)

  11. Do most of these pilots work other jobs? If they are only flying 80/hours a month, wouldn’t they have plenty of time to work another job? How many days of work does the 80 hours actually translate into?

    1. I can tell you right now it’s little to no free time. Try working a job where your boss says “for the next four days, I need you to show up at 6am and leave at 11pm, but I’m only going to pay you for 5-8 hrs in the day. Oh by the way, you can’t go home. We’ll put you up at the Holiday Inn Express across the street. The commercials imply it’ll make you a better pilot!”

    2. It’s only 80 hours or flying. From engine startup to shutdown. It does not include preflight planning or on duty time or overnighting away from home or weather delays. Many of my friends at skywest and asa said the formula is to take 1 flight hour and multiply it by 2.5 to get how long it took to get that hour. So for 80 hours of flight time in a month it takes 200 work hours to get it. Not really time for a second job. Honestly the problem is what I said last week. It’s not a lack of pilots. It’s a lack of pilots willing to do anything just to fly. There are plenty like me that have the hours for an airline job but I’m not willing to take the dismal pay or lifestyle. Plus figure in the cost of getting 65-80k worth of student loans for a 22k a year job. Or even 32 after a year. And if there is a recession and major airlines aren’t hiring then you can’t move over to the left seat and make more for being a captain.

  12. I’m missing something here. Eighty hours a month is 960 hours a year; a normal 40-hour work week is 2080 hours a year, more than twice as many. If these pilots worked full-time, they’d earn $48k, hardly a crappy starting salary in most fields, and absolutely not fast-food pay.

    They don’t have enough pilots but the ones that they have are working less than half time? Is this a result of the new scheduling/rest rules? It seems the simple and obvious solution, if the regulations permit it, would be to have existing pilots work more… not 40 hours a week, I suppose, but more like 30 instead of the 18.5 hours a week they’re currently pulling. I can’t imagine that the computer software can’t optimize the schedules to get more pilots in the air for more hours.

    Why do people expect full-time wages for very part-time work? I get that training is expensive, but a doctor that plays a lot of golf can’t expect to make a ton of money either….

    I will admit that I live near a big city and the majority of my flying is on Alaska cross-country or internationally to Asia. I haven’t flown on a regional since 2012, and the whole experience was so crappy that I now pay extra to fly direct. (Not a pilot’s fault, to be sure). :-)

    1. It’s the standard in the transportation industry that you only receive pay for a short window around actual transport time. “Downtime”, which virtually always occurs in blocks too small to be useful to, say, have a 2nd job, is unpaid. So an “80/hr a month” pilot is considered to be a full-time pilot.

    2. It’s not part time. For 80 hours, figure 20 hours per week of flight time. And 20 hrs of flight doesn’t include time between trips (add 15-18 hours or 35-38 total) and a 60+ minute arrival at the airport before the first flight of the day to check in (5 more hours, or 40+). Plus commute time – such as when an airline says you’ll now fly out of Chicago when you live in Dallas.

    3. JuliaZ – 80 hours of actual flying is about all the FAA will permit. And it ain’t a part-time job. The total hours associated with “flying 80” is equivalent to a 40-hour work week for a non-pilot profession.

    4. That’s 80hrs a month of flight time (doors closed, break released). There is often just as much duty time (which you don’t get paid for) as flight time. Yesterday I had a 16 hr day and only flew 4 hrs. That is a tad bit extreme because it was a bad weather day and there were tons of delays.

      Just think of it this way….any time you see a pilot, they are not getting paid!

      1. 80 hours of flying in a month is about 250 hours of work. That’s more than 60 hours per week, not to mention that work days are spent away from our home town. There is very little opportunity for other work, much less anything else in life.

    5. Not trying to be condescending so if it comes across that way I apologize in advance. But, your viewpoint is very naive.
      The 80 hrs a month is comparable to 40 hrs a week and then some. 80 hrs refers to door closed to door open. We (I’m a pilot for a Major) do a lot of work that goes unnoticed before and after a flight. Typical 4 day trip consists of being away from home for about 80 hours. You may not consider that “work” but when I arrive at a layover the first night at 1 am, then have to be at the airport on the east coast (I live on the west coast) on day 3 at 445 am eastern… That’s pretty rough. So NO, we can’t “work” more because it is physically impossible. Also, myself and most of my peers included are finished subsidizing the airline tickets of our passengers. We will no longer stand for accepting sub par wages so you and your family can fly from coast to coast for 189 round trip. I don’t expect to make 1 million a year, but I also don’t expect our regional pilots to be making poverty wages. I expect to be paid appropriately and if this “pilot shortage” we keep hearing about ever developes, I expect wages to rise as a result of it.
      Maybe I’m the one that’s naive.

