This seems strange.
You've removed the motivation to start with a low rank fighter pilot, rank, and then keep them alive (and be attached to the idea of keeping them)?
Now it's basically best to just start with max rank and replace as needed.
I have to agree here. Shouldn't there be a perk to leveling up an NPC?
Maybe scale the increases so that they increase by half. That way a Harmless pilot working up to Elite still earns more money than before, but less than hiring someone already Elite?
It's still cheaper to develop a low ranked pilot than to hire the higher ranked ones.