Top Guns or bus drivers

This weeks defence beat up starts with By Cameron Stewart and Michael McKinnon with a by-line in the Australian stating Air force ‘powerless’ to pay pilots enough. When I joined the Army I did so for a career of adventure and never considered remuneration as a motivator. I was coincidently paid well (40k in my last appointment in 1986) but the job was the draw. The adventure, the adrenilin surges, the travel, the power and responsibility of command and the smug satisfaction of doing a difficult job well in the face of the media still berating us for having the temerity to kill communists, and even then, looking for ways to make us look bad. When Hawke was in power he authorised $30k advances to RAAF pilots to encourage them to stay instead of flying Qantas. I, and my collegues, suggested at the time that the $30k bonus underlined the government and medias lack of understanding of the professional serviceman. All the RAAFies wanted was air hours. Let them fly their bloody F18s and they would stay. You see, my civilian readers, there is nothing quite as exciting as pushing mach2 in pursuit of another pilot and winning. (Not to mention the excitement of losing!) Although being fired on by machine guns and then attacking and defeating the bad guys has some element of exitement we’re talking about pilots today.
The pay of RAAF pilots continues to lag behind that of their commercial counterparts, with junior RAAF pilots earning about $56,000 a year, rising to $95,500 a year for senior pilots with 10 years’ experience. By contrast, a senior Qantas pilot might earn $190,000 to $220,000, aviation sources said.
There is a trade off here. If you want to be a bus driver and ferry drunk passengers to Brittain on their ‘rights of passage’ tours in a plane that is so boringly safe that it can fly itself then go do it. If your life’s goals are monetary based with the holiday home at the Gold Coast, a Ferrari in the garage and a million or two in rollover then Qantas is your go. ( Stay with me you Jet Jockies – don’t be seduced) On the other hand, if you have some sense of adventure; if you want to test yourself, push yourself and have others try and keep up; if you don’t care about money once you and your family are secure and you can pay the good school fees then join the RAAF. If you’re a RAAF pilot reading this and don’t understand what I’m staying, then get out. You see, flying fighters is not just about the mechanics of flying. From the Infantry perspective, it’s about flying at night, in bad weather, below 1000, with Sams coming up at you and not deviating until you’ve dropped your ordnance on the bad guys, thus saving the arse of the good guys. Nowhere do Stewart or McKinno identify the author of the report or it’s status. For all we know, it could have been written by a whinging malcontent and by all accounts, most probably was. If it’s unidentified it’s meaningless but they take the effort to find a negative report and then pay good money under the Freedom of Information laws to get a copy, and in my opinion, achieve very little. What is their point. Are they suggesting that 25 year old boggies get 200K plus a year or are they just hammering the ‘Defence is bad’ mantra.
The RAAF says the report was overly pessimistic because it did not foresee the downturn in the aviation market following the Ansett collapse. But experts say demand for commercial pilots is rising again. The report, called the Pilot Sustainability Project, says RAAF pilots are now flying less and this “may well be contributing to a lack of professional satisfaction”.
You bet it is! As an aside – if a guy spends ten years flying F18s and then resigns to fly 767s and two years after he started with Qantas the balloon goes up. Then within a month he’s going to be heard muttering. Mmm, lets see – little grey plane, mach 2, upside down at 40,000 feet – how do I do it again? I trust the ex RAAF Qantas pilots realize they are a part of the Nations defence inventory. You go read – if you get their point then leave a comment. Check here as well. The authors managed to sell the Australian two articles based on one report I don’t know what their point is exactly, but I will say – It’s not about the money, honey, it’s about the game.


  • The “morale” problems start when the conversion to the aircraft is complete, the interesting stuff has been mastered and there’s less reasons to be put in the cockpit of an airframe with a limited number of hours in it.
    The more experienced you get, the less you need to be in the cockpit and the better you will be at managing the squadrons various internal functions. You either start looking at yourself as a manager who gets to fly or you start looking elsewhere.
    Your comment about it being the game is spot on – all the RAAF techos I was in with are leaving and not one says a likely pay increase is the reason; most have “just had enough of the shit”.
    I’d gladly rejoin if they could turn the clock back to 1995.

  • I’m often told that my skills are wasted in, and I could make a packet outside. Admittedly, it’s hard to explain to punters what it is I do, suffice to say, it scares the living shit out of me somedays AND I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING!
    If you have never pushed yourself to your own mental limits, under stress, sometimes under fire, then there really is no point trying to explain it a journo. As I have said in other forums (Mil-Kit REview) journos only exist to write about the negative. Hard luck, bad job, poor planning, stuff ups sell news. Doing it right rarely does.
    I’d visit the link, get a little irate, perhaps whizz an email in. Get a smug reply, essentially saying “If we got it wrong, tell it how it REALLY is” as if fucking up your story is merely a lead to be corrected by an insider.
    The only follow up story Defence needs to produce is this.
    “The Australian’s story dated (blah) is wrong because of the following. Factoid 1, 2, 3. That is all”
    I wish…
    PS Kev, sorry for swearing, you know how it gets someday. By the way, can we drink on Sundays?

  • I remember “back in the good old days” when I started in the US Army as a 2Lt. my first pay checks were on the order of $589 month. Later, after Vietnam, I was stationed in Hawaii, and as a 1Lt. with several years service was making the grand sum of $850 with a cost of living allowance thrown in.

    For several years at that wage I lived in a highrise condo in Waikiki and drove a Porsche. How times have changed!