Mesa Airlines boosts pilot pay to combat staffing shortage

PHOENIX (3TV / CBS 5) – It’s been the summer of delays and cancelations. Across the country, airlines have struggled with staffing shortages. Now, in an effort to combat the ongoing pilot shortage, pilots who work for Phoenix-based Mesa Airlines are about to get a big raise. For some, the newly negotiated rates will about triple their pay. “I think what we’ve done is bold, but I also think it is entirely necessary and is something that is justified because there is no alternative. I mean, we’re not going to sit back and watch the company evaporate, ”said Jonathan Ornstein, the chairman, and CEO of Mesa Airlines.

Mesa Airlines, a regional carrier that operates American Eagle and United Express flights, typically employs up to 1,100 pilots, according to Ornstein. Currently, the airline has about 750 pilots. “The number of hours we’ve flown has declined pretty precipitously over the last 12 months,” Ornstein told On Your Side. “There has been a pilot shortage that has existed for a while. It’s really been exacerbated because of Covid and a lot of retirements, and we were just losing too many people to the national carriers. “

In an effort to retain pilots and attract new hires, Mesa Airlines just reached an agreement to boost pay rates with the Air Line Pilots Association, which represents Mesa Airlines pilots. According to the new pay structure, 20-year captains will earn $ 215 an hour. First-year captains will earn $ 150 dollars an hour, which is up 118%, and new-hire first officers’ pay will jump 172% to $ 100 an hour, which is above the industry average, according to ALPA.

ALPA praised the new pay structure, saying it “offers the compensation mesa needs to remain competitive and attract and retain experienced, qualified pilots.”

The boost in pay had an immediate impact. “I would say the increase in the number of applicants is ten-fold, maybe more,” Ornstein said. “We’re going to make today over 100 offers for new pilots today.” Moving forward, Ornstein hopes to hire 50 to 80 pilots a month. “I think ultimately it will work,” he added. “It’s a three-year deal, so hopefully in three years we will come up with some additional solutions, but at least we’re buying some time to make the necessary adjustments and hopefully bring more young pilots into the pool of qualified applicants and folks that will be out there flying for us and other carriers. “

Ornstein acknowledges the pay bump for pilots could cost consumers. “As our wages go up, we have to be able to recoup those wages somewhere, and to do that obviously the ticket prices will be impacted,” he said. “Labor is generally the second-highest cost component after fuel, so if fuel prices went down, you may see no impact.”

“Hopefully we’ll also be able to increase travel options and make things better long term by attracting more pilots into the industry,” Ornstein added.

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