DALLAS – The Allied Pilots Association (APA) union has filed a complaint against American Airlines (AA), alleging labor law violations related to the airline’s lack of preparedness for the upcoming peak summer travel season.
Airline Weekly reports that yesterday, the union, representing AA crewmembers, filed a lawsuit in the federal district court for the Northern District of Texas. APA alleges AA broke the Railway Labor Act by implementing a change without consulting the union.
The union argues that AA has not hired enough check pilots to train new pilots, which the airline denies. According to AA, the airline’s check pilot roster is larger than it was a year ago. The union, on the other hand, claims that the airline downsized too far in the early days of the pandemic and is now scrambling to hire and train pilots for the new schedule.
At the crux of the dispute is the question of who accompanies a pilot on the last simulator review before he or she is permitted to fly revenue flights.
Pilots and first officers are typically evaluated collectively as a crew. When a first officer is absent, AA uses a check pilot – a licensed training pilot — to fill the second seat. However, the airline is now requesting line pilots to volunteer for staff evaluation sessions in order to fill a check pilot shortfall.
The airline plans to pay pilots more if they give up a day off to assist trainees on their final day of flight simulator training. The Fort Worth, Texas-based airline assured pilots that this would free up check pilots to perform actual aircraft training.
Comments from American Airlines, Allied Pilots Association
American’s Head of Flight Operations, Lyle Hogg, said in a letter to check pilots that the carrier expects to add up to 180 pilots per month through the end of the year. Line pilots can volunteer to serve as “seat fillers” for the final simulator exam to free up check pilots to conduct the evaluations, according to Hogg, to help speed up the training pipeline.
“This unilateral action by American Airlines management degrades the training experience and risks long-term damage to the airline’s safety culture,” APA President Eric Ferguson said in announcing the suit, adding that if the AA’s training resources weren’t under severe duress, management “wouldn’t have taken this unilateral, reckless, and unlawful action to fill these simulator sessions in a manner that is not contemplated by our collective bargaining agreement.”
The airline retorted that the request for volunteers is in no way jeopardizing safety and that it may be a career opportunity for line pilots. An airline representative notes that the initiative is meant to allow line pilots to support the flight training simulator program, which is good for our pilots and provides even more training capacity to support continued growth.”
The airline added, “The pilots volunteering are highly qualified and experienced, and are responsible for the safety of our customers and fellow crew members every day.”
To Volunteer on Not to Volunteer
The airline’s effort may come to a halt before it can get off the ground. APA has bluntly made its position in a letter to its members, saying it is “directing pilots not to volunteer for these special assignments.”
The letter adds that “Management’s effort to divide the pilot group by offering that work to ‘volunteer’ line pilots will not be tolerated, nor will it succeed.”
The union exercised its right to begin negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement early in 2019. AA and APA have since been embroiled in contract talks. The contract became formally amendable in 2020.
Staffing Shortages Woes
Due to a shortage of qualified instructors, Southwest Airlines (WN) said earlier this year that it would restrict pilot hiring. Moreover, many US regional airlines, as well as Alaska Airlines (AS) and JetBlue Airways (B6), are experiencing pilot and overall personnel shortages.
Apart from severe weather, staffing shortages affected US airline operations during the Spring break period, resulting in hundreds of flight cancellations.
In addition to AA and WN, pilots are negotiating new contracts with AS, Delta Air Lines (DL), and B6.
The case is Allied Pilots Association v. American Airlines Inc., 4:22-cv-00315-O, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Texas (Fort Worth).
Featured image: N834AA American Airlines Boeing 787-9. Photo: Tony Bordelais/Airways