Resident pilot 121pilot, a captain for a major U.S. airline, authors a new column on Live and Let’s Fly called Ask Your Captain. His mission: demystify the flight deck and an answer any question you may have on the topic of flying.
Q: I have a question about pilot pay versus aircraft size in airlines. Most airlines pay a higher hourly rate for larger aircraft, for example, a 737 pays less than an A350. Is a larger aircraft much more complex than a smaller aircraft to fly? I am referring to aircraft that mainline airlines fly. A few airlines like Emirates pay the same rate regardless of aircraft flown. Many pilots that fly widebodies have more seniority with the airline. Is this the reason? Or is it to compensate for more responsibility and a more complex operation? Something else? I am curious.
A: The reason most airlines pay more for bigger equipment goes back to the beginning of the airlines themselves. When four engine types began to replace two engine models post World War II you first started seeing this pay differential. The justification was that the larger airplane produced more revenue and thus greater profits for the airline and the pilot should therefore be compensated accordingly. Not that long ago some airline contracts still had formulas based on aircraft cruising speed and gross weight among other factors that determined pilot pay. Many regionals used to pay based on the number of seats but this has by and large fallen out of favor.
In general, most airlines today have specific pay rates for specific aircraft. There are often groupings where airlines that operate both 737 and A320 series aircraft for example pay all of those at the same rate. Its also pretty common for aircraft that have a common type rating, like the various models of the A320 or even the 767/757, to be paid at the same pay rate.
These days the biggest driver is the fact that this at least in the US is that when pilots go to bargain a new contract, they inevitably look at what the norm is among their peers. Since almost everyone pays pilots who fly 787s more than they pay those who fly A320s the system tends to perpetuate itself. If you are really curious, airlinepilotcentral.com is a pretty good reference for what pilots get paid.
Have a question for the captain? E-mail him at ask121pilot at yahoo dot com and you may see your question appear in a future column!