American Airlines to use nonunion pilots for some test flights, drawing criticism

American Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane

Nicolas Economou | NurPhoto by way of Getty Images

American Airlines this month will cease utilizing unionized pilots to carry out sure test flights, a transfer the aviators’ union argues would scale back the independence of those critiques.

Starting Thursday, American will solely assign nonunion firm pilots to test plane which were in long-term storage or which have not too long ago undergone heavy upkeep, earlier than clients fly on them. Previously, a gaggle of specifically skilled union pilots carried out the duties together with nonunion firm pilots.

That union test pilot group had shrunk to about six folks from 24 in 2016 as some left the union to turn out to be firm technical pilots, retired or went again to flying passengers, American mentioned.

“For the past five years, American has been transitioning our test flying to these skilled pilots and fleet experts to better manage the unpredictable nature of test flights, which are dictated by the completion of maintenance and do not follow a set schedule,” American Airlines spokeswoman Sarah Jantz mentioned.

But the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s roughly 15,000 pilots, opposes the measure.

“The foundation of AA’s strong safety culture has been a commitment to ensuring that independent, protected, and unintimidated pilots are conducting these critical safety check flights versus management pilots who may have a conflict of interest,” Eric Ferguson, an American Airlines captain and APA’s president, mentioned in a Feb. 19 message to members. “Any move to crack that foundation will be met with the strongest opposition by APA.”

The union didn’t say that there have been any imminent or particular security dangers or that procedures have been out of line with federal requirements.

American mentioned that its firm pilots have been already performing most of those flights and that they obtained the identical specialised coaching as union test pilots.

“In April, and in line with the collective bargaining agreement, we will centralize this flying, fully transitioning it to our Fleet Captains and Technical Pilots,” American spokeswoman Jantz mentioned. “Importantly, our expectations and standards will not change with this transition. We will continue completing maintenance-related flight checks above and beyond FAA requirements with the same training using the same procedures and checklists.”

American mentioned it’s discussing with the union methods they may contain their pilots in the sort of flying. Line pilots represented by the union will proceed to fly planes after they arrive out of short-term storage earlier than passengers fly on them.

Jantz mentioned the variety of test flights or the bar to meet them is not going to change.

“Any aircraft taken out of storage must be maintained according to the manufacturer’s maintenance manual and any applicable FAA regulations and Airworthiness Directives,” FAA spokesman Ian Gregor mentioned in an announcement.

American on Monday mentioned that throughout the second quarter it plans to use many of the planes it had parked within the pandemic to meet rising journey demand.

The Allied Pilots Association has beforehand raised considerations in regards to the flight test program, together with to the Transportation Department’s watchdog in 2017, alleging that there was a “culture of suppressing safety complaints.”

In July 2018, the Transportation Department’s inspector basic’s workplace mentioned it carried out an audit that discovered an Federal Aviation Administration inspector “lacked objectivity” in his evaluation of American’s security program.

The FAA mentioned it accomplished six of the watchdog’s seven suggestions besides for one, which calls for it to make modifications to the way it evaluates objectivity of inspectors to embody potential points such because the period of time they’re reviewing the identical airline. The FAA mentioned it requested an extension till August.

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