    6. Julia,

      as an example, I flew 88 hours last month. I was away from base – start to finish of a trip – for 300 hours. That doesn’t include the time I spent flying or driving to my base to start the trip, and the time I spent getting home when the trip was over.

      And of course, let’s not forget the time spent in between flying around in crappy airplanes, in crappy weather, after eating crappy food and a crappy night’s sleep, all so you can get to where you’re going safely.

      You’re welcome.

    7. The 80 hours pertains for “actual” flight time. That means the time from when the plane leaves the gate to when it comes back. Actual time spent “on duty”, meaning at the airport, preflighting, checking ,weather, dealing with delays, etc. is not factored into that 80 hours. Generally, you can spend around 72 hours a WEEK at work and only be paid for 80 hours a MONTH.

    8. Julia Z are you math incompetent. They rise at five in the morning or earlier. Then ride a bus from the hotel to the airport. The pilots can only fly 1000 hours a year total by FAA rules, because for every hour your in the air you have spent a lot of time waiting for the passengers to board, get your flight plan, check the weather, get to the plane, check the plane for maintenance problems on your walk around. They put in long days maybe eighteen hour days and only fly five to eight hours. They only get paid while they are flying. The ground time for all pilots for all the airlines is like a dollar and a quarter an hour while your not flying. They get paid a buck an hour while doing their other parts of their job checking weather, their fuel load, the aircraft condition, weight and balance calculations. Julia Z they only get paid when the door of the aircraft closes on the aircraft that is it, and when the door opens on the other end of the flight their pay goes back to like a dollar and hour. You do the math you need some math training. JuliaZ = math illiterate.

  13. NOT A SURPEISE/ EXPRESSJET IS AN OLD CRAPPY REGIONAL OF THE OLD CONTINENTAL. WHY SKYWEST DIDNT JUST FOLD THEM INTO SKYWEST -[DID NOT DO THIS ,DUE TO CONTRACT—YEAH ,RIGHT,SURE—-YOU GUYS BUY THAT COWPATTIE] AND THE BIG 3 MEGACARRIES OVERUSED AND –”ABUSED ”– THE REGIONAL AIRLINE. THE REGIONALS WERE NEVER TO BE USED FOR FLYING 2-1/2—-3HR FLGHTS, SO THAT THE BIG 3 MEGA-CARRIES COULD HAVE OUT-OF-CONTROL SALARIES FOR MANGEMENT. I am sooooo happy the FAA did this rule and maybe the big 3 will have to go back to some adjusted mainline flying ; like, mainline jets at the busy ”rushhour”’ times of 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm, and off times of 6am , 10am—-3pm and 8pm-9pm ,use 70-90 seat regional jets only ,of flights that are no more than 2hrs. Also the big 3 should be ordering the Boeing Next-gen 737-600 and 737-600max,737-700s and 800s; and GROSS,the Airbus-A318. These planes hold 110 paxs and are perfect for the Midwest and Eastcoast and Westcoast ,north-south routes, that are flying times of 1hr-2hr max, and anyother routes that are no more than 1-2hr max flying time, and low-demand; AND ARE FUEL SAVING AND LESS-COSTLY TO OPERATE.. THIS IS HOW REGIONAL JET CARRIERS ARE SUPPOSED TO BE USED–MIXED IN WITH THE MAINLINE PLANES—-NOT TAKING OVER THE WHOLE ROUTE. If a carrier has 6-flights ,due 3mainline and 3 regional or 4 mainline and 2 regional,or vice versa. THIS IS HOW THE SYSTEM WOULD WORK AND WOULD TAKE EVIL SELFISH GREEDY HATEFUL OF EMPLOYEES —MANAGEMENT TO DO THIS ; BUT EVIL MANAGEMENT WILL NEVER DUE THE RIGHT THING ,BECAUSE OF THEIR EVIL GREED. GOD HELP US /// AN EMPLOYEE OF ONE OF THE BIG 3.


