Letter: Airline’s wages are the problem

Those who fly from Aspen are now and more importantly will continue to be the victims of America’s wage gap. The Oct. 8 issue of The Aspen Times reported that Republic Airlines has experienced many delays and cancellations (“Airline plagued by many delays”). Bill Tomcich, president of Stay Aspen Snowmass, told the Times that Republic is one of several airlines experiencing a pilot shortage.

The shortage is only going to get worse because Republic literally offers its pilots peanuts. Currently pilots receive around $23 an hour to start. The airline has offered a raise in its current negotiations, according to one aviation blog. If the pilots accept the deal, first officers could make $50 an hour after seven years. Captains might make $70 an hour. Salaries are paid per block hour, so the lowest-paid first officer might make $25 per trip to Aspen. First-year drivers for Colorado Mountain Express probably make more.

Qualified pilots are refusing to apply for jobs at Republic Airlines, and those flying for Republic are seeking work at major airlines. There is no pilot shortage. There is, though, a shortage of pilots willing for fly for the low wages offered by Republic.

Don’t blame Republic, though. Republic’s hands are tied by the major airlines. United pays Republic a fixed amount per flight to Aspen. It is part of the monopolistic system that has developed since airlines were deregulated. The large airlines raise the prices passengers pay on most routes because they have monopoly power while cutting the payments to the regional carriers such as Republic.

The monopoly power of the airlines is reflected in the price of tickets. Forty years ago, I wrote a Ph.D. thesis in economics on the price elasticity of demand for air travel. Checking my old data, I find that in 1967, an unrestricted coach ticket form Denver to Chicago would have cost $460 in today’s prices. Today, United quoted $1,457 for the same service. So much for the benefits of deregulation. Meanwhile, United has squeezed its pilots, who make less in real terms, and its subcontractors.

It is only going to get worse. Regional carriers such as Republic will have greater difficulty getting pilots. Flight delays will increase unless United offers its regional carriers bonus payments to complete flights to Aspen on time.

The solution is to fly on a major carrier from Eagle whenever the flights are available. The large carriers have no problem getting pilots. They hire the good ones from Republic.

Philip Verleger