Cargo Pilots Inspire Envy


Well-Known Member
Hope the ensuing discussions work out for you cargo guys. But damn it all, it keeps looking like competition will get greater and greater for cargo pilot slots... MY cargo pilot slot.


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Cargo pilots inspire envy
As passenger carriers cuts back, package industry remains robust

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

UPS pilots appear close to fulfilling their long-term goal of "industry leading" pay rates -- but not in the way they had intended.

Instead of leapfrogging their passenger airline brethren, fliers at the delivery giant are winning by default. Pilots at several passenger carriers have been forced to endure steep pay cuts and furloughs during the industry's painful three-year slump caused by terrorism, severe acute respiratory syndrome and a weak domestic economy.

Only pilots at Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines still make more in career earnings than their counterparts at UPS and FedEx, according to AIR Inc., an Atlanta firm that tracks pilot hiring. And Delta is seeking significant cuts.

The relative rise in cargo pilot pay likely will be an issue in ongoing contract talks between UPS and its pilot union. It also marks an odd reversal of fortune for cargo pilots, who have traditionally been regarded as lower in the aviation hierarchy than passenger airline pilots.

Even though both fly the same types of airplanes, passenger airline pilots have commanded greater pay and prestige. But UPS and FedEx, the leading U.S. air cargo firms, have remained profitable throughout the passenger airline industry's disastrous downturn -- and their strong balance sheets and promising growth prospects are enough to make some passenger pilots envious.

"Boxes aren't afraid of airplanes, and they're not afraid of infectious diseases," said Kit Darby, founder of AIR Inc.

"Air cargo hasn't been hurt by external factors such as 9/11 and SARS. Air cargo looks real promising right now because there's been such a lack of success among the network passenger airlines."

Leaders of the UPS pilots union say they expect healthy wage increases when their current contract becomes amendable on Dec. 31. But pay cuts at passenger carriers put them in the awkward position of trying to justify higher wages than pilots at United, American and USAirways when, for years, they've been seeking parity.

Likewise, UPS officials who used to insist that passenger airline pay scales were irrelevant to air cargo now argue that there should be a link.

Contract improvements

Bob Miller, a UPS captain and president of the Independent Pilots Association, which represents the company's 2,500 fliers, says UPS pilots expect contract improvements.

"There's no reason that we should be punished for the problems that exist on the passenger side of the business," Miller said. "That's not going to happen."

UPS and its pilots began negotiations early this year, and both sides say they'll submit to binding arbitration if they don't reach an agreement by the end of the year.

UPS pilots are paid between $30,000 and $200,000 a year and typically fly about 90 hours a month, according to AIR Inc.

Unlike major passenger carriers that have laid off pilots, UPS has remained profitable and steady since 2001. It releases second-quarter profits today. However, UPS hasn't hired any new pilots in two years, and few other cargo carriers are actively hiring.

Comparisons between pilot pay at UPS and other carriers is complicated by the fact that UPS pays captains and first officers based solely on seniority. Other airlines pay different rates for different aircraft types. The UPS method is meant to reduce training costs by taking away incentives for pilots to switch aircraft.

UPS pilots earn about $9.2 million in pay and benefits over a 30-year career compared with $7.3 million at major passenger carriers, according to AIR Inc.

"Hindsight is always 20/20," said Pat Rooney, a FedEx captain. "Everyone in our business knows someone who has been furloughed by one of the passengers or had their pay cut. I'm glad to be working for a company that hasn't had to go through all that."

At the same time, cargo pilots contend with grueling schedules that frequently keep them flying all night, often to gritty industrial cities instead of sunny vacation spots. Studies have shown such stressful night work takes a toll on health, relationships and longevity.

Cuts can't be ignored

Miller of the IPA won't say how large an increase pilots will seek when the two sides get down to pay and benefits in the coming months. But he said UPS pilots "won't be sucked into pay cuts as a result of something that purely affects the passenger side."

Mark Giuffre, a UPS spokesman at the company's airline hub in Louisville, Ky., said widespread pilot pay cuts in the passenger airline industry are impossible for the company to ignore.

"We're not looking for concessions or givebacks," he said. "But we don't want to create two separate markets for passengers and cargo. The skills are the same."

UPS says it's determined to avoid the passenger airlines' mistake of signing overly generous labor contracts, then trying to rescind them.

"We've negotiated contracts that we could afford," Giuffre said