  14. I have a family member that is starting his training at SkyWest on the first of March. He was a bush pilot in Alaska prior to getting onboard with SkyWest. He is taking a 50% pay cut. Why on earth would he do this? Simple. If you want to fly the big metal you need to start somewhere. He is also fully aware that the net shortage of pilots will work to his advantage. Is the system equitable for new pilots such as him? NO! It’s simply a side effect of working for the most price sensitive industry on the planet.

  15. There may be a near-term pilot shortage due to FAR Part 117 and low wages, but this sudden about-face has UAL’s fingerprints all over it. At United, it’s ALWAYS somebody ELSE’S fault. Just like the sudden, massive layoff at IAH (blamed on WN before they had even broken ground on their international terminal). Smisek is a lawyer, not a leader. You would think that, between the 5 bankruptcies between CO and UA, the arrogance would be long gone. You can bet DL, AA, B6, and WN all smell blood in the water. Brett, if you are suggesting here that UA pulled somebody’s string, I concur 100%.

  16. no shortage of pilots in the USA…just read in the ALPA website how there are thousands and thousands (FAA airline transport pilots license information is public record) of highly qualified usa born pilots working overseas. They would rather live in the usa but because of the lousy salaries they have no choice but to work overseas or else they would be on food stamps working for these regional airlines

  17. The 80 hours you refer to is flight hours when the front door is closed for flight till it’s opened up arriving at the gate. The rest of the time a crew is at work before the flight and in between flights they don’t get paid for that at all. Most crews will fly 20-24 hours a week but out of that they are on duty at work for around 44-50 hours in a week. Plus they are spending 3-5 nights away from home a week. Also the single pilot idea is a horrible idea. Airlines need to pay these pilots decent wages you can live on and take it out of all the profits the ceo’s are making. Pilots have known these issues have been coming for a long time but lawmakers and management at the airlines didn’t care.

  18. Julie most regional pilots are guaranteed 11-12 days off a month. As noted about they are not payed too sit or commute to work. A regional pilots days usually consist of 5 hrs of flying and 6-8 hrs of commuting, sitting… For which they are not paid. Most pilots do not live in base and must hitch a ride or commute which usually uses up many of those days off. If you are to report in your base before 10-12pm you had prolly commute the night before.

  19. Although the pilot shortage is real at the entry level, Skywest is using the shortage to shrink the Express Jet(union) operation and grow the non-union Skywest side. The latest in regional contracts is less money now with a clear path to a major. The young pilots are ok with that path, the older pilots, not so much. Express Jet doesn’t seem to be playing ball and that is the reason for the “shrinkage.” I would not be surprised to see Express Jet vanish in the next couple years with most of their flying picked up by Skywest..

  20. I know what I’m about to say will never happen but would it help if the regional could codeshare with multiple mainlines and combine loads? Put the regional’s name on the plane and haul passengers from not just the big three but also AS, WN, B6 and the others. Are the mainlines afraid of creating another Alaska Airlines by doing something like that?

    1. That regional flight to/from Atlanta… great for Delta but useless for American or United. The regional route to/from San Francisco – similiar story. Would Delta want to outsource lots of regional flying to Americsm Eagld (can’t remember new brand name).

      In Alaska, there is only 1 possible hub controlled by 1 airline. In the lower 48, it’s a little more competitive between airlines !

  21. Hey Julia
    Pilots are only paid flight time, as in brake release to brake set. Even though I only get paid for 20 hours a week, I am actually on the road for 4-5 days and gone about 80 hours.
    So basically I work twice as much as a 9-5er and get paid half.
    Most people don’t understand how pilots schedules work. In don’t get paid unless I’m up in the air, and rest regulations prevent me from flying more than 8 a day, even though I’m on duty for 14.
    Don’t you want a competent, well rested pilot?

  22. I have 13000 hours..14 years as a ” regional” pilot flying mainline routes. In 5 countries , almost every state in the U.S. A year and a half of my life has been in the air . through rain snow ice tornadoes thunder storms windshear hurricanes heavy winds turbulence. When exactly are my dues finally considered paid ? The pilot shortage is going to be a tsunami.

