[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/05/15/carroll.pilotpay.art.jpg caption="CNN's Jason Carroll reports the average starting salary for a regional pilot is $18,168 a year."]
One former member of the National Transportation Safety Board called it the airline industry's "dirty little secret." Well, it's not a secret anymore.
The issue – how much regional pilots are paid to fly. According to an aviation consulting firm, the starting salary is $18,168 a year. Compare that to a janitor's salary at $21,000 or a New York City cab driver with just a few years experience $22,000.
The issue is coming into focus during hearings in Washington DC into the crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407.
The plane's first officer, Rebecca Shaw made less than $24,000 dollars a year. Shaw lived with her parents in Seattle, but worked out of Newark. She commuted across the country overnight before the doomed flight and investigators have asked – did that prevent her from getting needed sleep?
Shaw's mother, Lyn Morris spoke out in defense of her daughter. "I don't think she came to work too tired," Morris said, "she came to work to do it to the very best of her ability."
When asked about her daughter's salary Morris said, "She told me what she was making, I was amazed, I thought she would be making a lot more."
Paul Rice, a spokesman for the Airline Pilot Association says while pilots are doing their absolute best, low pay could lead to complications in the cockpit. "Flying is an exacting business and as such you have to have all capacities available to you,' Rice said.
But Roger Cohen, the President of the Regional Airline Association takes offense to suggestions lack of pay equals lack of performance. "This kind of linkage just doesnâ€™t make any sense, " said Cohen.
Passengers who we asked about compensating pilots said they would feel safer knowing pilots were paid more. One passenger told us, "I am putting my life in their hands. And I do think they need to up that... whatever it takes."
Aviation experts wonder if those same passengers are willing to pay higher ticket prices to offset the cost of higher pay for pilots.