Facing pilot shortage, smaller airlines start giving big raises to pilots

Jan 20, 2022

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Pilots at four U.S. airlines are now seeing significantly larger paychecks as the industry faces a pilot shortage.

Avelo Airlines on Thursday announced a significant raise for its pilots, becoming the fourth U.S. carrier in just two months to take action in an effort to attract more pilots.

Pilots at the Houston-headquartered ultra-low-cost carrier startup will now earn more than pilots at the established national ULCCs: Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Allegiant Air. The move comes two weeks after Avelo announced it had raised $42 million in a Series B funding round. The airline plans to hire 120 pilots in 2022.

First-year first officers will now earn $90 an hour, up from $70 an hour. First-year captains will now earn $200 an hour, up from $135 an hour. The new scale tops off with fifth-year first officers earning $140 and fifth-year captains earning $220.

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While airline pilots are paid hourly, they are offered a monthly minimum number of hours, usually somewhere between 70 and 75 hours. Avelo’s minimum is 70 hours, meaning that a first-year first officer will earn at least $75,600 a year, before sign-on bonuses, while a first-year captain will earn at least $168,000 a year, before sign-on bonuses.

“We’re committed to attracting and retaining the industry’s best pilots,” Avelo CEO Andrew Levy said in a statement. “In addition to our enhanced pay scale, Avelo supports quality of life initiatives such as an additional $1,800 per month to help offset the cost of commuting. And, if a pilot chooses to live in base, they’ll keep the $1,800 per month.”

More: Startup Avelo Airlines announces new funding round as it plans to double in size

Avelo’s announcement follows moves by fellow ULCC startup Breeze Airways, as well as Minnesota-based Sun Country and United Express carrier GoJet, which have all announced pilot pay increases since the beginning of December.

Breeze is among the airlines raising pilot pay. (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

Breeze, which has faced criticism over low pay and a scheme to recruit pilots from Australia, raised its starting Embraer 190/195 first officer rate to $61 an hour, with first-year captains now making $129 an hour. Pilots on the carrier’s Airbus A220, currently set for a May 4 entry into service, will start at $68 an hour as first officers and $131 an hour as captains.

More: Pilot shortage brings growth concerns to Breeze Airways

“There’s a limited supply of highly qualified pilots and a huge demand for highly qualified pilots,” Chris Owens, Breeze’s vice president of flight operations, said in an interview with TPG this month.

Pilots for Sun Country, which operates ultra-low-cost scheduled flights primarily out of its base at Minneapolis-St. Paul (MSP), as well as flying cargo for Amazon, also saw an increase. First-year first officers now earn $78.50 an hour, while first-year captains earn $195.89 an hour. Like Avelo, Sun Country operates flights using the Boeing 737 exclusively.

At regional airlines like GoJet, the pilot shortage is perhaps most acute. GoJet operates the CRJ-550 for United Express, a 50-seat version of the CRJ-700. Pilots there went from being among the worst paid of the regional airlines to among the best. First-year first officers went from being paid $38 an hour to $50 an hour, while first-year captains went from $71 an hour to $83.34 an hour. The best-paying regional, Endeavor Air, pays its first officers a starting wage of $52.19 an hour.

As the pilot shortage continues, it seems likely other airlines will follow suit this year and also increase pilot pay.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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