  23. If you want pilots, then pay them enough to make it worth their while.

    If paying them that much means a flight to some boondock town isn’t commercially viable anymore, oh well.

    If the airlines have to get involved with training programs/apprenticeships to get new pilots their hours, so be it.

  24. I was pushing back from LGA flying Delta Connection with GoJet during tax season. The tug driver out of respect for us said he would not disclose his last year earnings. After my captain persuaded him his figure was two and a half times that of mine and one and a half times of the captains’. I am prior military, I am studying two degrees and spent 100k for my training while his could have only been a week. I felt disgust in the uniform I wear and what it’s supposed to represent. I quit GoJet airlines and refuse to ever go to another regional. I am currently flying Part 135 making more money and I am home more. I will have my BA soon and will start my Graduates there after. I plan on starting my own business and unless mainline calls, I will never fly for an airline again.

  25. Overall, I believe there will be a reduction in the number of flights. Capacity will probably grow with GDP, but because fuel and labor costs will likely continue to rise, service to smaller towns, and frequencies overall will be reduced.

    As has been pointed out elsewhere, service to small town America is under threat. This is another symptom of that threat. I’m still hoping that the issue(s) will be addressed in a rational way. Maybe a system akin to the Congressional Military Base Closing Commission will be adopted. The Commission makes recommendations regarding which bases should be closed, and Congress votes, up or down, on the committee’s recommendations as a whole. That method gives some political cover to individual Members of Congress.

  26. For those of you wondering why a pilot who flies 80 hours isn’t considered part time, here’s a breakdown of December’s schedule for me. I work as a regional pilot in the NE US for a company similar to ExpressJet. I flew 87:54 of “block time” for the month. This is the time actually spent between closing the cabin door and reopening on arrival, or operating flights to make things simpler. The block time is what determines my monthly pay, and at my company the minimum is 75 hours. I then added up all of my “on duty” time for the month, which totaled 184:33. “Duty” is the time when we are performing preflight and post flight responsibilities as well as waiting for late inbound aircraft and other delays. For comparison, somebody who worked 8 hours per day, Monday through Friday, would have worked 176 hours in December. Lastly, I added up my total “time away from base,” which is the number of hours from the minute I start a multi-day trip to the moment I finish it. I spent 367:48 on trips for the month.

  27. Are the pilots for any regional other than ExpressJet unionized? Which union represents ExpressJet pilots?

    Are many people going into the military to get flight training and hours? Do ex-military pilots often go to work for the major airlines when they finish their military service? (When I worked for PanAm, virtually all of our pilots were former military pilots. Since the U.S. has been at war for the last eleven years, the military must still be a source of trained pilots with high hours–or do the major airlines no longer hire those pilots and train them on their own equipment?

    In a deregulated industry, greed can run rampant. Just saying…

  28. Cranky,

    Job well done, as usual.

    Each of us, the majors, the niches, the regionals, the pilots, the travelling public (some near hubs, others out in the boonies), DOT, FAA, airport authorities, even the EAS people, Congress and individual reps, has a particular “bent,” bias, I guess, about how the regional carriers are organized, operate, and are being used.

    This, the regionals, is important in the scheme of commercial air service in America. Few, I fear, maybe only yourself, have an understanding, an appreciation of each’s position. Rulemaking takes so long and has to please so many interests, which in the end, probably pleases no one. Hearings are hopeless what with the political situation these days. May I suggest you have some more posts on this, beyond the pilot hours, laying out what you think each group likes, doesn’t like, what this change or that might result in, whether changes would improve anything, and whether the landscape will see any constructive change.

    You ought to get paid for all this but, well, like pilots, we undertand, you’d do it for nothing, or an amount close thereto. Sure!

  29. Perhaps they should consider hiring foreign pilots that would work for the low money as long as they are given the option to porsue their dream job.

    1. What foreign pilots would do that?

      Do you think there is a pool of experienced 1500hr plus pilots hanging about waiting to get paid $22k?

  30. What I think is interesting is in a 70 seat rj per hour less than 1 dollar of your ticket goes to the guy in the right seat and less than 2 for the guy in the left.

