By Conor Shine
Two of American Airlines’ regional airlines are increasing pay and bonuses for their pilots in an effort to step up recruitment as the industry grapples with a looming pilot shortage.
Irving-based Envoy Air and Dayton, Ohio-based PSA Airlines, both wholly owned subsidiaries of American Airlines Group, announced Wednesday they’re raising starting pay for new hires by as much as 50 percent, as well as expanding a bonus program worth as much as $35,000 put in place earlier this year.
"Our ability to attract and retain the most talented pilots has been critical to our success," Ric Wilson, Envoy’s vice president of flight operations, said in a statement. "Hiring more new pilots allows us to compete for additional flying.”
At PSA Airlines, the pay rate for a first-year pilot will increase from $24.62 per hour to $38.50 per hour, with additional signing and retention bonuses worth up to $35,000 over several years.
Envoy is raising its base from $25.84 per hour to $37.90, a 47 percent increase, with the chance for additional bonuses.
Both airlines said first-year pilots can make about $58,000, which they described as the highest rates in the regional industry. Together, the two airlines employee about 2,800 pilots.
Regional airlines play a key role in the U.S. aviation system, flying routes between smaller cities to funnel passengers to major carriers at airport hubs like DFW International Airport. Envoy and PSA, for example, both fly under the American Eagle brand.
But conditions can be grueling for pilots starting out their careers with regional airlines with a combination of high training costs, lower pay and irregular schedules. It can be years of shuttling between small destinations on regional jets before these pilots get a shot at a more lucrative job with mainline carriers like American, where salaries can easily reach into the six figures.
Getting pilots onto the career path has been a challenge for regional airlines, with one, Republic Airways, blaming a shortage of qualified pilots in its February bankruptcy filing.
Regional airlines have been boosting pay and incentives in an attempt to entice more people onto the pilot career path. A study by the University of North Dakota estimated that without changes there will be a deficit of 15,000 pilots by 2026.
Although the shortage hasn’t been felt by mainline carriers yet, regional carriers are a key pipeline for hiring, with Envoy and PSA both offering direct paths to employment with American.