Since the beginning of the commercial airline business, junior pilots have had to toil at the second seat waiting to win a pair of captain’s wings. Now Delta Air Lines Inc.. Is offering them the opportunity to vault into a captain’s seat in as little as six months. The catch? The marketing requires flying an unloved, aging plane nicknamed the “Mad Dog” that Delta intends to retire in three years.
The McDonnell Douglas Corp.. MD-88 jets are the oldest aircraft in operation in any major U.S. carrier. They come with quirks such as glare-prone skylight panels known as “eyebrow windows” that were common when pilots occasionally navigated by the stars. And they’re so noisy that some New York politicians, such as U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, cheered when Delta recently pulled the planes from New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
The jets are currently helping to topple traditional timetables as Delta claims with a pool of aviators and awaits deliveries of new aircraft. Senior pilots shun the MD-88s for newer Airbus SE or Boeing Co.. Jets, now the business’s standard equipment. But some who covet the prestige and salaries awarded #x 2019 aren &; t so choosy to captains.
“The fantastic side of M-88 is that there is HATE for it that seniority happens in manner,” read one article on a Delta pilot discussion. “In 1 year you’ll have the ability to hold off weekends and holidays. ”
Unionized pilots typically progress from the right-hand first officer’s seat to #x 2019 & the left wing captain;s perch, and from small to large jetliners. Moving to captain was an 8- or 10-year process and has dropped to two or three years in boom times, says Kit Darby, a pilot consultant based in an Atlanta suburb. Veterans having the most seniority get first pick such as flying the Boeing 747 jumbo on routes to Asia. Junior pilots might claim a captain’s seat on the 110-seat Boeing 717, or a officer’s function on a plane.
But some Delta pilots who are willing to accept the worst assignments—flying an MD-88 or sharing a crash pad in Queens and flying from New York—are upgrading fast. One pilot hired in January was a captain by June, according to a company memo to pilots. Moving up over six months is “ of,” states Delta spokesman Michael Thomas, and less-tenured pilots flying the MD-88 aren’t any less qualified than those in the controls of larger jets. “We hire folks who possess the qualifications and airmanship and capability to become captains with Delta,” Thomas says.
However, that’s the quickest career development for pilots one of the Big Three U.S. carriers, according to pilots and business advisers. Some American Airlines Group Inc.. Pilots have advanced in less than two years on the 99-seat Embraer E190 regional jet, American spokesman Joshua Freed says. United Continental Holdings Inc.. Does not have any similar cases of such rapid promotions, according to a United spokeswoman.
“Almost every pilot I talk to, when I tell them people are upgrading to captain within a year, they all go, ‘Wow, you’re! ’ ” states Louis Smith, president of the company Future & Active Pilot Advisors. “It’s nearly unheard of in the enterprise. ”
Upgrading can mean a big bump in pay. A first officer in a significant airline makes about $86 an hour with a raise in Year Two, while a captain makes about $220 an hour, Smith says. Pilots state about $180,000 is average pay for first-year captains after they’ve completed instruction.
Carriers may wind up with fast-track options that are comparable if the shortage of airline pilots gets worse, as anticipated. About half the pilots in 10 large U.S. airlines will hit the retirement age of 65 by 2026, Darby says. The issue is more acute at carriers, which are lobbying to relax a requirement that commercial pilots have at least 1,500 hours of flight time.
Lifestyle and pay packages that benefit co-pilots on aircraft are making it harder for Delta to staff the MD-88. A first officer with 10 years’ experience on the Boeing 747 makes about $221,000 a year, roughly the same as a first-year captain on the Boeing 717, according to Delta pay tables viewed by Bloomberg. And Delta’s Thomas states that the MD-88, the Boeing 717, along with other short-haul planes require pilots to fly more legs and some aviators don’t need that kind of schedule.
“International widebody pilots hold the best schedules and work the fewest days due to the character” states Sam Mayer, a longtime American Airlines pilot. “A lot of men are finding out that they & #x 2019 stay at #x 201D & first officer; on the aircraft that is larger than move up to captain of a smaller jet with a desirable program.
The MD-88, a workhorse on shorter flights since 1988, has controls and checklists that feel counterintuitive and antiquated before they could switch aircraft types. Then #x 2019 & there;s a cockpit called a “cage” by Dennis Tajer, who flew a sister McDonnell aircraft nicknamed the Super 80 for a decade in American before ascending to the Boeing 737. The McDonnell flight deck is &#xnarrow, 201C little, and unforgiving for #x 201D, & any pilot that would like to spread their wings; states Tajer, a spokesman for American’s pilot union.
Nonetheless, the MD-88 has its own fans. Delta has redone the interiors of even its older jets, therefore passengers probably can’t tell it’s so outdated, says Rene de Lambert, who pens a Delta frequent-flier blog called Rene’s Points. Also, the plane’s configuration, with two seats on one side of the aisle and three to the other, means the MD-88 has dreaded middle seats than many planes, he says.
“Yeah, if you & #x 2019; #x 2019 & re at the trunk it; s noisy, but most people will be sad to see it go,” de Lambert says. “It will be missed. Naturally, it’s not flying over my home. ”
The MD-88 is almost certainly headed for aviation’. There are only two other operators beyond Delta: Allegiant Air, which is also retiring its fleet, and an obscure Iranian carrier, Taban Air, according to Planespotters.net. “Delta has remodeled all of their MD-88s, but it’s like an old car that’s been spruced up,” Tajer states. “It’s not like sitting down in a brand new Cadillac. ” —
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