  31. Another great post, Bret. (Your graphics are always good, but this time I think the caption should have read, PILOT: Will Fly for Food. Food Stamps Accepted.
    So is there a Pilot Shortage? Yes, No and Maybe are all correct answers and it depends upon which industry segment and which individual carrier one examines. I’m not a commercial pilot (Don’t even play one on TV), but I side with the junior regional pilots, in part. First, any regional FO hired today must meet extremely high skill, hour and license standards. When they qualify, they are worth about 2.5X the stated $22k per year. In years not so distant, many regional carriers made “Captains” of the boys and girls who just meet today’s entry requirements. Regardless of the airplane’s size, shape or the pilot’s qualifications, I do not want to ride on anything driven by someone paid $22k for essentially full time work. WTF? Novice interstate bus drivers – you know the ones with rug rubber tires that seem to fly, yet stay on the ground – are paid well more than $22k per anum. IMO there ARE enough ATP/1500 hour pilots out there. That said, the good ones and the smart ones tend to take other, junior flying jobs, those that pay a living wage. Examples include mid-range freight, corporate FO and fractional ownership management operations (mostly Part 135 operations) to build even more hours and to achieve some measurable jet time. In my *never humble* opinion, no first year regional FO should work a full schedule for a dime less than $45k. At $22k there is no pride of purpose and even good pilots cannot be motivated to think and fly at professional levels. At some point below $45k per year, the ‘pride of purpose’ kicks in and the young boys and girls begin to believe that their growing skills have value. At roughly the $45k mark (for qualified, first-year flyers) the pride or purpose and truly professional behaviors become obvious. Which kind of first year RJ pilot do you want, driving your RJ almost 50% of the time? The choice should be obvious to most self-loaders. -NFZ

  32. $22K starting pay is scary. I’m really not comfortable placing my life in the hands of a guy or gal worried about paying their rent. I want ’em to worry about flying the plane. Stands to reason one should avoid “operated by” express flights when booking and stick with the real jets operated by the mother airline.

  33. I want the guys and gals sitting in the cockpit of a plane I am flying in to be paid enough so that there is competition for their jobs and airlines can be pretty selective. I am willing to pay extra for that when I buy a ticket.

  34. Great piece! I don’t think this should have been as much of a surprise as it was, given the simultaneous change in pilot rest rules (driving the majors to increase their hiring) and the new 1500 hour rule for new commercial pilots (reducing the new pilot pool).

    50 seat jets just don’t make sense in the current economic environment except in a very niche role. After the recent contract rejection at Eagle/Envoy, I think you’ll see 44 and 50 seat jet flying at American shrink pretty rapidly going forward. The regionals need to boost their pay rates, but that’s only viable in the context of 76 seaters. Chautauqua has been breakeven recently, and now will be back in the red due to the cost of idled planes. ExpressJet has been losing money consistently. Meanwhile, the legacy carriers can’t make much money even at the current CPA rates. 50 seat jets just don’t work anymore.

    One funny example of RJ folly. On the Newark-St. Louis route, Southwest offers 286 seats a day (2 737s). United, through ExpressJet, offers 250 seats a day (5 ERJs). ExpressJet’s unit costs are probably more than 50% higher than Southwest’s. Would United fliers really freak out if that service went to 4 large RJs, or even 3 mainline flights a day? At some point, I think cost considerations have to win out over frequency. That reduction in frequency could potentially free up a lot of pilot labor, while the upgauging would make higher wages more feasible.

  35. Regarding the pilot/mechanic shortage, I suggest using Boeing’s data. Boeing has a vested interest in the availability of pilots/mechanics worldwide to fly and maintain the aircraft they build. There is reason for concern but you don’t have to take my word for it. Search “pilot shortage” on their website and decide for yourself.

  36. Bottom line…. ExpressJet Airlines and Untied BOTH suck! You are rude, have an attitude as though we, the consumer owe you, you cancel flights without notice, you FAIL to contact your passegners to advise them that the flight they had booked DOESN’T EXIST ANYMORE, you use one excuse after another. United…. you should be ashamed of yourselves. You took over Continental Airlines that NEVER treated their passengers with the disrespect that you do. Newark as a hub???? Are you kidding me?????

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Cranky Flier