Why Pilots Get Paid the Big Bucks

So you all know the story of the US Airways plane that landed in the Hudson River. The pilot did an amazing job and is a real hero. Imagine the pressure of knowing that lives of 150 people depend on you doing something with a plane that it is not designed to do – land on the water.

I think though that it highlights something we don’t often think about. It takes a long time to become the captain of a big airline plane. There are years of training involved and then years of working your way up from smaller to larger planes first as a first officer and then finally as captain. But that is what we want. We want the most experienced and best trained pilots in the world in the cockpit. Money is a real part of the incentive to work though that struggle. Not the only thing of course – the best pilots love to fly. But money helps keep them from flying only as a hobby.

We want these people in the cockpit not so much for the ordinary flights. We want them there when things go wrong. It’s like insurance in a way. The experience and the training make it possible for a pilot to stay calm when the sky is falling – or the plane is falling from the sky. It is experience that lets the pilot know that he (or she) can do what no one else can do at a time when most people would panic.

I get on planes all the time and you know I always feel better when the pilot has some gray hair. That way I figure I have someone who has seen a lot, done a lot, trained a lot, and will be the right person there when things go wrong. I don’t want a young hotshot – I want an experienced mature person who will go past the red line when it matters but not when it is a way to show off “courage” or “skills.” I hope the airlines are always willing to pay extra for that.

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