Perfect Storm Brewing for Pilots, Airline Employees, and Passengers

By Robert Mark on April 11th, 2007

Air Line Pilots Association President John Prater recently painted a bleak picture of airline travel for the upcoming tourist season, “This summer is going to be brutal,” he told Air Transport World Online. Prater believes this summer will be a mess because of airliners are running too full with little or no backup and skies overloaded with too many airplanes of all categories being watched by overworked air traffic controllers.

The union is also planning for a mid-May “Takin it Back,” meeting to highlight the need for pilots to wrestle back control of their profession from, as ALPA calls them, “the greedy corporations and a heartless administration [that have] initiated an all-out assault on transportation workers since 9/11.”

ALPA’s not alone in this drive for payback either.

At the Allied Pilots Association website a clock is ominously counting down the days, hours and minutes until American Airlines is expected to award huge bonuses to executives of the Dallas-based airline. APA’s point is clear. “We shared the pain,” the site says. “Now it’s time to share the gain.” American pilots already got their company’s attention a few months ago when they refused to bend the current rules and help the airline win the lucrative Dallas to Beijing rights.

And since last Fall, the nation’s air traffic controller members of NATCA are either working without a contract, if you listen to the union’s  perspective, or with a non-negotiated contract if you believe the FAA. In either case, controllers didn’t agree to their working conditions and are pretty unsettled. Adding to the stress is that NATCA, unlike the pilot’s unions, has little negotiation leverage to use against the agency.

None of this is good for anyone in the industry, at least at first glance. 

You might think that anything that even looks remotely like a replay of the chaotic U.S. summer travel season of 2000 would be something FAA would avoid like the plague.

But not this time.

A little travel pandemonium, a few thousand irate passengers stuck on the ground because of the bad old pilots or the lazy air traffic controllers, would just about guarantee the public will demand action.

And there stands the administration, user fee play book in hand ready and willing to help. What a coincidence.

But FAA, will say, “We haven’t the money because those bad little airplane drivers don’t want to pay their fair share and balance things out for the poor old airlines.”

You may know that the new user fee system FAA would like to set up includes a governing board to run ATC similar to what some other countries are using.

Here’s the group that runs the National Air Traffic Services (NATS) in the U.K. Perhaps I missed it, but I don’t see business or general aviation represented here.

“NATS is a public private partnership between the Airline Group, a consortium of seven UK airlines, which holds 42%, NATS staff who hold 5%, UK airport operator BAA plc, with 4%, and the government which holds 49% and a golden share.

The Airline Group is a consortium of seven UK airlines: British Airways, bmi British Midland, Virgin Atlantic, Britannia, Monarch, easyJet and Airtours.

And did you know that AIP funds – money essentially used to update general aviation and reliever airports – will be cut as well.

I think that would help the airlines too, wouldn’t it?

Watch for it … it’s coming. There’s still time to demand action to save some of the system for business aviation. But you need to act … now! And yes, it’s your job at stake.

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4 Responses to “Perfect Storm Brewing for Pilots, Airline Employees, and Passengers”

  1. Joe Says:

    Pilots and Controllers groups should seriously consider walking off the job. Unlike PATCO, however, they, flight attendants and machinists shouls all stick togther and honor picket lines. Teamsters and other unions ought also do sympathy walkouts for a day or two at a time.

    Minus an aggressive, unified, labor walkout government and industry will continue to take advantage of labor, which has been the case since reagan broke Patco back in the 80’s.

    Your article notes American execs are scheduled for substantial pay raises. I also recently read that Delta execs will get substantial salary and stock options as Delta exits bankruptcy. My prediction, labor lacks the cajones to seriously and uniformly confront government and industry. Until labor works together to create, to the extent legally permissible, work stoppages like french labor uses, I predict government and industry will continue to marginalize labor’s ability to get a fair deal from either government or labor. Just my humble opinion.

  2. Dave Koch Says:

    Way back there around 1979 or 1980 (this old captain’s memory banks are somewhat faulty), I was part of a team of airline pilots that successfully organized all of the ALPA pilot groups into a cohesive force that was committed to shutting down the U.S. airline system for 3 days. Our goal was to preserve the 3-man crew.

    The first part of the plan worked! Reagan convened a presidential commission to address the issue to avoid the shutdown (this was just prior to the PATCO action). Unfortunately, we were sold out by the then ALPA president and the then UAL-MEC chairman and the commission ruled for 2-crew cockpits.

    But the point is, the pilots were united and, I believe, would have walked off the job.

    In my opinion, this kind of unity and a national seniority list could solve the airline pilot group’s problems. Maybe the new leadership at ALPA will finally get it.

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