Release #05.039
September 14, 2005

Wall Street Journal Story on Pilot Pay Is Grossly Misleading, ALPA Questions Bureau of Labor Statistics Report

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A story in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal on pilot pay is grossly misleading and is based on questionable data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), according to the head of the Air Line Pilots Association, Int’l. (ALPA).

In a letter to the newspaper, Capt. Duane Woerth, president of ALPA, said that the article, “Wage Winners and Losers,” “did a grave disservice to the thousands of pilots who have sacrificed billions in salary concessions, billions in lost pensions, not to mention the thousands of pilots currently furloughed and those who have lost their jobs and benefits completely.”

“In our conversation with the reporter, the Air Line Pilots Association provided clear and unequivocal evidence that serious questions exist concerning the Bureau of Labor Statistics data and how the study was conducted. These questions remain unresolved despite repeated calls to the agency,” Woerth said.

The article, based on a BLS report, “2004 National Compensation Survey,” claims that wages for airline pilots rose 15.6 percent from 2003-2004, and 26.7 percent from 1997-2004. It also repeated the common misperception that airline pilots only work 20.5 hours per week. While pay is calculated on flight time, pilots typically work an additional one to two hours for every hour of flight time.

“We provided the following quote to your reporter, ‘We're unclear how the government could have come up with numbers that show an increase. This study flies in the face of the reality that pilots are working more hours while taking substantial pay cuts, losing some or all of their pensions, and paying more for health care’" Woerth said, noting that this part of ALPA’s reaction was not included in the story.

“Regarding pilot work hours, the BLS data only reflects time spent actually flying. It does not include the additional time spent on pre- and post-flight activities, waiting at an airport for the next assigned flight, training, etc. Using the BLS definition, news reporters only work a few hours a week--the time they are actually on the air or at their keyboards writing their stories. This method is a gross distortion of the reality of pilot working hours,” Woerth said.

Determining an “average” wage for airline pilots requires careful examination of the data and the methods used to derive such statistics. Overall, pilot wages have gone down dramatically since 9/11. Some small segments of the industry have achieved modest gains; but these are limited to a relatively small number of carriers. For example, the reductions in contracted rates of pay for captains of widebody aircraft at seven major airlines represented by ALPA ranged from -8.1 to -47.8 percent during the post-9/11 period, 2002 to 2005. Among all major carriers, with the exception of Southwest Airlines and America West Airlines (where pilots were recovering from previous concessions), rates of pay for narrowbody captains also experienced decreases, from -6.0 to -42.4 percent. Pay for first officers usually is a preset fraction of captain’s pay, so their pay reductions will closely track captain’s pay reductions. Furthermore, many captains are now flying as first officers and those pilots have taken an even larger pay decrease.

Based on ALPA’s data, a claim that pilot pay increased 15.6 percent from 2003-2004 does not even approximate the true conditions that exist in the industry. ALPA has contacted the BLS and has requested information on the methodology and the data that was used in the 2004 study.

ALPA is the union that represents 64,000 airline pilots at 41 airlines in the U.S. and Canada. Its website is at

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ALPA CONTACTS: John Mazor, Linda Shotwell, (703) 481-4440,